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The Women in the Life of the Sun King

A-Love and Louis XIVLouis XIV (1638–1715), the charismatic Sun King of France, was raised by his mother and regent Anne of Austria to appreciate women and enjoy their company. Wedded to a meek and colorless heiress, Louis sought intellectual and physical solace in the arms of a variety of mistresses: a shy 17-year-old virgin, a worldly and adulterous noblewoman, and a pious governess who raised his bastard offspring and reportedly attempted to redeem the king by marrying him in a secret ceremony. Accomplished biographer Antonia Fraser follows the stories of the Sun King and his women from the beginning to the end of his 72-year reign.
Nan A. Talese/Doubleday. 416 pages. $32.50. ISBN: 0385509847

Chicago Sun-Times 4 of 5 Stars
"It is a fascinating read. … Fraser does a skillful job of bringing to life all the various characters in Louis’ court and illuminating the connections between Europe’s royal families." Jennifer Hunter

Los Angeles Times 4 of 5 Stars
"Drawing on letters, diaries and memoirs to support her own eminently readable prose, Fraser makes the romances and scandals of the 17th century seem as lively as the latest gossip about Nicole Richie, Tom Cruise or Paris Hilton." Charles Solomon

USA Today 4 of 5 Stars
"What makes Fraser’s book so compelling is her psychologically astute insights into what motivated these historical figures." Deirdre Donahue

NY Times Book Review 3.5 of 5 Stars
"Fraser’s marital—or coital—history of the French court lends an interesting perspective to a century that suffered long and bloody wars on the Continent and changes of command in nearly every country but France, where Louis reigned for more than 60 years. … While Love and Louis XIV doesn’t quite measure up to the high standards of synthesis and narrative propulsion of [Fraser’s] best work, the book is still entertaining and instructive." Megan Marshall

Wall Street Journal 3.5 of 5 Stars
"The book is good history, a pleasure to read throughout and true to its subtitle. … It is indeed about royal love and love-making and all the court rituals, family gamesmanship, accommodations with the church, accommodations with God and the mind-bogglingly lavish expenditures necessary to establish a French king’s mistress in the 17th century." Ned Crabb

Washington Post 3.5 of 5 Stars
"To speak of Louis XIV’s ‘private existence’ would therefore seem to be a contradiction in terms, yet Antonia Fraser’s interesting new book, Love and Louis XIV, proposes to do just that. … [A] sometimes superficial narrative." Caroline Weber

Critical Summary

Antonia Fraser (Mary Queen of Scots, Royal Charles, Marie Antoinette) departs somewhat from her usual scholarly style with this book, though her research is as rigorous as ever. The gusto with which she describes Louis XIV’s philandering strikes some reviewers as reminiscent of tabloid papers’ obsessions with the love lives of celebrities; others note her distance from the people she describes, with little analysis offered as to their thoughts or motivations as they participate in the king’s journey into sin and eventual redemption. Fraser’s mastery of the biographer’s craft is as evident as ever, however, and the occasional lurid aside mostly serves to make her work more accessible to the average reader.