Twelfth-century England, a land of treachery, high passions and shifting allegiances, is plunged into chaos as the Empress Maude and her cousin Stephen become locked in a bitter struggle for the throne lasting twenty years.
King Henry is dead, and there are two people who want his crown. But only one can have it. He has bequeathed it to his daughter Maude, much to the horror of his nobles, for she is arrogant and stubborn, and, most dangerous of all, a woman. When Stephen, a brave and popular warrior but a weak ruler, attempts to seize the throne, it is the beginning of a tragic conflict that brings suffering and bloodshed to all and victory to no one.
And waiting in the wings of this tumultuous drama are other players: Maude's charming and devious son Henry, born of an enforced, bitter marriage, and the formidable Eleanor of Aquitaine, each with ambitions of their own . . .