It’s a harsh descent for Marguerite, from the sybaritic love nest at the Tour de Nesle ( as we saw in “The Iron King”) to the vermin-infested Chateau Gaillard ( built less than two centuries earlier by Richard Coeur-de-Lion, absentee brother to William Shakespeare’s King John.)
Maurice Druon’s “The Strangled Queen” (second in “Les Rois Maudits”) takes up immediately after the death of Philip the Fair, with the ascent of an unprepared son, Louis X of France. Louis was known as the Hutin, (the Headstrong) but the Petulant would have been the better adjective, by Druon’s depiction. Here is Louis evading monarchic duties, vacillating between the feuding powers of Charles of Valois and Enguerrand of Marigny, shooting arrows into concussed birds (and thus began the art of shooting clay pigeons!) Louis also spends an inordinate amount of time pondering his impotence.
With his wife Marguerite in prison, Louis gets antsy and begins looking for a sequel queen. Manipulative uncle Charles of Valois subtly notifies him that Clemence (or Clemenzia) of Hungary is up for grabs. (She’s a Valois affiliate too, but that hadn’t crossed Charles’ mind at all all! What a funny coincidence!) Louis longs to see a pic of the chick, so as not to make an unfortunate choice, and sends Guccio Baglioni as a “talent scout” to the Neapolitan court in which Clemence resides. (She’s never even been to Hungary. I told you history was confusing.)
Guccio is the ambitious son of a Lombard merchant, and quickly becoming the linking thread in the series if only because he’s not powerful enough to merit assassination. (Yet?) He journeys to Naples, where Clemence has posed for a flattering, flirty picture, and then he carries the picture back to an easily pleased King. (Selfies and sexting took, like, FOREVER back then, so people couldn’t afford to get too picky.)
None of this bodes well for Marguerite of Burgundy, who’s going mad in Chateau Gaillard, and certainly Druon has no intention of concealing her fate from us: the novel is called “The Strangled Queen,” so try to act surprised when the queen gets strangled. Less foreshadowed is Enguerrand of Marigny’s overnight fall from grace. ( Accused of sorcery!)
The curse made by the Templar Jacques Molay from his toasty pyre resonates, but really these characters are damned by power. Reading “Les Rois Maudits,” one can’t help but question the very word: what ‘power’ do any of these kings and queens and grand lords have that doesn’t evaporate with a quick dagger or a couple of well-placed rumors? Power can’t keep Marguerite from having a sheet tied around her neck and being choked to death. Power can’t keep Marigny’s naked body from the gibbets in Montfaucon ( his sole reward for successfully stewarding the Kingdom of France through Philip the Fair’s reign.)
Power, it seems to me, is merely the prelude to powerlesness.