Spencer’s text, rooted in excellent historical research, delves into fascinating backstories such as the real Macbeth and the prophecies of Merlin. He presents an image of a wily, powerful, successful yet dangerous king, a superb statesman, diplomat and warrior, against the epic backdrop of a family at war. For the scholar, Judith Green’s 2006 biography and Warren Hollister’s study for Yale English Monarchs remain the standard texts. But for the general reader, Charles Spencer has written a lyrical, vivid and compelling portrait. He succeeds in bringing to life huge characters from nearly a millennium ago, with huge emotions, and even huger girths; William the Conqueror was so fat when he died, he had to be squeezed into his tomb, whereupon his guts spilled open.