KING OF THE WORLD by Philip Mansel


The Life of Louis XIV
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A wonderfully meticulous look at Louis XIV (1638-1715) from a leading historian of France.

“Even by royal standards,” writes Mansel (Aleppo: The Rise and Fall of Syria’s Greatest Merchant City, 2016, etc.), “the family into which the future Louis XIV was born…was a nest of vipers.” He ascended to the throne at age 4, and during more than three decades of the king’s 72-year reign, France was at war. Louis nurtured a lifelong fascination with the army and fighting as well as dancing. After the death of Cardinal Mazarin in 1661, Jean-Baptiste Colbert became Louis’ minister and proved to be one of the ablest in the history of France. He economized, kept accurate accounts, reformed taxes, and introduced a new code of law while expanding trade and France’s colonies. “Louis was a man in pursuit of glory,” writes the author, “a king devoted to dynastic aggrandizement and a leader bent on national expansion.” He introduced a postal system, street lights, and boulevards. His finest creation, of course, was Versailles, to which Mansel, who displays an expansive knowledge of French history, devotes significant attention. Louis controlled every aspect of construction and effectively deserted Paris in its favor. He was famously a micromanager, particularly in wartime, though he lacked the talent of diplomacy and often listened to poor advice. France was involved in wars on all sides, fighting to expand her borders at the Rhine, drawing away imperial forces from the Ottomans, invading the Netherlands, and trying to infiltrate the Spanish throne. Louis also fiddled in English politics, accepting James II in exile and supporting invasions. He used the Stuarts to try to break up Scotland, Ireland, and England and forestall his nemesis, William of Orange. Louis’ revocation of the Edict of Nantes brought about a devastating diaspora, which was only slightly offset by the influx of Jacobites into France. Throughout, the narrative is dense but readable, and the 110-page notes and bibliography section attests to Mansel’s prodigious research.

An impressive, comprehensive biography of the Sun King—a must-add to any Francophile’s library.

Pub Date: March 1st, 2020
ISBN: 978-0-226-69089-6
Page count: 608pp
Publisher: Univ. of Chicago
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15th, 2020