Book review: Anarchy by Stewart Binns

Our obsession with all things Tudor has diverted attention from another turbulent, dramatic and equally fascinating period of English history… the Anarchy.

Anarchy by Stewart Binns
Anarchy by Stewart Binns

When Henry I, King of England and son of William the Conqueror, died in 1135, all hell was let loose on the land as Henry’s daughter Matilda and her cousin, Stephen de Blois, fought a bitter war to take the crown.

There was little room for family love in the harsh world of the Norman kings and for 20 years chaos and lawless brutality reigned in a period so terrible that chroniclers labelled it ‘the Anarchy.’

Burnley-born author Stewart Binns, an academic and BAFTA award-winning documentary writer, brings this thrilling and traumatic chapter of history to vivid life in the third book of his stirring, all-action adventure series, The Making of England, which began with Conquest and continued in Crusade.

Binns has made historical accuracy and thrilling action sequences his trusty trademarks and Anarchy delivers all the pulsating drama we have come to expect from an author whose passion for history brings the past to life in all its glorious technicolour.

Here he tells the story of Harold of Hereford, one of the towering figures of his age, a noble-born Englishman, one of the nine founders of the Knights Templar, a heroic survivor of the terrifying Crusader battles and a loyal warrior in the cause of Matilda.

It’s 1186, the thirty-second year of the reign of Henry II, and Gilbert Foliot, Bishop of London, chronicler and one of the most prolific letter writers of the 12th century, is looking back down the years.

He has lived through Henry’s long reign and that of his grandfather, Henry I, and can still clearly recall the terrifying civil war between Henry II’s mother, the Empress Matilda, and her cousin, Stephen.

Foliot is writing an intimate account of one of England’s most troubled eras and central to his story is the life of a knight he first met over fifty years earlier, Harold of Hereford.

Harold’s life is an intriguing microcosm of the times and on his broad shoulders and during a period of ruthless brutality, greed and ambition, he carried the legacy of England’s past and its dormant hopes for the future.

Harold witnessed first-hand the royal protagonists whose feuding fuelled the Anarchy and now Foliot is ready to tell the world about Harold, his exploits and the events which tore England apart…

Binns’ career in television has given him an experienced and knowledgeable eye for drama, realism and the small but important details which add power and presence to a story.

Extraordinary fact, adventurous fiction and the Anarchy’s charismatic leading players combine with a rich storytelling style to bring us history when, how and why it happened.

(Penguin, paperback, £6.99)