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In this year of the tercentenary of the death of Louis XIV, Jean-Christian Petitfils is directing a new work which aims to be general on the Century of Louis XIV. The work, edited by Jean-Christian Petitfils, is divided into seven main parts dealing with the person of the king, the kingdom, the government, the court and the king's men, religion, Louis XIV and Europe and the arts and letters, each grouping 3 to 2 contributions from different authors, specialists of the period.
A host of leading authors
In fact, Petitfils succeeds in bringing together around twenty authors, recognized historians and specialists of the century of Louis XIV. We find among others a contribution by Joël Cornette, professor at the University of Paris 8, who notably worked on the King of War or Brittany and who also directed the collection Histoire de France, published in thirteen volumes by Belin . Jean Philippe Cénat, a specialist in military history during the reign of Louis XIV, or Jean Marie Constant, a specialist in society in the 17th century, also contributed to the book.
The strength of this book is that it does not only bring together big names in 17th century history, but also literary artists such as Emmanuel Bury, who works on the relationship between literature and society in the 17th and 18th centuries; art historians such as Jean Claude Le Guillou, who has notably worked on the architectural history of the castles of Blois, the Louvre and even Versailles; and archivists-paleographers such as Françoise Hildesheimer (honorary general curator of heritage), Alexandre Maral (chief curators at the Palace of Versailles), Thierry Sarmant (chief curator at the Carnavalet museum) and Emmanuel Pénicaut (chief curator of heritage at the interministerial service des archives de France), also specialists of the period.
It is therefore a host of authors, coming from various horizons, that Petitfils brings together, thus making the work extremely rich in terms of subjects and references.
Topics centered around the personality of the king
If the book is intended to deal largely with the century of Louis XIV, we realize from reading the summary that it is in fact mainly a question of the figure of the king and ultimately very little of society as such. In this sense, the work should not be called Le Siècle de Louis XIV, but rather "the Figure of Louis XIV". The parts that want to be broad such as "the Kingdom", "Religion" or "the Arts and Letters" in fact mainly deal with the perception and the position taken by the King vis-à-vis these questions leaving aside the point. from a popular and societal perspective.
This bias is certainly justified by the fact that the authors want to show above all the absolutism exercised by the sovereign in all areas, absolutism which is not so realistic in fact, as we realize. reading the book.
The large place left to the king's personality is nonetheless interesting and revisits some of the clichés we have on the king and his entourage, such as the unflattering image of Queen Marie Thérèse or the image of a king not loving the Infanta which would make him fall into uninhibited adultery when this is probably not the case since we discover on the contrary a very pious king, who will honor his wife until the end, showing him care and tenderness.
If this work partly obscures the society of the 17th century, the central figure of the king is nevertheless highlighted by certain historiographical developments and revisits certain received ideas on the figure of the king. If the map of Louis XIV's France, presented at the beginning of the work, is of little interest, due to the centrality of the royal figure, the chronological references are nevertheless interesting for placing the elements in their context. The work concludes, still in this idea of the centrality of the figure of the king, on the setbacks of the royal succession between 1711 and 1715 allowing us here again to say that the title is rather badly chosen since it allows us to imagine a very generalist work dealing widely with society at the time of Louis XIV and not with a single character. Nevertheless, the advantage of this book is the multiplicity of contributions provided by authors from various backgrounds, and making this book extremely rich and complete on the personality of the king and his point of view on society. from the 17th century. It is therefore a very good approach for those new to the question since it is easy to read and gives a good overview of the figure of Louis XIV.
Le Siècle de Louis XIV, Jean-Christian PETITFILS (dir.), Perrin, Paris, 2015