This is The Siècle, Episode 12: Louis Louis.

Yesterday was the six-month anniversary of The Siècle’s first episodes. I wasn’t sure how it would be received, this in-depth look at a niche and little-known area of history. Suffice to say you, the listeners, have blown away my expectations. There’s nearly a thousand of you hitting up every episode, and even more who’ve checked out an episode or two. Both numbers are rising steadily.

And you aren’t just listening. You’re helping to spread the word. You’re reviewing the show on iTunes. And most impressively of all, 25 of you so far have generously backed the show on Patreon — a massive gesture of support for this project that means so, so much to me.

The support is particularly welcome because this week involves more milestones than one — today, a few hours after I release this episode, I’m buying a house! Homeownership and podcasting are both novel and intense experiences for me, and knowing that so many of you care about this show helps keep me going. Thank you so much.

Because of those 25 Patreon supporters hitting one of my milestones, I’m currently working on a bonus episode for everyone about some of the sources I’ve used to create the show.

Philip ManselIn the meantime, though, everyone’s going to get a taste of that today. That’s because this episode is an interview with one of my major sources, historian Philip Mansel. Mansel has written several books about this period in French history, including a full-length biography of King Louis XVIII.

Louis is arguably the most important person in our narrative so far, so I think it’s long overdue to take a deep dive into his life and personality. In the conversation that follows, Mansel and I will talk about everything from Louis’s youth to his greatest accomplishments to his love life.

If you’d like, you can follow along in the online version of this episode, at That’s t-h-e-s-i-e-c-l-e dot com, with 12 as a number. In addition to a full transcript I’ve also added images and notes with more detail about some of the people and events that Mansel references. I’ve also included links there for how you can buy Mansel’s books, including a new biography he just published on the life of the famous Sun King, Louis XIV.

Just as a note, this episode has some audio quality issues that I normally try to keep out of the podcast. But the handful of background noises and audio artifacts hopefully won’t be too distracting. Without further ado, here’s the interview.

THE SIÈCLE: Dr. Mansel, welcome to the show.

MANSEL: Hello. I am sitting in a room lined with prints of Paris in 1814 and 15. One wall shows the relationship between [the] English, French, Prussians and Russians. Wonderful caricatures. Very funny. Quite relaxed about nationality. And the other shows the struggle for power between Louis XVIII and Napoleon in 1815.

SIÈCLE: You’ve been studying this period in French history for a long time.

MANSEL: That’s right. My first book was a life of Louis XVIII. The first life of him in English for about 100 years. I found it very interesting because not many people have written about him. It was soon translated into French and is still in print there.

SIÈCLE: Yeah, that was in the late 70s, early 80s?

MANSEL: 1981.

SIÈCLE: You mentioned, Louis XVIII has not gotten a lot of attention. Certainly he’s preceded by one of the most famous figures in all of history. Tell me what what interested you about Louis XVIII as a character.

MANSEL: I think the fact that he hadn’t been written about much. The fact that he does in fact initiate a new era of constitutional monarchy, which dominates Europe until 1918 and is in fact much more important than the military monarchy of Napoleon. And how a fat old invalid of 60 reinvents himself as a constitutional monarch in 1814 in Paris? How did he do it? And how did he manage to get a degree of acceptance so that when he died in 1824, he’s the last French monarch to die on the throne1, and the garden round the palace, the palace itself and then the funeral route from Paris to St. Denis is lined with respectful subjects — much more respectful than they had been at the funerals of Louis XV or indeed Louis XIV. I’ve just finished a life of Louis XIV and his funeral procession was lined with people drinking, singing, and even dancing.

SIÈCLE: We’ll cover all of that in the course of this episode. But first, if you could just sort of take a few minutes and sketch the broad outlines of Louis XVIII’s life, for listeners to sort of get the basics, before we start getting into the details of his personality and reign.

MANSEL: Well, he was born in 1755 in Versailles. He’s a middle son of his parents, the Dauphin and the Dauphine, the son and daughter-in-law of Louis XV. An extremely privileged upbringing: every luxury, a very good education, very thorough. Latin, French, Italian and English. He spoke very good English and rather furious that his less intelligent elder brother Louis XVI is king and he has nothing much to do except to make a few bad property investments in Paris. So he’s sitting there observing.

Then the French monarchy and France are hit by the Revolution. His world collapses in 1789. He begins to be threatened with physical violence as a mob comes and drags his family from Versailles back to Paris. But he makes a successful escape in 1791, unlike Louis XVI who was arrested at the frontier. He gets away because he puts his wife in one carriage and himself in another. And for the next 23 years he’s moving round Europe: Germany, Italy, Poland, Russia, Sweden, finally England. Looking for a safe haven, looking for a foreign government to support him financially and politically. Running this government in exile, the émigré government, which has a few successes beginning in 1814 when the people of Bordeaux opened the gates of Bordeaux to his nephew the Duke d’Angoûleme, the 12th of March 1814.

And thereafter he comes back in triumph to Paris on the 3rd of May 1814. Often his carriage is unhorsed and pulled by young men. Then he has a half-success establishing a constitutional government. But he’s thrown out again in the Hundred Days when Napoleon sweeps back to power, March 1815, on a tide of popular approval. But it’s only half of France, some regions and the army, and Napoleon is inevitably defeated by all Europe at the Battle of Waterloo, 18th of June and Louis XVIII goes back to Paris.

In fact he was a completely European figure who knew both out of choice and necessity how to play the card of Europe and peace which then appealed to about half of France.

SIÈCLE: Thank you for that quick summary. We’ll sort of work backwards from from there. Obviously you know Louis XVIII was famous for his sort of abortive first restoration to the throne. How much credit or blame do you think his choices as ruler deserve for the failure of the Restoration to take root in that first, in 1814-1815.

MANSEL: Well some of his choices were very bad: trying to revive the military household of mounted noble bodyguards. Some of his ministerial choices were bad. But he inherited an extremely divided society and a humiliated army which resented its defeat in 1814. And the fact that Russia insisted on putting Napoleon at Elba — far too close to France — was always a recipe for trouble. So I didn’t think it was all Louis XVIII’s fault.

And this feeling of national humiliation was almost unmanageable. For example there are orders of the day to the National Guard of Paris saying “Oh you haven’t really been defeated. It’s really the fault of Napoleon, not the fault of France.” This denial of reality so often associated with nationalism. France couldn’t handle not being the top nation in Europe. And Louis XVIII was associated with that defeat.

SIÈCLE: I think if a lot of people know anything about Louis XVIII, it’s that famous phrase that the Bourbons had learned nothing and forgotten nothing. But you explain in your book that that’s not necessarily a fair description of at least 1814 1815.

MANSEL: Yes I think it is unfair, because he did have a complete pardon for all crimes during the Revolution and when he commemorated his constitution, the Charter of the 4th of June 1814, he put a an inscription in the room where it was issued saying here began a new era. And his motto was “union and oblivion,” union and forgetting the past, trying to look forward to the future. And he did in fact employ a lot of ex-revolutionaries including Fouché, who had voted for his brother’s death in 1793, and he did endorse the land settlement of the Revolution, the transfer of a lot of land from the church and the nobility to other groups. It was an extremely difficult heritage with this traumatic event of the Revolution, the Reign of Terror, the emigration, 24 years of almost non-stop war. Any country would have been traumatized by that. And he saw himself as a doctor, a doctor healing the wounds of France. And he did his best by not pursuing — if you think how now so many criminals from the Nazi period are still being pursued or property is still being pursued, well he stopped all that in France.

SIÈCLE: It took Louis some time to get to that point, though, of endorsing that sort of forgive and forget and coming to terms with some of this new era, didn’t it? Early on in his emigration, he wasn’t necessarily so accepting of some of these changes.

MANSEL: Yes, that’s true. In 1795, he said he wanted to return to the Old Regime which was completely ridiculous, because there was no fixed “old regime.” That had been constantly changing. It was different in 1787 to what it was in 1774 or 1789, for example.

I think he was traumatized by the Revolution and he felt the reforms had led to revolution. Therefore he should stop reforming. But by about 1800 or 1804, he had to abandon what he called “ancient maxims” and was trying to have a more modern settlement.

SIÈCLE: Which is not an evolution that all the emigres made. Certainly Louis would would clash with a number of the more hard-line émigrés after returning to the throne.

MANSEL: Including his younger brother, the Comte d’Artois, who later lost the throne as Charles X. But a lot of émigrés were quite modern, successful, politicians like Chateaubriand, the great writer who became a minister. One of the greatest writers of 19th century France. Or the Duke de Richelieu who helped negotiate the retreat of the Allied armies from occupying France after 1815. He was a very effective parliamentary prime minister and he spent the entire most of the Revolution in governing the Crimea for the tsar of Russia. Didn’t actually —.

SIÈCLE: We’re talking about the Duke de Richelieu.

MANSEL: The Duke de Richelieu, yes. Didn’t actually make him less effective in parliamentary debates in Paris. Curiously, people were quite pragmatic. They could forgive emigration or revolution if they were effective operators in the present rather than the past.

SIÈCLE: Let’s focus in on Louis and his character for a moment. Obviously he was a complicated person whose character had been commented on by a number of the most famous writers of the day. Why don’t you summarize up for our listeners what kind of person Louis XVIII was, and how these character traits translated to his role as king.

MANSEL: Well he was very literary. He loved reading books. He was very well-informed. He was a European. He was intelligent. He could adapt to circumstances. So this was often called weakness. He could contradict what he had said, written, a week before, for example, coming back from after the Battle of Waterloo. I think he genuinely was a real moderate who didn’t want to execute or punish people more than the minimum, unlike Napoleon or other French 19th Century governments. For example the Third Republic, when it’s killing the communards in 18712 — a massive repression — and the second republic in 1848, thousands die. Well, that wasn’t Louis XVIII’s character. Although there was a repression after the Battle of Waterloo, partly imposed by the parliament which had an ultra-royalist majority. He was pragmatic. He was moderate. He wanted peace. He was very, very ill. He had a gout and he was hugely fat. He couldn’t really move easily. So maybe his size also influenced his character and his policies making him more moderate and more opposed to any form, or most forms of violence and certainly opposed to war. He loved peace.

SIÈCLE: A number of authors have given a critique along these lines of Louis, which is that his virtues were passive. That is to say he knew when not to do something, but wasn’t necessarily very good at knowing the right thing to do. How do you respond to that critique?

MANSEL: I think it’s partly true. I think in an age of extreme crisis, these dramas like the return of Napoleon or the Napoleonic Wars, which are a huge World War with hundreds of thousands dying.

He returned to Paris on the 3rd of May through mountains of corpses of dead soldiers from the recent battle for Paris and the River Seine was full of so many bodies that people were worried the water was no longer drinkable. So in this extreme circumstance passivity was one form of reaction.

But he did take the initiative in some aspects. For example he sacked governments when they no longer had a majority in the Chamber of Deputies. Three times in 18153, 1820 and 1821 that he chose new governments that reflected the majority. And he always stuck to the constitution of 1814, which he had issued and helped to write in May 1814. And in fact he took quite a lot of initiatives during the emigration: issuing declarations, moving from Russia to England, or from Poland to Sweden. These initiatives weren’t always successful but he’s never inactive for long in emigration, when his health was much better.

SIÈCLE: Another aspect of his character I think commented on what is his coldness.

(Below: Zoé Talon du Cayla, a favorite of King Louis XVIII in his final years. From Portrait de Zoé Victoire Talon, comtesse du Cayla by François Gérard. Public domain via Wikimedia Commons.)

Zoé Talon, comtesse du Cayla MANSEL: Yes. Well I think he was — I don’t think that’s entirely true, because he always had favorites like the Comte d’Avaray, or the Comte Decazes, or Madame du Cayla. His letters to his courtiers, which I’ve read hundreds of, are really quite warm and loving. When you consider the raised position of monarchs at the time, he has an awful lot of correspondence with whom he has quite a loving exchange of letters. Much more so than Louis XVI, for example, or Louis XV, or almost Louis XIV, though Louis XIV also had a very emotional side.

SIÈCLE: Is it fair to say that Louis XVIII was much more emotional in writing than he was in person?

MANSEL: Maybe. Well, I haven’t actually met him so I can’t judge him. But I think he used the language of emotion — clasping people to his breast, being nice to Napoleonic marshals when he first meets them in April 1814, and flattering them. Maybe his eyes gave him away. Maybe his eyes were colder than his words.

SIÈCLE: I was struck by Louis as, my sense of him as always sort of a man caught between ages. Someone who grew up in the Enlightenment who now finds himself in, in a post-revolutionary age. Trying to adapt to that, but sort of caught in between those two worlds. Do you think that’s a fair assessment?

MANSEL: Yes but I don’t think they’re opposed worlds. The one goes into the other. Many other people were in the same predicament like Talleyrand, a very successful foreign minister who had grown up in the Enlightenment or indeed the Duc de Richelieu, or Chateaubriand, who read Rousseau and then becomes an apostle of the revival of Catholicism. It’s just a natural progression. There are some great writers in the emigration like Rivarol or Chateaubriand or many others.

I think the real exception was the First Empire, which was really was a world apart, a military world a world based on war and conquest and in fact dictatorship, as many people said at the time. When Napoleon when he met the corps législatif in January 1814 he said, “I alone represent the nation. The throne is everything the nation is —” He almost said the nation is nothing. That was the world that couldn’t quite adapt to the peaceful Europe of the 19th century. Novels and events are full of these retired soldiers, both in France and in Italy and in other countries who didn’t really know what to do in peacetime Europe.

SIÈCLE: I just recently shared with the podcast listeners the excerpt from Chateaubriand’s memoirs in which he reflects on the end of the Empire, the passage of Napoleon, and its replacement by the Restoration, and sort of laments, “What are we to do? What are we to do without this world-historic figure before us,” and argues that the Restoration is, while perhaps less bold, is more human.

MANSEL: Yes it is much more human. The Empire was defined by Madame de Noailles4 as the “guillotine in permanence.” The loss of life was simply staggering. In a way the French never really quite recovered the demographic base from the loss of about 900,000 men in the wars of the Republic and the Empire — at least 900,000, let alone the people who died in Spain and Germany and Italy and Russia. Which Chateaubriand at the time was very anti-Napoleon. In 1814 he wrote a famous pamphlet, “De Buonaparte et des Bourbons,” calling Napoleon a false great man, not a true great man. It’s later, in retrospect, with the cult of Napoleon and his ceremonial reburial in 1840, people become more sentimental — and in my opinion less objective. They glorify his conquests. Forgetting how deeply resented they were at the time, the non ending wars.

SIÈCLE: You’ve spoken several times of the Charter, the sort of constitutional monarchy that Louis set up, which lasted perhaps longer than anyone expected in France and certainly had imitations in other countries. How much we associate the charter with Louis himself? How much how much of this did he genuinely believe in? How much was he accepting as something that he had to do and what was what was his view of the limitations and the powers contained in this sort of new system of government for France?

MANSEL: He wrote to his cousin, the King of Naples, “A constitution is in the spirit of the age and it’s better to give one, to grant one, than to have one imposed on you.” I think he just thought it was a necessity, a life belt for the Bourbon monarchy. And I think he found it worked quite well by the 1820s. He once said to his ministers, “Everything is going well, now isn’t it?” Certainly the finances were much better than their Old Regime monarchy. The monarchy had a vast number of reserve powers which the presidency of the Fifth French Republic now has kept. Article 16 repeats Article 14 of the Charter of Louis XVIII, Article 16 of the 1959 constitution. The president has the power to take to issue ordinances when necessary, or some phrase like that. And he made a great parade that the Charter was his child, his work, that he was proud of it. He associates it with himself in speeches. And there is this, month May 1814 when with three or four other people — the Abbé de Montesquieu, Comte Beugnot, Dambray, a few others. He is composing the clauses of the Charter. So it really was at least in part his work just as much as the Code Civil was partly, not entirely, the work of Napoleon.

So these three things — the code of Napoleon, the Charter of Louis XVIII, and then the city of Paris itself — the most civilized and popular city of 19th Century Europe — and fourthly, the French language which was the language of the world almost more than English is now in the 21st century. Those four things that make France extremely influential in the 19th Century as indeed it was in the United States with the layout of Washington, D.C., and other factors. And by the way it was an émigré who helped found West Point Military Academy in the 1790s.5

SIÈCLE: Once Louis had set up and come to terms with this new Charter, this new constitutional monarchy, how did his his personality, his background and all all that meld with the circumstances of the early Restoration? What kind of what kind of monarch was he?

MANSEL: He let ministers take the initiative, except in a few things like creating a Royal Guard. He was quite hardworking. He works after dinner, as Louis XIV did. Louis XIV sometimes, he’d work near midnight. Otherwise he’s quite easygoing, letting the ministers run the government, and spending a lot of time giving audiences to people, holding receptions. A few royal words here and there. Going for afternoon drives. Very interested in the artistic collections — the huge museum created by Napoleon in the Louvre, half of which is sent back to the countries from which the contents were taken in 1815. But Louis XVIII keeps it going, gets more statues for it, from the Aegean islands, for example. He mentions the Louvre before the Constitution in his first speech of his reign, the 4th of June, 1814. Very interested in the cultural patronage of the monarchy.

SIÈCLE: Did Louis evolve as a monarch from 1815 after his initial restoration to the end of his reign in 1824?

MANSEL: Yes, he becomes more modern. He abandons the old military household of the kings. He lets ministers have more initiative. And he has one change in that he lets the ministry be homogeneous, representing only one opinion, right wing or liberal, for example — not mixing them into the same ministry as he had in 1814, which created instability. As he gets iller in the 1820s, he takes fewer initiatives.

SIÈCLE: How did this approach to the monarchy that Louis took of letting the ministers take the lead. How did this work out in practice?

MANSEL: In practice it meant that they met often, say two or three times a week in the Council of Ministers but it meant that the ministers had to pass get their laws passed in the Chamber of Deputies. There were many stormy sessions, a lot of feelings of instability. It didn’t work so well the first five years. But once there’s a strong minister like the Duc de Richelieu, or the Comte de Vilèlle, who becomes prime minister in 1821, then it worked quite well and people become more accepting of the regime. So even the most extreme Napoleonic officers accepted Charles X as king in 1824. He enters Paris when Louis dies, his younger brother enters Paris on a wave of popularity in September 1824.

SIÈCLE: Let’s talk about Louis’s brother and successor. Both share their personal relationship as well as the ideological relationship between Louis and the strain of ultra-royalism that Charles represented.

MANSEL: In all their writings, they make a great rate of friendship and love between brothers. When they meet again in 1791 after two years — I wonder how much they really loved each other. But Louis is in this position of having no children of his own. Therefore he is strongly in the power of his younger brother who does have two sons, the ultimate heirs to the throne.

Louis was at the beginning of the Revolution supported some change. He supported the doubling of the number of Third Estate deputies, for example. So he’s a moderate.

The Comte d’Artois, as his brother was called, was against almost all changes. And he immigrates early on the 17th of July, the movement the Bastille falls.

So he’s an extremist from the beginning — though not always as extreme as his enemies said.

SIÈCLE: I remember being struck by, I’m don’t know if this is in your book or someone else’s, but that Charles was much more personally warm with, for example, the Orléans, who Louis could be very cold with at times.

MANSEL: Yes, Louis had been very warm with Louis-Philippe, the son of Philippe Égalité, from 1800 to 1807. 1804, Orléans proposes coming to see him in Warsaw, and sometimes his more trusted than Artois. Then they have a rift in 1807. No one quite knows why. And certainly Louis XVIII did not trust him. Charles X was kinder to him, and made him a Royal Highness, which Louis XVIII had refused to do.

SIÈCLE: Even though they had much — Louis-Philippe and Artois had much bigger political differences than Louis-Philippe and Louis did. But the present the differences in the personal relationships always struck me, that Charles could be kinder, despite having much bigger political gaps.

MANSEL: That’s correct, yes. Charles had very good manners, he could be very, very charming, but he didn’t have these great friendships — except perhaps for the Polignac family6 — that Louis XVIII did. Even Charles X had liberal aspects — he was against censorship, for example — Napoleon had always imposed the most rigorous censorship, almost as rigorous as a modern dictatorship. And in 1827, he dismisses the right-wing government and has a liberal government for 18 months, the government of Martingac 1828 to 1829. And of course all this time, between 1814 and 1830, France is growing economically. It’s paying off the debts of the First Empire. The economy is beginning to expand again after 24 years of war. Paris is spreading. Paris begins to recover the population it had had under Louis XVI. It had lost about 80,000 people during the Revolution. And France is becoming stronger, economically, even politically, in the Concert of Europe, as people begin to accept that the Bourbon monarchy may be there to stay.

SIÈCLE: What was Louis’s relationship like with the ultra-royalists in general? The people who ostensibly were championing his rights as king but maybe not necessarily in the same way that Louis was.

MANSEL: Yes, he liked them during the emigration. He always opposed very exalted language or imagery, and he was appalled at the opposition to his dismissal of the ultra-royalist chamber in September 1816 and call for a more liberal and a more moderate government. He thought they might destroy his monarchy, as his adviser the Duke of Wellington, the great British general, also wrote. So he dismissed Chateaubriand as a Minister of State, for example, and other ultra-royalists also lost official positions.

SIÈCLE: One interpretation that I always had is that Louis may not have disagreed that much in terms of policy goals with the ultra-royalists, but he was temperamentally completely different from them.

MANSEL: Yes, I think I think that’s a very good point. He didn’t want partisan politics. He wanted a politics of reunification and moderation. And their extremism, and their speeches — speeches like “Long live the king despite himself,” *Vive la roi quand même,” appalled him.

SIÈCLE: You mentioned earlier that Louis had had a number of favorites. I was wondering if you could talk about that aspect of his personality his personal life.

MANSEL: The Comte d’Avaray, who helped organize his escape from Revolutionary Paris in 1791 was his first favorite. Much disliked by royalists. And he made often very foolish writings, which got Louis expelled from Poland in 1804, for example. But in terms of the emigration, he was a moderate who wanted an evolution towards more liberal political declarations, which in the end he got. But the royal family didn’t like him. Nobody really liked him. He was a bachelor. He’s always with the king, advising him, in his study writing letters and declarations. Much disliked by the ministers of the emigration.

(Below: Pierre Louis Jean Casimir de Blacas, artist unknown. CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons.)

BLACASThen the Comte de Blacas, who had a rather cold manner, but his letters are highly intelligent, and he helped run the monarchy from 1807 to 1815. In the end he was dismissed because everybody turns on him and blames him, quite unfairly I think, for the blunders of the First Restoration. But that’s how politics is. A minister is blamed and the monarch moves on. And he later becomes one of the great art patrons of the 19th Century, excavating as ambassador in Naples and Rome, helping Champollion, financing his decypherment of the hieroglyphics of Pharaonic Egypt commissioning pictures from Ingres, and so on. And he later advises Charles X in exile.

Then there is the Comte Decazes, a non-noble from Bordeaux. Bordeaux was a great bastion of royalism who pushes the king in a more liberal direction from 1816 to 1820. He began as minister of police and he liked having police forces spying, intercepting letters and so on. Probably quite an effective minister in a very difficult situation.

And finally he has Madame du Cayla, a charming lady with whom he used to talk in private. Goodness knows what their relationship really was. But she was a friend of the ultra-royalists, and helped push him toward ultra-royalism.

He just needed a friend who wasn’t a member of his family with whom he could talk openly and exchange letters. He was a great letter-writer, probably the king of France who’s written the most letters, as well as the fattest king of France in history. But it shows he was quite emotional — he needed a favorite. He couldn’t live solely in the confines of royal life and the royal family.

He also had a few girlfriends, a few letters have been found recently, who made private, secret visits to his study — both in England and in Paris — about whom we don’t know very much, but who horrified his courtiers.

SIÈCLE: What do you think was his most important legacy as France’s king?

MANSEL: It’s the constitutional monarchy. The place where he issued his first declaration is going to be restored as a museum of the Restoration, the Chateau Saint-Ouen, at the gates of Paris. He made that a sort of shrine to constitutional monarchy. This constitution was imitated in Bavaria, in Wurttemburg, in Prussia, in Piedmont, in many other European countries. It must have had its advantages if it was so widely imitated.

And peace. Just saying “I want peace,” after 24 years of war, from 1792 to 1814. So he’s a complete opposite of the warlike tradition of Napoleon. Nevertheless, it’s Louis XVIII who first said to the pupils of the military school of Saint-Cyr, “Every one of you has in his knapsack the possibility of having the baton of a Marshal of France.”

SIÈCLE: That was Louis? That’s attributed to Napoleon, often.

MANSEL: Yes, in fact it’s Louis, if you look in dictionaries of quotations now.7

SIÈCLE: For readers who want to learn more, just spend a couple minutes talking about the various books you’ve written on this topic, as well as your new book on Louis XIV.

MANSEL: I’ve written a life of Louis XVIII, a history of the French Court, The Court of France from 1789 to 1830, a book on Paris between 1814 and 1848, and how Paris, as a city, is politically a vital force in a way more important almost than France itself, in that it’s Paris that makes revolutions and fashions and writers and operas, and what is often talked of as “French culture”, really, often people mean Parisian culture. It has nothing to do with the Auvergne or Provence.

And now, a life of Louis XIV. The same problem, 150 years earlier: France’s role in Europe, the importance of Paris — it’s Paris that makes the fronde, which almost overthrows Louis XIV when he’s a boy. Relations with England, relations with Europe, attitudes toward war and peace.

But in all periods, yes, French fashions, Paris fashions are dominant, under Charles II just as much under George IV or Queen Victoria. And the French language, and this feeling of France as the central country in European politics, culture and society, and indeed in the economy, too.

SIÈCLE: And what’s the title of that upcoming book?

MANSEL: That’s King of the World: A Life of Louis XIV.

And that’s our interview. My thanks again to Dr. Mansel for coming on the show. You can find links to buy all these books at That’s t-h-e-s-i-e-c-l-e dot com.

If you liked what you just heard, you probably haven’t heard the last of him. Our discussion also touched on another of Mansel’s interests, the city of Paris, a conversation I plan to package into another episode down the line.

In the meantime, we’re not yet done with French royalty. In the next episode, I’ll be taking a look at the illustrious — and not so illustrious — other members of the House of Bourbon, who’ve lurked in the background of our narrative so far but who are about to move to center stage. So grab a glass, put away those ice cubes and join me in two weeks for Episode 13: Bourbons, Neat.

  1. Kings Charles X and Louis-Philippe would both be driven into exile by revolutions. Emperor Napoleon III would abdicate and go into exile after military defeat in the Franco-Prussian war. Neither of France’s two prior monarchs died on the throne, either — Napoleon I abdicating (twice) and Louis XVI meeting the guillotine. 

  2. The so-called “Bloody Week” or Semaine sanglante, when soldiers of the nascent Third Republic slaughter thousands while suppressing the Paris Commune. 

  3. A slip of the tongue — the Chamber of Deputies was actually dissolved in 1816, as discussed in Episode 8: The Unexpected Chamber

  4. The quote is from Anne-Marie-Cécile de Noailles, duchesse de Mouchy and vicomtesse de Noailles, from the 1840 book, Vie de la princesse de Poix, née Beauvau

  5. Louis de Tousard served in the Continental Army during the American Revolution. Later he returned to America, fleeing the Terror, and served as the U.S.’s Inspector of Artillery. In that role he encouraged George Washington to build a military academy to train engineers and artillery officers. 

  6. Primarily Jules de Polignac, Charles’ friend and prime minister, as well as other members of his family. 

  7. See this excerpt from Famous Sayings & Their Authors: Collection of Historical Sayings in English, French, German, Greek, Italian, and Latin, by Edward Latham: