The novel opens in London, England, in 1984, a time eighty years after the book’s publication. The government has become so efficient that party politics are obsolete. The king of England is now chosen by lottery. When Auberon Quin is appointed king, he revives certain medieval customs as an antidote to London’s bureaucratic monotony.
The future king, Quin, makes his first appearance in the company of his two friends, James Barker and Wilfrid Lambert, staid government officials who serve as foils for Quin’s fantastic imagination. The three men encounter the former president of Nicaragua, a striking figure in a bright green uniform with ceremonial medals. His name is Juan del Fuego, and his ostentatious appearance is more consistent with Quin’s wild imagination than with the conservative London setting. Del Fuego joins Quin and the other two men for lunch, at which they discuss the importance of patriotism in both small and large countries, namely in Nicaragua and Great Britain. Del Fuego dies three days later in Soho.
When Quin is selected at random as the next king of England, he is inspired by del Fuego’s pomp and politics to restore to London’s boroughs their medieval identities and customs. By encouraging loyalty to a small unit of government and by celebrating this small-scale patriotism with chivalric ceremony, Quin hopes to relieve the boredom that has resulted from London’s cosmopolitan but stale polish.
(The entire section is 416 words.)