Saint-Simon and the Court of Louis XIV

by Jean-François Fitou, Emmanuel Le Roy Ladurie

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How are Louis's characteristics described?

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The Memoirs of Louis de Rouvroy, duc de Saint-Simon (1675–1755) provide the best-known and fullest contemporary account of life at the Palace of Versailles in the time of Louis XIV. The portrait of the king himself that emerges is often acerbic and critical but highly nuanced. For instance, Saint-Simon says that the king himself was without talent or intellect, but he did have the gift of surrounding himself with great men and assimilating what was best in them. Moreover, he was naturally kind-hearted and just, though spoiled by power and (his particular weakness) flattery.

The king's mediocre mind, according to Saint-Simon, always occupied itself with trifling matters, and he was able to build up the vast edifice of pomp and routine at Versailles chiefly through his concentration on small matters. This strategy also proved politically useful in occupying his courtiers and preventing any of them from building up their own power bases.

The chief feature of the king's character was his love of splendor, magnificence, and praise. If he had not been deeply religious (and ever fearful of hell), he would have demanded to be worshipped as a god, and there were times when his craving for flattery seemed to fall not far short of such a demand. He was also constant prey to paranoia and maintained a large network of spies.

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