Mistresses and wives, mothers and daughters - Antonia Fraser brilliantly explores the relationships which existed between The Sun King and the women in his life. This includes not only Louis XIV's mistresses, principally Louise de La Vallière, Athénaïs de Montespan, and the puritanical Madame de Maintenon, but also the wider story of his relationships with women in general, including his mother Anne of Austria, his two sisters-in-law who were Duchesses d'Orléans in succession, Henriette-Anne and Liselotte, his wayward illegitimate daughters, and lastly Adelaide, the beloved child-wife of his grandson.
Prolific royal biographer Fraser (Marie Antoinette) has assiduously researched her measured yet engrossing study, shedding welcome light on the galaxy of influential women who orbited the dazzling Sun King. The most important woman in Louis XIV's life, in Fraser's telling, was probably the first his mother, Anne of Austria. The voluptuous, pleasure-loving but pious and dignified queen regent inculcated Louis with the notion that he was a godlike miracle who was nevertheless accountable to the deity for his sins. As this narrowly focused history suggests, Louis was constantly trying to reconcile his gargantuan sexual appetite with his duty to his people and his God. Louis gave up his first love, the bold and amusing Marie Mancini, to marry his graceless first cousin, the Spanish princess Maria Teresa. A serious flirtation with his charming sister-in-law Henriette-Anne, sister of England's Charles II, ended when Louis fell for Charles and Henriette's decoy, the timid virgin Louise de La Valli re. In sexual thrall to the intelligent, magnetic Ath na s, the Marquise de Montespan, the king intriguingly threw her over for Fran oise Scarron, the puritanical governess to their bastards. Lastly, Louis gave his heart to his spirited granddaughter-in-law Ad la de, who died of measles within days of her husband, the Dauphin.