The Accursed Kings by Maurice Druon is a series of seven historical novels that detail the destruction of the Knights Templar, then the subsequent deaths of Phillip the Fair and his sons, the ensuing succession crises and the beginning of the Hundred Year War, set up against the backdrop of France spiraling down into a veritable Crapsack World after it gets hit by disaster after disaster. The visceral B-plot of Robert D'Artois and his attempts to (re)gain his father's county also gets a lot of attention, to the point where it can hardly even be called secondary, and there are other minor plots which are intertwined with the two major ones and each other. While the period is described (quite aptly) as France's Darkest Hour, there is a lot of Black Comedy and ham involved.The story begins in 1314, during the reign of Philip the Fair. The main focus of the plot is the adultery of his two daughters-in-law, which proves to be just the beginning of succession crisis. In the background of it all is the conclusion of seven year trial of the remnants of Knight Templars and the curse cast upon royal family by Jacques de Molay, the last Grand Master of the Templars.Curse? The title comes from the legend that before being executed by Philip the Fair, de Molay cursed the Kings of France unto the seventh generation (and, creepily, the next seven Kings of France had notably horrible reigns, and although Philip had three surviving sons, all of them inherited the throne, and none had any surviving sons of their own).The series has been adapted for television twice, in 1972 and in 2005, both only covering the six first books (the seventh is an independent plot set a decade after the others and doesn't involve any of the original cast).George R. R. Martin is fan of this saga, and drew some of his inspirations for A Song of Ice and Fire from it. He even pushed for a new traduction and publication in English, calling it The original Game of Thrones, no less!
Tropes in this work:
0% Approval Rating: Edward II. Explains why his reign crumbles so fast and bloodlessly (for the Despensers excepted) when Mortimer and Isabella come back from France.
Alas, Poor Villain: Well done for Robert of Artois and Mahaut d'Artois, but somewhat difficult when it comes to mourn the less evil, but much more annoying, Charles de Valois.
Anyone Can Die: Pretty much unavoidable for a historical series encompassing such a large period. The final chapters of the sixth installment (which at the time was supposed to end the series) are mainly devoted to kill off all the survivors of the starting cast - not that they were so numerous.
Aristocrats Are Evil: Most of the front characters, anyway. There are some serious dick moves in these books.
Artistic License - History: One of the main characters of the beginning of the story is Guillaume de Nogaret, who actually dies one year before Jacques de Molay is burned at the stake.
Attempted Rape: Robert tries this on Marguerite of Burgundy. She manages to fight him off with some well-aimed threats.
YMMV; It's pretty much established that Marguerite was a lustful character, and the cleric at Château-Gaillard who acts as her confessor confides to Robert that, no kidding, sex is her only weakness. She refuses his advances, not because she doesn't want him, but because it is plain to her that Robert is seducing her to work her to accept Louis' offer. Marguerite admits afterwards to Robert that she'd be too willing to give herself to him for free, but she won't accept acknowledging that she and Louis never consumated their marriage and that the marriage was null and void. At this point Robert relents and leaves her blue-balled, proving it was indeed a ploy all along.
Big Eater: Both Robert and Mahaut d'Artois. Not played for laughs.
Big Screwed-Up Family: Almost all families, but especially the Capetian dynasty. Allegedly, it all comes from the curse launched by the Knights Templars' Grand Master Jacques of Molay while burning on the pyre.
Bishōnen: Phillip the Fair, at least by this period's standards. Charles the Fair inherits his looks and nothing else, unfortunately.
Bitter Almonds: How Mahaut poisons Louis, although it's never outright stated whether it was really cyanide.
Cruel and Unusual Death: Happens to some characters. Easily the most remembered are the executed squires of the first book and the murder of the deposed Edward II in book five with a burning hot poker inserted deep in his rectum..
Also, the execution of Hugh de Despenser, whose vivid and explicit description of every detail was taken, almost word for word, from a real-life contemporary witness of the event.
Honorable mentions for Guillaume de Nogaret, who died after days of agony vomiting blood after being poisoned with lethal fumes from a tampered set of wax candles, and Pope Clement V, who fell ill in Avignon and was given, among other things, emeralds piled into powder shards to be ingested as a remedy.
Deadpan Snarker: Phillip de Poitiers, his uncle, Louis d'Evreux and cardinal Dueze later Pope John XXII.
Dying Curse: The titular curse, cast by Jacques de Molay on Pope Clemens V, Guillaume de Nogaret and king Phillip IV. They all die before the end of the year, while the house of Capet expires within next 30 years.
For Want of a Nail: If Marigny hadn't had intercepted a letter from Marguerite to her husband (which would finally allow Louis to divorce her), both he and she would live, and the whole matter would be resolved peacefully.
The small, innocuous fact that adultery alone is not a sufficient motive for annuling a marriage in canon law leads to all kinds of consequences for the members of the Capetian dynasty, most directly for Marguerite of Burgundy and to a lesser extend, her comrade-in-crime Blanche of Burgundy.
Foreshadowing: All over the place. The meeting on 16th July 1316 deserves a special mention, as it featured members of all three houses which ruled France in the next five centuries: Capets, de Valois and Bourbons.
Heir Club for Men: Thanks to Phillip V, who, as a regent, reinstates Salic Law to prevent his niece from inheriting the throne. It bites him in the ass when his only son dies and he's left with daughters, thus allowing his stupid younger brother to become the next king.
Hoist by His Own Petard: Philippe de Poitiers wants to be King of France, but Jeanne de Navarre is higher in the line of succession. To cast her away, he instates the Salic law on the basis of inaccurate historical documents and shady legal procedures. The Salic law basically forbids women to inherit the crown of France or to transmit it to their children, and had never been in place until then. Thanks to Laser-Guided Karma, Philippe becomes king but only has daughters, which means he can't give the crown to any of his descendants.
Hundred Years War: The inevitable result of events transpiring in the books. We see only the beginning of it at the end of the sixth book.
I Was Quite a Looker: Charles de Valois. He's younger brother of Philip the Fair. It looks the other way around.
I Never Got Any Letters: Robert d'Artois, on his second (and for her, lethal) visit to Marguerite of Burgundy at the end of the second book. Turns out that Marguerite of Burgundy changed her mind and did write the letter she had been asked to write to her husband Louis, but it was delivered to Enguerrand de Marigny instead, who burned the letter over a candlelight and pretended it never existed.
Ice Queen: Isabella of France. Marguerite of Burgundy uses it for insult after her sentence for adultery: She lashes that Isabella is such a frosty, emotionless woman that she has pushed her husband away from her bed into the arms of men, not even other women.
Philip the Fair is a rare male example. He is derided (behind his back) as an unemotional, statue-like individual by his courtiers and his daughters-in-law. Also mentioned in the first book is that for all his striking beauty, he has remained chaste since his wife Joan of Navarre's death, nine years before the events of the first book.
No Sympathy: The only consolation Charles gets from his father after bursting into tears at the news of his beloved wife's adultery is "You were a very poor husband, so you might at least pretend to be good prince."
Not Good with People: Phillip IV is type 2. He has better relationships with his dogs and horses than with his own children, and most people fear even looking into his eyes, no matter how endearing he tries to be.
Not So Different: Robert and Mahaut d'Artois. He's her nephew but he might as well be a male clone. The author even suggests that their enmity might be better resolved with incest.
One Steve Limit: Averted. There are so many Blanches, Joans, Philips, etc., it's even lampshaded during the meeting of noble families before Philip's coronation.
Only Mostly Dead: Invoked and played with: Mortimer tricks the Duke of Kent into believing that his half-brother Edward II isn't dead, to make it seem like he's trying to rebel against the puppet king Edward III.
Shaggy Dog Story: The bonus chapter depicting the life of Giannino Baglioni, the real John I.
Sexless Marriage: One of the underlying reasons why Isabella and Edward II loathe each other so much, and in public in front of the court. Yet somewhat averted, if only to produce heirs (Edward II and Isabella had four children together, including the future Edward III). If Isabella is to be believed, Edward was so repulsed by sleeping his wife that he would come in her room with a male favourite to be fondled and caressed until he could perform the act with her.
Smug Snake: Robert is indeed crafty but some of his schemes really blow out in his face, screwing other people (or even countries) in the process.
The Social Expert: Cardinal Jacques Dueze and Guccio Baglioni. Probably the reason why they get along so well.
Succession Crisis: The plot for the second part of the story, after Charles IV of France dies. This happens after a previous, smaller succession crisis declares that Joan II of Navarre, daughter of Louis X of France, is declared ineligible for crowning because she is a girl.
Tangled Family Tree: So much that the readers need a chart. It was added at the end of volume 7.
The reason why every character who is remotely high nobility in the novels calls each other "cousin" or "my cousin" when they interact with one another.
Played for laugh when Hugo of Bouville meets the Genre Savvy cardinal Dueze; when the subject of possibily annuling the marriage of Louis and Marguerite is touched upon, Dueze snidely comments that this trope is so convenient, he could unmarry all princes and princesses of Europe because of consanguinity.
Traumatic Haircut: Joan de Poitiers, Blanche and Marguerite of Burgundy have their heads shaven before their trial.
Edward II is given one as well after his abdication, his gaolers forcefully shaving his beard and cutting through his hair to trim them with a dulled knife and cold water.
Undying Loyalty: Hugo de Bouville towards the royal family. Lormet to Robert d'Artois.
The Unfavorite: Although Phillip IV doesn't show fondness for any of his children, Louis X is clearly the case.
Unresolved Sexual Tension: Between Isabella and Robert in the first book. When they meet several years later, it's all gone. The UST between Robert and Beatrice gets resolved in the sixth book, but it ends tragically for both of them.
Woman in White: White was traditionally worn by queens in mourning. This includes: Clemence of Hungary, Joan de Poitiers, Isabella of France and, by book seven, several others.
Wounded Gazelle Gambit: Used by cardinal Dueze, who, during the Conclave, pretends to be on his deathbed. The rest of the cardinals, trapped in the church until they choose the Pope, decide to vote for him, hoping that he'll die soon after. Their reaction upon seeing him spring from bed is a Crowning Moment of Funny.
Wretched Hive: Avignon was usually depicted as this during the Papacy's stay there. Pope John XXII turned it into a well-managed Wretched Hive.
Your Cheating Heart : the adultery of Marguerite and Blanche pretty much kickstarts the events leading to a Hundred Years War. While Charles is ready to forgive his wife her treachery, Louis is all too willing to get rid of Marguerite. And he does.