The recently married Queen Clémence of France is already a widow and expecting a child at the beginning of this fourth book of The Accursed Kings series, The Royal Succession. Her husband Louis X reigned for only 18 months and in that short time managed to create chaos in France and impoverish the country.
Louis’ older brother, Philippe of Poitiers, is occupied in Lyons with the problem of the election of a pope when he hears of his brother’s death. The cardinals seem to be hopelessly deadlocked, and France wants a pope who will be friendly to its interests. Philippe is caught between his desire to finish his mission and his ambition to be appointed regent to the unborn child. Finally, he locks all the cardinals inside the Church of the Jacobins, telling them they will not be freed until they elect a pope. Then he rides to Paris to claim the regency.
Philippe is unaware that he has come into power with the help of his mother-in-law Mahaut of Burgundy, who had his older brother poisoned. Hugue de Bouville, the queen’s protector, is keenly aware of the threat to the queen and her child. Later in the novel, his and his wife’s fears cause them to make a fateful decision.
As usual, Robert of Artois is creating as much havoc as possible for his aunt Mahaut. He is supported at a distance by Philippe’s uncle Charles of Valois, who wanted the regency for himself.
Although Guccio Baglioni spends most of the novel locked up with the cardinals, the Cressay brothers bring his wife Marie to Guccio’s uncle in disgrace. They do not believe the couple is married, and in any case won’t accept their sister’s marriage to a merchant. Marie is expecting, so Uncle Spinello Tolomei takes her to a convent. A twist of fate makes her the wet nurse to the baby King Jean.
Druon relates the story of complex politics, venality, chicanery, and outright evil in his usual acid tones. We sympathize with Philippe, who is plainly more able and upright than his brother, but he is already finding that the path to power corrupts, even those with the best intentions. This series continues to be terrific.