EPITAPH FOR KINGS by Sanche de Gramont


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This very well-written book is aimed at both serious students and general readers of French history. The latter deserve more than diplomatic chronicles or boudoir history--they will get more in de Gramont's dissection of the decline and fall of the ancine regime. He gives an acute sketch of the emergence of the French nation, then describes the reign and times of the Sun King, Louis XV, the Regency, and Louis XVI. His focus is on the small proportion of Frenchmen who were suffering from indigestion, not hunger: the monarch (as owner of the kingdom, debauchee, tardy reformer), ministers from Colbert and Law to Necker, the rising bourgeoisie, the courtiers (parasites, then financial speculators), and the royal mistresses (as political patrons, arbiters of manners, early expressions of nationalism and social mobility). Wars and fashions, the great plague and the Enlightenment are all here. Of particular note: sections on bureaucratic and social structures, multiple economic disasters, and colonial policy...concise portraits of the grandiose rigidities of Versailles, which gave way to refined dissipation in Regency Paris, then to the uneasy Louis XVI blend of neoclassicism and pastoral romanticism. The Revolution up to the king's death is described chiefly from the point of view of Third Estate demands and the monarchy's efforts to secularize itself. The author's virtuosity in drawing from primary sources is matched by his skill at fitting polemical contributions to scholarship into his easy, discursive probe of multiple causes. His edition of St. Simon's memoirs and his The Secret War (1962) were well-received; this should be too.

Pub Date: Nov. 1st, 1967
Publisher: Putnam