For all of his foibles and eccentricities, King Louis XIV of France stands in history as an important and effective leader in 17th century France. His impact on the course of French history is undeniable, and the story of his life and rise to power is fascinating to study. One of the pivotal works on Louis XIV in the last several decades is “Louis XIV and the Greatness of France” by Maurice Ashley. In this book review, Ashley’s work will be discussed within the historical context of 17th century France in an effort to better understand Louis XIV and the writing of Ashley himself.
Overview of the Work
Maurice Ashley, in writing “Louis XIV and the Greatness of France” created a work that is rich in historical details about the life and rule of the man who would come to be known throughout history as The Sun King (Ashley, 1965), combined with literary techniques and contemporary viewpoints, which will be presented in subsequent portions of this review.
The work takes a biographical format, beginning literally with the conception of Louis XIV and following the course of his life and monarchy to its conclusion, and ultimately, discussing how France continued forward after the end of his life and reign. In retrospect, Ashley’s book has come to be known as one of the pivotal modern writings about The Sun King as well as a highly regarded historical record.
The Use of Descriptive Language in the Work
Interestingly, Ashley uses vivid descriptive language to bring Louis XIV to life for the reader by describing his physical, emotional and monarchical presence, written in the third person. In doing this, the reader is able to relate to Louis XIV as a character in the drama of French history, rather than just as a statistic or footnote to history. Because of this, one gains additional insight into the psyche of the king, and can better evaluate his decisions and rule.
A perfect example of personal information about Louis XIV comes in the form of a direct quote form deMotterville, one of Louis XIV’s contemporaries, when he observes: “I often noticed with astonishment that in his games and amusements, the king never laughed” (Ashley, 1965, p. 11). The text is full of such quotes, which make the book more understandable and enjoyable.
Central Theme of the Work
If a central theme were to be assigned to Ashley’s book, it would be absolute power, or as historians would describe it, Absolutism, which is to say that Louis XIV sought to hold control of all of the government of France, which went against the parliamentary systems that other nations were adopting during this time (Ashley, 1965). The author makes an excellent point when he implies that Louis XIV’s rule, which ran contrary to the popular opinion of the world at that time, did not continue despite France’s greatness, but because of it. Not even an autocrat like Louis XIV could destroy the French empire.
Use of Contemporary Viewpoints
Ashley wisely utilized commentary from his contemporaries to add depth to “Louis XIV and the Greatness of France”. By including modern leaders such as Winston Churchill as part of the book, Ashley cleverly brought hundreds of years of history into the modern arena of thought, again helping the reader to better understand Louis XIV in a present-day context.
In closing, what should be noted about Maurice Ashley’s “Louis XIV and the Greatness of France” is that the author wove literary technique and solid facts to create and informative and entertaining work that has withstood decades of scrutiny to become one of the pivotal works about this formative period in the history of France.
(Ashley, 1965) (Ashley Maurice 1965 Louis XIV and the Greatness of France)Ashley, Maurice (1965). Louis XIV and the Greatness of France. New York: Free Press.