The best books on the French court

Why am I passionate about this?

The French court has fascinated me since boyhood visits to Blois and Versailles. The appeal of its unusually dramatic history is heightened by the prominence of women, by the number and brilliance of courtiers’ letters and memoirs, and by its stupendous cultural patronage: Even after writing seven books on the French court, from Louis XIV to Louis XVIII, I remain enthralled by Versailles, Fontainebleau, and Paris where, as the new science of court studies expands, there is always more to see and learn. The power and popularity of the French presidency today confirm the importance of the French monarchy, to which it owes so much, including its physical setting, the Elysée Palace.


I wrote...

King of the World: The Life of Louis XIV

By Philip Mansel,

Book cover of King of the World: The Life of Louis XIV

What is my book about?

Louis XIV, King of France and Navarre, dominated his age. After 1660, he extended France's frontiers into the Netherlands and Germany, established colonies in America, Africa, and India, and made his grandson King of Spain. Louisiana is named after him. This biography sees him as a global and European monarch. He was just as interested in foreign affairs, in  French relations with England, China, and the Ottoman Empire, as in the internal state of France.

Louis was also one of the greatest of art patrons  - Molière, Racine, Lully, Le Brun, Le Nôtre all worked for him. The palace he built at Versailles, and his pavilions at Marly and Trianon, became the envy of Europe, frequently visited and imitated. Louis made his court a centre of entertainment: dancing, theatre, music, and gambling, as well as a source of power and jobs. The power of women at his court, which he also encouraged, is a theme of this biography.

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The books I picked & why

Book cover of Letters from Liselotte: Elizabeth-Charlotte, Princess Palatine and Duchess of Orleans

Philip Mansel Why did I love this book?

Born a German princess, married to Louis XIV’s gay younger brother, ‘Liselotte’, as the Duchesse d’Orleans was often known, was an outsider who also, by her rank, was an insider. She put her venom and her frustrations into her letter-writing, denouncing the French court’s morals, policies, and personnel to her German relations. Versailles made her prefer dogs to people: she called Madame de Maintenon, the king’s second wife, ‘the old whore’. Her letters make us feel we are living at Versailles, when it was at the heart of European politics and culture.

By Maria Kroll,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Letters from Liselotte as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Married in 1672, at 19, to Louis XIV's bisexual brother, the Duke of Orleans, Liselotte began her voluminous and fascinating correspondence from the Court of Versailles which she continued until her death 50 years later, making her the greatest chronicler of her day. Feared for her sharp tongue and her bluntness, Liselotte refused to be drawn into the viscious life at the Sun King's Court, of which she was outspokenly critical and her letters, collected here in this volume, describe the bawdy, spontaneous and idiosyncratic personages and life of Louis XIV's corrupt court.


Book cover of Memoirs Duc De Saint-Simon Volume Three: 1715-1723

Philip Mansel Why did I love this book?

Saint-Simon was another passionate outsider. He compensated for his lack of position and favour under Louis XIV by putting his fantasies of omniscience and his psychological perception into his memoirs. One of the great stylists of the French language, he leads readers into a universe where class, personality, and ambition are more important than public issues. He blamed French defeats on Louis XIV’s pride and ignorance. He called Versailles ’the saddest and most unrewarding place in the world’ and the King’s Revocation of the Edict of Nantes, heightening persecution of Protestants, ‘a general abomination born of flattery and cruelty’. At the same time, he praised the King’s ‘incomparable grace and majesty’. ‘Never was a man so naturally polite.’

By Louis De Rouvroy Saint-Simon, Lucy Norton (translator),

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Memoirs Duc De Saint-Simon Volume Three as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

This is the third volume in Lucy Norton's three-volume abridgement and translation of the the memoirs of the Duc de Saint-Simon, first published in the 1960s. The court of Louis XIV, the Sun King, at Versailles was unequalled for splendour in Europe's history, a hotbed of intrigues and jealousy, passion both political and personal, as well as artistic and literary excellence - this is its memorial. This, like the previous volumes, is peppered throughout with character sketches which bring the period to life. The third volume starts with the funeral of Louis XIV, the ensuing violent quarrels of the Duc…


Book cover of Memoirs from Beyond the Tomb

Philip Mansel Why did I love this book?

In his memoirs Chateaubriand combined private life and public events, the autobiography of a Romantic with the history of the French revolution. A royalist writer, ambassador, and minister, he believed that ‘legitimate, constitutional monarchy’ was the ‘gentlest and surest path to complete freedom’. His memoirs give brilliant descriptions of the Bourbons, of whom he often despaired, including the ‘infernal vision’ of Talleyrand and Fouché entering Louis XVIII’s study, ‘vice leaning on the arm of crime’; and the bedsheets which royalist ladies converted into white Bourbon flags, to salute the entry of the allies into Paris in 1814.  For him the Hundred Days was the  ‘irredeemable crime and capital error’ of Napoleon; marriage, especially Chateaubriand’s own, was ‘the high road to all misfortunes’. Disabused of everyone, he asks: ‘is life anything but a lie?’

By François-René de Chateaubriand, Robert Baldick (translator),

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Memoirs from Beyond the Tomb as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The most enjoyable, glamorous and gripping of all 19th-century autobiographies - a tumultuous account of France hit by wave after wave of revolutions

Memoirs from Beyond the Tomb is the greatest and most influential of all French autobiographies - an extraordinary, highly entertaining account of a uniquely adventurous and frenzied life. Chateaubriand gives a superb narrative of the major events of his life - which spanned the French Revolution, the Napoleonic Era and the uneasy period that led up to the Revolution of 1830.


Book cover of Memoirs of the Comtesse de Boigne 1815 - 1819

Philip Mansel Why did I love this book?

Madame de Boigne describes the same period as Chateaubriand, whom she disliked, from a liberal perspective. Both had their style and mind improved by suffering during the Emigration, which also made both, for a time, feel half-English. Boigne married a French officer who had made a fortune in India, but failed to tell her he had brought back an Indian wife. She took his money and returned to live with her parents. 

Born with what she called a ‘taste for royalty and the instinct for court life’, she described salons and quarrels, royalty and revolution, Paris and England, from 1780 to 1840. Her friend Count Pozzo di Borgo, for example, she says, would have descended into hell to find enemies for Napoleon, whom he had hated since their childhood in Corsica. She blamed the long foretold revolutions of 1830 and 1848 on monarchs’ exaggerated sense of their infallibility. A genius of malice, skepticism, and cosmopolitanism.

By Charles Nicoullaud (editor),

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Memoirs of the Comtesse de Boigne 1815 - 1819 as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The personal writings of a 18th-19th century French Noble woman taken from her personal writings. Her papers (published in several volumes) throw many side-lights upon a long period extending from the reign of Louis XIV to the Revolution of 1848, and this rather by means of the special details which are narrated than by any generalizations from a wider outlook. This period was in every respect one of the most troubled and extraordinary in French history, and is fertile in events and changes, important though not always fortunate. Mme. De Boigne held an important social position and for nearly sixty…


Book cover of Les derniers feux de la monarchie

Philip Mansel Why did I love this book?

In this dazzling panorama, using many unpublished sources, Vial brilliantly brings to life the French court as it reinvented and redefined itself after 1789. Because of the feeling of insecurity generated by revolutions, coups, and invasions, Napoleon I and III, the restored Bourbons, and Louis-Philippe tried harder, through public ceremonies, court entertainments, artistic patronage, and good works, to win the popularity which they all knew they needed. In its last, and in some ways most splendid century, the French court had to decide what to retain, what to change, whom to trust and whom to invade. Only after trying many different kinds of monarchy, and suffering the military debacle of 1870-71, did the French finally, and in many cases with extreme distaste, accept a republic.

By Charles-Éloi Vial,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Les derniers feux de la monarchie as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Le crépuscule de la Cour.

La cour de France n'est pas morte avec l'Ancien Régime. Au contraire, elle n'a cessé de renaître de ses cendres et de se métamorphoser sous les quatre rois – Louis XVI, Louis XVIII, Charles X, Louis-Philippe – et les deux empereurs, Napoléon Ier puis Napoléon III, qui ont occupé le pouvoir de 1789 à 1870.
Écrit à partir de nombreuses archives inédites, ce grand livre raconte la vie quotidienne des souverains successifs et de leurs courtisans. D'une plume alerte, l'auteur transcrit leurs voyages, leurs fêtes et représentations publiques, mais aussi le cœur de leur intimité,…


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By Sam Baldwin,

Book cover of Dormice & Moonshine: Falling for Slovenia

Sam Baldwin Author Of Dormice & Moonshine: Falling for Slovenia

New book alert!

Why am I passionate about this?

I'm an Englishman who fell in love with a 300-year-old former sausage curing hut on the side of a Slovenian mountain in 2007. After years of visits spent renovating the place, I moved to Slovenia, where I lived and worked for many years, exploring the country, customs, and culture, learning some of the language, and visiting its most beautiful places. I continue to be enamored with Slovenia, and you will regularly find me at my cabin, making repairs and splitting firewood.

Sam's book list on books about Slovenia

What is my book about?

When two brothers discover a 300-year-old sausage-curing cabin on the side of a Slovenian mountain, it's love at first sight. But 300-year-old cabins come with 300 problems.

Dormice & Moonshine is the true story of an Englishman seduced by Slovenia. In the wake of a breakup, he seeks temporary refuge in his hinterland house, but what was meant as a pitstop becomes life-changing when he decides to stay. Along the way, he meets a colourful cross-section of Slovene society: from dormouse hunters, moonshine makers, beekeepers, and bitcoin miners, to a man who swam the Amazon, and a hilltop matriarch who…

Dormice & Moonshine: Falling for Slovenia

By Sam Baldwin,

What is this book about?

'Charming, funny, insightful, and moving. The perfect book for any Slovenophile' - Noah Charney, BBC presenter

'A rollicking and very affectionate tour' - Steve Fallon, author of Lonely Planet Slovenia

'Delivers discovery and adventure...captivating!' - Bartosz Stefaniak, editor, 3 Seas Europe

When two brothers discover a 300-year-old sausage-curing cabin on the side of a Slovenian mountain, it's love at first sight. But 300-year-old cabins come with 300 problems.

Dormice & Moonshine is the true story of an Englishman seduced by Slovenia. In the wake of a breakup, he seeks temporary refuge in his hinterland house but what was meant as…


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