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Louis XVIII

London, Blond & Briggs, 1 January 1981, 497 pages, ISBN 0856340936
Paperback: London, John Murray, 10 Oct 2005, 512 pages, ISBN 978-0719567094
Paris, Pygmalion, 1982, ISBN 2857041277

Louis XVIII had the most extraordinary career of all the kings of France, mirroring in many ways that of Charles II of England. Born in 1755, the younger brother of Louis XVI, he escaped from Paris in the middle of the revolution disguised as an Englishman. From 1791 to 1814 he was in exile. From 1795 he was the titular King, but the torrent of French conquests drove him from Germany to Italy, Russia and finally England. In 1814 he was called back to the throne of the Bourbons and found that he had France at his feet, exhausted by Napoleon’s wars.

During his ten-year reign, France experienced parliamentary government, freedom of speech and religious tolerance. Arbitrary imprisonment was abolished, and 1814 was the first year since the revolution when no one was gaoled for political reasons. He was successful by the standards of his time, for while Napoleon was ultimately vanquished, Louis XVIII died on his throne. He has, however, come down in the popular mind as a nonentity whose weaknesses – apathy, greed, insensitivity – were flagrant, and whose virtues – prudence, imperturbability, moderation – were unspectacular. In this biography Mansel sets out to prove that he deserves better of posterity.

‘Sound, well-written and admirably researched … Has style, wit and a sense of proportion.’ Philip Ziegler (The Times)

‘Never has a king of France been better served by an Englishman than Louis XVIII by Philip Mansel … Astonishing erudition, fascinating anecdotes and an art of narration which makes his analyses always lively and his portraits always nuanced.’ (La Libre Belgique)

‘an excellent book, the best and most complete on Louis XVIII’ Michel Poniatowski.

‘a wonderful biography and history, unique not only in scholarship, research, judgement, but in feeling, understanding, humanity’ George D. Painter.

This book is essential reading for anyone interested in French or indeed European 19th-century history, since Mansel’s portrait of Louis XVIII and the Restoration of the French monarchy is a model of political biography and an impressively researched history ... All in all, a fascinating read. (Historical Novel Society)