Day 135: The Sun King

Cover for The Sun KingThe Sun King is an interesting biography of Louis XIV and a history of his court, although it occasionally assumes a level of knowledge about French history that I do not have. It is also not terribly revealing of the personality of Louis XIV, who was apparently a very guarded person. For example, the book contains no revealing quotes from personal letters or anything similar.

I was interested to read that Nancy Mitford originally envisaged the book as a description and discussion of the architecture and gardens of Versailles rather than a biography, which perhaps partially explains the focus.

The book starts with the beginning of Louis’s reign, so there is no information about his early life. Chapters are organized around incidents during his reign rather than periods of history. The book describes the opulent court and details intrigues and power struggles within it. The chapter about poisoning was shocking. It is easy to see why the French court of the time had such a reputation for decadence.

The edition that I read (not the one pictured) is full of beautiful pictures of Versailles as well as sketches of the architects, artists, and gardeners responsible for creating the palace. However, there are no good pictures of Louis, presumably because none exist. He is always depicted as a tiny figure in large historical paintings of some event, so it was hard to see what he actually looked like.

Of course, the book is well written and witty. Although Mitford is best known for her humorous novels of sharp social commentary, she also wrote several well-received and thoroughly researched biographies.

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