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The Duke of Saint-Simon (1675-1755) was by all accounts, including his own, a sensitive, self-obsessed, ill-tempered man. A courtier and phenomenal chronicler of court life under Louis XIV, he produced the monumental work Memoirs, running to thousands of pages, in which the intrigues, personalities, activities, and gossip of life at Versailles are recorded in acerbic detail. Drawing heavily on these Memoirs, renowned historian Emmanuel Le Roy Ladurie, with the collaboration of Jean-François Fitou, offers a fascinating and detailed portrait of life under Louis XIV, focusing on the fundamental issues of hierarchy and rank in this tightly controlled universe.
Saint-Simon and the Court of Louis XIV, expertly translated by Arthur Goldhammer, is a historical essay about court life, built with the wide range of tools Le Roy Ladurie so expertly employs: ethnography, history, literary criticism, and historiography. He recreates a world in which man is most definitely born unequal and circumscribed entirely by purity of bloodline, which nonetheless directly preceded the birth of democratic thought and political action. Locked into a virtual caste system, courtiers formed within their ranks cabals, factions, and groups bonded by common ideological principles in order to survive the political order of the court. Thus Saint-Simon and the Court of Louis XIV is not only about Saint-Simon's place in this constellation but also the constellation itself and how understanding it forces us to a reevaluation of the idea of "political class" in France during the Old Regime.
From adultery and marital mésalliances to intense religious debate and fervor, and including a biographical sketch of Saint-Simon and more than 30 illustrations of court life and its members, Saint-Simon and the Court of Louis XIV will delight those interested in French history as well as instruct those interested in political history. Le Roy Ladurie's The Beggar and the Professor was hailed as a study that added "color and texture to our understanding of the Renaissance and Reformation," according to the New York Times Book Review. With Saint-Simon and the Court of Louis XIV, the same can now be said of his contribution to our understanding of the eighteenth century.
The king was unwilling to accept any compromise in the matter of the ceremonial. The duc de Lorraine insisted that he was entitled to be seated in an armchair in the presence of Monsieur and myself, because the emperor had allowed him one. The king replied that the emperor had one ceremonial and he had another. For example, the emperor permits cardinals to sit in armchairs, whereas cardinals may not be seated in the presence of the king.. . . Monsieur is willing to allow a chair with a back, and the king agrees, but the duke insists on being treated like an elector, and this the king will not allow. Monsieur proposed doing as the king of England does. That monarch insists that we not be given chairs, while we insist on having them. Therefore, when we are present he sits only on a stool.. . . But the king would not hear of this, and so as not to be compelled to insult the duke, we have put aside our plans to travel to Bar.In this case the marks of distinction are clearly ordered: electors (whose votes selected the emperor and who therefore shared in his glory) were entitled to an armchair; the duc de Lorraine, who was not an elector, was entitled only to a chair with a back but wanted more; and for other high dignitaries, especially female dignitaries, there was the plain stool. Table 1.1 conveniently summarizes the answer to the question, Who was allowed to sit in the presence of whom, and on what?
Excerpted from Saint-Simon and the Court of Louis XIV by Jean-Francois Fitou Copyright © 2001 by Jean-Francois Fitou. Excerpted by permission.
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Introduction: Saint-Simon on the Aura of le Roi Soleil and le Bien-Aimé
Part 1: The Court System
1. Hierarchy and Rank
2. The Sacred and the Profane
3. The Pure and the Impure
4. Cabals, Lineages, and Power
5. Saint-Simonian Demography and Female Hypergamy
6. Renouncers and Jesuits
Part 2: The Regency System
7. The Liberal Regency: Autumn 1715 to Summer 1718
8. The Authoritarian Regency: Fall of 1718 to End of 1723
Appendix 1: On Norbert Elias
Appendix 2: On Pasquier Quesnel