This article is a repeat review of the second book in Maurice Druon’s excellent Accursed Kings series. I wrote my initial reviews years after I read the books, from memory. This review is from a recent reread in preparation for my first review of the third book in the series.
The name of Philip the Fair would glow down the centuries only by the flicker of the faggots he had lighted beneath his enemies and the glitter of gold he had seized. It would be quickly forgotten that he had curbed the powerful, maintained peace in so far as it was possible, reformed the law, constructed fortresses that the land might be cultivated in their shelter, united provinces, convoked assemblies of the middle class so that it might speak its mind, and watched unremittingly over the independence of France.
So says Druon in his prologue to The Strangled Queen about Philip IV of France (Philip the Fair), whose death in 1314 begins the action of the novel.
Marguerite of Burgundy has not heard of Philip’s death. She and her sister-in-law Blanche, Philip’s daughters-in-law, are imprisoned in the Château-Gaillard for adultery, and she does not know that her husband has become the king of France, Louis X. When her cousin Robert of Artois comes to tell her, she naïvely believes he wants to help her, unaware how he has assisted in her downfall. What he actually wants is for her to agree to an annulment, as now she poses a big problem to the succession.
But Marguerite doubts when she should not. Although she would gladly exchange her harsh prison for a convent, she is afraid that once she signs, those in charge of her will leave her where she is. She also does not want to declare her daughter a bastard, the other requirement of her release.
Louis X soon sets his sights on marrying Cleménce of Hungary. To do so, he must get a pope installed who will agree to give him an annulment. However, the cardinals have been arguing ever since the death of Pope Clement V, who with Philip the Fair was a victim of the curse of the Grand Master of the Knights Templar (whose death by burning at the stake is referred to in the quote at the beginning of this review).
The weak and stupid Louis is faced with a battle between the forces of order and progress, represented by Enguerrand Marigny, his father’s coadjutor, and the old ways of feudalism, represented by his uncle, Charles of Valois. Whoever can get Louis a pope or his marriage with Cleménce will ultimately win, but in the meantime he begins stripping away all of the governmental reforms instituted by his father.
Bitingly told, about a fascinating period of French history, these novels introduce us to a world of complicated alliances, treachery, and politics, as well as murder and mayhem. Lately the novels are being marketed as the original Game of Thrones. There are certainly strong similarities.