King of the World: The Life of Louis XIV

Univ. of Chicago. Mar. 2020. 608p. ISBN 9780226690896. $35. BIOG
“Sun King” Louis XIV (1638–1715) ruled France for more than 72 years, the longest reign still of any Western monarch. After the death of chief minister Cardinal Mazarin in 1661, Louis XIV took over the reins of government, assisted by ministers such as Jean-Baptiste Colbert and François-Michel le Tellier, Marquis de Louvois. Historian Mansel (Aleppo) shows that, despite the king’s own delight in dance and fetes, he put a lot of effort into being a diligent and industrious king, meeting regularly with governing councils six days a week. Mansel goes on to explain how France dominated Europe at the time of Louis’s accession, but his ceaseless wars gradually tilted the balance against him as his enemies grew stronger and alliances against him became more widespread. His spending on war and the palace at Versailles led to a colossal debt that would eventually be paid by the monarchy during the French Revolution. Mansel takes care to detail one of Louis’s significant mistakes: the expulsion of the Huguenots in 1685, which alienated allies in the process.
VERDICT Why did a king make such blunders? Mansel seeks to find out in this superior study that will appeal to history buffs and may become the go-to biography of Louis XIV.

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