Literature: The Accursed Kings

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 Philippe 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 Philippe the Fair, Molay cursed the Kings of France unto the seventh generation (and, creepily, the next seven Kings of France had notably horrible reigns, and although Philippe 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 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.
  • Arranged Marriage: Many, with varying degrees of success.
  • 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.
    • 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.
  • The Baroness: Mahaut d'Artois.
  • Battle Ballgown: Mahaut apparently had one.
  • 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 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.
  • 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 Jehan I for his presentation to the Barons. Also, the fate of his mother, Clémence of Hungary.
  • Broken Bird: Isabelle of France, Clémence of Hungary and Marie de Cressay. It was a bad time for women.
  • 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 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.
  • Convenient Miscarriage: Several.
  • Corrupt Church
  • Corrupt Hick: The Cressay family, half a millennium or so before there even were hicks.
  • 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: Isabelle of France.
    • 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.
  • Dissonant Serenity: The Pope.
  • 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 Redhead / Red-Headed Hero: Robert d'Artois.
  • Evil Uncle: Both Charles de Valois and his nephew Philippe de Poitiers have shades of this.
  • Face Death with Dignity: Enguerrand de Marigny.
  • Femme Fatale: Marguerite de Bourgogne and Béatrice d'Hirson. They both meet a rather grisly end.
  • 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.
  • Glory Hound: Charles de Valois.
  • Go Mad from the Isolation: Blanche and Marguerite de Bourgogne slowly lose their sanity during their imprisonment in Castle Gaillard.
  • Grey and Gray Morality: Borderline Black and Gray Morality, in that the protagonist is on a very dark shade.
  • Heir Club for Men: Thanks to Philippe 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.
  • Henpecked Husband: Hugues de Bouville. It ends badly.
  • The High Queen: Isabelle of France.
  • Historical-Domain Character: Most of the cast.
  • 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.
  • 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 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 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 Jehanne de Navarre's death, nine years before the events of the first book.
  • Infant Immortality: Averted.
  • The Ingenue: Clémence of Hungary is both this and The Pollyanna. After arriving to French court she quickly gets hit with Trauma Conga Line.
  • 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.
  • Lack of Empathy: Implied with Philippe the Fair.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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 Bear: Mahaut d'Artois is really protective about her daughters.
  • 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 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.
  • Modest Royalty: Phillippe V.
  • Momma's Boy: Eudocius de Bourgogne
  • Morality Pet: Clémence of Hungary is this to Louis X.
  • The Neidermeyer: In the seventh book, Jehan II.
  • 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: 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • The Pope: Clement V and later, Jehan XXII.
  • Prince Charmless: Pretty much Louis X.
  • Psychopathic Manchild: Louis X has shades of this.
  • 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.
  • Self-Made Man: Enguerrand de Marigny.
  • 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.
  • Standard Royal Court
  • 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.
  • 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 II, 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.
  • 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.
  • Victory Is Boring: As Charles de Valois discovers, when he finally gets rid of chis arch-enemy, Enguerrand de Marigny.
  • Villain Protagonist: Robert d'Artois, arguably.
  • 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.