New Book | King of the World: The Life of Louis XIV

Posted in books by Editor on March 31, 2020

Forthcoming from the U of C Press (though its distribution center is temporarily shut down, e-books are now 30% off, and some titles will ship from other locations). I’ll also put in a plug for Hyde Park’s Seminary Co-op Bookstore, one of the world’s great academic bookstores; its Front Table makes for fine online browsing. Like all independent bookstores, the Seminary Co-op faces daunting challenges in the weeks ahead. So keep reading, and all the better if some of those books are coming from independent booksellers you care about. CH

Philip Mansel, King of the World: The Life of Louis XIV (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 2020), 608 pages, ISBN: 978-0226690896, $35.

Louis XIV was a man in pursuit of glory. Not content to be the ruler of a world power, he wanted the power to rule the world. And, for a time, he came tantalizingly close. Philip Mansel’s King of the World is the most comprehensive and up-to-date biography in English of this hypnotic, flawed figure who continues to captivate our attention. This lively work takes Louis outside Versailles and shows the true extent of his global ambitions, with stops in London, Madrid, Constantinople, Bangkok, and beyond. We witness the importance of his alliance with the Spanish crown and his success in securing Spain for his descendants, his enmity with England, and his relations with the rest of Europe, as well as Asia, Africa, and the Americas. We also see the king’s effect on the two great global diasporas of Huguenots and Jacobites, and their influence on him as he failed in his brutal attempts to stop Protestants from leaving France. Along the way, we are enveloped in the splendor of Louis’s court and the fascinating cast of characters who prostrated and plotted within it.

King of the World is exceptionally researched, drawing on international archives and incorporating sources who knew the king intimately, including the newly released correspondence of Louis’s second wife, Madame de Maintenon. Mansel’s narrative flair is a perfect match for this grand figure, and he brings the Sun King’s world to vivid life. This is a global biography of a global king, whose power was extensive but also limited by laws and circumstances, and whose interests and ambitions stretched far beyond his homeland. Through it all, we watch Louis XIV progressively turn from a dazzling, attractive young king to a belligerent reactionary who sets France on the path to 1789. It is a convincing and compelling portrait of a man who, three hundred years after his death, still epitomizes the idea of le grand monarque.

Philip Mansel is one of Britain’s leading historians of France and the Middle East. He is the author of many books, including, most recently, Aleppo: The Rise and Fall of Syria’s Great Merchant City; The Eagle in Splendour: Inside the Court of Napoleon; and Levant: Splendour and Catastrophe on the Mediterranean.


List of Illustrations
Family Trees

Introduction: A Thousand Years of France
1  The Gift of God
2  Our Good City of Paris
3  The Struggle for France
4  M. le Cardinal
5  The Power of Queens
6  Fouquet’s Fall
7  Making France Work
8  The Pursuit of Immortality: The Louvre and Versailles
9  Conquering Flanders
10  Fighting the Netherlands
11  To the Rhine
12  The King Outdoors
13  Inside Versailles
14  Inside Louis XIV
15  The Global King: From the Mississippi to the Mekong
16  The Huguenot Cataclysm
17  England Changes Sides: The Flights of King James
18  France against Europe
19  Spain Changes Sides: The Accession of King Philip
20  The Triumph of Europe
21  Towards the Precipice
22  Nemesis Averted
23  Funeral Games
24  The Shadow of Versailles


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