The Iron King is the first of seven books in the “Accursed Kings” series by the French novelist Maurice Druon. Unlike many historical novels, this series does not follow a fictional hero or heroine but is an interpretation of actual events in French history with all historical figures. This series was popular in its time (it was written in the 1950’s), but may be difficult to find now. If you are lucky, your local library may have it.
It is 1307 in France. The kingdom is broke, and King Philippe IV, known as the Iron King, is looking for sources of money. The Knights Templar, one of the wealthiest organizations in the world, seems like a good place to get it, but they refuse France a loan. Some charges of heresy, obscene rituals, and other abominations have been laid against them by a defrocked knight. Everyone knows they are false, but with the collusion of Pope Clement, who fears the knights’ power, Philippe orders the members to be arrested all on the same night, and seizes their assets.
In the meantime, Robert of Artois has been cheated out of his inheritance by his aunt, Mahaut. He decides to get his revenge by bringing down her daughters, who are married to the King’s sons.
Druon’s writing is elegant and ironic, his novels thoroughly researched. He doesn’t over-explain; instead, the novel is compelled forward solely by the events in the plot. Few of the characters are sympathetic; nevertheless, it is a fascinating series. I have often read opinions that Druon is one of the best historical novelists ever.