Often criticised as a philandering egomaniac who squandered fortunes on grand follies and people’s lives in aggressive expansionist wars, Louis XIV nevertheless presided over a golden age of French power and influence. His wars and alliances brought him valuable prizes, from the Spanish throne to colonial possessions, while Versailles, for all its profligacy, also had a crucial role as a ‘shop window, a permanent exhibition of French goods’, envied and copied by every ruler in Europe. An absolute monarch, Louis XIV was one of the most intriguing and unfathomable of kings. His secretive nature led to reversals of foreign policy that were completely unexpected, and a marriage that was all but hidden from general knowledge. The Sun King takes us to the heart of the Bourbon court, presenting its daily life in intimate detail. Readers might feel they are attending the levées with Colbert or strolling around the gardens enjoying the scandalous gossip of the Marquise de Montespan. This account never neglects the economic and political policies of the reign, revealing with deft touches the importance of export taxes or the complexities of diplomatic negotiation. At the same time, we are privy to unforgettable anecdotes of the glittering and unconventional court: Louis attacking Louvois, Minister for War, with fire irons when he heard of the atrocities being committed by his army; the king’s gardener hugging the Pope; or Monsieur, the king’s brother, arriving for battle with his eyelashes stuck together by make-up.
A gifted historian, whose writing was informed by extensive research amongst letters, memoirs and court documents, Mitford infuses The Sun King with her trademark wit and elegant charm. Born into a notable English family, by the time she came to write The Sun King France had been her home for over 20 years. Devoted to France, the French way of life, art and literature, few have had such appreciation of the cultural legacy of Louis XIV, and none has explored it with such exquisite taste and humour. Mitford’s contribution to French literature would earn her the Légion d’Honneur and she herself retired to the royal town of Versailles, sharing Louis’ passion for a place which Mitford described as ‘the love of his life’. This Folio Society edition contains a newly commissioned introduction by historian Sir Roy Strong.
Read more about the life and work of Nancy Mitford