Review: The Sun King – Nancy Mitford

I finished this book, another Folio Society book, today.  It is a history of the life of Louis XIV of France with emphasis on his life at Versailles.  It’s a popular work, so it reads more like a chatty gossip column rather than as a dry historical work. So you find out more about if one of Louis’ mistresses made a sacrifice to the devil than what the laws were like or what the soldiers were doing. You meet a general or so, but only when his wife is found in bed with a count.

The final chapters follow the twilight of his reign – he is getting older, and he then gets involved in a ‘world war’ with most of Europe over trying to put a nephew of his on the throne of Spain.  The strain on the country is huge, and the English general Marlborough is bringing him to the brink of destruction. The worst winter known to man brings him to the table to surrender. Only the demand that he send his own army to dispossess his nephew of the Spanish throne (against the wishes of the Spanish, who had grown to like their king) kept him in the fight.  Then the tide began to turn as the nation rallied behind him.

The army fought Marlborough to a standstill. The English changed governments and betrayed their coalition partners by leaving the war. WIthout England, France won a respectable peace.

Then personal disaster struck as three heirs to the throne died in less than a year, leaving only a sickly child as the last of the line. So the final years before his death were less gitter and glory, but gloom.

The book is well written and fast paced. It is more a view of the personages than of the government or the nations of the time.  And its actually the better for it.  It is an interesting change from the usual histories.

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