Bernard Cornwell is a master and commander when it comes to bringing alive European history from the last millenia. Where Patrick O'Brian has the sea, Cornwell has the land.
I've read most of the Richard Sharpe novels, but I first encountered the grail quest series as audio books from audible.
I must say that in combination with narration by Seán Barrett, I was absolutely hooked from the out. Together, they bring 14th century Europe to life like I have never heard before. Cornwell with his words that pump life into long dead stories, and Barret with his voice that just seems to call down through the ages.
If only my 2nd form history lessons were like this. But how can history teachers brought up in the 1950's, using text books written by dainty scholars hope to convey a true sense of the times?
It may look quaint in a tapestry, but battle with sword and bow is particularly brutal. But of course for the men of the time it was just all part of life. As Cornwell tells the tale of Thomas of Hookton, the grim reality of life leaps from the page with Barrett's voice.
Seriously, the best way to "read" the grail quest series is to listen on audible. there are three volumes:
A great companion read is 1215: The Year of Magna Carta It is a fascinating - and less dramatic - study of England in the 13th century: the years of Prince John, the legend of Robin Hood and of course the Magna Carta.
It was only after reading this, and having been embued in the era thanks to the Grail Quest audible recordings by Seán Barrett, that I finally got a true sense of the complex relationship between France and England after the Norman conquests of Britain.
And then there is the Magna Carta. Probably more significant as a legend and ideal than an actual statement of rights. In its time, it seems to have been seen by some as a scandalous concession to the masses. Even Pope Innocent III condemned the charter as
..not only shameful and demeaning but also illegal and unjust, thereby lessening unduly and impairing his [the king's] royal rights and dignity