The Iron King (Le Roi de Fer) is the first book of an historical French series named The Accursed Kings (Les Rois Maudits) written by Maurice Druon. The story is set in the 14th century France during the last years of the reign of the King Philip IV, the Fair also known as The Iron King.
Philip is described as a severe, distant and intelligent man with quite a sense of humor, but his presence alone is enough to intimidate everyone, even when he tries to be nice. While often seen as a cruel and cold man by all those around him, his loneliness is blatant in each scene. He is a king who felt more at ease surrounded by his dogs and hunting than in court or with his family. Known in history as the man who destroyed the Knights Templar, the persecution of seven years culminated with the execution of the Great Master, Jacques de Molay.
We also follow other stories, like the Tour of Nesle Affair, a scandal amidst the Royal French family where Margaret and Blanche of Burgundy, daughters-in-law of the King, were found guilty of adultery with the two Aulnay brothers. The third daughter-in-law, Joan of Burgundy, was also punished for hiding the lovers and passing down messages. If there was also suspicions of infidelity, the support of her husband saved her from the same fate as her sister and cousin.
The author doesn’t hesitate to fill out the history blanks with some drama, which can sometimes be a little excessive but nothing that spoils the story, at least not for me. The scene that remains vividly in my memory is the execution of Jacques de Molay and how he cursed all those who participated in his condamnation. While I was reading it, I was holding my breath completely under the spell of Druon’s words.
Maurice Druon is known for his extensive historical research and he easily manages to create a perfect balance between history, humor and even romance. He brings back history to life with strong characters, captivating dialogues and a fascinating 14th century France filled with powerful moments: the demise of the Capetian dynasty, the disappearance of one of the most important religious orders, the Knights Templar, or even the upcoming Hundred Years War.
Years ago when I was studying history, this book was a must read for any history buff in France. The series was even adapted to the small screen twice, first in the 70′s (which I really recommend to any period drama lover) and the latest one in 2005. After all those years, the book remains, for me, one of the best French historical fiction pieces. I intend to buy and read the rest of the series as quick as possible (something I planned to do for years and never had the chance!).
The Accursed Kings series:
1. The Iron King
2. The Strangled Queen
3. The Poisons of the Crown
4. The Royal Succession
5. The She-Wolf of France
6. The Lily and the Lion
7. When a King Loses France