It’s been a long time since I wrote a post about a book that I recommend. Today I’m going talk about a whole series of novels. No, I don’t mean Game of Thrones, although I read and enjoyed all those books, too. Instead, the Accursed Kings series served as an inspiration for George R.R. Martin when he wrote his massively popular Song of Ice and Fire.
Written by author Maurice Druon, the seven books of the Accursed Kings series deal with the French monarchy, from Philip IV (The Fair) of the Capetian dynasty to John II (The Good), second king in the Valois dynasty.
The Seven Novels of The Accursed Kings
In order, Mr. Druon’s books in the Accursed Kings series are:
The Iron King
“The Iron King – Philip the Fair – is as cold and silent, as handsome and unblinking as a statue. He governs his realm with an iron hand, but he cannot rule his own family: his sons are weak and their wives adulterous; while his red-blooded daughter Isabella is unhappily married to an English king who prefers the company of men.”
- The Strangled Queen
“Philip IV is dead and his great kingdom is in disarray. It seems the fatal curse of the Templars is plaguing the royal house of France. His son has been enthroned as Louis X; but with his disgraced wife Marguerite imprisoned in the Chateau Gaillard for her adultery, Louis can produce no heir with which to secure the succession. But neither can he marry again while she lives…”
- The Poisoned Crown
“Having murdered his wife and exiled his mistress, King Louis X of France becomes besotted with Princess Clemence of Hungary and makes her his new Queen. However, though the matter of the succession should be assured, it is far from so, as Louis embarks on an ill-fated war against Flanders.”
- The Royal Succession
“Louis X is dead, poisoned, murdered, by the hand of Mahaut d’Artois. Her plan is simple – to clear the path to the throne for her son-in-law Philippe. However, there is the small matter of Queen Clemence and her unborn child.”
- The She-Wolf
“Charles IV is now king of France and his sister is Edward II of England’s Queen. Having been imprisoned by Edward as leader of the rebellious English barons, Roger Mortimer escapes to France, where he joins the war against the English Aquitaine. But it is his love affair with Isabella, the ‘She-Wolf of France’, who has come seemingly to negotiate a treaty of peace that seals his fate…”
- The Lily and the Lion
“The royal house of France has fallen. Charles IV is dead, fulfilling the curse of the Templars once and for all. This leaves the path to the throne open for Robert of Artois to place his cousin, Philippe of Valois, upon it. Having committed fraud, perjury and murder in the name of the new king, Robert expects to receive a title and his full reward.”
- The King Without a Kingdom
“The reign of the Capetian kings has ended and John II, ‘The Good’, second of the Valois dynasty, has taken the throne. Under his leadership the Hundred Years War, one of the longest and bloodiest conflicts in history, escalates and England and France begin to tear each other apart.”
All have been translated from the original French and the seventh book is now available in English for the first time. The translations are sometimes awkward, however, and don’t serve the content well. I would love it if Mr. Martin would use some of his HBO money to fund new translations.
The Curse of the Templars
The series starts with the Curse of the Templars, an actual historical event that appears to have been quite effective in its impact on the throne of France and the Papcy.
Jacques de Molay, the last Grand Master of the Knights Templar, reportedly placed a curse on the two people responsible for the order’s downfall, King Philip IV of France (the titular Iron King) and Pope Clement V. After seven years of torture and imprisonment, de Molay was sentenced to be burned as the stake. At his execution, he cursed King Philip IV of France, his descendants, Pope Clement V, and everyone else who supported his death.
De Molay said that within a year and a day, Clement V and Philip IV would die. He also said Philip’s bloodline would reign in France no more. “Accursed! Accursed! You shall be accursed to the thirteenth generation!”
Pope Clement V died of disease about a month later. King Philip IV suffered a stroke and died seven months after the execution. The doomed Capetian dynasty of King Philip IV saw its sons become monarchs but die early.
The Accursed Kings Has It All
As George R.R. Martin says in his introduction to The Poisoned Queen:
“The Accursed Kings has it all: Iron kings and strangled queen, battles and betrayals, liars and just, deception, family rivalries, the curse of the Templars, babies switched at birth, she-wolves, sin, and swords the doom of a great dynasty…and all of it (well, most of it) straight from the pages of history. And believe me, the Starks and the Lannisters have nothing on the Capets and the Plantagenets.”
Oh, and there’s a real Mountain That Rides.
I just finished reading The Strangled Queen. Last year I saw the Chateau Gaillard, a fortress on the Seine that looms large in the story. That’s where two princesses, Philip IV’s daughters in law, were imprisoned and one was murdered.
I had no idea what had transpired there when we sailed past the ruined fortress, probably because it wasn’t included in the guide book.
Very Modern Observations
Maurice Druon is a good writer who keeps you turning pages despite any deficiencies in translation, and who makes observations that seem particularly relevant today. Here are two:
“Men who love power are not only dominated, as is generally supposed, by an appetite for wealth and honours. Above all they are influenced by an objective taste for the creation of events, for controlling their occurrences, for acting upon the world with effectiveness and for being always in the right. Wealth and honours are no more than the signs and tools of their influence.”
Sound familiar? How about this one:
“Mediocrities can tolerate being surrounded only by flatterers who conceal their mediocrity.”
Such insights, which salt the narrative, make you pause in the non-stop action and think.
Undoing Great Achievements
If you enjoy history, if you like getting to the root of wars and other events, if you enjoy understanding why events un-scrolled as they did or how flaws in human nature could undo the greatest achievements, you will like The Accursed Kings. Even if you just enjoyed Mr. Martin’s Song of Ice and Fire or Game of Thrones on HBO, you will become engrossed in this series.
Oh, and if—like me—you are a fan of the PBS television series Escape to the Chateau, you will also learn how and when the Baglioni family came from Lombardy to Paris and how they built their fortune.
Good stuff. The Accursed Kings lacks only dragons, but we still don’t have those. So, don’t wait. Get your copies from a bookstore or library and jump right in.
The Accursed Kings will keep you turning pages and making connections in unexpected ways. And if HBO needs a story line for another excellent series, they can do worse than turn to the Accursed Kings and depict the history for real..