BBC’s excellent costume drama series Versailles is a fictionalized account of French King Louis XIV’s mission to turn his family’s hunting lodge into the gorgeous, baroque jewel we know today, and the center of his glittering court. These books relate the true history behind the time of The Sun King’s ambitious and progressive reign.
The Splendid Century: Life In The France Of Louis XIV (4.5/5 stars, currently priced at $3.85)
“The Splendid Century,” penned by the brother of famous author C. S. Lewis (“Alice in Wonderland”), is a depiction of various aspects of life in France during the reign of Louis XIV, gleaned through the author’s thorough research of records, correspondence, and journals of the time.
Using anecdotal evidence, the book probes in detail various facets of life in France during this time, including the lives of nobles (particularly those at court) as well as commoners, religious institutions and conflicts, the organization of the French army and its restructuring, rural life and city life, what life was like on galley ships and passenger sailing ships, how doctors were trained, and the state of women’s education.
The author also discusses the background behind Louis XIV’s policies, illustrating their impact on French civilization, both during this time and for generations to come. A must-read for anyone interested in French history.
The Man Who Outshone the Sun King: A Life of Gleaming Opulence and Wretched Reversal in the Reign of Louis XIV (4.5/5 stars, currently priced at $14.99)
Late in 1664, the musketeer D’Artagnan rode beside a carriage as it left Paris, carrying his friend Nicolas Fouquet to life imprisonment in a cell next door to the Man in the Iron Mask. From a glorious zenith as Louis XIV’s first minister and Cardinal Mazarin’s protégé and eventual protector; builder of the stunningly opulent chateau of Vaux-le-Vicomte; and patron of the arts and lover of beautiful women, Fouquet had suffered a wretched decline.
The story of the rise and fall of Nicolas Fouquet is both compelling and unforgettable. Charles Drazin’s beautifully written and vivid account brings to life Fouquet’s remarkable gains in fortune, influence, and power, as well as the lavish and hazardous world of the royal court in seventeenth-century France.
The Man Who Outshone the Sun King: A Life of Gleaming Opulence and Wretched Reversal in the Reign of Louis XIV (4.5/5 stars, currently priced at $7.99)
he Affair of the Poisons, as it became known, was an extraordinary episode that took place in France during the reign of Louis XIV. When poisoning and black magic became widespread, arrests followed. Suspects included those among the highest ranks of society. Many were tortured and numerous executions resulted.
The 1676 torture and execution of the Marquise de Brinvilliers marked the start of the scandal which rocked the foundations of French society and sent shock waves through all of Europe. Convicted of conspiring with her adulterous lover to poison her father and brothers in order to secure the family fortune, the marquise was the first member of the noble class to fall.
In the French court of the period, where sexual affairs were numerous, ladies were not shy of seeking help from the murkier elements of the Parisian underworld, and fortune-tellers supplemented their dubious trade by selling poison.
It was not long before the authorities were led to believe that Louis XIV himself was at risk. With the police chief of Paris police alerted, every hint of danger was investigated. Rumors abounded and it was not long before the King ordered the setting up of a special commission to investigate the poisonings and bring offenders to justice. No one, the King decreed, no matter how grand, would be spared having to account for their conduct.
The royal court was soon thrown into disarray. The Mistress of the Robes and a distinguished general were among the early suspects. But they paled into insignificance when the King’s mistress was incriminated. If, as was said, she had engaged in vile Satanic rituals and had sought to poison a rival for the King’s affections, what was Louis XIV to do?
Anne Somerset has gone back to original sources, letters and earlier accounts of the affair. By the end of her account, she reaches firm conclusions on various crucial matters. The Affair of the Poisons is an enthralling account of a sometimes bizarre period in French history.
The Man Who Outshone the Sun King: A Life of Gleaming Opulence and Wretched Reversal in the Reign of Louis XIV (4/5 stars, currently priced at $9.99)
The behind-the-scenes story of the world’s most famous palace, painting a picture of the way its residents truly lived and examining the palace’s legacy, from French history through today
The story of Versailles is one of historical drama, under the last three kings of France’s old regime, mixed with the high camp and glamour of the European courts, all in an iconic home for the French arts. The palace itself has been radically altered since 1789, and the court was long ago swept away. Versailles sets out to rediscover what is now a vanished world: a great center of power, seat of royal government, and, for thousands, a home both grand and squalid, bound by social codes almost incomprehensible to us today.
Using eyewitness testimony as well as the latest historical research, Spawforth offers the first full account of Versailles in English in over thirty years. Blowing away the myths of Versailles, he analyses afresh the politics behind the Sun King’s construction of the palace and shows how Versailles worked as the seat of a royal court. He probes the conventional picture of a “perpetual house party” of courtiers and gives full weight to the darker side: not just the mounting discomfort of the aging buildings but also the intrigue and status anxiety of its aristocrats. The book brings out clearly the fateful consequences for the French monarchy of its relocation to Versailles and also examines the changing place of Versailles in France’s national identity since 1789.
Many books have told the stories of the royals and artists living in Versailles, but this is the first to turn its focus on the palace itself—from architecture and politics to scandal and restoration.
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