only knew Louis (the 14th) through two forms of entertainment. There was the version provided through Dumas, that of the selfish and ungrateful ruler, who punishes the loyal Fouquet at the wormtonguing of Colbert and is nearly swapped out by Aramis’ kingmaking (Man in the Iron Mask). And then there is the Versailles series, where he is in control and fitting his rule to his circumstances, but with all the secret societies and plots about the place, it feels almost too fantastical. In this, I decided to find out just who Lou was, so I checked Louis XIV, A Royal Life out of the library and had a go.
It was an interesting book (though confusing – I really needed a guide to know who all the folks in the court were). And I’ll admit that after long stressful days, it rather put me to sleep. But I got through it (two days before it was due) and was able to review it in time, so that counts for something.
It was interesting to find out that Dumas was full of crap, that Fouquet was likely embezzling (and had arranged the country’s finances in such a way that he was, literally, too big to fail). Turns out he wasn’t – once he was tossed into the jug (or rather the Bastille), the early Louis got to work. Never again did he give away the running of his country to advisors and counselors. He ran it as if it was his own affair (which it was), holding two long meetings a day, reviewing reports and gathering intel. His wars (most of them) were carefully thought out, supplied and timetabled. His diplomatic movies were as deliberate as chess. He turned France around, filled its coffers and reduced its taxes.
He also sensed the old saying about keeping enemies closer – Versailles was arranged to keep his nobles at court under his watchful eye and not out in their provinces where they could stir up trouble. And that strategy seemed to work – unlike the Fronde (where the nobility clutched at the power of the royals, and he barely survived his mother’s regency) he kept them under control, under virtual golden lock and silver key, busy with the etiquette and gossips of court, misdirected in their efforts for a half-century. He never really had contention from them.
He also bred like a rabbit. Working his way through wives and mistresses, he managed to produce numerous offspring. He even placed a grandson on the throne of Spain (which looked rather like a mistake, but author Olivier Bernier makes a strong case that it wasn’t).
Overall, a very interesting story of a very interesting man, a powerful statesman who realized what needed doing in his time and did it.
Now, pardon me while I race over to the library – got a book to return!