This is the biography of Louis XIV of France who reigned for 72 years from the age of five and was succeeded by his great-grandson, after three Dauphins died, one after another, in 11 months.
What is unusual in this biography is that Mitford only mentions the momentous historical events that took place during his reign, such as the Fronde and the Revocation of the Edict of Nantes and the War of Spanish Succession, as background to the court life of Versailles. We learn far more about the Sun Kings shifting mistresses and the parade of noblemen through court than we do about the politics of the time. This is a fascinating perspective on history and may indeed reflect the way the king viewed the world through the ritual of courtly life but I found it confusing: there were so many monsieurs and monseigneurs and madame la duchesses and monsieur le ducs. It was also frustrating to have tantalising glimpses of the world outside the palace and never to have anything explained. This was the world of the Musketeers and I have never quite understood about Richelieu and Mazarin and Fouquet and the Huguenots. This book shed no further light on these mysteries of the French.
There were a lot of wonderfully romantic moments. At one stage hundreds of French minor nobility are imprisoned secretly and in solitary using lettres de cachet because they are caught up in a poisoning plot and might, just might, reveal that one of the King's mistresses, Madame de Montespan, was a prime poisoner. Shades of the Man in the Iron Mask (and on almost the last page Mitford claims that on his deathbed Louis told his nephew the Duc d'Orleans who was to be regent to the five year old Louis XV, the identity of the Man in the Iron Mask and that only two other people (Louis XV and Louis XVI) ever knew it (so Mitford obviously can't reveal it)). Louis also romantically married Marie de Maintenon as a second wife secretly and was more or less faithful to her until his death.
So there are some interesting moments but I was disappointed not to learn a lot more about this fascinating reign. June 2014; 242 pages
Nancy Mitford followed this up with the biography of Madame de Pompadour, mistress of Louis XV, who suceeded Louis XIV.
- Having reviewed over 1200 books on this blog, I have now written two myself. Motherdarling is a story about a search for a missing Will which reveals long-hidden family secrets. The Kids of God is a thriller set in a dystopia ruled by fascist paramilitaries. Both are available as paperbacks and on Kindle through Amazon. I live in Canterbury, England. I lived for more than thirty years in Bedford. Having retired from teaching; I became a research student at the University of Bedfordshire researching into Liminality. I achieved my PhD in 2019. I am now properly retired. I love reading! I enjoy in particular fiction (mostly great and classic fiction although I also enjoy whodunnits), biography, history and smart thinking. Follow me on twitter: @daja57