Day 470: Reread—The Iron King

Cover for The Iron KingI already reviewed The Iron King during my first year of blogging, but that review was based on my memory of the novel, having read it several years before. I recently re-read it and would just like to mention it again, as it is so good and easier to find now that the first three volumes of the series have been republished.

The Accursed Kings series concerns the history of the last Capet kings of France. The first in the series, The Iron King, begins with some fateful acts that eventually affect the future of the kingdom.

The novel begins in England with Queen Isabella plotting with her cousin, Robert of Artois, against her three sisters-in-law. Queen Isabella, the daughter of Philip IV of France (known as the Philip the Fair or the Iron King), is unhappily married to Edward II of England, who disdains her and lends the power of his throne to the Despensers, the family of his male favorite. Isabella is disposed to make trouble. Her cousin has brought her his conviction that at least two of her three sisters-in-law are being unfaithful to their husbands, her brothers, the princes of France. Isabella and Robert hatch a plot to expose them.

Robert of Artois has his own reasons for the plot, for his father’s property was awarded to his aunt Mahaut instead of to him so that it would pass into the hands of King Philip the Fair’s two younger sons when they married Jeanne and Blanche, Mahaut’s daughters. Robert is only too happy to ruin Marguerite, Queen of Navarre and wife of Philip’s oldest son, along with the two other girls, as she is Mahaut’s cousin.

Awaiting their own fates are the last four members who are not in hiding of the once wealthy and powerful Knights Templar. Years before they had refused to admit Philip the Fair as a member, as it was against the rules of their order to admit royalty. Since then, Philip has plotted their ruin, assisted by Pope Clement, who covets the riches of the order. Now they have been condemned of heresy, largely on trumped up charges.

Early in the book, Jacques de Molay, Grand Master of the Knights Templar, is burned at the stake. During his burning, he curses the King, Pope Clement, and Guillaume de Nogaret, Secretary-General of the Kingdom, to their thirteenth generation. The Pope is dead within 40 days, de Nogaret soon after. Thus the name of Druon’s fantastic series, The Accursed Kings, for you can be sure that Philip the Fair will be dead by the end of the novel.

This series is being marketed as the original Game of Thrones. Perhaps there are some similarities. The court is a nest of vipers—those in power are constantly engaged in political machinations and those not in power in other kinds of plots. The world Druon presents is fascinating, depicted with cynicism and wry observations. The novel is extremely well written, about an extraordinary time in French history.

Day 88: The Iron King

Cover for The Iron KingBest Book of the Week!

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.