In Louis XIV: The Power and the Glory, Josephine Wilkinson, an independent scholar, has written an agreeable and generally admiring biography. She covers war and politics efficiently, but this is very much a personal biography. The king’s ministers receive less attention than his mistresses. Yet Louis was no playboy monarch, as Ms. Wilkinson makes clear ... Ms. Wilkinson has little new to say about Louis’s wars and foreign policy, but as a portrait of the king and a story of his private life her chronicle is as entertaining as it is sensible and generous. It compares well with Nancy Mitford’s biographies of Louis XIV and Madame de Pompadour. Ms. Wilkinson may not be quite as witty as Mitford, but her understanding of her subject and feeling for her hero are every bit as satisfying.
In this book, the personal overwhelms the political. Wars and diplomatic events are the sideshows to court intrigue, Louis’s sexual dalliances, gossip, the petty rivalries among of the men and women of the king’s entourage, and lavish entertaining ... There are some useful passages devoted to key ministers such as Mazarin and Colbert. Wilkinson notes the increasing costs of Louis’ wars and the consequent effects on the French people. Again, it’s not that Wilkinson ignores key historical events, but her emphasis throughout the book on the personal Louis obscures the reasons why biographies of the Sun King are so important ... It is perhaps fitting that she concludes her biography with the chronology and details of Louis’s last days and death without offering reflections on his rule and its importance to French and European history.
Wilkinson well describes Louis’ love life, his peripatetic infatuations and longer-term affairs that made for court intrigues ... Wilkinson’s attention to detail and her ability to create individual personalities of the seemingly endless parade of Louis’ courtiers mark this as a thorough political and cultural account of a long and complicated reign.
Relying on the king's memoirs, as well as an array of secondary sources, Wilkinson...focuses more on the skirmishes among the aristocracy, glorious military campaigns, and romantic liaisons of Louis's reign than the administrative or economic functions of state. What is lacking in academic tone and research, however, is more than made up for by a historical account that is both entertaining and informative ... An enjoyable read for armchair history fans, especially those with an interest in the golden age of monarchy.
This biography of Louis XIV, king of France (1643–1715), from historian Wilkinson...is an entertaining, if unnecessary, work that brings no new understanding of the thoroughly studied royal ... The Louis XIV that emerges is by turns pious and pitiably impulsive, though there’s little examination of either state. And Wilkinson’s text requires of the reader a level of historical knowledge that would render this book redundant. Readers hoping for a new authoritative biography of the Sun King will be left wanting.
Too much of Wilkinson’s plodding narrative details the romantic court intrigues, including Louis’ extramarital affairs with Louise de La Vallière and Madame de Montespan, and his happy late-life second marriage to the governess of the royal children, Madame de Maintenon. Sadly, the romance rarely sizzles, and the author doesn’t provide enough big-picture analysis of significant points in his subject’s life—e.g., his stoking of the War of Spanish Succession. Wilkinson offers little in the way of passion or illumination to enliven this account of the dazzling reign of the Sun King.