Edward II has sat on the throne of England for 20 years in 1326. A weak and ineffectual ruler, he is dominated by his ambitious lover, Hugh Despenser. The common people are not enamored of Hugh Despenser, who wields great power and exercises prodigious cruelty.
In addition to the common people, the nobility, as well, have suffered under Edward II and his edicts and corruption prompted by Hugh Despenser.
Despenser has an untold number of enemies whose greatest desire is to have him removed – from the King’s side and life itself.
Despenser has few loyal men left. One of them, Sir John Swale, a lesser knight, has sworn an loyalty oath and, despite his own less than pristine past, still retains some sense of honor. An oath is an oath, and he is determined to stay loyal despite the increasing evidence that Despenser’s star is about to explode.
A murder in Leicestershire prompts Despenser to dispatch Swale to investigate. On the way, Swale runs across a gang of outlaws robbing servants. Swale and his men, 2 of them friends and one surly squire, intervene, leaving 2 of the outlaws dead.
He returns with the surviving servants to their mistress, Elizabeth Clinton, who is horrified to learn her servants were attacked. To Swale’s surprise, she is even more appalled he killed the outlaws.
Elizabeth Clinton, who can’t wait to get rid of Swale the next morning, introduces Swale to the fact he has killed 2 of Eustace Folville’s gang, known as The Brotherhood. Outlawed extortionists, robbers, murderers and other sundry criminals, the Brotherhood is forced to live in the forests until the investigation of the Leicester murder winds down.
Eustace Folville has his own brand of justice and law, Folville’s Law. He soon teaches Swale a lesson in Folville Law in retribution for Swale slaying members of The Brotherhood.
King Edward II’s Queen, Isabella, is in France to negotiate with her brother, Charles, King of France, the return of Aquitaine to England. At least, officially, that’s her mission. Her true desire, and that of her lover, Roger Mortimer, is to return to England with her eldest son, Edward, to rid England of Hugh Despenser once and for all.
Between Mortimer’s machinations and Isabella’s charm, they collect a following for the planned invasion of England and permanent removal of Despenser.
Pilling has written a blunt novel of a time in England when rebellion simmers beneath the surface. Oaths are not worth the words spoken; they are quickly broken in favor of better prospects.
Swale is seemingly one of the few men in England to remain faithful to his oath of loyalty, even though it is evident his loyalty is misplaced and places him in great danger of losing his life.
Pilling’s Folville Law is a gritty historical fiction novel. Pilling exposes the duplicitous nature of characters who serve their own agenda. I enjoyed Folville’s Law for this reason.
Having read other historical fiction novels set during this time period, I definitely took note Pilling did not mince words or mask self-aggrandizing motives of characters at the cost of others’ lives. I believe Pilling has written a realistic historical fiction novel, complete with the ethics and morals or, lack of such, which existed in the 14th century.
Folville’s Law depicts England with its inhumane brutality of the times, when life was cheap and the ambitious schemed. He does not fall victim to the temptation to soften atrocities to coincide with our modern day view of cruelty.
I look forward to reading the next instalment of The John Swale Chronicles.
My rating: 4/5 Stars (Excellent)
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