Literature / The Accursed Kings

"The Accursed Kings has it all: iron kings and strangled queens, battles and betrayals, lies and lust, deception, family rivalries, the curse of the Templars, babies switched at birth, she-wolves, sin and swords, the doom of a great dynasty and all of it (or most of it) straight from the pages of history. And believe me, the Starks and the Lannisters have nothing on the Capets and Plantagenets."

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 Crisis (or three) and the beginning of The Hundred Years War, set up against the backdrop of France spiraling down into a veritable Crapsack World after it gets hit by disaster after disaster. 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 Philippe the Fair. He is an effective king, if not well-loved, and has three sons. But his sons are being cuckolded: two of his daughters-in-law are sleeping around, with the help of the third. Of course, the Iron King's greatest accomplishment has been dismantling the Knights Templar, a task which took most of his reign up until now... but as the order's last Grand Master, Jacques de Molay, is burnt at the stake, he shouts out that the Kings of France shall be cursed unto the seventh generation.

Creepily, the next seven Kings of France had notably horrible reigns. Particularly, Philippe had three surviving sons, but all of them inherited the throne, and the sole issue any of them had sired by this point had her legitimacy thrown into question by the whole daughters-in-law-sleeping-around thing. Those seven accursed kings form the primary focus of the novel.

The B-plot concerns Robert D'Artois and his attempts to (re)gain his father's county, which his aunt has cheated him of. Since that aunt is the mother of two of the daughters-in-law, he gets drawn into the main plot to the point where it can hardly even be called secondary.

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 translation 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.
  • Abusive Parents: Marie of Cressay's mother is physically and verbally abusive towards her when she finds out of her secret marriage to Guccio.
  • Alas, Poor Villain: Well done for Robert d'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 de Bourgogne. She manages to fight him off with some well-aimed threats.
  • Awesome Moment of Crowning: Phillippe V's coronation at the end of the fourth book is described in full detail.
  • 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 de Molay while burning on the pyre.
  • Bishōnen:
    • Phillippe the Fair, at least by this period's standards. Charles the Fair inherits his looks and nothing else, unfortunately.
    • Edward III, Phillippe's grandson, is described as having inherited both his good looks and much of his personality.
  • Bitter Almonds: How Mahaut poisons Louis, although it's never outright stated whether it was really cyanide.
  • Boisterous Bruiser: Robert d'Artois, until he is kicked out of France and turns Grim Dark.
  • Break the Cutie: The assassination of baby Giannino, who impersonated Jean I for his presentation to the Barons. Also, the fate of his mother, Clémence of Hungary.
  • Broken Pedestal: Both Hugh de Bouville and Pope John XII feel this way about Phillipe de Poitiers, whom they both used to respect, for the way he became king.
  • Bury Your Gays: Edward II's ultimate fate after his forced abdication, in the words of one of his gaolers dying by where he has sinned.
  • The Caligula: Louis X of France and Edward II of England. While they are not insane, they are portrayed as quite tyrannical and unpredictable.
  • The Chessmaster: Philippe the Fair and his second son Philippe de Poitiers (the later Philippe V). Pope John XXII is this and a Manipulative Bastard.
  • Chronic Backstabbing Disorder: Almost every single character.
  • Cool Uncle: This is what Louis X and Charles IV think of Charles of Valois. His other nephew Phillipe V correctly sees him as a dangerously incompetent ruler.
  • Convenient Miscarriage: Several.
  • Corrupt Church
  • Corrupt Hick: The Cressay family, half a millennium or so before there even were hicks.
  • Crazy Jealous Guy: Mortimer acts this way with queen Isabella. He even feels jelous of her children, and the belief that she still has feelings for Edward II is one of the reasons he has him killed.
  • Crime After Crime: Robert brings his aunt Mahaut to trial for the posession of the county of Artois, and falsifies some documents to support his case. However, he realises Mahaut can prove his papers are false in court, so he decides to have her poisoned. After she dies, her eldest surviving daughter, Queen Dowager Jeanne, inherits her claim to the county, so Robert has to poison her as well. And after Jeanne's death, her daugher, Mahaut's granddaugher, becomes the new countess of Artois; since she is married to the duke of Burgundy, Robert cannot get to her.
  • 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: Phillippe de Poitiers; his uncle, Louis d'Évreux; and cardinal Dueze later Pope John XXII.
  • Defrosting the Ice Queen: Philip the Fair shows signs of this towards Isabelle in private, during their conversation in Pontoise.
  • Dies Wide Open: Philippe the Fair. Courtiers attempted to close his eyes after his death, in vain, so they blindfolded his body as it laid in full regalia over his deathbed.
  • The Ditz: Louis X, Philippe's eldest, can't be called retarded per se, but he's just plain dumb as a brick. Blanche de Bourgogne is a more straight example.
  • Door Stopper: The seven books, taken together.
  • Dying Curse: The titular curse, cast by Jacques de Molay on Pope Clemens V, Guillaume de Nogaret and king Philippe IV. They all die before the end of the year, while the House of Capet expires within next 30 years.
  • Even Bad Men Love Their Mamas: Robert d'Artois is apparently very proud of his mother, Blanche de Bretagne.
  • Evil Chancellor: This is how Charles of Valois perceives Enguerrand de Marigny.
  • Evil Uncle: Both Charles de Valois and his nephew Philippe de Poitiers have shades of this.
  • The Exile: In the fifth book, Mortimer and Queen Isabella have to leave England to get away from Edward II and the Despenser family.
    • In the sixth book, Robert must escape France to avoid being convicted for perjury and witchcraft. He goes to Avignon (which was then the seat of the Papacy), Flanders and finally England.
  • Famous Ancestor: While most of the characters are closely related to many kings and queens (when they aren't monarchs themselves), the Capets take particular pride in being descendants of Louis IX, a 13th century king of France who had been canonized and who was known by then as Saint Louis. His only two surviving children, a son and a daughter, are viewed with special reverence.
  • Feuding Families: The Capets/Valois and the Plantagenets (although they are so closely related they might as well be a single family).
  • Finger-Licking Poison: Jehan I falls victim of that. Actually, it was an impersonator.
  • 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 annulling a marriage in canon law leads to all kinds of consequences for the members of the Capetian dynasty, most directly for Marguerite de Bourgogne and to a lesser extend, her comrade-in-crime Blanche de Bourgogne.
  • 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, Valois and Bourbons.
  • Historical Villain Upgrade: Probably the case for Béatrice d'Hirson: nothing is known about the real woman, other than that she was a lady-in-waiting of Mahaut d'Artois.
  • Hoist by His Own Petard: Philippe de Poitiers wants to be King of France, but Jehanne 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.
  • Identical Grandson: The resemblance between Phillipe IV and his grandson Edward III of England is uncanny.
  • I Was Quite a Looker: Charles de Valois. He's younger brother of Philippe 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 de Bourgogne at the end of the second book. Turns out that Marguerite de Bourgogne 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:
    • Isabelle of France. Marguerite de Bourgogne uses it for insult after her sentence for adultery: She lashes that Isabelle 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.
    • Philippe the Fair is a 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 Jehanne de Navarre's death, nine years before the events of the first book.
  • The Ingenue: Clémence of Hungary is both this and The Pollyanna. After arriving to French court she quickly gets hit with a Trauma Conga Line.
  • Kangaroo Court: The most blatant example is the trial of the Templars, who were accused of outrageous crimes such as worshipping the Devil and practising witchcraft, only so that the king might seize their goods and riches.
  • King on His Deathbed: Phillippe IV at the end of the first book. Also Charles of Valois in the fifth (while he never inherited the throne himself, he was king of France in all but name by the time of his death).
  • Kissing Cousins: Par for the course, since most of the characters are aristocrats. One example are Edward III and Philippa of Hainault, who are second cousins. (Edward's maternal grandfather was Philippe IV and Philippa's paternal grandfather was Philippe's younger brother, Charles de Valois)
  • Knight in Sour Armor: Enguerrand de Marigny, just before being hanged : "for just causes, I have done unjust actions". Philippe IV the Fair and Philippe V the Tall could also qualify.
  • Knight Templar: Guillaume de Nogaret is a perfect example, ironically enough.
  • The Knights Templar: Jacques de Molay, the last Grand Master of the Knights Templar, is a central character of the first book.
  • Lady of Black Magic: Béatrice d'Hirson likes to pose as one, but her standard weapon is poison, as - with the possible exception for the titular curse - this series lacks any supernatural elements.
  • Large Ham: Robert d'Artois and Charles de Valois almost make it a World of Ham, and they get some help from other characters. Although in Robert's case, it's at least partially an act.
  • Laser-Guided Karma: Enguerrand de Marigny begins to believe in this as he contemplates his impending execution, coming to the conclusion that all unjust acts sow the seeds of their perpetrators' own destruction even if those actions were themselves motivated to correct a previous injustice.
  • Lawful Stupid: Hugues de Bouville, royal steward, who royally fucks up the situation after the assassination of (false) Jehan I.
  • Loads and Loads of Characters: Most of them sporting similar first names and titles, so be very careful about family names and serial numbers.
  • Love-Obstructing Parents: Marie's mother and brothers do everything they can to keep her and Guccio apart.
  • Luxury Prison Suite: Jeanne of Burgundy, Phillipe of Poitiers' wife, is not punished as severely as her sister Blanche and her sister-in-law Marguerite for her involvement in the Tour de Nesle Affair, because while they comited adultery, she only covered it up for them. Thus, while they are imprisoned in the grim Château Gaillard, Jeanne is only kept in house arrest at Dourdan.
  • The Magnificent: Philippe IV the Fair, Louis X the Stubborn, Philippe V the Tall, Charles IV the Fair and Isabelle the She-wolf of France.
  • Mama's Baby, Papa's Maybe: The whole issue of Jehanne de Navarre's (possibly) illegitimate birth. It's been somewhat implied that she was really Louis' daughter.
  • The Man Behind the Man: Charles of Valois and Robert of Artois during Charles IV's reign. Robert continues on this role at the begining of Phillipe VI's reign.
  • The Marvelous Deer: While hunting, Philippe IV briefly sees a deer with St. Hubert's cross between its antlers before he tumbles off his horse due to a brain aneurysm.
  • Master Poisoner: Béatrice d'Hirson has some good records at that game, including a minister and two kings (supposedly), and even her own employer and her daughter.
  • The Middle Ages: It takes place between 1307 and 1356, which falls somewhere between The High Middle Ages and The Late Middle Ages.
  • 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."
  • Non-Violent Initial Confrontation: In a way, this is how the Hundred Years War begins. At first the English try to lay claim to the French throne by diplomatic means, and when they are refused (and after some encouragement by Robert of Artois) they declare war on France.
  • Not Good with People: Philippe 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.
  • Obstructive Bureaucrat: Guillaume de Nogaret, who is a cross of this and Well-Intentioned Extremist, combined with his Undying Loyalty towards Philippe IV.
  • Odd Friendship: between Eudeline, the linen-mistress of Vincennes, and Queen Clémence of Hungary. It's very much in Clémence's character to befriend a servant, but managing to win over Eudeline—Loius X's first, the mother of his bastard, and who was still in love with him for a very long time—shows the depth of that character.
  • One Steve Limit: Averted. There are so many Blanches, Jehannes, Philippes, etc., it's even lampshaded during the meeting of noble families before Philippe'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.
  • Outliving One's Offspring: It happens to several characters, because the death rate of children was very high. The more tragic example may be Clementia of Hungary, who loses her only child (or at least that's what she believes).
  • Parental Marriage Veto: Played dead straight with Marie de Cressay's mother and brothers' when they learn that she's pregnant and married to Guccio, notwithstanding that he saved their asses multiple times, that they were feeding off his charity, and that he had more money that they could ever have. Guccio barely escapes with his life and is forced to flee Paris, while Marie is placed in a convent until she gives birth to Giannino, who will impersonate the little King Jehan the first at his baptism. His uncle Tolomei muses that had they caught him the only retribution they would have garnered would be to pay a very cheap fine for killing a Lombard who was a seducer of noblewomen.
  • The Patriarch: Phillipe IV.
  • Perfectly Arranged Marriage: Philippe de Poitiers and Jehanne de Bourgogne; Edward III and his wife, Philippa. Subverted for Louis and Marguerite and Edward II and Isabelle, with dire consequences.
  • Prison Episode: The chapters depicting Marguerite and Blanche's imprisonment in Château Gaillard and Mortimer's in the Tower of London.
  • Public Execution: Several instances, from the burning of the Templars in the first book to the death of Mortimer in the sixth.
  • Put on a Bus: This happens twice to Queen Isabella. After revealing her sisters-in-law's adultery in book 1, she returns to England and doesn't make another appearence until book 5, where she's arguably the main protagonist. Then, at the beginning of book 6 she's overthrown by her son and sent to the country, and we never see her again.
  • Raised by Grandparents: Clementia is raised by her grandmother Mary of Hungary, because her parents died in her early childhood.
  • Rape, Pillage, and Burn: What Robert and his troops do upon invading Mahaut's realm.
  • Reasonable Authority Figure: Louis d'Évreux, half-brother of Philippe IV. Unfortunately, only Philippe de Poitiers pays any attention to his opinions.
  • Royal "We": Used by practically every king in the novels.
  • Silly Rabbit, Romance Is for Kids!: Sums up Philippe the Fair's attitude and reaction when his daughter Isabelle confides to him that she's one unhappy, lonely Queen of England, and when she reminds him to what sort of man he had married her.
  • Shaggy Dog Story: The bonus chapter depicting the life of Giannino Baglioni, the real Jehan I.
  • Sexless Marriage: One of the underlying reasons why Isabelle 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 Isabelle had four children together, including the future Edward III). If Isabelle 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 Jehanne II de Navarre, daughter of Louis X of France, is declared ineligible for crowning because she is a girl.
  • Supporting Leader: Many kings have this role in the story, specially Charles IV and Phillippe VI.
  • 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 Hugues de Bouville meets the Genre Savvy cardinal Dueze; when the subject of possibly annulling 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:
    • Jehanne, Blanche and Marguerite de Bourgogne 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.
  • Torture Technician: Guillaume de Nogaret personally oversees the torture of the two squires accused of being Marguerite and Blanche's lovers, and it's stated that he does this frequently.
  • Unable to Cry: When Clementia of Hungary, who has already lost her husband, is told of her infant son's death, she remains stoic, although it's clear she is deeply hurt.
  • Undying Loyalty:
    • Hugues de Bouville towards the royal family.
    • Lormet to Robert d'Artois.
  • The Unfavorite: Although Philippe IV doesn't show fondness for any of his children, Louis X is clearly the case.
  • Unresolved Sexual Tension:
    • Between Isabelle and Robert in the first book. When they meet several years later, it's all gone. The UST between Robert and Béatrice gets resolved in the sixth book, but it ends tragically for both of them.
    • In the fifth book it is implied that Isabelle's evident relishing of watching Hugh de Despenser being so cruelly and brutally executed, plus her hesitation in having Edward II himself disposed off under her lover Mortimer's advice, are both fueled in part by the fact that she did still love her husband despite all the humiliation he made her live through. Isabelle's own thoughts, however, show she's reluctant to have him killed due to Edward being the father of her children, and an anointed monarch such as herself.
  • Unwitting Pawn: Hughes de Bouville always jumps at the chance to be of service to royalty in hopes of advancing his station, never suspecting that he's largely being used as a convenient errand boy for much larger schemes.
  • Victory Is Boring: As Charles de Valois discovers, when he finally gets rid of his arch-enemy, Enguerrand de Marigny.
  • White Collar Crime: Marigny is falsely accused of this by his enemy Charles of Valois.
  • Wife Husbandry: Arranged Marriage between Philippe de Poitiers' daughter and Eudocius de Bourgogne.
  • The Wise Prince: Philippe de Poitiers, although on his way to the throne he kicks several puppies. Hard. Later, Edward III turns out to be this.
  • Woman in White: White was traditionally worn by queens in mourning. This includes Clémence of Hungary, Jehanne II de Bourgogne, Isabelle 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.

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