The Strangled Queen is the second in Maurice Druon’s The Accursed Kings series. In The Iron King, King Philippe IV and his progeny were cursed at the stake by the Grand Master of the Knights Templar for conniving with the pope to destroy the knights for their wealth. Now, after the pope and one of the king’s advisors dies, Philippe begins to believe in the curse and dies shortly thereafter, within a year, just as foretold.
His death leaves Philippe’s eldest son, Louis X, on the throne. Louis needs an heir, but his wife, Marguerite of Burgundy, was imprisoned in the Chateau Gaillard for adultery along with her sister-in-law Blanche. He is unable to get a divorce because a new pope has not yet been chosen. He sends Robert of Artois to coerce Marguerite into signing a letter claiming that their marriage was not consummated and their daughter is illegitimate.
In the meantime, Louis is involved in a power struggle against his uncle Charles of Valois. Louis does not know that Robert of Artois has taken his uncle’s side as part of his scheme to reclaim his inheritance, stolen by his aunt Mahaut.
Druon’s historical fiction is powerfully written, elegant and ironic. His novels do not take the point of view of one fictional character, as do most historical novels. All of the characters are actual historical figures, and few of them are sympathetic. The plots are driven forward by the power of the events they relate.
Several years ago, I had a hard time finding this series of books so that I could read it, but I felt that the result was worth the effort. Now, luckily for readers who are interested in the series, a new version of these books is available in paperback.