This is the second book in Maurice Druon’s Accursed Kings series (Les Rois Maudits in French). There are seven novels in the series, all published between 1955 and 1977, telling the story of the monarchs of medieval France. The front covers of these new HarperCollins editions tell us that The Accursed Kings inspired George R.R. Martin’s A Game of Thrones, but be aware that this is not a fantasy series!
In the first book, The Iron King, we saw how Philip IV the Fair of France brought about the destruction of the Knights Templar. Before being sent to burn at the stake, the Grand Master, Jacques de Molay, cursed Philip and his descendants to ‘the thirteenth generation’. Philip was the first victim of the curse, but now he is dead and in The Strangled Queen we see how his son, Louis, becomes the next to suffer. Unlike his father, the newly crowned Louis X proves to be a very weak king and allows himself to be manipulated by his uncle, the Count of Valois, who is engaged in a power struggle with Enguerrand de Marigny, the former king’s chief minister.
Louis’ personal life is also a disaster – his wife, Marguerite of Burgundy, has been imprisoned for adultery following the Tour de Nesle Affair (described in the previous book) and as there is currently no Pope, he is unable to obtain a divorce so that he can find a new queen. Valois is hoping to arrange a marriage between his niece, Clemence of Hungary, and Louis, but first a new Pope will have to be chosen. However, Enguerrand de Marigny has other ideas and will do whatever it takes to thwart Valois’ plans.
I enjoyed The Strangled Queen, though not as much as The Iron King which I read more than a year ago and loved. I wished I hadn’t let so much time go by between reading the first book and the second as this really does seem to be a series that needs to be read in order with each book following on directly from the one before. Storylines that were begun in The Iron King were picked up again and continued in this book and I found myself struggling to remember exactly what had happened previously. I had forgotten all about Tolomei, the Lombard banker and his nephew Guccio, for example, but I was very pleased to see Guccio again as he is one of the few likeable characters in the series.
My only real complaint with this book is that, as someone who doesn’t know much about this period of French history, the title is a very big spoiler in itself. Knowing that the queen was going to be strangled took away some of the suspense! Luckily, though, the queen’s fate only forms a part of the story. Most of the novel is actually devoted to the rivalry between Charles of Valois and Enguerrand de Marigny…so you can expect lots of plotting, scheming and intrigue! And these are not the only plotting, scheming characters – there’s also Robert of Artois, still hoping to find a way of reclaiming his lands from his detested Aunt Mahaut.
I think the element of the book I found most interesting, though, is the portrayal of a young man (Louis X) who is unexpectedly forced to accept responsibilities that he is not ready for and not able to deal with. While I certainly didn’t like Louis (I find it difficult to have sympathy for someone whose idea of fun is shooting doves in an enclosed barn), I could understand his fears and insecurities and could see why it was so easy for the people around him to take control.
The third book in the series is called The Poisoned Crown so it sounds as if there’s still more trouble ahead for the sons of Philip the Fair!