In 1972 French television produced a series entitled, "Les Rois Maudits", which was screened on BBC 2 with English subtitles. The British dumped the drama into the graveyard slot - after 11pm on a Saturday. As one habituated to late rising I decided to take a peek at the first episode and was hooked.
Some years later my French friend told me that it had been based on a set of seven books written by Maurice Druon, but she did not know if they had ever been translated into English.
And there the matter rested.
In the days before the internet and search-engines it was not easy to find out about a set of French novels! Then in 2005 the novels appeared - still in French - to help launch an indifferent remake of the original TV series. Imagine then my surprise on seeing the name "Maurice Druon" on the cover of The Iron King in W. H. Smith. This is the first book of the seven under the title "The Accursed Kings", translated into good clear English.
The Iron King tells the events of the year 1314, when Philippe le Bel sits on the French throne. Philip the Fair was obsessed with creating a centrally organised state at the expense of all other considerations. After a trial lasting 7 years he is about to destroy the last vestiges of the Knights Templar whose vast wealth he has stolen for his own ends. But unknown to Philip a scandal is about to rock the foundations of his family and turn the fourteenth century into the Hundred Years war. The story is populated with wonderful characters, vividly drawn from the historical record. The scheming Robert of Artois; the calculating banker, Tolomei; the vicious Guillaume de Nogaret. The plot is fast paced, and reflects the morals and cruelty of a despotic era.
But dominating the book is the figure of Jacques de Molay, the aged Grand Master of the Templars. As he is burnt alive before the King and his court, the old warrior cries out:
Pope Clement, Chevalier Guillaume de Nogaret, King Philip, I summon you to the Tribunal of Heaven before the year is out, to receive your just punishment! Accursed! Accursed! You shall be accursed to the thirteenth generation of your lines!"
The French resonates even more:
"De ce visage en feu, la voix effrayante profera: - Pape Clement! ... Chevalier Guillaume! ... Roi Philippe! Avant un an, je vous cite a paraitre au tribunal de Dieu pour y recevoir votre juste chatiment! Maudits! Maudits! tous maudits jusqu'a la treizieme generation de vos races! ..."
Heroic and mind-blowing!
The second novel "The Strangled Queen" is also available in hardback only at the present.
Read and enjoy.
Then pick up the original TV series Les Rois Maudits with Jean Piat as Robert of Artois. Sadly it does not have English subtitles, but once you know the story, you'd be surprised how good your French can be.