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Love and Louis XIV: The Women in the Life of the Sun Kingby Antonia Fraser
Synopses & Reviews
The self-proclaimed Sun King, Louis XIV ruled over the most glorious and extravagant court in seventeenth-century Europe. Now, Antonia Fraser goes behind the well-known tales of Louiss accomplishments and follies, exploring in riveting detail his intimate relationships with women.
The kings mother, Anne of Austria, had been in a childless marriage for twenty-two years before she gave birth to Louis XIV. A devout Catholic, she instilled in her son a strong sense of piety and fought successfully for his right to absolute power. In 1660, Louis married his first cousin, Marie-Thérèse, in a political arrangement. While unfailingly kind to the official "Queen of Versailles," Louis sought others to satisfy his romantic and sexual desires. After a flirtation with his sister-in-law, his first important mistress was Louise de La Vallière, who bore him several children before being replaced by the tempestuous and brilliant Athénaïs, marquise de Montespan. Later, when Athénaïss reputation was tarnished, the king continued to support her publicly until Athénaïs left court for a life of repentance. Meanwhile her childrens governess, the intelligent and seemingly puritanical Françoise de Maintenon, had already won the kings affections; in a relationship in complete contrast to his physical obsession with Athénaïs, Louis XIV lived happily with Madame de Maintenon for the rest of his life, very probably marrying her in secret. When his grandsons child bride, the enchanting Adelaide of Savoy, came to Versaille she lightened the kings last yearsuntil tragedy struck.
With consummate skill, Antonia Fraser weaves insights into the nature of womens religious livesas well as such practical matters as contraceptioninto her magnificent, sweeping portrait of the king, his court, and his ladies.
"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 Vallire. In sexual thrall to the intelligent, magnetic Athnas, the Marquise de Montespan, the king intriguingly threw her over for Franoise Scarron, the puritanical governess to their bastards. Lastly, Louis gave his heart to his spirited granddaughter-in-law Adlade, who died of measles within days of her husband, the Dauphin." Publishers Weekly (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
"'Kings want for nothing except the pleasures of a private existence,' the 17th-century moralist Jean de La Bruyere observed of Louis XIV's all-consuming devotion to royal duty. For the monarch who declared 'I am the state,' the distinction between public and private held little meaning. To consolidate his power, Louis XIV conceived of all his actions (from the tiniest costuming decisions to the grandest... Washington Post Book Review (read the entire Washington Post review) military endeavors) as displays of political might. Even his abiding moniker, 'the Sun King,' which evokes his strategic posturing as Apollo, attests to the difficulty of dissociating the man from his dazzling royal mask. To speak of Louis XIV's 'private existence' would therefore seem to be a contradiction in terms, yet Antonia Fraser's interesting new book, 'Love and Louis XIV,' proposes to do just that. The author of 'Marie Antoinette: The Journey' and many other biographies, Fraser emphasizes that this living embodiment of absolutism was also a man of flesh and blood, endowed with an incorrigible 'roving eye.' Like Simone Bertiere's excellent recent work on Louis XIV's mother, wife and numerous mistresses, the sumptuously illustrated 'Love and Louis XIV' focuses on the diverse array of women who 'lit up the court of the Sun King.' Diverse is the operative word here, for these women had little in common apart from the love they bore the sovereign. Although she does not explain what (apart from that roving eye) caused Louis XIV to feel so 'full of romance' toward so many different kinds of ladies, Fraser offers an engaging overview of this varied cast of characters, beginning with his mother, the 'fierce(ly) maternal' Anne of Austria. According to Fraser, Anne's devotion to her oldest son — who became Louis XIV in 1643, at age 4 — imbued him with a sense of 'generosity and courtesy to women' that would characterize his subsequent relationships with the fairer sex. Fraser's tale is interesting, however, precisely because it contradicts this claim. As a king, Louis XIV was far from unique in straying from the marriage bed, but his dalliances, conducted with an almost ruthless egotism, undermined his 'generosity and courtesy' at every turn. As an adolescent, he abruptly ended his first romance — with a 'spritely' tomboy named Marie Mancini — when he realized that he could not honor his promise to wed her. Breaking his word and Marie's heart, he instead married the Spanish Infanta Marie-Therese in 1660. This politically motivated union brought happiness to neither newlywed. As the young Louis XIV was discovering, when it came to kingship, 'the pleasures of a private existence' were beside the point. Nonetheless, the monarch sought this pleasure where he could — outside the bounds of wedlock. Finding his bride 'neither a graceful nor an alluring' woman, he first developed a crush on his elegant sister-in-law, Henriette-Anne, then fell for Louise de La Valliere, a demure 17-year-old whom he had engaged to help him cover up his 'incestuous' affair. Staunchly Catholic, Louise understood that 'sex outside marriage put a person in a state of sin.' She begged her suitor to 'have pity on my weakness!' — but to no avail. 'The King, after an appropriate duration of siege, showed no pity.' Louis XIV proved pitiless indeed. After fathering two children by Louise, the king abandoned her for the 'astonishingly beautiful,' sexually adventurous Athenais de Montespan. (Devastated, Louise retired to a convent, a fate that awaited Athenais as well.) Since Athenais was married, her involvement with Louis XIV qualified as 'Double Adultery.' (Her outraged husband threatened to give her a venereal disease so that it would infect the king.) Religious leaders and the more pious members of the court wrung their hands over the danger this affair posed to the king's salvation. But if his libertinage caused any major shockwaves among the populace at large (as they did under his successor, Louis XV, and as some of the satirical prints reproduced in this book imply), Fraser does not mention them. The king himself, though, eventually grasped that his sinful frolics could not last forever. In 1675, he replaced Athenais with a devout widow deeply 'interested in the `project' of Louis's salvation': Francoise Scarron, later Madame de Maintenon. Probably married in a secret church ceremony, the couple reintroduced religious fervor into court life. Louis XIV, however, still craved an outlet for his amorous energies. Duly he found one 'last great passion' in the vivacious, 10-year-old Adelaide of Savoy, married to his grandson in 1696. Although the king's relationship with Adelaide was platonic, her untimely death in 1712 left in him 'a terrible void which nothing (could) fill.' He died, a broken man, just three years later, after informing Francoise, 'You have nothing, Madame.' It was true; the king's lifelong addiction to love had brought him, and his women, little but sorrow. By this point, Fraser writes in one of her sometimes superficial narrative's more elegiac and humanizing moments, 'It is difficult to believe that much was left of his heart.' Caroline Weber, an associate professor of French at Barnard College, is the author of 'Queen of Fashion: What Marie Antoinette Wore to the Revolution.'" Reviewed by Caroline Weber, Washington Post Book World (Copyright 2006 Washington Post Book World Service/Washington Post Writers Group)
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With consummate skill, Fraser pens a magnificent, sweeping portrait of the self-proclaimed Sun King Louis XIV, who ruled over the most glorious and extravagant court in 17th-century Europe, and explores in riveting detail his intimate relationships with women.
About the Author
Since 1969 ANTONIA FRASER has written many acclaimed historical works that have been international bestsellers. She is the recipient of many literary awards, including the Wolfson Prize for History, the Saint Louis Literary Award, and the 2000 Norton Medlicott Medal of Britain’s Historical Association. Her works include the biographies Mary Queen of Scots, Cromwell, the Lord Protector and Royal Charles: Charles II and the Restoration. Four highly praised books focus on women in history: The Weaker Vessel, The Warrior Queens, The Six Wives of Henry VIII and, most recently, Marie Antoinette: The Journey. She is editor of the book The Lives of the Kings and Queens of England. Antonia Fraser is married to Harold Pinter and lives in London.
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