Constable & Robinson 391pp. £25
Was Louis XIV a bastard? French historians have generally dismissed the allegation as mere tittle-tattle. The close relations that existed between Cardinal Mazarin, who succeeded Richelieu as Louis XIII’s chief minister, and the Queen, Anne of Austria, generated rumours. It was said that Louis XIV was Mazarin’s son. Two objections to this story have been advanced: Mazarin was absent from Paris at the relevant moment and Anne was too closely watched for adultery on her part for it to have taken place. But Anthony Levi argues that Mazarin was indeed in Paris in late 1637 and that Richelieu, who was all-powerful at the time, would not have opposed an action that would effectively exclude from the throne Louis XIII’s tiresome brother, Gaston d’Orléans.
Levi thinks it is ‘overwhelmingly likely’ that Mazarin was Louis XIV’s father, but since this hypothesis can never be proved, it is only worth making if it can shed new light on the Sun King’s behaviour and actions. This is what this unconventional biography sets out to do. Levi asserts that historians have largely neglected Louis’s ‘interior insecurities’ and ‘intimate devotional life’ by concentrating on his military activity and the court life of Versailles. He prefers to focus initially on the King’s upbringing and on the relationship between Mazarin and Anne of Austria. The challenge posed by the Fronde is touched upon, but the author seems more interested in affairs of the heart than affairs of state. The young Louis XIV’s voracious sexual appetite is taken as indicative of a chronic sense of insecurity. which is ascribed not only to his upbringing and idolisation, but also to the ‘clergy-fuelled guilt induced in him by the clash between his religion and his illicit liaisons’.
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