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Love and Louis XIV: The Women in the Life of the Sun King Hardcover – October 24, 2006

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Prolific royal biographer Fraser (Marie Antoinette) has assiduously researched her measured yet engrossing study, shedding welcome light on the galaxy of influential women who orbited the dazzling Sun King. The most important woman in Louis XIV's life, in Fraser's telling, was probably the first—his mother, Anne of Austria. The voluptuous, pleasure-loving but pious and dignified queen regent inculcated Louis with the notion that he was a godlike miracle who was nevertheless accountable to the deity for his sins. As this narrowly focused history suggests, Louis was constantly trying to reconcile his gargantuan sexual appetite with his duty to his people and his God. Louis gave up his first love, the bold and amusing Marie Mancini, to marry his graceless first cousin, the Spanish princess Maria Teresa. A serious flirtation with his charming sister-in-law Henriette-Anne, sister of England's Charles II, ended when Louis fell for Charles and Henriette's decoy, the timid virgin Louise de La Vallière. In sexual thrall to the intelligent, magnetic Athénaïs, the Marquise de Montespan, the king intriguingly threw her over for Françoise Scarron, the puritanical governess to their bastards. Lastly, Louis gave his heart to his spirited granddaughter-in-law Adélaïde, who died of measles within days of her husband, the Dauphin. (Oct. 17)
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From The New Yorker

Adelaide of Savoy, a favorite companion of Louis XIV during his dotage, remarked, "Under a king, a country is really ruled by women." Fraser's history of the court of the Sun King, seen through the lens of the women closest to him, is a highly readable confection, and unfolds as a sequence of cameos. There is Queen Anne of Austria, Louis's steely moth"r and regent, who carefully molded the infant King into an Apollo adored by the court; and his wife, Marie-Therese of Spain, who gave him no trouble except by dying. Then comes a trio of mistresses: Louise de La Valliere, who became a nun as recompense for her sins; Athenais, voluptuous and fecund; and Madame de Maintenon, the discreet and redoubtable confidante of his later years. With vivid wit, Fraser demonstrates that within the edifice of the monarchy there were deep crannies of ordinary affection.
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 416 pages
  • Publisher: Nan A. Talese; 1 edition (October 24, 2006)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0385509847
  • ISBN-13: 978-0385509848
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 1.5 x 9.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.8 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (19 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,130,434 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

112 of 116 people found the following review helpful By Rebecca Huston on November 2, 2006
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Mention the name of Louis XIV, and several things come to mind -- most of all the palace of Versailles, which still awes visitors today, and the image of the Sun-King, forever youthful and virile. Popular literature and film has presented a king who is gloriously dressed, distainful of his long-suffering wife and mother, and chasing after anything in a skirt, along with behavior that would shame a five-year old.

The reality, as with most history, is far more interesting and different than what we thought it would be. Long-time author Antonia Fraser takes on the long life and reign of Louis XIV, and shows an entirely new aspect of Europe's most powerful ruler of the seventeenth century. Using diaries, histories and the artifacts of the period, she crafts a very unique and entertaining way of understanding this monarch.

What she does is take a look at the Sun-King by the various women in his life, from his mother, to his misunderstood wife, sisters-in-law, and all those mistresses. She begins with the earliest of his relationships, that of his mother, Anne of Austria. By the time that she gave birth to Louis, the 'God-Given,' she was in her late thirties, and dispairing of ever having a child, much less a longed-for, prayed for son. Her husband, Louis XIII, supremely indifferent than her, and swaying between jealousy and callousness, was already in weak health by the time he had managed to rouse himself to sire one son, and a second son, Philippe -- always known as 'Monsieur' -- was born. Anne adored her eldest son, and broke with the usual stiff etiquette of the time that favored that royal infants be treated as miniature adults.
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22 of 22 people found the following review helpful By Loves the View VINE VOICE on January 2, 2007
Format: Hardcover
"Love" as presumed by casual browsers of the title, and "Love" as meant by the author may differ. The book covers his friendships, flirtations, infatuations, in-law relations, marriage and (perhaps) pseudo marriage and his views of the female obligation to sacrifice for international diplomacy. By the standards of his cousin, Charles II of England, Louis XIV was the much more responsible adulterer.

Fraser demonsrates how Louis' early bond with a loving mother- an exception for a time characterized by royal nurseries-was replicated in his intimate relationships with women. There is an interesting symmetry that you come to understand as the story evolves.

The best part is the end when Fraser gives analysis of Louis and his attitude towards women and his basic generousity.

My only criticism is that the genealogical chart is difficult to read. A different lay out would have helped.

This book doesn't try cover the weighty historic issues which are well documented in many other sources. This book brings something new to the table. Like all Fraser books, it is very well researched and readably presented.
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32 of 38 people found the following review helpful By Lola Latte on November 21, 2006
Format: Hardcover
A pretty good biography of King Louis XIV but, sadly, I found the book a little lacking.

Antonia Fraser (her biography of King Charles is one of my favourite royal biographies) makes a decent enough effort in this book, but perhaps 300 pages weren't enough to really focus on the many intriguing individuals (re: ladies) in this King's life. The many ladies (Queen Anne, Louise de la Valliere, Madame de Montespan, Madame de Maintenon, etc) get introduced and written about, in turn, but from reading many more books on the period I know that there is much, much more to be said about these women.

I would have loved to have read more about the tense, love/hate relationship between the two "rivals" Montespan and Maintenon and about what would make the very sensual Louis fall in love with a woman like the outwardly not very sensual Maintenon. His attachment and loyalty to the very beautiful exiled Queen in his care would perhaps have warranted some more mention.

I would have loved to have read more about his relationships with his natural daughters and granddaughters as well.

Plus a few of Ms. Fraser's conclusions didn't sit well with me. Montespan's role in the "Affair of the Poisons" could be debated, but Fraser concludes that Louis must have believed her innocent because he still made a show of having her around the court. Well, Louis WAS about outward show. Though Montespan is hardly the worst character in the world, in the book she goes from saucy, sensuous and greedy vixen to a paragon of virtue, passing out alms to the poor within a heartbeat. This is rather confusing, how did this change come about?

It's interesting that Ms.
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18 of 20 people found the following review helpful By historybooklady on November 26, 2006
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Why buy this book?? Two words. ~Antonia Fraser~. She is a renown historical biographer and this book delivers. Her descriptions of the Sun King's court are so vivid...I felt like I stepped back to 17th century France. Highly recommend this book to any royal reader.
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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful By Jennifer Cameron-Smith on March 15, 2007
Format: Hardcover
Louis XIV, styled the Sun King, was the King of France for 72 years (1643 to 1715). At the time of his birth, his mother (Queen Anne) was almost 37, and was childless after 22 years of marriage (to King Louis XIII).

It is no wonder, then, that Louis was styled 'Dieudonne' or 'Deodatus' ('Godgiven'). It is perhaps also unsurprising that Louis's bond with his mother was so strong.

The reign of Louis XIV has been written about by many: there were many achievements during his long reign (including the construction of Versailles, reforms of taxation and administration, and patronage of the arts).

Antonia Fraser has focussed on his relationships with women. From his strong loving relationship with his mother, his kind but formal relationship with his wife Marie-Therese, his multiple and very different mistresses, as well as with the women of his extended family, we obtain a more complete picture of Louis XIV man and king.

I have read, enjoyed and learned from Antonia Fraser's non fiction since 1974. This book does not disappoint. By illustrating Louis XIV's awareness of the conflict between church doctrine, and adultery, Ms Fraser gives us another dimension of insight into this successful monarch's long reign.

Highly recommended to those interested in the life and times of Louis XIV.

Jennifer Cameron-Smith
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