The novel presents the situation of the period after the Norman conquest. And is about the return of King Richard 1st from the Crusades.
The power had been completely placed in the hands of the Norman nobility, by the event of the battle of Hastings, and it had been used, as our histories assure us, with no moderate hand. The whole race of Saxon princes and nobles had been extirpated or disinherited with few or no exceptions; nor were the numbers great who possessed land in the country of their fathers, even as proprietors of the second, or of yet inferior classes. The royal policy had long been to weaken, by every means, legal or illegal, the strength of a part of the population which was justly considered as nourishing the most inveterate antipathy to their victor. All the monarchs of the Norman race had shown the most marked predilection for their Norman subjects; the laws of the chase, and many others equally unknown to the milder and more free spirit of the Saxon constitution had been fixed upon the necks of the subjugated inhabitants to add weight , as it were, to the feudal chains with which they were loaded. At the court, and in the castles of the great nobles, where the pomp and a court was emulated, Norman-French was the only language employed; in courts of law, the pleadings and judgments were delivered in the same tongue. In short, French was the language of honour, of chivalry, and even of justice, while the far more expressive Anglo-Saxon was abandoned to the use of rustics and hinds, who knew no other.