Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Dream of a King

Catherine Delors reviews a recent BBC production about Versailles with some insightful reflections. To quote Madame Delors:
As for the scholarly quality of the commentary, it left somewhat to be desired. In particular, Lady Antonia Fraser remarked that Louis XIV's many affairs incarnated the country's sense of its own virility, something in which Louis XVI would, by contrast, have failed.

This was - rightly - contradicted some time later by another historian, Lisa Hilton, who noted that the very public and doubly adulterous liaison between the King and Madame de Montespan was considered scandalous by the vast majority of the contemporaries. Indeed one of the reasons why Louis XVI remained extremely popular well into the French Revolution was his faithfulness to Marie-Antoinette. French people always hated royal mistresses, and they appreciated their absence during his reign.

But I disagree with Ms. Hilton on many other points. She says, for instance, that Louis XIV was not interested in his wife because she was not attractive. In fact, Queen Marie-Therese...was blonde, fair and plump, with regular features, which conformed to the standards of female beauty of her time. But she was undeniably dull, and the Sun King did not enjoy dull people or things.

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