Medieval Europe saw the building of many of the cathedrals that continue as religious and architectural wonders in the twenty-first century. In the novel, The Pillars of the Earth, Ken Follett describes the building of a cathedral in the town of Kingsbury in Twelfth Century England. The background for the story is the time of the Anarchy - 1135-1153 - when Matilda (in this account, Maud) and her cousin, Stephen, each maintain their right to the throne after the death of Matilda's father, Henry I. This results in a number of small battles throughout the country with the leadership of the country alternating between the two protagonists, as well as a major siege at Lincoln. Consequently this was a time of unrest throughout the country. Local leaders swapped allegiances as it suited them, the struggle between the church leaders and the ruling class continued to have a major impact on the governance of the country and the villagers and farm workers suffered as there was a focus on battle and shoring up a power base rather than managing crops and the welfare of local people.
The book is a work of fiction however it does portray a vivid account of what life may have been like living in Medieval England. Among the description about the building of cathedral is intertwined the dramas faced by those working on the project. The Pillars of the Earth is the saga of a families who attempt to survive during these turbulent times as well as the story of a prior who strives, against all odds, to ensure that the cathedral will be built. At 1088 pages this is a long novel but one well reading.