Winner of the 1999 Enid MacLeod Award, Ian Dunlop's elegant biography of Louis XIV (1638-1715) brilliantly achieves the author's aim "to help my readers see [Louis] as his contemporaries saw him." Extensive quotes from diaries and memoirs (each assessed for their prejudices) bring to life the glittering French court in the heyday of divine-right monarchy. Handsome and athletic, autocratic but kind, devoted to his queen as well as his mistresses yet also a pious pillar of the Catholic Church, Louis seemed to his dazzled subjects to incarnate the power and glory of the French nation. He moved in a world where personal relations dominated political affairs, and royalty's private life was intensely public: "The great families of the French aristocracy were at their most natural when they were showing off," writes Dunlop, with a nice appreciation of this society's paradoxes. Louis's fondness for wars and passion for extravagant building projects like the palace of Versailles strained the French economy and sowed the seeds for the French Revolution. In his time, however, he was adored. Dunlop's engaging depiction of a generous, charismatic man makes it easy to understand why. --Wendy Smith
From Publishers Weekly
The life, times and character of the Sun King have never lacked for treatment by historians, and Dunlop, a student of architecture and biographer of Marie Antoinette, adds little new to our understanding of the notorious ruler, whom he calls "one of the most elusive" men in French history. But he skillfully deploys a wealth of sourcesAmany of them firsthand observations of the king and his courtAto bring the man and the era to life. He leads us through the Sun King's lifeAfrom his birth to his acquisition of mistresses to the battlefield; from Louis's religious dilemmas to the death of his son, the Grand Dauphin. Nor is the narrative confined to the politics of the day. Louis XIV was a major patron of the arts, and the literature, art and architecture of the period (the king's "passion for building" was "second only to his enthusiasm for warfare") are also presented in an informative and entertaining way; Dunlop is especially to be commended for a brief yet exact explanation of Jansenism. The general reader will find much of value here. The volume might seem daunting for its length and perhaps too great a wealth of detail. Still, this is an impressive addition to the literature on Louis XIV and deserves a wide readership. 12 pages of b&w illus. not seen by PW. (Aug.)
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