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Literature / The Accursed Kings

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"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 (Les Rois Maudits in French), 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 thirteenth generation.

Creepily, the next 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 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 (starring Jean Piat) and in 2005 (starring, among others, Jeanne Moreau, Gérard Depardieu, Julie Depardieu and Tchéky Karyo), both only covering the first six books.

George R. R. Martin is a big 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! It also applies to Martin's Fire & Blood and the series adapting it, House of the Dragon, perhaps even moreso.

The list of novels, in order, is as follows:

  1. Le Roi de fer (The Iron King), 1955
  2. La Reine étranglée (The Strangled Queen), 1955
  3. Les Poisons de la couronne (The Poisoned Crown), 1956
  4. La Loi des mâles (The Royal Succession), 1956
  5. La Louve de France (The She-Wolf of France), 1959
  6. Le Lis et le lion (The Lily and the Lion), 1960
  7. Quand un Roi perd la France (The King Without a Kingdom), 1977

Tropes in this work:

  • 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, especially for Robert, who dies without achieving anything and is buried in England.
  • A Lighter Shade of Black: Pope John XXII, after taking confession from Bouville and hearing the truth of the royal heir's survival, reflects that for all his many, many flaws, Robert might indeed be this to his child-murdering aunt.
  • All for Nothing: At the end of the series, Robert d'Artois is dying of an arrow wound, exiled from France, has committed multiple murders (some of which he clearly regrets), unknowingly set England and France at each other's throats for the next hundred years or so... and of course, is still no closer to inheriting his county of Artois than at the beginning.
  • Antagonist in Mourning: Valois, after expending considerable time and effort tearing down Marigny, ends up feeling this way about his Arch-Enemy; in his final days, he outright deifies the man, seeking his forgiveness, and talking to his ghost when nobody else is around. Also the case for Robert after finally destroying Mahaut.
  • 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.
    • Edward II's death by hot-poker-up-the-ass is believed by modern historians to have been a rumor or propaganda that gained particular currency given the king's rumored homosexual relationships, not how he was actually killed.
  • Asshole Victim:
    • A few, most notably Mahaut of Artois, who goes out in a nasty way, but certainly not undeservedly so.
    • The author loves to subvert this trope. Many characters start out as apparently unlikeable antagonists or anti-heroes, but the closer they are to (seemingly) well-deserved defeat or death, the more sympathetic they become, and their end often comes at the hands of a greater villain. Notable examples include Philippe the Fair, Guillaume de Nogaret, Enguerrand de Marigny, Loius X and Edward II (though the latter is hardly villainous to begin with and most hate comes his way from his neglected wife Isabella). Most of them Face Death with Dignity.
  • Awesome Moment of Crowning: Phillippe V's coronation at the end of the fourth book is described in full detail.
  • Bait-and-Switch: Robert d'Artois visiting the princesses in prison:
    I've come to deliver... a message.
  • Better with Non-Human Company: Philippe IV 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.
  • Big Eater: Both Robert and Mahaut d'Artois.
    • Mahaut starts getting so fat that by the end of the series that she walks with a cane and has to be bled almost daily. Not played for laughs.
    • Meanwhile, Robert is stated to deal with Louis X's newfound enthusiasm for religious fasting by eating enough food for four men before reporting to the court.
  • Big Fun: Robert d'Artois is a combination of this, a Boisterous Bruiser and a Fat Bastard with Affably Evil streaks. Joviality is apparently part of his true nature, but too often he's hiding very malicious intentions behind the façade of a friendly overweight hedonist.
  • 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.
  • Bitter Almonds: How Mahaut poisons Louis, although it's never outright stated whether it was really cyanide.
  • Blaming the Cuckold:
    • After two of the three princes of France (Louis and Charles) are discovered to be cuckolds (their wives Marguerite and Blanche taking on squires from their uncle's entourage as their lovers) after a little digging from their sister Isabelle, their father Philip IV takes severe action against the guilty women but makes it clear he holds his sons partly responsible for creating the situation through their lack of character.
    Charles, you were pathetic as a husband, you could at least pretend to be a strong prince.
    • After her trial, Marguerite venomously spits that it was Isabelle's lack of bedroom talent that drove her husband (the all-but-openly homosexual Edward II of England) into the arms of men. Years later, and with Marguerite long dead, Isabelle finally takes on a lover (Roger Mortimer) and guiltily wonders if she'd have been as swift to condemn her sisters-in-law if she'd known what good sex was like.
  • Boisterous Bruiser: Robert d'Artois, until he is kicked out of France and turns Grimdark.
  • Book Ends: Roger Mortimer, whose daring escape from the Tower of London provides the opening of the fifth book, is eventually deposed as regent and put right back there by Edward III in the sixth. He's given the same cell, perhaps as an insult, and even seven years on, the crow that haunted so many of the prisoner's nights — affectionately nicknamed Edward, after the first Edward that Roger ran afoul of — is waiting for him. More poignantly, Mortimer at last understands why his uncle had refused to escape with him from this cell that fateful night, and comes to feel the same: now an older man who had risen so high, loved so well, and fallen so far, his life was simply over, and he resigns himself to his fate.
  • 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.
  • Brutal Honesty: The Archpriest can get away with calling king John II a dumbass to his face on seeing the Epic Fail of the siege tower John wanted (instead of more cannons).
  • 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 Chains of Commanding: Phillippe IV begins to feel the stress of authority after Guillaume de Nogaret's death.
  • 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.
    • Robert d'Artois is more of a subversion. He's incredibly manipulative and cunning, has successfully arranged a number of assassinations, and pulls out a few truly magnificent gambits - in the first book, he uncovers the princesses' infidelity, in the penultimate one, he basically kickstarts the Hundred Years War. But his schemes often go out of control, and he never reaches his true goal. He's also bad at math, which makes him a weak player when it comes to financial manipulations.
  • Chronic Backstabbing Disorder: Almost every single character.
  • Cleavage Window: Beatrice d'Hirson has one, though she's doesn't show any seductive tendencies until later in the series.
  • Cool Uncle:
    • It depends on one's definition of "cool". Louis X and Charles IV think of Charles of Valois as one. His other nephew Philippe V correctly sees him as a dangerously incompetent ruler (and unsurprisingly his aforementioned brothers are little better) and looks up to his other uncle Louis of Èvreux, a moderate and wise ruler of his counties.
    • Tolomei is very protective of his nephew Guccio, managing to save his ass when Guccio is fleeing from the angry Cressay brothers.
  • Corrupt Church:
    • Priests and clerics are often just as venal and scheming as their secular peers.
      de Bouville (on learning the remaining cardinals can't be bought): They're not honest, are they?
      Cardinal Dueze: Oh no, have no fear. But they belong to Marigny.
    • Jean de Marginy, the chancellor's brother, is a coward and a sellout who sells off relics for his own needs. Even Robert d'Artois and Charles de Valois are impressed by how quickly he sells out his brother to save his skin.
      d'Artois: I've never seen a man crawl with such arrogance!
  • 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 d'Artois 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.
    • Countess Mahaut herself, who basically steals her nephew Robert's county, destroys legal documents that prove her crimes, and then murders King Louis le Hutin, who favored Robert and intended to give her lands to him. But since Louis's wife later gives birth to a boy, Mahaut murders him as well during his crowning ceremony in sight of the whole court (or so she thinks, the child was actually switched with another right before the crowning). She then blackmails King Philippe the Tall with exposure, claiming he only inherited the crown due to her crimes.
  • Cruel and Unusual Death:
    • Happens to some characters. Easily the most remembered are the executed squires in the first book (beaten, castrated, decapitated, and hanged, among others) and the murder of the deposed Edward II in book five with a burning hot poker repeatedly 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. His genitals were cut off, his chest split open and his heart ripped out with pliers.
    • 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.
  • Death of a Child: Poor little Jean the Posthumous barely lasts a week, either as reigning King of France or as a living human being.
  • Defiant to the End:
    • Jacques de Molay, who curses the Iron King, his sycophants, and his bloodline in the eponymous scene. Later, Hugh Despenser the Elder also goes this way, refuting every charge against him and going to his execution firm in the belief that his enemies are in the wrong.
    • The series ends with a sick and delirious Robert d'Artois hallucinating the voice of the king telling him to give up on the damn Artois already, he yells "NEVER!"
  • Defeat Means Friendship: After the astounding English victory at Poitiers, combatants on both sides dine together and trade compliments for the heroic deeds of the day. The Prince of Wales, still more than a little stunned at how thoroughly he'd won the day, is an exceptionally generous host to the defeated French, whose king is quite gracious in return.
  • Defrosting the Ice Queen:
    • Philip the Fair shows signs of this towards Isabelle in private, during their conversation in Pontoise.
    • Isabelle of France once she starts sleeping with Roger Mortimer.
  • Deliberate Values Dissonance: All over the place with tons and tons of historically accurate inequality and prejudices. Lampshaded by the author himself who notes in narrator comments that many of medieval moral and cultural norms would feel outlandish for a modern reader. This makes scenes such as Philippe the Fair having a kindly talk with a liberated serf or Guccio's uncle deciding not to force him into an Arranged Marriage all the more heartwarming.
  • Depraved Homosexual: Edward II of England, who neglects his kingdom in lieu of showering titles and honors on his favorites.
  • Determinator: Robert of Artois. Even outlawed and attainted, reduced to little more than a vagabond, he remains as ambitious and audacious as ever.
    Robert: Still, as long as you're alive, you've never quite lost the day.
  • 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.
  • Dirty Coward: King John II's son, the Dauphin, balks when what should have been an easy battle turns nasty, and quits the field. The narrator opines that him getting out of a bad position was laudable, as was mounting after running afoul of mounted enemies. But running away as he could is a hard thing to sell as courageous, and the sight of this destroyed his force's morale, leading them to follow his example.
  • The Ditz: Louis X and Charles IV, Philippe's eldest and youngest sons, are dumb as bricks. Blanche de Bourgogne is a more straightforward example.
  • Door Stopper: The seven books, taken together.
  • Double Standard: The three princesses imprisoned for adultery because unfaithful women can't be entrusted with a royal house succession. It's obvious that had the three princes been unfaithful to their wives, no one would have blinked an eye.
    • It's an interesting case of a Zig-Zagged Trope. Society's permissiveness to male infidelity compared to female infidelity is a Double Standard in terms of morality. However, illegitimate children of male adulterers don't (normally) jeopardize the line of succession; if the child's paternity is kept secret their relation to royalty is unknown, and if the father is known it still doesn't matter, as bastards cannot inherit the throne. In contrast, a woman who becomes pregnant by a secret lover can jeopardize the line of succession, as this "cuckoo" could potentially ascend the throne, a big deal in a world where political legitimacy depends on bloodline and rulers are anointed by God.
  • The Dragon: Béatrice d'Hirson to Mahaut of Artois, until she betrays and murders her in the sixth book. Perhaps in direct contrast, Lormet, Béatrice's opposite in nearly every way, from methods to appearance, is this to Robert of Artois, Mahaut's hated Arch-Enemy, and is completely, unconditionally loyal to his beloved master.
  • Dropped a Bridge on Him: Robert D'Artois dies after being hit by a random arrow shot by an unknown archer in an irrelevant skirmish. He struggles for four days, and for his last moment, he can't believe that he's actually going to die like this.
  • 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.
  • Dying Dream: As he lays dying of dysentery, Robert d'Artois starts hallucinating and reliving some of his more memorable moments in the series, such as his first visit to Isabella or his final visit to Marguerite. His final words are "NEVER!" in response to the king's voice demanding that he give up his county of Artois.
  • Engineered Heroics: Robert d'Artois saves a couple of young men from being assaulted by bandits as they leave their mistresses' house, allowing him to see their magnificently embroidered purses. Naturally, the bandits were on his payroll and only attacked so he could verify the men's identity as lovers of the princes' wives.
  • Epic Fail: John II of France, whose many and varied acts of colossal stupidity put all of Philip the Fair's unworthy progeny to shame. In the end, he somehow manages to lead 25,000 soldiers to defeat against an exhausted English regiment with a fifth of the troops; his army is not only routed, but the king himself is taken prisoner.
    Has such a king ever been seen before in a position where he can win everything in the morning, without drawing his sword, who can establish his law once more over a quarter of his kingdom, simply by appending his signature and affixing his seal on the treaty that his hounded enemy offers him, and who refuses, and on that very evening finds himself prisoner.
  • Ethereal White Dress: 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.
  • Even Bad Men Love Their Mamas: Robert d'Artois is apparently very proud of his mother, Blanche de Bretagne.
  • Even Evil Has Loved Ones: Louis X, a cruel, childish monarch who murdered his first wife, falls hard for his second one, and is at his most tender with her. When she confronts him about the aforementioned murder and lists off his many and varied other crimes, he is utterly terrified of losing her and swears to be a better man.
  • Even Evil Has Standards: For all the evil they've committed together, Madame Mahaut's lady-in-waiting/master poisoner, Béatrice, believes that she'd be out of a job if her mistress learned that she is a Satanist who holds to a pact with the Devil. For an interesting contrast, Mahaut's slightly less villainous nephew, Robert, finds himself quite fascinated by Béatrice's unholy lusts and passions, but still can't bring himself to believe or join her in them... until he comes around to exactly that, following Béatrice's instructions to enlist the Devil's favour in his master stroke to reclaim Artois.
  • Everyone Has Standards: When Roger Mortimer has the Earl of Kent tried for treason through foul play and acquires for his enemy an expedited death sentence, he cannot find a willing executioner. England's professionals would rather lose their jobs than carry out such a blatantly false sentence, and the broader military refuses to be party to it as well. Mortimer has to hire a condemned man on death row to do it in return for a pardon, and so a good man meets a gory end at the hands of a criminal.
  • Evil Chancellor: This is how Charles of Valois perceives Enguerrand de Marigny, who in turn sees de Valois as Louis' Evil Uncle (both men are trying their best to run the kingdom as they see fit, given Louis' spectacular ineptitude for ruling).
  • Evil Uncle: Both Charles de Valois and his nephew Philippe de Poitiers have shades of this.
  • Evil vs. Evil: Robert and Mahaut are both despicable people — her perhaps a little worse than him — and their vicious, bitter rivalry ruins many lives, including their own.
  • 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.
  • Extreme Doormat:
    • Eudeline, the mistress of Louis X's, is probably the meekest character in the books. Not only she never says no to his sexual advances (which are basically rape attempts but he's so weak and pathetic that it turns into Pity Sex instead), she is worried that having an illegitimate daughter with her would cause Louis trouble and keeps silent about her child. It takes Louis breaking his promise of making their daughter a princess for Eudeline to finally snap out of it, and even then she only dares making a mildly sarcastic comment about his new wife. That said, it's implied that Eudeline was probably the only person who has shown Louis some kindness and pity (which speaks volumes about how "likeable" he was) and also one of the very few people who drew some genuine affection from him.
    • Fully averted with Clemence of Hungary despite her being described as similar to Eudeline in many ways (which is the reason Louis wanted her as his second wife). Not only she stands up against Louis, she manages to reshape him into a somewhat better person.
  • Face Death with Dignity: Enguerrand de Marigny dies like this.
  • Failed a Spot Check: Among the documents forged (or recreated, as the originals were destroyed) by Robert, one of them cites a date that's off by twenty years, and that nobody (including Robert) spots until the big day. He unsuccessfully attempts to have it written off as a typo by the original clerk.
  • 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.
  • Fatal Flaw: Pride and stubbornness for Robert. He is the rightful heir of Artois, and nothing will convince him to let this go; certainly not his own conscience. Even when he's attained positions and honours far beyond this county, righting this wrong remains his end goal and consumes his ambitions, driving him to commit crimes he refuses to back down from. Even Philip VI, the king Robert made, with whose patronage Robert stood as the eminent peer of the kingdom, who offers Robert every favourable way out, cannot sway his destructive course. His judges mull over this during his trial, which he is absent for, having fled the king's overtures rather than face the music and move on.
    Why had he obstinately pursued his own downfall, when the King had shown himself so determinedly clement to the very end?
  • Fate Worse than Death: Possibly Clémence of Hungary, the Friend to All Living Things who, after outliving both husband and son, survives a fever that wrecks her mind. She survives, but where she used to be a modest, shy queen she becomes a spendthrift moneywaster (to the point where the Pope has to tell her to pay her debts).
  • Feuding Families: The Capets/Valois and the Plantagenets (although they are so closely related they might as well be a single family).
  • Fighting for a Homeland: Downplayed with Robert d'Artois: despite all the titles and honors piled on him that make him second only to the king, all his life he only really wants his county of Artois, as for him only landed titles count.
  • Finger-Licking Poison: Jehan I falls victim of that. Actually, it was an impersonator.
  • Firearms Are Revolutionary:
    • Played with during the first appearance of siege guns which produce a lot of smoke and noise when firing, but the old marshal remains unimpressed, especially when compared to trebuchets. Due to the city walls, the besiegers don't see that the shot obliterated a house.
    • In the final book, an approaching siege tower is obliterated by point-blank cannon fire that had been hidden in the walls. Everyone knew it was a dumb idea except the king (whose idea it was).
  • Fish out of Water: Poor Clémence of Hungary is shipped off from the sunny, lively Naples to Northern France. She loathes the weather and she doesn't adjust well to the cutthroat politics of the French court, since her upbringing didn't have any of the dysfunctions of the Capetians.
  • Flat Character: Charles, the last of Philippe the Fair's sons, gets the least amount of screentime or dialogue, and what little there is establishes him to be in the same vein as Louis.
  • Food Porn: Medieval dishes are described with plenty of details )never read with an empty stomach. On the other side, an over-indulging diet based on meat and wine without modern medicine, does take the tool on most of the characters, and perhaps is no surprise that most of the characters died before hitting 60.
  • Foolish Sibling, Responsible Sibling: Several sibling pairings or triplets (or more):
    • Philippe V is the shrewd statesman to his utterly incompetent brothers Louis X and Charles IV. Isabella may qualify as responsible, but most of her schemes cause more harm than good (and snowball into a decades-long war).
    • Fittingly their father Philippe IV qualifies as the responsible, and his brothers Charles of Valois and Louis of Èvreux are respectively a Warhawk and Large Ham, and the other is The Wise Prince;
    • Mahaut of Artois' daughters: Joan of Burgundy is the responsible to Blanche's foolish. Joan does not cheat on her husband despite the chance, Blanche does and eventually gets caught. Guess who keeps her head.
  • 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. Mahaut would not have murdered Louis to put Philippe on the throne for him to free her daughter, Philippe would not have passed the Salic Law to secure his claim over his niece's, Edward III would not have used that law to justify his own claim to the kingdom of France over Philippe's daughters, and the Hundred Year War might not have happened.
    • 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.
    • When Edward II and Hugh Despenser are caught, they're disguised as monks and Edward is hammering away at a red-hot poker.
    • Philip of Poitiers blackmails his uncle Charles of Valois into backing his claim to the throne, expressing his intention of summoning the Estates General to discuss the matter. Charles, being the reactionary he is, laments how giving the tiniest inch of power to the commoners will bring the bourgeois to the power and they will elect some sorry parvenu as their king in a few decades. Which is exactly what happened with The French Revolution from a monarchical point of view.
  • Gambit Pileup: Nearly every character in the books is a schemer out to fulfill their own ambitions, whether high-minded or base. Most of them think that they're good at it; many are deluding themselves. The vast majority of the plot follows the horse-trades, compromises, rivalries, and betrayals that all these plots and schemes set in motion.
  • Girl in the Tower: The three princesses accused of adultery. Joan has it better, as she was just covering her sisters-in-law's affair, and is our in arrest in a comfortable keep. The other two who are caught almost in flagrante delicto have it much worse in the Hell Hole Prison of Château Gaillard.
  • Glory Hound: Charles de Valois, who spends most of his life either questing for foreign crowns or agitating for glorious (and impractically expensive) military campaigns against France's foes.
  • God Save Us from the Queen!: Queen Isabella becomes regent after removing her husband, Edward II, from the throne of England, and ends up being known as "the She-Wolf of France" by her subjects. How much she is an evil queen is debatable, but at the eyes of her contemporaries plotting against your husband and deposing him was wicked and sinful.
  • Go Mad from the Isolation: Blanche and Marguerite de Bourgogne slowly lose their sanity during their imprisonment in Castle Gaillard.
  • The Good Chancellor: Enguerrand de Marigny is arguably a deconstruction. He was competent and had France best interest in mind, but went to ruthless measures to consolidate the crown, like expelling the Jews and exterminate the Templars order, which gained him lots of enemies and the distrust of those nobles whop believe in the Good Old Ways (like Charles of Valois).
  • Good Feels Good: Louis X is impelled to go on a string of merciful, conciliatory actions at the behest of his kindhearted wife, and feels much better about himself having done so. It's opined later in the third book that Louis has become a much better person due to his new wife's virtuous influence, but by then his days are numbered.
  • Good Old Ways: Charles de Valois claims he wants to bring back the feudal ways as they were under Saint Louis.
  • Graceful Loser: John II, after his utterly crushing defeat to Edward, Prince of Wales, who is a humble victor. Even then, though, it doesn't really last.
    King John II, for a moment, had shown greatness, really, a very brief moment, in the instant that followed his capture. He had shown the greatness of extreme misfortune. And now he was returning to his true nature: behaviour corresponding to his exaggerated self-image, poor judgement, futile concerns, shameful passions, absurd impulses and lingering hatreds.
  • Grey-and-Gray Morality: Borderline Black-and-Gray Morality, in that the protagonist is on a very dark shade.
  • Had to Be Sharp: Robert d'Artois is congratulated on his talent for complex scheming. He says he had to learn in order to get back his county (and is indeed a Boisterous Bruiser most of the time).
  • Happily Married: Louis the Hutin and his second wife, Clémence of Hungary. The cruel, incompetent king amends much of his unsavoury behaviour to better please his beloved new wife, who in turn goes from living in terror that he'll do for her as he did his first wife to coming around to halfway redeem him, even giving him a child.
    • Also his brother Philippe V and Jeanne of Bourgogne are a perfect match. Both feel affection for one another, but also have interests that keep their boat floating, so she wisely chooses not to cheat on him (but pays for keeping her mouth shut about her sisters-in-law affairs) and in return Philippe does his best to get her out of imprisonment.
  • Has a Type:
    • Louis X prefers blondes over his dark-haired first wife. Also he prefers his women to be meek and submissive due to his own insecurities. Unsurprisingly he falls head over heels for his second wife, Clémence of Hungary, who is blonde and purity personified.
    • Robert d'Artois prefers commoner women to aristocratic ladies. May have to do something with him being all but a gallant, and exquisite courtship boring him. He's even surprised he's attracted to Isabella, though later he does muse on seducing either or both of prisoner princesses.
  • Hate Sink:
    • While the books have a fair share of unlikeable characters, the cake probably goes to Louis X (who's often considered the inspiration behind Joffrey Baratheon in A Song of Ice and Fire, a sadistic, tyrannical and dim-witted failure of a king, who has his servants tortured on a whim, orders the murder of his unfaithful wife and enjoys shooting doves in a barn. That said, in his POV chapters he's revealed to be less of an irredeemable monster and more of a bitter and hopelessly insecure manchild, traumatized by growing up in his father's shadow and being ridiculed by his first wife. Besides, thanks to his second wife, Louis X pulls out a fairly successful Heel–Faith Turn and dies a slightly better person than he started the story as. Compared to Joffrey, he's all but a saint.
    • Mahaut d'Artois is this In-Universe for her nephew Robert, but she mostly averts this as a character. Despite her heinous crimes and being the closest the series has to a Big Bad, she's legitimately a Magnificent Bitch and at least some of her motives are borderline sympathetic.
  • Heel–Face Door-Slam: Louis X becomes a much better king (and a much better human being) in the months preceding his death. Downplayed with Edward II, for whom much the same applies, but only after having been deposed and put in a position where personal redemption is no longer meaningful to anyone but himself.
  • Heel Realization:
    • Explored with Robert. When his case against Mahaut for ownership of his beloved Artois begins going poorly, he takes a long, loving look at the county he does lord over, mulling on whether it really matters where his corpse decomposes, if this crusade of his is really worth all it's taken to see it through. But this realization is fleeting, and he knows it, and in the end it changes nothing.
      Yet one knows, in one's heart of hearts, that this furtive wisdom will have no effect on one's action.
    • Marigny has one shortly before his execution as he's waiting in the very cell where the Grandmaster of the Templars had been chained for seven years. Seeing his upcoming death as the logical outcome of the lies and manipulations he committed to imprison the Templars and accepting his part in it instead of blaming others lets him Face Death with Dignity.
  • Heir Club for Men:
  • Henpecked Husband:
    • Hugues de Bouville to his shrew of a wife Marguerite.
    • Philippe VI of Valois to his bad-tempered wife Jeanne la Boiteuse. He contemplated starting a new crusade just to have the alibi for cheating on her.
  • The Heretic: Béatrice d'Hirson, lady-in-waiting/partner-in-crime to Madame Mahaut, is a dangerous Satanist who is intoxicated by danger, desire, and the act of betrayal. She only becomes truly alive when speaking of demons and sorcery, of bloody spells cast to wicked effect.
  • Hero Antagonist: Enguerrand de Marigny is hardly heroic (some of his actions including the persecution of the Templars and an attempt of doing the same with the Lombardians), but he is a progressive and efficient state leader who made France stronger and lives of many people better. Contrast weak-willed and sadistic Puppet King Louis X and his manipulative uncle Charles who seeks to reinstall the nobles' unlimited power and strip common people of rights they received per de Marigny's reforms. Yet in the second book, the narrative is centered around Louis and Charles who plot against de Marigny and win.
  • High-Heel–Face Turn: Well, "Face"... Beatrice d'Hirson falls for Robert d'Artois and even ends up murdering her former employer for love of him, but they can't see each other as often as she'd like, leading to Woman Scorned.
  • Historical Domain Character: Most of the cast is composed of real historical figures, mixed in with some fictional ones. Then there are those historical characters that might as well be fictional, since close to nothing is known about the real people.
  • 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.
    • Mahaut of Artois herself. From what is known of her, she was a shrewd and no-nonsense ruler who imposed firm control over unruly nobles; there is not a shred of evidence she poisoned anyone, let alone kings.
    • In real history, Louis X was nicknamed "Quarrelsome" and probably wasn't the most pleasant person, but during his short reign he turned out a somewhat decent king, whose edicts included freeing serfs and readmitting Jews (if only for collecting more money to fuel his Flanders campaign). While he did have an illegitimate daughter, there's no indication he first wanted to make her a princess and then broke his promise, as does his counterpart in the book. Also he was an avid tennis player rather than a dove shooter.
    • Zig-zagged with Robert d'Artois. While he probably wasn't personally involved in uncovering the Tour de Nesle affair (and was hardly an ogre-sized Boisterous Bruiser), his feud with Mahaut and involvement in igniting the Hundred Years War are largely accurate. Even the scene of Edward III's oath to Robert on reclaiming the French throne (the Vow of the Heron) is based if not not on real events, then at least on a satirical poem of that era rather than the author's imagination, as narm-y that scene may seem.
  • 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.
  • Hope Spot: One for Mahaut: As she barges in on the courtroom to intervene in favor of her daughters, she thinks she's arrived in time as the defendants are a trio of monks, probably on trial for witchcraft or sodomy. Then the "monks" turn around, and are revealed to be her daughters and Marguerite.
  • Hypocrite: Sort of. Isabelle de France denounces her sister-in-laws for cheating on husbands they don't love, but while she herself is also trapped in an arranged and Sexless Marriage, she doesn't look for lovers (refusing Robert of Artois' cheerful offer of a quick shag). Years after Marguerite's murder, she's finally shacked up with Roger Mortimer, and realizes that had she known sex could be enjoyable, she wouldn't have been so quick to condemn her (or even condemn her at all).
  • 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. Robert is clearly dismayed to learn the truth but by this point there's nothing he can do to prevent her being murdered on Louis' orders.
  • 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. This is the only one that hits home for Isabelle.
  • Impoverished Patrician: The Cressay family are deeply sunk into debt and unlikely to recover. Their only luck was their daughter Marie falling in love with rich Italian banker Guccio Baglioni, but they spit on this match despite living on Guccio's charity because of his foreign origins andack of pedigree.
  • Inadequate Inheritor: Louis is obviously one from the very start, as best evidenced by an early scene where Philippe asks his council what to do with the Knights Templar.
    Philippe: Your counsel, Louis.
    Louis: We could give the knights to the pope?
    Philippe: Be quiet, Louis.
  • Incoming Ham: The very first scene has the dialogue between Isabelle of France and Robert d'Artois start thus:
    Isabelle: Did you have a good crossing, my cousin?
    Robert: EXECRABLE, madam! Horrific! A storm to remove a man's guts and soul.
  • 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.
  • It's All About Me: Robert d'Artois is very quick to bring the conversation back on subjects that interest him (and only him), such as the county of Artois, his aunt Mahaut and how she stole the county of Artois from him, his machinations to get back the county of Artois... The series ends with him crossing over to the English after the French king refuses to give him the county due to it legally belonging to Mahaut's family, and by backing him sows the seeds for The Hundred Years War.
  • Jerkass Realization: While reviewing the all the paperwork left behind after Guillaume de Nogaret dies, King Phillippe the Fair realizes for the first time just how badly all of his subject think of him, as well as starting to think (seemingly for the first time) about the human cost of all the things he has done "for the good of the realm".
  • Jerk with a Heart of Jerk: Mahaut. Even on her deathbed she feels no remorse whatsoever. In contrast to several other morally ambiguous characters in the series, her death is cast firmly in Asshole Victim territory.
  • Kangaroo Court: The most blatant example is the trial of the Templars, who were accused of outrageous crimes such as worshiping the Devil and practicing witchcraft, only so that the king might seize their goods and riches.
    • The karma catches up with Enguerrand De Marigny, who is accused of stealing from the crown and can prove he's innocent. Unfortunately for him Charles of Valois, who hates his guts, is the real mind behind his spineless nephew and whatever Marigny does to clear his name he's a dead man walking.
  • Kevlard: Robert d'Artois is described as growing fat in lhis later years, although he still has plenty of Stout Strength beneath it.
  • Kick The Son Of A Bitch: Philippe V gives his greedy, treacherous younger brother Charles an absolutely scathing put-down, citing both his pathetic conduct surrounding the debacle with his wife, his total lack of intelligence, and even the scorn their supposedly loving and patient mother had for the little imbecile.
    • Béatrice does this to her former employer, Madame Mahaut, leaning in close as the woman is on her deathbed and telling her that it was Béatrice who put her there, that she'd damned her to this painful end with poison, and that she did it for Mahaut's hated Arch-Enemy.
  • 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 maternal grandfather was Philippe's younger brother, Charles de Valois).
    • Robert d'Artois (who is married to Isabelle de France's cousin) offers his own services on learning of Isabelle's Sexless Marriage (twice), but leaves her alone on seeing she's in love with Mortimer (who serves his own plans).
  • 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: Ironically enough, Philippe IV, Enguerrand De Marigny and Guillaume de Nogaret are a perfect example. The three of them commit atrocities for what they think is the good of the realm. Philippe IV and Marigny at least show doubts about who in the realm benefits from their actions, while Nogaret was never plagued by doubt.
  • Know When to Fold 'Em: Say what you want about Robert, but, as evidenced by scenes with Isabella and Marguerite, he does take a woman's "no" for an answer and would politely back off rather than having it escalate to something ugly. Amusingly enough, he completely averts this with his political ambitions - he would never fold 'em when it comes to his claim on Artois, NEVER! Not even on his deathbed.
  • 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.
  • Later-Installment Weirdness: The first six books are third-person narration told through the eyes of various (and alternating) protagonists. The seventh book is entirely written as a series of monologues written in first-person by the same character. It also consists of an independent plot set a decade after the previous books and doesn't involve any of the original cast (though they are sometimes mentioned either due to their descendants appearing or commenting on the actions they started).
  • Lawful Stupid: Hugues de Bouville, royal steward, who royally fucks up the situation after the assassination of (the false) Jehan I.
  • Lighter and Softer: Charles IV, in certain respects, when compared to his predecessor, Louis the Hutin. He's incompetent in entirely different ways, but at his core he's a much more tractable, docile man than his cruel brother was, although Charles can occasionally be as stubborn as Louis. Illustrated in their contrasting views of their wives' adultery: Charles loved Blanche, whose indiscretions he'd privately forgiven, and was willing to move past; Blanche also seemed to love him, and held out vain hope that they could one day reconcile. Louis' entire reign was overshadowed by his deep-seated hatred of Marguerite, who despised him in turn and whose betrayal left him impotent for a long while, and he had her murdered.
  • Lonely at the Top: This is how Philippe the Fair views the price and burden of power, telling his daughter Isabelle to just accept it when she talks to him about her unhappy and sexless marriage with Edward II, telling her how lonely he himself has been since his wife's death.
  • Lovable Sex Maniac: Subverted with Robert. While he seems to have a reputation for womanizing and propositions his wife's cousin after they start conspiring (due to her being in a Sexless Marriage), he turns down Beatrice's advances (until she agrees to help him) and seems genuinely attached to his wife.
  • Love-Obstructing Parents: Marie's mother and brothers do everything they can to keep her and Guccio apart.
  • Love Potion: Beatrice d'Hirson gives one to Philippe de Poitiers to ensure he forgives his wife.
  • 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 committed 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 beginning of Phillipe VI's reign.
  • Manipulative Bastard: And a lot of them. Robert is the most enduring example, playing his own game from start to finish, but many supporting characters show a knack for it too. Béatrice has a good run in the sixth book, ensuring the Artois affair ends very messily for all involved.
  • The Marvelous Deer: While hunting, Philippe IV briefly sees a deer with St. Hubert's cross between its antlers (actually a pair of frost-covered branches) 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.
  • Maybe Magic, Maybe Mundane: The titular curse cast by Jacques de Molay as he is being burned at the stake. On the one hand, the story shows that the events that led to the succession crisis and all the deaths in the royal family that followed were set in motion before the Grand Master cast his curse. One the other hand, the sheer number of things that line up for that chain of events to result in the worst possible outcome for the House of Capet is highly suspect.
  • The Middle Ages: It takes place between 1307 and 1356, which falls somewhere between The High Middle Ages and The Late Middle Ages.
  • Miles Gloriosus: Zigzagged with Charles de Valois: He's a Glory Hound who spends most of his time (and indeed most of his life) chasing after conquests that he can never achieve and always calling for war. One the other hand, when on campaign he's very good at it.
    A great captain but an execrable governor.
  • Mistreatment-Induced Betrayal: The reason Béatrice eventually sours on Mahaut. The countess grows tyrannical and impossible to reason with as advanced age and chronic illness takes its toll, and Béatrice, her loyal confidant and partner-in-crime, is the object of much of her mistress' ire. She quickly goes over to Robert's side, and personally murders Mahaut and her daughter for his sake.
    • Also the reason Robert betrays France and joins the English court in the penultimate book. Having decidedly lost the case for his county, he refuses to back down from his claim or accept his monarch's private mercy (read: a very generous pardon for having blatantly broken the law on his quest to seize Artois). He instead says fuck it and doesn't even bother showing up to his trial, instead sailing to offer the English his full support in toppling the French regime that, ironically, Robert himself put into power. The book makes him the single strongest voice in favour of the Hundred Years War as well as its primary instigator.
  • Monster Fangirl: Béatrice d'Hirson, in both worldly and spiritual affairs. She has great passion for Satanism and takes great pleasures from the perverse practices of the Sabbath and black sorcery, calling herself the Devil's woman, but she also falls hard for Robert of Artois, a monster cut from a very different cloth.
    There are many more women with a taste for monsters than one is apt to think.
  • Morality Pet: Clémence of Hungary is this to Louis X. He falls deeply in love with her and her influence genuinely improves his temperance and general kingship.
  • Morally Bankrupt Banker: Oddly enough, averted with Tolomei the Lombard banker, the worst we see him do is engage in a form of insider trading but aside from scheming, they are pretty decent people, if not better than the nobles they serve.
  • Motive Decay: Subverted with Robert d'Artois, for who getting back his ancestral lands is more important than anything in the world. Even his increasingly high position in court and the honors bestowed on him are mere stepping-stones to achieve his real objective.
  • Murder Is the Best Solution: Countess Mahaut's "favourite method of bending fate to her own advantage."
  • Murder the Hypotenuse: Mortmer realizes that for Isabelle to be so insistent Hugh Despenser the Younger get a Cruel and Unusual Death, she must have really hated him for taking her husband away from her and therefore still felt something for Edward. He decides to have Edward murdered as a consequence.
  • My Country, Right or Wrong: The narrator of the seventh novel, who despises the pathetic King John II of France and extols the formidable King Edward III of England, nonetheless favours the former over the latter because "France is God's kingdom," and he would rather France retain its preeminence among the kingdoms of the west, not England, which he believes would distance itself from the church if propelled to such a position.
  • My God, What Have I Done?: After Isabelle finally sleeps with Roger Mortimer, she realizes adultery isn't that bad, which suddenly reminds of the sisters-in-law she had condemned for the same reason, and wonders if she'd have been so vindictive if she'd only known that sex could be enjoyable.
  • The Needs of the Many: the justification behind Philippe IV rather cruel policies. He wanted to concentrate power in the crown, instead of leaving so much open space for the feudal lords as it brings more and more instability. Also he doesn't want the Church and the Knights Templar to be a state within a state.
  • Never My Fault: An interesting example with Robert, in whom this unflattering character trait, which costs him dearly in the end, is nonetheless presented as a source of strength. Robert is one of those rare people in life whose virtually pathological refusal to admit any fault of his own lends him great zeal, allowing him to pursue his goals unburdened by conscience.
  • Nobility Marries Money: Subverted, and leads to tragedy. Despite living in squalor, Marie de Cressay's family are so obsessed with their past glory they refuse to wed Marie to guccio even though he's the one who's been keeping them alive during a famine (and the brothers even have regrets on seeing just how rich the rest of Guccio's family is).
  • 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."
    • And then there's Robert, who has not an inkling of pity for people whose deaths he's responsible for.
    • After a stroke, Charles de Valois starts having pangs of conscience and wonders what it is he did to desrve such punishment from God. The Rape, Pillage, and Burn from his campaigns doesn't even register, but his cold-hearted destruction of Enguerrand de Marigny is what sticks out in his mind.
  • Nonviolent 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.
  • Obfuscating Stupidity: Robert d'Artois is a master of weaponizing this trope, and also both deconstructs and reconstructs it. He loves maintaining the façade of a fairly dim but jolly fat guy who loves good brawls and chasing skirts, while in reality he's a cold-hearted, intelligent manipulator with all but zero empathy. However, most people at the French court know very well he's smarter than he looks and usually is up to no good, and don't buy it. Robert successfully counters that with variations of At Least I Admit It and Even Evil Has Standards, acknowledging he's a selfish liar, but distancing himself from crimes he actually commits. He's so good at it that he even manages to fool his hated aunt Mahaut who, for the first and the last time in the books, is sincerely touched by him caring about their family as he delivers the news about the Tour de Nesle affair, unaware that not only he's behind uncovering it and bringing shame to her daughters, but comes in person to enjoy witnessing her anger and grief.
  • Obnoxious In Law: Isabelle of France does not get along well with her sisters-in-law, and has such she has no issues exposing their infidelity to her father. She and Marguerite de Bourgogne seem to have a particulary strong dislike for each other with Marguerite bringing Isabelle's unhappy marriage with Edward II, and even accusing her coldness of being the reason for her unhappy marriage and her husband's homesexuality.
  • 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.
    • Robert d'Artois himself is actually the third of the name. Hell, one of Mahaut's sons (who thankfully doesn't appear) is named Robert d'Artois (and as the book notes, he's the Robert d'Artois buried in France, the Villain Protagonist's body was buried in England).
  • 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.
  • Only Sane Man: Louis of Evreux and Phillippe of Poitiers become this in Louis X's court. Louis of Evreux qualifies more since he doesn't want to have anything to do with the battle of wits at court and is The Wise Prince in his domains. Philippe of Poitiers is more involved in what happens at court (far more than his idiotic brothers) and gets corrupted by the very tempting occasion to grab the crown.
  • O.O.C. Is Serious Business: The only time Phillipe IV is ever seen raising his voice is when he calls for the guards to arrest the d'Aunays, and this is treated as exceptional by everyone around him. At the same occasion he also calls Isabelle by her name and tell her to come with him, something that surprises her as he hasn't done so in a very long time.
  • 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).
  • Overzealous Underling: In the seventh book, Charles of Navarre presents himself as not having ordered the death of Charles of Navarre and that it was his servants who showed too much zeal in showing up twenty to one and each stabbing the man four times.
  • 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 living 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 and strangely enough Robert of Artois and Jehanne of Valois. Subverted for Louis and Marguerite and Edward II and Isabelle, with dire consequences.
  • Pet the Dog:
    • Robert, scoundrel though he is, has great affection for his lifelong companion Lormet, who was, at one point or another, Robert's bodyguard, strangler, and nurse. Robert's rare acts of genuine kindness are often for his loyal minion's benefit.
    • Shortly before his accident, Phillipe IV gives a peasant who seemed genuinely happy to see him a gift, worth far more than the man's entire property.
  • The Peter Principle: Charles of Valois is mostly seen as a loudmouthed, spendthrift braggart always talking about the grand conquests he'll go on. When we actually see him leading military operations, it turns out he is in fact quite good at it (the narration calls him a good captain but worthless governor).
  • Pimping the Offspring: Downplayed; it's mentioned that little brothers in Italy will serve as their elder sisters' pimps (in the sense of advertising their sisters' charms rather than taking their earnings) to bring in more business.
  • Prince Charmless:
    • Pretty much Louis X, who has neither the intelligence nor the personal charisma to be anything more than a lackluster throne-warmer.
    • His brother Charles manages to be much the same and a Brainless Beauty besides.
  • Prison Episode: The chapters depicting Marguerite and Blanche's imprisonment in Château Gaillard and Mortimer's in the Tower of London.
  • Protagonist Journey to Villain: Roger Mortimer, whose personal shortcomings, while always present, are brought to the fore after taking power. A romantic hero rebelling against an unjust king, victor of a daring escape from imprisonment, in love with the downtrodden queen (comparisons are made to Graëlent, Perceval, and Lancelot), he grows into a paranoid, jealous, despotic tyrant after overthrowing Edward II. He ends up fostering the same sort of hatred his predecessor enjoyed due to his lack of scruples, unseemly behaviour, and shady methods. The case is made that it was more circumstance than virtue that made him a Face to begin with, and Mortimer, who went from a prisoner on death row to the most powerful man in the kingdom, ends up right back where he started, only this time it's the incumbent King Edward who plays the hero.
  • Public Execution: Several instances, from the burning of the Templars in the first book to the death of Mortimer in the sixth.
  • Puppet King:
    • Louis X and Charles IV are two puppets in the hands of their uncle Charles of Valois, and that quite never changes.
    • Edward III of England is a puppet in the hands of his mother and Lord Mortimer during his minor age. He resents the hell out of his regents and gets rid of them (his mother included) as soon as he comes of age.
  • Puppy Love: Some betrothed couples are blessed with a Childhood Friend Romance.
    • Edward III of England met Philippa of Hainaut as children and were head over heels for each other. His mother Isabella gladly betrothed him to her as she needed her father's swords in her rebellion.
    • Philippe V's daughter Isabella and her betrothed Guigues of Albion are very devoted to each other since childhood.
  • 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.
  • Really Gets Around: Béatrice has been with no small number of men during her tenure as lady-in-waiting to Countess Mahaut. Considering she is also a Satanist who enjoys the pleasures of the Sabbath, this is probably only the tip of the iceberg.
  • Reasonable Authority Figure: Louis d'Évreux, half-brother of Philippe IV. Unfortunately, only Philippe de Poitiers pays any attention to his opinions.
  • Redemption Equals Death: Edward II begins making a turn for the better and realises his flaws, but by then he's fallen too far to achieve any meaningful redemption; he is too despised, and his enemies too ascendant. As the narration puts it, he only showed himself to be a king when he had ceased to be one, and by this time even his humble retirement plans are beyond him.
  • Regent for Life: Edward III has many reasons to be suspicious of Roger Mortimer - he’s stealing money, executing people on flimsy pretexts and openly keeping Edward’s mother as his mistress. Edward is mostly concerned that Mortimer will not willingly hand over the reins when he comes of age, and accordingly gathers some friends and an axe to accelerate the transfer of power.
  • Retail Therapy: Happens to Clèmence of Hungary after losing her husband and apparently her son and coping with her loneliness, sinking herself into debt with her expenses. Quite alarming for a woman who was once renowned for being very modest.
  • Royal Bastard: Sparks much of the drama in the early story arcs, as The Reveal that the wife of the crown prince Louis (Marguerite de Bourgogne) had been taking lovers for quite a while puts her daughter Jeanne's legitimacy at risk.
    • Jeanne (still a child at this point) ends up shunted to the lesser position of Queen of Navarre to appease the Bourgogne faction.
    • When Louis and his court are looking for a reason to get rid of Marguerite, they hit on the idea of freeing her from her prison in exchange for her admitting Jeanne is illegitimate. Marguerite laughs the idea away but eventually turns around as imprisonment gets to her, but unfortunately, the letter never makes it. By the time Robert d'Artois learns of it, he's there to have her murdered, and it's too late to save her.
    • Louis X himself also has an illegitimate daughter, but she doesn't figure much in the story, and when he dies without male issue or so everyone thinks, the throne goes to his brother.
  • Royal Favorite: The book takes the idea that king Edward II was homosexual and runs with it, to the point where in order to get his wife Isabelle of France pregnant, he needed his favorite Hugh Despenser to get him worked up. It's stated the reason she had Hugh hanged, drawn and quartered was resentment for years of him abusing his power, confiscating her belongings and stealing her husband away from her.
  • Royal "We": Used by practically every king in the novels.
  • Secret Relationship:
    • The princesses Marguerite and Blanche of Bourgogne have an affair with the D'Aunay brothers until a scandal ensues;
    • Louis X had an affair with the servant Eudeline before his marriage, and she bore him a daughter.
    • Guccio Baglioni and Marie de Cressay are in love and marry in secret.
  • Self-Made Man: Enguerrand de Marigny, a low-born merchant who rose to control the royal purse-strings under Philippe the Fair due to his financial acumen.
  • 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.
  • "Shaggy Dog" Story:
    • The bonus chapter depicting the life of Giannino Baglioni, the real Jehan I.
    • Robert's entire arc may be one. He commits Crime After Crime to get the county of Artois back and every attempt fails miserably. He even murders Mahaut and her daughter to get the heirs out of his way and still the county is nowhere in sight. He kickstarts a goddamn civil war to have the chance to occupy Artois, but he dies after the first battle without achieving anything.
  • Siege Engines:
    • Some mention is made of the introduction of cannons to siege warfare. An old marshal looks down on them, preferring catapults and ballistas, because the castle walls hide the effect they have on the population.
    • Among John II's many failures is the construction of a siege tower big enough to contain 600 men against a minor fortress. On the day of the assault, the tower is brought to the walls... and is promptly ambushed point-blank by cannons in the walls. Then it catches fire.
  • Simple Solution Won't Work: Phillipe IV is holding a council to decide what to do with The Knights Templar (he had them arrested and tortured so as to break their power and avoid paying back the colossal debt he owed them, and several of them publicly recanted their false confessions) and asks his son Louis for his opinion. Louis (who is completely incompetent as a statesman) suggests sending them to the Pope, which gets an exasperated look from his father and his usual "Louis, be quiet". Sending the Templars back to the Pope would mean starting the entire trial back from the beginning (which took seven years).
  • 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.
  • Single-Issue Wonk: Robert is utterly focused/obsessed on taking the County of Artois from his aunt Mahaut, to the point that his political allegiances are entirely defined by whoever is helping or hindering him at the moment. The entire series starts because he warns Isabelle of her sisters-in-law's adulterous behavior... because they're Mahaut d'Artois' daughters, and by disgracing the daughters he hopes to oust the mother from power. At the end of the series he's gone over to the English side to help the English king claim the French crown in return for the Artois returning to him.
  • Single-Target Law: The infamous "Salic law" that prevents a woman or descendants thereof from inheriting land is an integral plot point and causes much of the conflict in the latter part of the series. In reality the law was all but forgotten by that point, with later jurists (and Shakespeare) retroactively using it to justify the exclusion of women from the line of succession.
    • The law is dug up by Philippe V to prevent his "alleged" niece Jeanne (daughter of his deceased brother Louis X) from inheriting the thronenote , despite the dubious legality of expanding the ancestral law of a single region to all French territory, interpreting it as applying to the woman's line rather then just the woman, and the irony of Phillipe V only being on the throne thanks to female machinations, his mother-in-law Mahaut d'Artois having poisoned both Louis X and his posthumous son (in reality both are believed to have died of natural causes). Philippe is named regent and is then crowned king after the infant king dies, then everything starts going wrong:
    • Philippe V's son dies during a Time Skip, and when Philippe dies, he had only daughters, so the throne goes to his inept brother Charles. Charles also dies without issue, so the throne goes to their cousin Philippe of Valois.
    • Philippe V's sister Isabelle of France (married to the English king Edward II) argues that Philippe IV's grandson Edward III (her son) should inherit the throne of France rather than his nephew (and from a pragmatic standpoint, Edward is shaping up to be a much better ruler). Unfortunately, the French have no intention of giving up the rest of their territory to an Englishman (as most of France's Atlantic coast belonged to English nobles at that point), so France and England end up going to war (again).
  • Smug Snake: Robert is indeed crafty but some of his schemes really blow up in his face, screwing other people (or even countries) in the process.
  • Spanner in the Works: Several major issues of succession are set into motion by the schemes and ambitions of those whose private plots are a wrench in the affairs of the state. The Artois dispute deserves special note: the vicious, endless feud between Robert and Mahaut over the dominion of that county ends up completely derailing the destiny of all Europe, and many corpses are made over it.
  • The Social Darwinist: Mortimer displays shades of this in the end. He considers and dismisses seeking mercy from those who vanquished him, believing the die had been cast, and the stronger side had prevailed.
    Mortimer: I have committed no fault. I was the strongest, and remained so til others, stronger yet for a moment, brought about my downfall. That is all.
  • The Social Expert: Cardinal Jacques Dueze and Guccio Baglioni. Probably the reason why they get along so well.
  • Standard Royal Court: The books focus heavily on the French royal court and household, which many medieval courts both fictional and real have patterned themselves after. Various titles, honors, and positions are handed out by each of the successive French kings to their friends and supporters as rewards, or revoked and given to another when their holder's star falls from grace.
  • 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 Philippe 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 laughs when Hugues de Bouville meets 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.
  • Then Let Me Be Evil: Evrard was a Templar falsely accused of sorcery and consorting with the devil by the inquisitors. He managed to escape, but the trauma was such that he turned to sorcery for real out of spite.
  • Threat Backfire: Charles demands a rank upgrade from his brother Philippe V or he won't be present at Philippe's wedding. Philippe tells him to go ahead: the only person he needs at the wedding is the archbishop of Reims. And as Charles isn't the archbishop...
  • Time Skip: Books I-IV all but run into each other, then the fifth book jumps ahead several years skipping the reign of Phillip The Tall, whose "days of chastisement" begin and end off-screen.
  • Token Good Teammate: Hughes de Bouville comes across as this, his biggest crime being staying silent about his suspicions that Mahaut had murdered a baby she thought was a French prince, and is manipulated by just about everyone including the Pope.
  • Tongue on the Flagpole: During a particularly cold winter, it's mentioned that kids get the village idiot to lick an axe blade.
  • 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. However, it's also stated he doesn't take any pleasure in it, seeing it as his duty, and starts living the tortures he ordered to be carried out in his dying hallucinations.
  • Tranquil Fury: Philippe the Fair's reaction when his daughters-in-law's affair with the D'Aunay brothers is exposed. He barely raises his voice before and after calling the guards but it's clear that he's furious, and both his daughters-in-law and the brothers are understandably terrified.
  • 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.
  • The Upper Crass
    • While the nobles are all along the refinement scale, Robert d'Artois plays up the image of a Large Ham Upper-Class Twit living only for wine, women and song, both because it's not much of an exaggeration of his natural temperament and because it makes his enemies underestimate him. His role in the "rescue" and downfall of the D'Aunay brothers goes completely unsuspected because no one thought it odd that he'd be found in a brothel-rich area or that he'd fight off bandits to save their victims.
    • Due to their poverty, the Cressay family is forced to live like peasants on their own land, having to hunt for their dinners. Despite this, they're very proud of their lineage, and refuse an otherwise perfect marriage between their sister Marie and the rich merchant Guccio.
  • 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, as well as suffering brain damage.
  • Undying Loyalty:
    • Hugues de Bouville towards the royal family. Unfortunately, loyalty is all he has going for him, even his friends think he's an idiot.
    • 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 due to being an Inadequate Inheritor.
  • 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 of 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 her father.
  • Unstoppable Rage: Mahaut d'Artois, who when provoked starts throwing objects around, yelling and cursing servants and family members, hurting anyone she can find, eating compulsively and sometimes even murdering kings. Her anger is so great she has to be bled during the most intense bouts.
  • Unwitting Instigator of Doom: By giving the county of Artois to Mahaut instead of Robert, who was the rightful heir, Phillip IV installed a bitter feud that would poison his own bloodline, extinguish his dynasty and ignite The Hundred Years War.
  • 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.
  • Vain Sorceress: Beatrice only starts working against Robert once she realizes her charms have faded (and has no intention of leaving his wife for her).
  • Victory Is Boring: As Charles de Valois discovers, when he finally gets rid of his arch-enemy, Enguerrand de Marigny.
  • Villain Protagonist: Robert d'Artois, an inveterate schemer who leaves no stone unturned and no sin uncommitted in his quest to reclaim his ancestral estate from his aunt. The book makes him singlehandedly responsible for starting the Hundred Years War. Although Robert is arguably still not as bad compared to his aunt and doesn't specifically seek to hurt anyone besides his sworn enemy's family, his actions cause a lot of damage and affect a lot of innocents, of which he is well aware and doesn't give a damn.
    • Also played straight with many POV characters, most of whom won't look out of place in a Dark Fantasy novel.
    • Subverted with Guccio Baglioni, the Supporting Protagonist. While he is involved in a lot of villainous schemes and isn't really a paragon of morality, he's a sympathetic Anti-Hero at worst and has lots of redeeming or even heroic qualities.
  • Vomiting Cop: Edmund of Kent's execution is so badly botched the archers start throwing up on witnessing it (as the order had been refused by the executioner, his aides, and the castle garrison on grounds of it being ordered by The Usurper Mortimer, the job eventually goes to a man imprisoned for stealing church relics who's so bad at it he has to chop at it four times).
  • White-Collar Crime: Marigny is falsely accused of taking advantage of his control of the royal purse-strings for his own unjust enrichment 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.
    • Louis d'Evreux (Philippe IV's half-brother) is also one. However, he's also wise enough not to get involved in higher politics, and so is of little help.
  • Woman Scorned: Beatrice falls for Robert d'Artois hard. But when his political maneuvering and constant voyages (not to mention his wife, who he seems genuinely attached to in spite of his famous philandering) get in the way of their affair, she starts meddling in his affairs, culminating in arranging for the arrest and confession of the woman who faked his legal documents once she realizes he doesn't find her attractive. It gets her strangled to death and her face kicked so as to be unrecognizable.
  • Would Hurt a Child: Mahaut of Artois, who considers the act of poisoning her godson, the five-days-old king, merely an exciting challenge. Also her lady-in-waiting/chief minion, Béatrice, a Satanist who goes into disturbing detail about the best way to cast the most potent black magic: take a child less than five years old, make it consume a white host, cut its head off, dip a black host in its blood, and make the intended victim of your spell drink it. She's even disturbingly aware of the best places to haunt to acquire such an... ingredient.
  • 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 Funny Moment.
  • 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.
  • You Need to Get Laid: The gist of Marguerite de Bourgogne's last words to her sister-in-law Isabelle de France. Turns into a My God, What Have I Done? for Isabelle much later when she finally does.