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.)
A study of the life and reign of the Sun King looks at the world of King Louis XIV from the perspective of his intimate relationships with the women in his life, from his mother, Anne of Austria, and his official queen, Marie-Thrse, to his many mistresses--including Louise de la Vallire, Athnas, marquise de Montespan, and Franoise de Maintenon. 75,000 first printing.
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 Louis's accomplishments and follies, exploring in detail his intimate relationships with women. The king's mother, Anne of Austria, had been in a childless marriage for 22 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 absolutepower. In 1660, Louis married his first cousin, Marie-Therese, in a political arrangement. While unfailingly kind to the official "Queen of Versailles," Louis sought others to satisfy his romantic and sexual desires. Fraser weaves insights into the nature of women's religious lives--as well as such practical matters as contraception--into her sweeping portrait of the king, his court, and his ladies.--From publisher description.A study of the life and reign of King Louis XIV from the perspective of his intimate relationships with the women in his life, from his mother, Anne of Austria, and his official queen, Marie-Therese, to his many mistresses.
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.
Reading Group Guide
1. Discuss the various types and degrees of love that shaped Louiss life. How did his mothers circumstances–a pious woman, age thirty-six when giving birth to him after so many childless years–affect his upbringing, and his perceptions of women?
2. Why might Queen Anne have lavished more affection on Louis than on his younger brother, Philippe (Petit Monsieur)? What were the results of this favoritism? How might the boys development have been influenced by the death of Louis XIII when his oldest son was just five years old?
3. What motivated Louis XIIIs deathbed attempts to keep Anne from serving as regent? What political legacies had led to their teenage marriage?
4. Was Annes influence over Louis beneficial--to France, to his personal life, to his legacy?
5. Was the marriage to the Infanta a stroke of wisdom on the part of Anne and the Cardinal? Would marrying Marie Mancini (for love, no less) have compromised Louiss power?
6. Chapter three concludes with the following line: “The marriage so ardently desired by Anne of Austria for over twenty-one years looked set fair to fulfill all of her hopes.” What were Annes hopes at that point? How do those hopes compare to the hopes of contemporary political leaders throughout the world?
7. Marie-Thérèse was raised in a culture that sometimes contradicted Louiss, such as the ability of Spanish princesses to inherit the throne. Antonia Fraser even indicates that Marie-Thérèse never fully overcame their language barrier. Were she and Louis a good match? Did Marie-Thérèse fall in love with her husband?
8. What transition is reflected in Louiss short-lived romance with Henriette-Anne, who married his brother? Did Louiss subsequent affair with Louise de La Vallière demonstrate the same chivalrous affection he had for Henriette-Anne, or did you view him as predatory? Did Louises final years in the convent comprise a tragic ending?
9. Was the power of Roman Catholicism beneficial to French kings? What was the impact of religious rituals–such as the high-profile Easter mass–on the behavior of Louis? Did he appear to fear damnation, or public disapproval?
10. When Louis embarked on a period of long-term Double Adultery with Athénaïs, did you view this as being more dangerous than his previous adultery? Financially or otherwise, did Athénaïs fare better than the others?
11. What was your opinion of Louiss adultery in general? Would you have enjoyed being his mistress, or the child of one of his mistresses?
12. How did English history influence French history at this time? Did Louis seem to believe that a revolution such as Cromwells, complete with the execution of Charles I, could ever occur in his own country? Why did Louis offer refuge to King James II and Mary Beatrice?
13. Discuss the role of women in seventeenth-century France. Given the lack of options, was the role of mistress to Louis XIV a career opportunity? Did the church offer any means for religious women to gain power and influence?
14. The author provides considerable documentation of Louis XIVs workaholism and perfectionism. What were the ultimate goals of his intense political planning and monitoring? What were the results of his detailed scrutiny?
15. Does Louiss relationship with (and probable marriage to) Françoise represent his maturity, or his regression? Did Françoise emulate his mothers role?
16. Why might Adelaide so easily have won Louis XIVs heart? When she and Bourgogne died, what was the political and emotional cost?
17. What observations did you make about the role of royalty in sustaining the arts--such as Molières daring masterpiece Tartuffe? Did the humanities fare better or worse when monarchs were the primary patrons?
18. Love and Louis XIV vividly captures the spurious world of seventeenth-century healthcare. What medical misinformation was most intriguing to you? Why didnt more patients refuse the procedure of bloodletting with the bold defiance of governess Duchesse de Ventadour (whose protection of Louis Duc dAnjou is recounted in chapter fifteen)? How might the culture of Louis XIV, which demanded intermarriage and was obsessed with lineage, have viewed twenty-first-century knowledge of DNA and infertility treatments?
19. How did you react to Liselotte? Was she uncouth and disrespectful or refreshingly candid? What cultural gulfs did she represent?
20. In chapter fifteen, Adelaide is quoted as saying, “England is better governed under a queen than under a king. … Under a king, a country is really ruled by women, and under a queen by men.” How does this aphorism apply to Louis XIV? Was France hindered by the Salic law that prohibited women from inheriting the throne?
21. The opulence of Versailles contrasts with the poverty and starvation experienced by so many of Louis XIVs subjects. In what way is this book a “prequel” to Antonia Frasers biography of Marie Antoinette? Discuss the authors other previous works in the context of Love and Louis XIV.