King of the World: The Life of Louis XIV
By Philip Mansel
Published by Allen Lane
Publication date: July 2019
Louis XIV wanted to conquer time and space - to push the borders of France which he inherited out into Flanders, Burgundy and Alsace, and beyond, to expand French dominion in the Americas and the East, to win what he called ‘the exquisite praises of history’ through conquests and to create a great palace which would surpass all others and secure his immortality. He became the epitome and exemplar of monarchy, the king all his contemporaries and successors imitated, envied, or fought against.
The author shows that ‘the Sun King’ was a European, preoccupied with the balance of power in Europe, as well a King of France bent on national expansion. Poland was a key country in his strategy to weaken the power of the House of Austria. Already concerned by the possibility of a partition of Poland, in 1665-7 he tried to get his cousin the Prince de Conde elected King of Poland. In 1697 he tried again with another cousin, the Prince de Conti. Conti was elected but immediately replaced by Augustus II, from Saxony.
If Poland had had a strong Bourbon monarchy, it might have escaped partition. Louis XIV also used two French-born Queens of Poland, Louise Marie de Gonzague, wife of King Jan Casimir, and Marie Casimire Louise de la Grange d’Arquien, wife of King Jan Sobieski, to strengthen French influence. However, he never sent French troops to Poland and after 1697 Poland increasingly fell under Russian influence.
King of the World is a magnificent and perceptive account of the man who dominated the seventeenth century more than any other. Mansel offers original and persuasive answers to these questions, and weaves a brilliant tapestry of the life of one of the most compelling figures in European history.