10 May, 2006

Edward II Novel of the Week (2): 'The She-Wolf of France' by Maurice Druon

Published as La Louve de France in 1959, English translation 1960.

This is the fifth in Maurice Druon's acclaimed Les Rois Maudits/The Accursed Kings series. The four preceding volumes are: Le Roi de fer/The Iron King, La Reine étranglée/The Strangled Queen, Les Poisons de la couronne/The Poisoned Crown and La Loi des mâles/The Royal Succession. The last two novels in the series are Le Lis et le Lion/The Lily and the Lion and Quand un Roi perd la France/When a King Loses France. The English translations are fairly rare these days, and sell for between about 20 and 40 pounds on Amazon UK, and on Amazon US for between about 25 and 50 dollars. The French originals can be picked up for a euro or less.

I'm afraid I really dislike this novel. Really, really dislike it, so Druon fans might wish to stop reading now....

I'll begin with a few things that I did like. The list of characters at the beginning is very helpful, and I like the system of 'Historical Notes' at the end of the novel, even if they're not always totally accurate (I don't know why the younger Despenser's claim to the earldom of Gloucester was 'fantastic'). As for the characters, I liked seeing the earl of Kent in Gascony in 1324 - normally Kent never appears in Edward II novels until his attempt to rescue his brother the king in 1330, so it's refreshing to see another side of him here. Also, Roger Mortimer is pretty sympathetic here, which he rarely is in novels. His relationship with Isabella in Paris in 1325 is very nicely portrayed as a genuine love affair. His escape from the Tower proves that he's resourceful and courageous, and unlike the rest of the English characters, he's 'so handsome and so great a lord' with a 'strong, confident body'. Mortimer at least has genuine grievances against Edward and Despenser.

The rest of the characterisation, at least of the English characters, is just horrible. Edward II himself is so utterly feeble you can only feel contempt. Mortimer is the only remotely sympathetic English character. And the biggest problem I have with the novel is that, despite the title, it's really not about Isabella at all. It's a novel about France which happens to include some scenes set in England. OK, it's a series about French history - but then why call this one 'The She-Wolf of France' when Isabella and Edward only appear in a handful of scenes? There are pages and pages on Lombard bankers in Paris. This may be interesting to readers of the whole series - I presume they're regular characters - but I wanted to read about Isabella and Edward II, not Lombard bankers! Most of the novel is set in France. The death scene of Charles of Valois, Isabella's uncle, goes on interminably.

The only time Edward and Isabella appear together (and one of only four scenes where Edward appears at all) is in the second scene of the novel, after the Prologue and Mortimer's escape from the Tower. Isabella is sitting on her throne whinging to the French ambassador about her awful life when Edward, the Despensers and some of the English nobles enter the room. Isabella then proceeds to insult Edward, over and over, in front of the whole court. Neither Edward nor Hugh Despenser respond to her insults - they blush, pretend not to hear, change the subject. This is a really bad way of writing fiction: the scene should have crackled with tension, as Edward and Isabella exchange (spoken) blows and witty repartee. As it is, Edward and Despenser seem totally pathetic, no match at all for Isabella. Another bad way of writing fiction - it would make for a much better novel to equalise their opposition, to make us see why Isabella hates them and wants to destroy them. Also, giving Edward the ability to hit back would have given the reader a glimpse into their awful marriage, and possibly lots of other interesting information like the impending war with France. But there's no insight at all. As it is, the scene just makes Edward even more pathetic, if that's possible. The French ambassador Bouville thinks that Isabella is 'brave' to stand up to the king, but it doesn't seem so to me - in fact, it seems cruel, like kicking a man who can't kick back. The narrative claims that Isabella is 'surrounded by so much hatred', but we never see this. We only see that all the hatred is coming from her.

Druon tells far more than he shows, and what he shows is different from what he tells us. It's pointless to state in the narrative that Isabella 'suffers' when the reader never sees it. All that she seems to 'suffer' in this scene is having to put her feet on a threadbare footstool. Well, boo-hoo. It's also stated that she believes her life to be in danger from the Despensers. When we see the Despensers, however, it's hard to imagine that they could even find their way to the privy by themselves, never mind plot to have the queen of England murdered.

Druon tells us that Edward II is 'handsome', a 'fine-looking man, muscular, lithe and alert' with an 'athlete's constitution'. Yet the details used to describe him make him grotesque. He has pouches beneath his eyes, an 'uncertain line of the curve of the nostril', an overly large (but weak, naturally) chin and a spine that 'curved unpleasantly from the neck to the waist, as if the spine lacked substance'. A deformed back in an athlete? Really? Oh, and his hands are 'flaccid' and 'flutter aimlessly', he pirouettes, he stamps his foot. Lovely.

His friends fare no better. His niece Eleanor (Hugh Despenser's wife) has 'that quality of ugliness imprinted by a wicked nature'. Hugh Despenser (the younger) is 'too curled, scented and over-dressed for a man of thirty-three'. He is narrow-chested and has a 'bad, spotty skin'; later in the novel he is 'wide-hipped and pigeon-breasted' though Druon does allow him a 'well-shaped mouth'. Despenser's father, called 'the weasel', apparently, is described thus: 'cupidity, envy, meanness, self-seeking, deceit, and all the gratifications these vices can procure for their possessor were manifest in the lines of his face and beaneath his red eyelids'.
It is predominantly, though not exclusively, the English characters who are described in such terms; Jeanne the Lame, wife of Philip of Valois, has a face 'made hideous by the avarice of her thoughts'. Even Isabella is constantly said to have 'little carnivore's teeth' though she does have 'beautiful blue eyes' and her 'beauty was unrivalled by that of any young girl.'

The younger Despenser's 'expression seemed to imply: "This time things have really gone too far; we shall have to take stern measures!"' I have tried, and failed, to imagine what this expression would look like. Like most of this scene with Edward, Isabella and the Despensers, it makes no sense. And if he's really the kind of man who would plot to have the queen murdered, shouldn't his expression be more sinister?

I found it utterly impossible to summon up a shred of sympathy or liking for these despicable people. They are ugly and repulsive to the point of being grotesque, yet are not villainous enough to be interesting. My reaction was to recoil from them. At least the elder Despenser dies well. That's the best thing you can say about any of them.

A lot of the dialogue is pitiful - almost entirely the dialogue spoken by the English characters. When the French characters speak, they make sense. Edward's last line before he is murdered (with the usual red-hot poker) is "Oh you brutes, you brutes, you shan't kill me!" Dignified and moving, no? No? Unfortunately, it makes me giggle every time I think about it. At the time of the arrest, 'Hugh the Younger, emaciated, trembling, threw himself on the king's breast. His teeth chattered, he seemed about to swoon and he groaned: "You see, it's your wife who has ordered all this. It is she, that French she-wolf, who is the cause of it all. Oh, Edward, Edward, why did you marry her?"'
Umm, because he was the king of England and she was the daughter of the king of France, and their marriage was part of an arrangement between the two countries - as Despenser well knew? As Susan Higginbotham points out, Despenser was a pirate. Not to mention a clever, ruthless extortionist who had been ruling England for a few years. Would he really talk and behave like that??

The only line the future Edward III gets in the whole novel is "Oh no, you wicked woman, you shan't have everything!" (spoken to his cousin Eleanor Despenser about a book she wants). But we do get some stunning insight into his thoughts while watching the younger Despenser's execution: "Is that really the man my father loved so much?" Superb, really.

A lot of the novel is psychologically unconvincing. For example, Mortimer's wife Joan de Geneville ('Lady Jeanne Mortimer') is dealt with in a single paragraph: 'Lady Jeanne suffered terribly from this betrayal by the two people in the world she had loved and served best. Did fifteen years of attendance on Queen Isabella, of devotion, intimacy and shared risks, deserve such a reward?.....Lady Jeanne, who had always been so loyal, found herself among the vanquished. And yet she could forgive, she could retire with dignity, precisely because the two people she most admired were concerned and because she understood that these two people were bound inevitably to fall in love as soon as Fate had brought them together."

How convenient. That gets rid of her, doesn't it? Saves Isabella and Mortimer from having to feel guilty, and Druon from having to deal with the thorny problem of Mortimer's adultery. This often happens in novels - Joan de Geneville is either ignored, or made so dull and sexless that nobody could ever blame Mortimer for preferring the beautiful, exciting Isabella. Strangely, nobody ever uses this excuse for Edward II. Maybe he found Despenser a lot more exciting than his wife.

I don't mean to tread on anyone's toes here, and I know Druon has many fans. However, this is a really poor effort, and I haven't even mentioned the numerous historical inaccuracies (Henry of Lancaster was not called Crouchback - that was his father; Despenser became Edward's favourite in the years 1318-20, not 1312). I finished the novel, because I can't imagine ever not finishing a novel which includes Edward II and Isabella, but everyone here is so despicable I felt like taking a bath after I'd read it. No - make that several baths.


Gabriele Campbell said...

Well, part of the problem is that this novel is part of a series, and Isabella and Edward appear in the other books as well. In fact, the very first scene in the first book is a conversation between Isabella and Robert of Artois about those French relations who put horns on their's husbands' heads. :) Which made me dislike Isabella from the start (though I doubt it's what Druon intended) because she comes across as petty-minded and vengeful - 'if I can live in a bad marriage without taking a lover, why should my sisters-in-law have fun?'

She watches Edward through a window as he puts an arm around the shoulders of one of the masons building Westminster. Probably against Druon's intention again, I liked him in that scene.

I've read the books in a German translation ages ago, and I'm just rereading them in French (halfway through book 1). The Lombards play an important role (though I'd gladly kill that arrogant Guccio) and overall, it's a tapestry with a lots of threads.

I really like the scenes with Jacques de Molay, who, broken by torture and imprisonment, regains his dignity as the cart drags through Paris, and cofronts the tribunal about the torture and unjust accusations. The Isabella/Edward scenes are not the strongest in the series.

What I remember from the German read is that I often felt the author wanted me to react differently than I acutally did. The difference between the things told and actions shown could be a reason for that, something I wasn't aware of at a time I didn't write myself. But I liked the whole series well enough to want to reread it now.

I'll have a look at the French version for n Edward's description, maybe the translation has made things worse.

Kathryn Warner said...

I've read the parts of the first book where Edward and Isabella appear. Didn't like those scenes, either.

I don't get why Druon keeps banging on (in the first book and the fifth) about Edward and the masons - Edward liked building walls at Langley, maybe, but he had nothing to do with re-building Westminster Abbey. I wonder if Druon confused him with his grandfather Henry III?

Gabriele Campbell said...

I think Druon had a problem with Edward's homo- or bisexuality, that's why he keeps droning on about those well muscled masons. :)

While I fínd a king who joins the workmen in their job refreshing.

Kathryn Warner said...

I agree, Gabriele - one of the things that appeal to me most about Edward II is his 'common touch', although it horrified his contemporaries! There were many rumours that he was a changeling, as nobody could believe that a king would want to spend time 'with a great company of simple people', as Edward often did.

ilya said...

LOLOL you really made me laugh with this one... luckily i haven't read it and i don't think i will either :p

Kathryn Warner said...

Hi Ilya, have you read any other novels on Edward II? I'm going to make this review a regular feature, so maybe a novel you've read will crop up soon! :)

As for the Druon - as is probably pretty obvious, I hated it, but a lot of people love this series....it's definitely a question of taste. I reviewed it as an Edward II novel, but maybe if you look at it from another perspective, I suppose it might be more enjoyable! :)

Anonymous said...

Gabriele C. said...
I think Druon had a problem with Edward's homo- or bisexuality...

Oh yes, in a book written in the 1950's, even in France, any author who was not openly gay (a term not yet in use at that time) and writing for the gay-activist or pornography market, was going to have "a problem with Edward's homo- or bisexuality..." Hugging the handsome stone-mason might be called a "literary euphemism": it was about as far as one could go in illustrating homosexual behavior in a book in those days and still get it onto public library shelves or sold in repectable bookstores. A lot of the "racy" or "sexy, shocking" books of the 1950's now seem pretty tame, or were only available under the counter in a few sleazy porno shops back then.
If a book had gay characters, they had to be unsymapthetic, and the way it was illustrated had to be very oblique, so children or people who might be offended by it would not understand what was said. Look at the portrayal of gay characters in The Maltese Falcon or The Big Sleep.(What? You didn't realize Joel Cairo, Wilbur and Mr. Gutman were all gay?)
I read Druon's books when they had just appeared in English, and I was about 13. Very eye-opening for a kid who was only slightly older than Beaver Cleaver, and about as square! Believe me, if my parents had discovered what was in these books, there would have been Hell to pay at our city library.

Kathryn Warner said...

Hi Weseld, thanks for the comment! You're certainly right that novels of the 1950s could never depict same-sex relationships in the way they can these days.

Anonymous said...
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Anonymous said...

Well, I too read it for the first time at about 12-13 yrs, with the reluctant consent of my mom, who obviously thought it was too direct and too violent (luckily I got reading it as a school assignment, and she couldn't oppose to that). At the time I adored it.
Overall, the series is pretty good, especially with respect to French history. It is indeed kind of tangentially dealing with the English, only as they are involved with the French (the new French TV adaptation deals even worse with the English part of the story, and the only credible character in the movie seemes to be Robert d'Artois).
Now, as I read it many years later, it seems somewhat funny. Not only that the author can't deal with gay relationships, but it seems he can't deal with love at all. It's probably a consequence of the strict education in the author's time, but to me he looks like a man who never knew love himself. Take for instance the love scene between Isabelle and Roger, their first night toghether. It's supposed to be romantic, it's supposed to be hot, since the author believes (and wants us to believe as well) that they are genuinely in love. But he doesn't know how to show this to us, how to convey the feeling. It's a huge difference between what the characters feel and do and the way we are informed about it. For me the funniest thing is that Druon keeps referring to Roger using his last name all throughout the chapter, like the whole story were TV news or something... Mr. X met his girlfriend. So much for romance...

Kathryn Warner said...

Thanks for the comments, elflady. I think I would have enjoyed this more if I wasn't so fond of Edward II - but I think the portrayal of him is just horrible and actually quite offensive. I'm interested in the French history of the period, too, so I wouldn't mind the English scenes being tangential, but the novel's title The She-Wolf of France is very misleading.

I often feel the same way as you - that Druon didn't really understand the emotions he was writing about! I think his treatment of Roger Mortimer's wife is a case in point. I really can't see a woman 'giving up' her husband of 25 years to his mistress with hardly a second thought, and being so accepting of it. I mean, it could happen, but the way it's written here is utterly implausible.

Anonymous said...

Alianore, have you read any of Philippa Wiat's novels on this period? As far as I know, there are three of them, Queen - Gold, The Grey Goose Wing and The White Swan, apparently first published in the '30s. I couldn't find any review on them on the net and I'm just dying of curiosity since I too am extremely passionate about the subject and ready to devour everything I could get my hands on...

Kathryn Warner said...

Hi Elflady - yes, I've read some of Wiat's novels, but when I was a teenager, so I can't remember them very well! Here's of Wiat's novels. I've seen some for sale on Abebooks.co.uk, but they're terribly expensive, around £100 each. Maybe you'd have better luck with a library? is another author who wrote a lot of novels on medieval history, and maybe hers are cheaper! :)

Finally, Susan Higginbotham has
a great list of Edward II novels, which is really helpful! :) Good luck! BTW, I totally understand the necessity to get hold of novels on this period - any novel that even mentions Ed II is an auto-buy for me! :)

Kathryn Warner said...

Gah, those hyperlinks didn't work very well! :( They looked perfect when I previewed the comment - stupid Blogger!! If you click on the long sentence up to 'with a library' you'll get the Wiat page, up to 'Susan Higginbotham has' is the Peters page, and the rest is Susan's page.

Anonymous said...

Susan's page is a real treasure, OMG, I never even dreamed there were so many novels on the subject... Guess I'm in for a big hole in the budget!

Kathryn Warner said...

There are even more Ed II novels, that some kind gentleman mailed to Susan a few days ago...:

Richings, Mildred Gladys, Men Loved Darkness, London: Hutchinson and Co., 1935.

-An early fictional account of the life of a post-reign Edward II.

Williams, Philip Claxton, Edward II: A Drama, Tempe, AZ: University of Arizona Press, 1937.

-A dramatic, modernized retelling of Marlowe’s play.

Williams, Jay, The Good Yeomen, New York: Appleton-Century-Crofts, Inc., 1948.

-A novelized version of the Robin Hood Gest set during Edward’s reign.

Treece, Henry, The Carnival King, London: Faber and Faber, 1954.

-A dramatic version of Edward’s reign, though not a version of Marlowe’s drama.

Rush, Philip, Queen’s Treason, London: Collins, 1954.

-A re-telling of Isabella’s rebellion, told by a young lad who aids the queen.

Lamb, Arnette, Chieftain, New York: Pocket Books, 1994.

-A Scottish romance set near the time of Bannockburn, with a “vengeful” Edward as an obstacle to true love

Marston, Edward, “Perfect Shadows,” in Royal Whodunits, ed. Mike Ashley, New York: Carroll and
Graf, 1998.

-A mystery surrounding Edward’s last days.

Beard, Julie, The Maiden’s Heart, New York: Jove Books, 1999.

-A torrid romance set in Edward’s court

Charles, David, The Switch, Totton, UK: Lumix, 2002.

-A self-published tale of intrigue surrounding the birth of Edward III.

Drake, Shannon, The Lion in Glory, New York: Zebra Books, 2003.

-A romance featuring Robert “the” Bruce and a villainous English king

The hole in my budget from buying all these novels (plus all the non-fiction ones) will probably never be filled...:) Good luck and enjoy!

Anonymous said...


Anonymous said...

The first reviewer criticized Druon and then all the others fell in line like a bunch of sheep. What do I think of "The Accursed Kings?" Probably the best set of historical novels ever written. They are seamless. The characters are all historical. The narrative crackles. Indeed Druon can say in three or four lines what other writers take a page or more to do. This series is a stroke of genius and will one day be elevated to where it belongs: side-by-side with the likes of Tolstoi's War and Peace.

Kathryn Warner said...

Well, that's your opinion, Anon, which I obviously don't share. Wouldn't life be dull if we all loved the same things?

Louis X said...

I recently discovered your blog and have been enjoying all the wonderful posts. By chance, I happened upon this review and found it amusing and very much to my liking, and almost felt like saying something to that effect in the comments. I hesitated, though, as I had intended to stay in the shadows, politely minding my own business like the gentleman I sometimes pretend to be. Then, I begin to read the comments, and like a beacon in the dark, Anonymous’s reply draws my eye, and before I can stop myself, I’m typing my own excessively long and irritated comment about a subject which never fails to raise my hackles by at least a foot and a half.

It would seem Anonymous fails to grasp the difference between “fiction loosely based on historical people” and “biography of historical people.” Anyone who has ever written historical fiction understands that the writer takes free rein with everything that is not fully documented (and sometimes takes free rein with things that ARE fully documented) and exaggerates, compresses, exchanges, omits, shuffles about and outright devises elements that are necessary for the progression of the drama and/or for whatever message the author wishes to convey. Sadly, some people take Druon’s series of novels as actual history, and history they are certainly not.

What disgusts me about much historical fiction is the way in which motivations and feelings and opinions of the characters are painted using a 20th-century brush, rather than with one appropriate to the story’s period. The morals, fears, motivations and desires of 13th- and 14th century people are vastly different from those of 20th- and 21st century people. Thus, modern eyes can see a monarch like France’s Philippe le Bel as being driven by greed and vengeance and the desire for power, when he may in fact be driven by deeply-held religious fears and superstitions and very real worries about threats to his kingdom and to his own sovereignity. Thus, modern eyes can see an adulterous queen as a sexually liberated woman who is merely in search of true love; when her contemporaries would rightly view her actions as treasonous, because the integrity of the royal bloodline is compromised by her infidelity. Purity of bloodline may not seem a big deal to modern minds, but in the Middle Ages, it was an extremely important matter, especially amongst the ruling class. For a king, an adulterous wife is not just cuckolding and humiliating him; she is placing his family line in jeopardy, and thereby, placing the succession in jeopardy. This view of the queen would not so much apply to Isabella's infidelity, as she already had legitimate children with her legal husband, but it does apply to Marguerite de Bourgogne, who gets the sympathetic, “unfairly persecuted, long-suffering modern-woman-in-Medieval-dress” treatment from Mr. Druon in his books. I see Isabella’s accusation and condemnation of Marguerite and her sister-in-law, Blanche, more as concern for the continued integrity of her family’s bloodline and less as a result of a petty jealousy of the other women having more “fun” than she was having. The Capetians of this time were a close family; she would have felt this insult to her brothers’ honor as one to herself. Rightfully so, as it was, indeed, an insult to the entire family. In my opinion, the writer could have done more to show that sort of depth of meaning, and saved Isabella from appearing nothing more than a spoilt, whining brat.

Mr. Druon’s writing style is not to my personal taste, but even if it were, I would still dislike the books because of the incongruously modern way the characters are portrayed. Perhaps his purpose in that was to make it easier for modern readers to identify with the people in his stories, but for me, it’s precisely what pushes me away from them.

Kathryn Warner said...

Hi Louis - glad to see you online! Will add a link to your blog here once I've written this.

I found so many historical errors in the Druon that I don't see how I could ever have enjoyed this novel even if I liked his style, which I really, really don't. (Really, really, really not.)

I quite agree about a lot of histfict and the modern sensibilities - I think I'll scream if I see another novel where a royal woman of the Middle Ages acts horrified and astonished when told she has to marry a man of her father's choice in a political alliance and not someone she loves. As if!! It doesn't make me feel sympathy for the character, which is probably what the author intended; it makes me irritated that so little research was done into attitudes and expectations of centuries ago.

I always assumed that Isabella broke the story of Marguerite and Blanche's adultery because of her concern that they would foist a child not of the French blood royal onto the throne - not out of vindictiveness.

Louis X said...

Hello, Alianore! I appreciate the welcome and the link. My blog is still very new, and I’ve not added any links at all, yet, but yours shall be the first!

That horror at some pre-arranged marriage seems to be the most prevalent amongst the errors in such novels, doesn’t it? I think perhaps it’s not really a failure of the author to research the attitudes of the period, but a failure of the author to understand those thought processes of a person from a different world–and a world so removed from the present day might as well be some alien world, in terms of how people think. HF writers often forget how strong the fears of God, damnation, excommunication, sorcery, etc. really were in the minds of those people; how superstitious they were; and in many ways, how ignorant they were. It takes a great deal of effort and an unusual amount of empathy for a modern writer to truly assume the mind of an historical person and write them in a convincing, honest way. It’s the same process an actor uses, when he or she assumes a role that is far removed from his or her true personality. I suppose that’s really the secret to writing convincing historical characters: the writer must think of the character as a role for himself, instead of as a literary puppet; the play comes to life in his mind, and the pages of the book serve as the stage.

Of course, this role-playing can’t be done, correctly, if the writer is disgusted by or horrified by the attitudes of those earlier people, and cannot put that revulsion aside. That’s likely the core of the problem for some writers: they can’t get past their own revulsion at the idea of a woman simply accepting an arranged marriage or having to live under the rule of a man; of a strong and powerful man shaken to the core of his being by the threat of excommunication or by the thought of sorcery; or, indeed, of any of the many things then considered to be sins or heresies which would not so much as raise an eyebrow, today.

It’s a shame that so many people of the past are misunderstood and maligned, today. If one examines them in the context of the world in which they lived, their actions make perfect sense. They only seem unusual to someone who tries to apply modern sensibilities, morals and motivations to them.

Kathryn Warner said...

Hi Louis! Sorry for the delay in writing, but I haven't been online for a while.

Yes, I go mad in histfict when royal women complain about being 'sold' into marriage. And I read a novel lately set in the early 1200s, when one of the characters said something like 'religion means nothing to me' or 'I cannot stand religion' which is so incredibly unlikely I put the book down in disgust. I wrote a post a few months ago about a man called Gilbert Middleton who attacked 2 cardinals near Durham and was excomuunicated - the most terrible thing imaginable for him, surely. And I get really sick of novels where the sympathetic female characters of the Middle Ages are all proto-feminists!

I'm going to put up a post later today with a link to your blog, so I hope this increases your number of readers!

Louis X said...

No apologies are needed! I'm delighted that you allow me to babble at length, and still give me kind replies. :D

I just saw the post you mention, with the links, and am about to leave a comment there. Thank you! And then I mean to look for the Middleton post, as I haven't seen it, yet!

Kathryn Warner said...

Louis, I'm delighted to read all your comments here, or 'babble' if you will. :-)

The Vita Edwardi Secundi chronicle describes Middleton's excommunication as 'solemnly and in public removed from the communion of the faithful'. The archbishop of Canterbury excommunicated Piers Gaveston in 1312 - he died excommunicate so couldn't be buried in hallowed ground until the pope lifted it - which the Vita brilliantly describes as 'the archbishop lifted his sword and struck Piers with anathema'.

Louis X said...

You're too kind, dear lady!

I do love the language of the earlier periods; so full of eloquence! People nowadays are lazy in their writings, and apparently write whatever first springs to mind, regardless of how dull and lifeless it is. It makes me sad, really, to think the divine beauty of language has been sacrificed to the heathen gods of vulgar licentiousness.

Of course, I am biased, since the old style is much more conducive to my verbose babblings than the new!

Kathryn Warner said...

Pas du tout, Monsire! I love your verbose babblings ;), which are fascinating and insightful.

I also love the eloquence and beauty of older writing, so unlike the 'umm, yeah, like, whatever' style favoured nowadays!

Florence said...

Hello again!^^

Just for the pleasure to react about the comment you wrote about the book that made me discover and love Edward when I was an 11 years-old child ^^

It will not be longer, theorically^^

So, you said you wanted more scenes between Edouard and Isabella: how could it be chronologically possible? The action of the book is between 1325 and 1327 and at this time she is in France (for me this chapter of the book is there only to say that) and after in Hainaut to constitute an army!

So... A lot of moments where you see both in interactions seems to me quite difficult...

About the fact that Isa insulted Ed: I have the feeling that those insults are so repeated (she says the same things since the first book that had taken place in 1314...) that Edward is tired to defend himself...

About Edward the third: you have to read the six to see him having more and more importance and evicted Mortimer.
And in the fifth you have one of the most charming moments, for me, of the book: his borning love for Philippa *o*
Just that, it's the proof he is the son of his father XD

(you will notice that, even if Maurice was not a fan of Edward, the children of Isabella are from him!^^)

About historical mistakes: it was written in the 1950s!!!
Historians discovered new things since that moment and for a lot of those historians, it was thanks to those books who arrive to make the proof that it is possible to give life to those historical people, even if they are dead since centuries, you have the feeling to see them to share their emotions,...
And to give the desire to a lot of readers to go farer, to learn more about that, and to make the difference between what is from the imagination of the author and what is historical facts.
(it is for that you can find a bibliography for each book and the and of the sixth book that had originally conclude the series)
And knowing that he wrote novels and not essays: so he chose the most "palpitating" (i don't know if you say that in English) hypothesis for his books, he recognized it

So well, of course it is older, and the way to present characters and facts and so one is quite old-fashioned but, well, don't forget it is from the 50s, it is a miracle he spoke openly about homosexuality (and at the end he tried to make Edward sympathic for his readers, often not so open about that question), he did what he could with the archives he had, and for me even if it not perfect this man revolutioned (?) the historical novel!!! He is the first to have use historical documents to write it and not only fantasm and imagination (like it was done since the 19th century. By example: Walter Scott's and Alexandre Dumas' books)

So... If you read just that book from the entire series of seven just fore Edward and Isabella, I can understand your frustration.

But, honestly, try to read it all and everything will make sens
(since the first book trough Philippe IV, he tries to defend Edward, weakly of course but he tried. He remembered the fire of Maubuisson in 1313 and when he saved his son and his wife,... Of course it stays weak, because the main part of the readers were not ready to read an open defend of homosexuality, but well... Honestly at the end of the series, globally Edward was ok for me.)
You will understand the part of the Lombards, all the political machinations beyond all the fact that are said in the fifth book,...

So, well^^

Have a nice day!


PS: but it's sad he didn't talk about the piracy of Hugh Despencer!! It is so romanesque!!!*o*
And it doesn't make him too much sympathic XD

Florence said...

And here this the end (happily it had been short... -.-")

Ah yes: in the first book: he didn't rebuilt Westminster Abbey, but the castle of Westminster (apparently: it the word that is used in the book but i don't know if there was a castle at that place)

And well, it is very difficult to me to critic his job because in French it is the ONLY novel about Edward

I'm just disgusted...

The British novels or essays about that question are not translated T_T

*go to cry on her bed cursed that mischievous fate*

Now it is the real ending^^

Have a nice day!!


Paula Lofting said...

how very droll!! lol. I enjoyed reading this post kathryn and the comments from evryone!makes oyu wonder hw some people are alowed to be published and good writers cant

Kathryn Warner said...

Thanks, Paula! I wonder sometimes...frustrating, isn't it? :(

Joan Bos said...

I've never found more than the first 4 books in the Accursed Kings series of Druon. I'd always thought the man had died before he could finish the series... Interesting!

MRats said...

A splendid post, Kathryn. As you know, I agree wholeheartedly with your assessment of the book.

Edward is treated with such unkindness in most fictional accounts of his life that I used to wonder why you would even want to read them. But from the way you describe your reaction, I can tell you separate the characters from the actual people to the extent that you can say of the Despensers, "They are ugly and repulsive to the point of being grotesque" and "My reaction was to recoil from them". That's a very wise way to look at it. I'm afraid I'm not so mature. To vary on an American expression, "I don't hate the GAME, I hate the PLAYER": DRUON.

My mother read "The She Wolf of France" before I did, and I remember her saying, "You're not going to like what he does to your boy". She wasn't referring to the mythical means of Edward's alleged demise or the ridiculous dialog uttered when it takes place, but Druon's portrayal of Edward as a whole. She was right!

However, though it may not be politically correct for me to say it, the impression I got at the time was that Druon was not a homophobe but an Anglophobe--a staunch patriot taking the "French side". For the 1950s, his treatment of sex and nudity is graphic, though it's tame compared to the present day. And as he tells it, Edward and Piers were BOTH pedophiles. Little is said about their relationship with one another, but we find Edward lost in revery about the two of them chasing naked boys draped in pearls through the forest. (Or at least that's my recollection of the scene.) I was irate over the slander! Why do so many fiction writers assume that if a man is "bi" or homosexual that he must, perforce, be attracted to children?

And worst of all, as you said, Druon actually describes Edward as being deformed. Even Edward's contemporary detractors admitted that he was tall, strong and magnificently handsome.

Nevertheless, as I've said before I found a lot to enjoy about the first four books when they dealt with characters I don't revere as I do Edward. Since I didn't care what Druon wrote about them, I could just follow the story which, as I've said before, is often funny.

However, I disliked "The She Wolf of France" and "The Lily and the Lion" (which I mistakenly called, "The Lily and the Leopard" in another comment post). I found both so distasteful that I've blocked out a lot about them. However, here's something I think will amuse you with its utter absurdity: Druon brings the sixth volume to an abrupt halt at the death of Robert of Artois. In a blatant example of author's intrusion, he writes that he can no longer go on because his favorite character is dead. I kid you not! I don't recall the exact wording, as I read it many years ago, but if memory serves me right this actually appears in the narrative--not as a note or post script. I couldn't believe it! Consequently, it surprised me to learn from your blog that he rediscovered his muse and wrote another sequel.

I'd also forgotten that Edward even makes an appearance in "The Iron King", and I don't believe he's included in the three following books. But, again, if you should care to give them a try, the first one has been re-released in the United States, which ought to bring the price down. If it's a success, I'm sure the rest will follow. I hope it's the same English translation that I read years ago and that you won't feel I've lead you astray.

Sarah said...

This is a great review, Kathryn. The Accursed Kings series is slowly being re-released in the UK at the moment, with the intention of having all seven on sale in translation eventually. I read the Iron King and thought it was really good, but had to stop halfway through the third book because I found it so dry and dull. I was bored. I didn't think I would be trying the series again and this review confirms it for me.

Edward Sumarokov said...

It's something like historical puppet show for teenagers, - there are so many things that so attractive to novelist –things that relate to archetypes of fairy tales (sad queen who imprisoned by «dragon» Edward II) Despite silliness of this book there are some pages that make Edward II very attractive. It's about the time when Edward was detained in Kenilworth Castle. I was fascinated by image of Edward II in this episode; his melancholy, his remembrances of his dead lover… - all these things made my love to Edward II.
I was 13 years old when i opened to myself The Accursed Kings .

Sorry for my English.

Astrid Essed said...


'' I found it interesting enough to give some comment,
especially because I have recently read ”The She Wolf of France”
which I appreciate as thrilling, horror like and moving.

As you''ll see:

I disagree with you on some some important aspects, which
I want to point out to you clearly.

But shortly:
I think the style of Druon is very vividly, historically convincing
[besides some errors you rightly point out, but partly are corrected
in part 6] and moving.
He succeeds to provoke pity and sympathy for less sympathetically
portayed characters and combines, in his books, elements of
epics, thriller, romantic, travelling with the reader in a distant
But let me put some remarks you made to the critical light



Kind greetings
Astrid Essed
The Netherlands

Astrid Essed said...


I found it interesting to give you my comment,
especially because I have recently read ”The She Wolf of France”
which I appreciate as thrilling, horror like and moving.

To say it bluntly:
I disagree with you on some some important aspects, which
I want to point out to you clearly.
But shortly:
I think the style of Druon is very vividly, historically convincing
[besides some errors you rightly point out, but partly are corrected
in part 6] and moving.
He succeeds to provoke pity and sympathy for less sympathetically
portayed characters and combines, in his books, elements of
epics, thriller, romantic, travelling with the reader in a distant



Recently I already commented on your post


Kind greetings

Astrid Essed


The Netherlands

Kathryn Warner said...

I saw the link when you posted it a few days ago, here and on my Edward II FB page. There was no need to post it again. I'm really not sure what you want me to say. I tried to read your post but sorry, with all the copy-pasting from Wikipedia and elsewhere, repetition and shouting all in capitals I found it unreadable. You're a fan of Druon, I'm not. There's no need to be offended about it. We'll have to agree to disagree.

Essay writer said...

Great work.Keep up the good work.