Having elegantly disposed of the ill-fated Marie Antoinette in her previous book, royal biographer Antonia Fraser now ventures into the crowded female-dominated court of Louis XIV (1638-1715), the "Sun King" who ruled France for 72 years. In his relations with women, as in every arena of his life, the "Great Monarch" exhibited an abundance of energy: He had two wives; three longtime official mistresses; and numerous fleeting, occasionally fruitful liaisons. By consensus count, he fathered at least 18 legitimate and illegitimate offspring. Fraser choreographs these alliances for us with enviable ease. Love and Louis XIV confirms her status as our era's premier court chronicler.
As a writer of history, Fraser has done it allbiographies, group studies, even a chronicle of England's infamous Gunpowder Plotand done it superbly. While Love and Louis XIV doesn't quite measure up to the high standards of synthesis and narrative propulsion of her best work, the book is still entertaining and instructive…If the chief virtues of Love and Louis XIV are its sparkling vignettes and sharp character sketches…we must still be grateful to Antonia Fraser for devising so excellent a companion with which to lie back and think of France.
The New York Times
Adelaide of Savoy, a favorite companion of Louis XIV during his dotage, remarked, “Under a king, a country is really ruled by women.” Fraser’s history of the court of the Sun King, seen through the lens of the women closest to him, is a highly readable confection, and unfolds as a sequence of cameos. There is Queen Anne of Austria, Louis’s steely mother and regent, who carefully molded the infant King into an Apollo adored by the court; and his wife, Marie-Thérèse of Spain, who gave him no trouble except by dying. Then comes a trio of mistresses: Louise de La Vallière, who became a nun as recompense for her sins; Athénaïs, voluptuous and fecund; and Madame de Maintenon, the discreet and redoubtable confidante of his later years. With vivid wit, Fraser demonstrates that within the edifice of the monarchy there were deep crannies of ordinary affection.
Diverse is the operative word here, for these women had little in common apart from the love they bore the sovereign. Although she does not explain what (apart from that roving eye) caused Louis XIV to feel so "full of romance" toward so many different kinds of ladies, Fraser offers an engaging overview of this varied cast of characters, beginning with his mother, the "fierce[ly] maternal" Anne of Austria. According to Fraser, Anne's devotion to her oldest son -- who became Louis XIV in 1643, at age 4 -- imbued him with a sense of "generosity and courtesy to women" that would characterize his subsequent relationships with the fairer sex.
The Washington Post
Prolific royal biographer Fraser (Marie Antoinette) has assiduously researched her measured yet engrossing study, shedding welcome light on the galaxy of influential women who orbited the dazzling Sun King. The most important woman in Louis XIV's life, in Fraser's telling, was probably the first-his mother, Anne of Austria. The voluptuous, pleasure-loving but pious and dignified queen regent inculcated Louis with the notion that he was a godlike miracle who was nevertheless accountable to the deity for his sins. As this narrowly focused history suggests, Louis was constantly trying to reconcile his gargantuan sexual appetite with his duty to his people and his God. Louis gave up his first love, the bold and amusing Marie Mancini, to marry his graceless first cousin, the Spanish princess Maria Teresa. A serious flirtation with his charming sister-in-law Henriette-Anne, sister of England's Charles II, ended when Louis fell for Charles and Henriette's decoy, the timid virgin Louise de La Valliere. In sexual thrall to the intelligent, magnetic Athenais, the Marquise de Montespan, the king intriguingly threw her over for Francoise Scarron, the puritanical governess to their bastards. Lastly, Louis gave his heart to his spirited granddaughter-in-law Adelaide, who died of measles within days of her husband, the Dauphin. (Oct. 17) Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
Internationally acclaimed biographer and historian Fraser has written another fascinating and accessible biography. Her focus is on the private life rather than the power and political achievement of that larger-than-life sovereign, Louis XIV of France. Beginning with his relationship with his mother, Anne of Austria, Fraser argues that the happiest moments of Louis's life were associated with women. She details many (though admittedly not all) of his liaisons, interweaving the narrative with rich historical insights about the customs of court life, including practices regarding contraception, sexuality, and sexual initiation. A secondary theme is the apparent contradiction between the enormous power that the Catholic Church held over conscience and behavior at the time and the king's clearly immoral actions. Absolute kings, as God's representatives on Earth, were expected to behave better than their subjects, and Fraser shows how Anne of Austria worried about her son's promiscuity and his salvation. Fraser also wonders about the extent to which Louis's paramours might be termed victims, and she tries to uncover the perceptions that they had of themselves and of their relationship with Louis. She stresses his generosity and courtesy to them and his enjoyment of female company outside the bedroom. A glossary of principal characters and a chronological political summary help general readers understand the historical context. Recommended for public libraries. [See Prepub Alert, LJ 6/1/06.] Marie Marmo Mullaney, Caldwell Coll., NJ Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
Altogether at ease with the mores of the ancien regime, Fraser (Marie Antoinette, 2001, etc.) eschews a detailed biography of Louis XIV to focus instead on the women who shaped and were shaped by France's most glorious ruler. He was king for 72 years, time enough to build Versailles, wage numerous, mostly unsuccessful, wars and accumulate a rich history with the opposite sex. Louis's mother, Queen Anne, gave birth at 36-a then-astoundingly late stage in life for pregnancy-lending an immediate air of the miraculous to the future monarch. Anne established an unusually close relationship with her son, who never entirely erased from his mind her mixture of beauty and piety as a template of female perfection. Louis abandoned his teenage liaison with the unsuitable Marie Mancini to marry Spanish Infanta Maria Teresa. As Queen Marie-Therese, she accommodated two important mistresses, Louise de La Valliere and the Marquise de Montespan, and drew from Louis the final tribute that she gave him no trouble except by dying. After Marie-Therese, he secretly married Madame de Maintenon, whose demeanor was remarkably like that of his mother. Fraser paints each of these women in full and offers sketches of a succession of minor mistresses, one night stands, sisters-in-law (including the hilariously vulgar and bitchy wife of Louis's homosexual brother), princesses and even an exiled foreign queen, all of whom engaged the king's genuine interest. To help keep track of this large cast, the profusion of changing titles and the dizzying succession of bastards, the author provides a useful guide to the principal characters. Courtiers meticulously charted the king's amorous adventures, and Fraser excels atreproducing the hothouse atmosphere in which the monarch's raised eyebrow might portend a serious change in someone's fortune. Uncomfortably aware of the Church's opposition to his notorious love life, Louis fully indulged himself during his heyday before turning in old age to a greater concern for his salvation. An acutely sensitive group portrait of the women who basked in the Sun King's reflected glory.