Shadowbox: Le Roi Sacré

The idea of the Sacred Kingship – Le Roi Sacré in French – forms the basis of the universe I invented for both THE LAST RHINEMAIDEN and SHADOWBOX.

(It’s also the underlying foundation of the Cuckoo Club, which appears in both novels.)

The notion of the Sacred Kingship is spread throughout western culture and rears up in surprising places, at times. You’ll see it in the Grail Story, in the Druids performing their rites at Stonehenge, in Ancient Egyptian mythology.

“The god Osiris, who was also the king, was killed by his brother Seth. The body of Osiris was sealed in a chest and thrown into the Nile River…”

The Sacred King is also being evoked wherever you see a Green Man, whether that’s on the side of a mediaeval cathedral or on a beer label.Hop back

James Frazer collected myths and legends across the world for a mind-blowing compendium that seemed to be the norm for 19th century academics. Within the pages of THE GOLDEN BOUGH you’ll find stories of the sacred king – the green man – from many cultures, some of whom relied only on oral storytelling to pass on their literature.

The sacred king seems to be endemic to temperate climes. You need seasons – in particular, a season of dormancy contrasting with a season of fruitfulness. The sacred king is deeply linked to the provision of food, of crops, of annual harvest.

In brief, the sacred king is the consort of the Mother Earth Goddess, sometimes in the form of the clan matriarch. He reigns for a year until he’s sacrificed in a cycle that foreshadows the Red Wedding.

In other interpretations, the sacred king reigns as consort to the goddess until he is defeated in combat by a challenger to take his place.

This is the version of the sacred king that I adopted in both SHADOWBOX and THE LAST RHINEMAIDEN.

Strong hints within the myth of the sacred king suggest a matriarchy at the heart of the cultures which told the story.

The underpinning principles of patriarchy and feminism can be traced to the characters of eternal goddess and sacrificial king.

Too many advertising campaigns play on the tropes, but the pair of doomed lovers is also, perhaps, linked.

  • Snow White, asleep in her bower, rescued by a prince.
  • Rapunzel, trapped in her tower, rescued by a prince.

At their base, these three stories seem to have deep roots in the story of the eternal goddess and the sacrificial king.

Greek and Irish mythology tells of ordinary mortal men chosen by goddesses to be their champions, a twisting of the tale somewhere along the line to make the male character as important as the female instead of just some dude.

Certainly, within my novels I’ve given the sacred king a more active role, as knight protector of the goddess while also enjoying a near-magical protection in his own right.


Louis Beauregard takes risks no mortal man in his right mind would take unless he held a reckless disregard for human life, his own and that of others – even his friends.

But ask yourself: if someone believes themselves to be protected by divine intervention, how much of their good fortune arises from sheer chutzpah?

The darker side of self-belief, then, when we have a “God-given” right to do as we please, and to Hel with the consequences.

We tend to romanticise the past – and more pastoral times – without remembering that our ancestors had no problem with bear baiting, bull baiting, and other forms of animal torture (including people baiting).

In the western world we look aghast and horrified at such cruelty when other cultures take entertainment from those acts.

Lord Summerisle – a sacred king?

The Sacred King was one of these cruel entertainments.

How much of James Frazer’s evidence was based on field observations and to what extent he relied on the records of other early anthropologists can be found in his extensive bibliography. A singular work as the Golden Bough is, there are now many experts on folklore and myth.

Others seek not to discover the earliest roots of our stories but to link themes across cultures, to understand what it means to be human in terms of the stories we tell all the way back to the beasts in the forest and the strangers who come to the village in winter.

(The Journal of Mythic Arts is a great place to start.)

The sacred king is one such story, shared across cultures and linked to many, many more, influencing us even today through advertising, superstition and faith.

Adding my own interpretation to the canon, in the world of the Cuckoo Club novels, didn’t seem too presumptuous.

Next in the SHADOWBOX series: Mad, bad and dangerous to know.

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