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Interesting, but less Historical
on 21 July 2014
At the end of the third book in “The Accursed Kings” series, Louis X had been poisoned after a short but disastrous reign of eighteen months, leaving his pregnant second wife Clémence and Jeanne, the five-year-old daughter of the first wife he had had killed, who Louis believed was not his child.
At the start of “The Royal Succession” Louis’ brother and uncle manoeuvre to be regent in what is bound to be a long regency, whichever child succeeds. The brother, Philippe Count of Poitiers, seems to be disadvantaged as he is away from Paris in Lyons, trying to persuade, buy or force a group of unwilling Cardinals to elect a new pope. However, by supporting the Cardinal who is later elected, he gains a valuable ally. On his return to Paris, Philippe becomes regent.
Clémence then gives birth to Louis’ posthumous son, king as Jean I from the day of his birth but sickly. However, Mahaut, Countess of Artois, who poisoned Louis, also plans to kill Jean so that her son-in-law, Philippe of Poitiers can gain power. Mahaut’s is suspect, and one of the guardians of the infant king Jean arranges to switch him for another baby, who is poisoned in his place
Although Philippe had no part in the death of this child, after Jean’s apparent death he uses the doubts about the legitimacy of his niece Jeanne, her gender and extreme youth to exclude her from the royal succession. This involves creating the legal fiction of the Salic law which prohibits female succession to the throne. Phillipe is an interesting mixture of intelligence and ambition; his plan gains approval from most notables, except Jeanne’s relatives and Mahaut’s enemies, and he is crowned as Phillipe V. Mahaut, who Louis had excluded from Artois, is restored to her county.
In an extended sub-plot, Marie de Cressay, a noble girl who went through a clandestine marriage her family do not recognise to a young Lombard, Guccio, realises she is pregnant. She gives birth at the same time as the queen and becomes wet-nurse to the infant king Jean. It is her child that is switched for the king and poisoned. Marie is forced by the dead king’s guardian and his wife to swear never to reveal the truth but to keep Jean as her own child and never to see Guccio again. Marie, who was a rather shadowy figure in the early books, is given more individuality and character here.
This sub-plot detracts from the series’ claim to authenticity. Druon said he research the historical background of the Accursed Kings series and stuck to what was known, although inventing dialogue and insight into his characters’ thoughts. The idea that King Jean survived is pure fiction and, while interesting as a plot device, strains belief. However, this book is still a good read, even if the translation creaks in places.
The decision to have a foreword by George Martin, author of the “Game of Thrones” to each book in the series is unfortunate, but is probably more justified here, as the action has more obvious fiction than previous books in the series