Saturday, April 5, 2014

Louis XIV

Cover image for Louis XIV / Geoffrey Treasure.
Louis XIV by Geoffrey Treasure, 340 pages

The direct sequel to his biography of Cardinal Mazarin, Treasure's biography of Louis XIV continues the excellence of its predecessor.  Louis was certainly the defining figure of his era, and Treasure shows this in his account of the building of Versailles and the triumph of neo-classicism in art, architecture, manners, and philosophy.  Likewise, he shows clearly the difficulties Louis faced and sometimes fostered, such as awakening the hostility of the other European powers, resulting in the harsh nature of the War of Spanish Succession.  This leads to the charge that Louis squandered the gains of Richelieu and Mazarin, creating the flaws that would bring down the monarchy in the Revolution, but Treasure shows this criticism to be somewhat overstated.  Similarly, his treatment of the Huguenots was a critical error, but Treasure demonstrates that this had more impact in the realm of ideas than in the economic sphere.

Louis XIV remains the prime example of monarchical absolutism, the verdict not only of history but of his own propaganda.  Building on the foundations - strategic, cultural, and intellectual - bequeathed to him by the two cardinals, the Sun King was free to shape the future of France, and therefore Europe, and therefore the world.  In the end, Louis XIV represents the limits of personal monarchy, and, underneath the surface, the point at which aristocracy was surpassed by bureaucracy.

As thorough as Mazarin, and actually considerably more readable.

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