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King of the world book cover

King of the World: The Life of Louis XIV

Rendez-vous avec Louis XIV - Marie-Hélène Abrond, CulturActu, 23 September 2020

Solar Power The creator of both Versailles and a wave of French cultural dominance knew he belonged to his nation - Tim Blanning, Wall Street Journal, 16 October 2020

Quand Louis XIV était le "roi du monde" - Axel Gyldén, L’Express, 21 October 2020

Gareth Russell, The Times, 29-6-2019

Hamish Robinson, The Oldie, August 2019

Levant: Splendour and Catastrophe on the Mediterranean

Noel Malcolm, Daily Telegraph, 14 November 2010

Levant: Splendour and Catastrophe on the Mediterranean

Noel Malcolm is enthralled by Philip Mansel’s Levant, an attempt to recover the vanished history of three great cosmopolitan cities

Here’s an unlikely pairing: what do Eric Hobsbawm, the Marxist historian, and Omar Sharif, the suave bridge-playing actor, have in common? The answer is that they were both born in the Egyptian port-city of Alexandria. And so too were the Italian Futurist writer Giuseppe Marinetti, the gay Greek poet Constantine Cavafy, the Deputy Führer and parachutist Rudolf Hess, and Mohamed Fayed, the pharaonic Fulham supporter.

As readers of Olivia Manning and Lawrence Durrell will know, Alexandria was a strange place, almost a world of its own. Nations, religions and languages were all intermingled there: Arabs, Greeks, Italians and Armenians; Muslims, Christians and Jews. The educated elite spoke perfect French; their toddlers spoke English with their Scottish nannies, and many received a British public-school education at Victoria College, the Eton of Egypt.

For the rich merchant families, who had made their fortunes as cotton exporters, life was not just a round of cocktail parties. They founded schools, hospitals and other charities; they patronised artists and musicians; and they read the latest novels from Paris, London and Rome. Some formed magnificent collections of art works and antiquities: the Benaki family’s collection – now in Athens – is just one example.

Philip Mansel is more than a little in love with this vanished world of cosmopolitan high culture and high society. But, as a historian, he wants to do more than just celebrate its half-forgotten glories. Alexandria, although special in many ways, was not unique; there were other cities in the Eastern Mediterranean (‘the Levant’) which generated similar patterns of economic progress and cultural intermingling. The aim of his fascinating new book is to analyse the histories of three such cities, Alexandria, Beirut and Smyrna, looking at what they had in common, and explaining how they rose and why they fell.

This is much more than an exercise in nostalgia; it has, potentially, a message for the modern world. ‘Multiculturalism’, as we now think of it, is a modern political agenda of a rather artificial kind. But in some places there was, long ago, a form of multicultural existence that was traditional and conservative, but which also generated social progress and economic dynamism. Something may still be learnt from this, even if the phenomenon itself can never be revived.
The key to it all, from the 17th century onwards, was trade. ‘Enrichissez-vous’ was the rule of life; moneymaking elided national distinctions, and gave even business rivals a set of common interests, which might differ greatly from those of their tax-hungry and warmongering national governments. Trade also broadened the mental horizons of the merchants, whose customers and partners might be in Livorno, Marseille or Hamburg.

Foreign traders also settled in these ports: Dutchmen, Frenchmen, members of the English Levant Company, and so on. And with those traders, sooner or later, came the foreign consuls, who could exercise an extraordinary degree of power. Not only did they whisk their nationals out of the hands of local criminal courts; they also dictated to the local Ottoman or Egyptian authorities on a whole range of matters, acting like quasi-colonial governors in their own right.

This was a double-edged sword. As Mansel notes, the interest shown in these cities by foreign powers did sometimes work to their benefit, giving extra protection in times of trouble. But a constant drip-drip of political humiliation had less benign effects. There were always some elements of the local population that felt no direct benefit from the foreign presence; and when they turned hostile, their hatred for everything foreign had an extra edge of political resentment to it.

Direct foreign intervention could have fateful consequences. The most tragic example is the Greek military invasion of Turkey after the First World War, which led to the rout of the Greek army and the appalling destruction by the Turks of the Greek districts of Smyrna. Mansel is also fiercely critical of the British invasion of Alexandria in 1882, when Gladstone, who had revived his political career by protesting against Ottoman atrocities, organised his very own atrocity on what was technically Ottoman soil. And there are some bitter pages about the Suez fiasco of 1956, which gave Nasser his opportunity to expel the cosmopolitan elite of Alexandria and nationalise their businesses – with predictable results.

Foreign intervention on the one hand, and the new nationalisms of Turkey and Egypt on the other, eliminated the old worlds of Smyrna and Alexandria. But long before that happened, nationalisms of various kinds had been eating away at those societies from within: the development of Greece as a nation-state had radicalised some of the Greeks in both cities, making them anti-Turkish or anti-Muslim.

At times, Mansel seems to lose faith in the cosmopolitan credentials of his three cities, noting sporadic outbreaks of inter-communal violence and describing their societies as volcanoes or time-bombs. The only weakness of this book, I think, is that these episodes are too easily lumped together here; a more thorough analysis might set them further apart. Riots and pogroms could have very different motives: Janissaries in defence of their status, Orthodox Greeks fired up with anti-Semitism, peasants from the hinterland expressing economic grievances as well as cultural ressentiment. ‘Time-bomb’ is too simple a metaphor to encompass all of these.

But the strengths of the book are colossal. Philip Mansel’s knowledge of the history and culture of these places is encyclopedic; he has walked their streets, met the scions of their famous families and penetrated their private archives. His eye for detail is sharp; telling anecdotes are culled from memoirs of all kinds, and the sights and smells of each city are vividly conjured up. At the same time, major developments in political history are explained with clarity and precision.

To anyone who has read Mansel’s Constantinople: City of the World’s Desire, it will be sufficient to say: read this one too. To anyone who has not, I can only say: read both of them.

The Economist, 9 December 2010

Winds of Cosmopolitanism - Making Sense of the Past

In schools across the eastern Mediterranean, children are still learning about the past of the fascinating places where they live through the distorting lens of modern nationalism. In varying degrees of crudity, they are presented with the idea that history’s principal narrative is the story of their own people—the Greeks, the Turks, the Arabs—and their struggle to throw off foreign influences and fulfil their destiny. In these stories, “others”—those outside the nation or group—are either wicked oppressors, barely tolerated guests or secondary, bit-part players.

Fortunately, children do not believe everything they are told. If they are lucky, they pick up other narratives by talking to their grandparents, or by looking carefully at the confusing mix of buildings and monuments that surrounds them.
The real story of their region cannot be reduced to that of recently created and artificially homogenised states. If there has to be one master narrative, a far more interesting (and honest) one is formed by the evolution of the grand and ancient cosmopolitan cities, where an extraordinary range of micro-societies, each with its own hierarchies, traditions and taboos, have interacted and cross-fertilised on perpetually changing terms.

That is the starting point for Philip Mansel’s highly enjoyable and intricately-worked account of three great Mediterranean ports: Alexandria, Smyrna and Beirut. In each of these places, a great array of cultural forces, both local and external, lent a unique, often bittersweet texture to daily life, at least when cosmopolitanism was at its height. In such places, shifting hourly from one language and scene to another was an indispensable life-skill. The most successful individuals, from café owners to bankers, were often those whose ability to manoeuvre between cultures was particularly well developed. And despite the internal self-discipline which each community practised—strongly discouraging marriage outside the group, for example—such cities offered endless opportunities for quiet defiance. Individuals found that they could always form friendships, fall in love or do business together in ways that tested the limits of the permissible.

With a sharp eye for detail and a deep understanding of the dynamics of traditional empires and societies, Mr Mansel describes Izmir (formerly Smyrna), as it flourished before the first world war and Alexandria in the days before the triumph of Egyptian nationalism in the 1950s. In both cities there were wealthy British families with strong local roots; rich and cultured Greeks who looked down on the poor Hellenic kingdom, and Muslim potentates who seemed to enjoy rubbing shoulders with sophisticated and free- living Westerners.

As ports of the Ottoman world, Mr Mansel’s three cities have obvious and not-so-obvious similarities. They are all places where European powers had strong strategic as well as commercial interests. They are all places where the glamorous lifestyle of those who thrived on external connections, often eastern Christians, was to some extent built on the poverty of the local Muslim population. Their vengeful resentment eventually came to the surface. As Mr Mansel puts it, in an apt formulation, the hinterland bites back. More contentiously, he asserts another commonality: in all three places, the defining European influence was not British or Italian but that of liberal, republican France. The French connection with the region, he reminds the reader, long predates Napoleon. It goes back to the Franco-Ottoman alliances of the late Middle Ages.

The author certainly has a point. Despite the huge British military presence in pre-1950 Egypt, French lycées were the place where ambitious Egyptians went to acquire some worldly polish. And in 1922, when Izmir’s Christian quarters were burned down and destroyed, desperate Armenians used their fluent French to talk their way onto warships from France.
In Lebanon, which became a French protectorate after the first world war, the Gallic link is even more obvious. Another difference, of course, is that Beirut, despite its ongoing tragedies, is still more-or-less functioning as a cosmopolitan, Levantine city. Indeed, as other Arab states become more puritanical and authoritarian, the lure of Beirut’s beaches and nightclubs, and the determination of locals to rebuild after every round of fighting, seems to grow. By contrast, Izmir is now doing fairly well as an almost entirely Turkish place, Alexandria rather less so as an overwhelmingly Egyptian, Muslim city.

But what would Beirut be if it followed their example and became mono-religious and monocultural? There is no clear answer to that question; none of the various contenders for power and influence has an obvious ability to annihilate all the others. That helps to explain why the city’s cosmopolitanism has somehow survived. It also explains why fashion shows and golf matches take place to the sound of sputtering gunfire. In this part of the world, cosmopolitanism comes at a price.

Financial Times, 10 December 2010


by Simon Sebag Montefiore

The Levant, writes Philip Mansel, “is an area, a dialogue and a quest ... a western name for an eastern area, the Levant is also a dialogue between east and west.” In his history of three Levantine cities – Smyrna, Alexandria and Beirut – Mansel analyses the “soft power of cities” as much as the “hard power of states” in a quest for “that elixir of co-existence between Muslims, Christians and Jews for which the world yearns”.

The book celebrates tolerance and delights in cosmopolitanism; but it is also highly realistic as it charts the region from the 17th century to today. Mansel, the author of a fine history of Istanbul, which this book complements, gives us an accessible history of the Middle East that explains much of what is happening now. Today only Beirut can make any claim to be Levantine. Smyrna was spectacularly destroyed by fire and rapine in 1922; Alexandria has been systematically bleached of all of its ancient colour and variety; Beirut alone precariously survives, always on the verge of disaster.

The Levant as a concept began in the 16th century when the Ottoman Sultans began to grant trading and diplomatic privileges to the French and other Christian kingdoms, which were allowed to station consuls and traders in Istanbul and other major Ottoman cities. Merchants trading between east and west made Smyrna the so-called “pearl of the Levant” with its huge Greek population and a reputation for libertinism. But the Levant really reaches its climax during the rule of Muhammad Ali, Khedive of Egypt (1769-1849). This extraordinary, brilliant but ruthless Albanian adventurer modernised Egypt, conquered Sudan, created a modern westernised army, promoted tolerance and openness (to gain French and British support) and then decided that he would overthrow the great Ottoman dynasty and become the sultan himself. He created both Levantine Alexandria and Beirut too.

This charming but dangerous character would have conquered Istanbul but for the British gunboats of Lord Palmerston. The defeat of these ambitions marked the rise of British power in the Middle East but Muhammad Ali ruled on in a thriving Alexandria where Arabs, Albanians, Turks, Jews, French and English merged together in a Mediterranean boomtown that was effectively grabbed by the British in 1882 after a brutal bombardment. This Levantine capital lasted until a coup in 1952.

The rising nationalisms of Arabs and Slavs, as well as the imperial fragility and Turkic nationalism of the Ottoman empire itself, threatened the relations between the religions and ethnic groups in the Levantine cities. After the first world war, the UK’s backing for a wider Greek empire encouraged a disastrous war that culminated in the fire and massacre of Smyrna, on the orders, or at least with the acquiescence, of Turkish nationalist leader Kemal Atatürk himself. The Greeks were either murdered or escaped. The city was then Turkised as Izmir. That left Alexandria and Beirut. Mansel tells the story of French Mandate over Syria and Lebanon: the separation of the small coastal area around Beirut as the new state of Lebanon created an unworkable ethnic balance that led to civil war in the 1970s. Here we meet the famous Lebanese dynasties – Sursok and Salaam and Shihabi, as well as the Druze Jumblatts and other warlords, many of them still prominent today.

The old Alexandria was overwhelmed by the intolerant nationalism of the postwar world. In 1952, the last king of Egypt, the obese and buffoonish Farouk, was expelled. Mansel notes that on the last night of his reign, the King’s “beautiful sister Princess Faiaz danced in the Romance nightclub with the American ambassador’s secretary” and then went fishing. When they returned at dawn, the coup was in progress.

I could scarcely put down this magnificent book, with its galloping narrative, its worldly analysis, sparkling anecdotes and its unforgettable cast of the decadent, the cosmopolitan and the cruel. But it ends with a sober warning in today’s age of Islamic fundamentalism and hyper-nationalism: Beirut must choose either Levantisation or tribalisation.

The Independent, 7 January 2011


by Moris Farhi

During my youth in Turkey, I would often hear my father and his Levantine friends, all survivors of the great fire of 1922 that destroyed much of Izmir – Smyrna by her European appellation – end their reminiscences by suspiring: “History is Izmir! Izmir is history!”

The abiding sorrow of this lament serves as a leitmotif in Philip Mansel’s Levant. This is a masterly work: by focusing on the see-sawing fortunes of Smyrna, Alexandria and Beirut – extolled as “queens” of the Levant – Mansel exposes the problems of achieving coexistence in a world fragmented by disunion. Although most cities can epitomise humanity’s existential struggles, Smyrna, Alexandria and Beirut stand as unique symbols of achievable utopias.

For these cities where East and West met, and engaged in free trade, constantly endeavoured, often in competition, to serve as crucibles where people of different ethnicity, nationality and faith could restrain the conflicts deriving from their otherness. Despite factional hostilities, they did manage to attain levels of cosmopolitanism unknown, let alone tolerated, in Christian Europe.

Since, until the demise of the Ottoman Empire, these cities were still imbued with its spirit, much of their ethos of cosmopolitanism derived from the predisposition of the early, progressive Sultans to forge alliances with Christian powers. When France’s François I was captured by the Holy Roman Emperor, Charles V, Suleiman the Magnificent not only secured his release, but instituted an accord. This Franco-Ottoman alliance led to a set of concessions from the Ottomans, known as capitulations, that would prove a boon to Christendom. In time, capitulations were granted to other European powers, including England, and formulated “the legal basis of European presence in the Levant”. They permitted Christian foreigners to live and trade outside Ottoman sharia law and allowed them “freedom of dress and worship”, freedom from Ottoman taxation and, most importantly, the freedom, except in cases of murder, “to be judged by their own laws in their consul’s courts”.

These consuls were swiftly installed by European powers in Smyrna, Alexandria and Beirut. All three were favoured for the potential of their port facilities and, not least, for their strategic locations. The consuls often wielded greater power than Ottoman officials. They benefited from their subjects’ wealth, and served their countries’ ambitions.

Utopias, assuming they exist, never enjoy longevity. Programmed to impose strict conformity, which leads to monolithic idealism, they can never accommodate the aspirations of a pluralist society that are prerequisite for cosmopolitanism. Consequently, all three Levantine “pearls” erupted with factional conflicts. Their indigenous peoples, condemned to poverty and serfdom by imperious foreigners, remained in perpetual agitation. Not surprisingly, they finally found the answer to their tribulations in the seventh heaven promised by nationalism.

Thus Egypt, freed from Ottoman rule only to be yoked by the British, attained full sovereignty under Nasser. Alexandria was denuded of her foreigners, particularly Jews, and Egyptianised. Smyrna/Izmir, for centuries a beacon of cosmopolitanism, lost most of her Greeks and Armenians in 1922, during the great fire that consumed the city days after its relief by Turks. She became truly Turkified when Greece and Turkey agreed to a population exchange.

Today, Beirut – “the Paris of the Orient” – remains the only Levantine cosmopolis. However, since Lebanon’s independence she too, stricken with ethnocentricity, has emerged as the capital of Arab nationalism. Today, still reeling from the civil war between Muslims and Christians and equally devastating attacks by Israel, her Christian half has dwindled as a result of emigration. Whether she will survive as a cosmopolis is anybody’s guess.

Between the lines of Mansel’s prodigious book, that uncertainty poses a cardinal riddle. Might future strategies in pursuit of wealth through free trade – modified so that the conditions are equitable – lead toward coexistence and peace? If so, would we be able to engender the spiritual maturity through which all our “others” will be welcome around our hearths? As the Levantines would say: one never loses hope.

Dressed to Rule: Royal and Court Costume from Louis XIV to Elizabeth II

John Rogister, Times Literary Supplement, 4 November 2005

Fitted for a King

by John Rogister

The study of princely courts is undergoing a revival, in part through the activities of the Court History Society presided over until recently by David Starkey. There are still those, usually “Enlightenment” scholars or belated addicts of the Annales school, who refuse to countenance such frivolity, but a scholarly approach to the subject does yield new insights on social, political and cultural history. Philip Mansel, the Editor of the Society’s journal, The Court Historian, and the author of good biographies of Louis XVIII and the Prince de Ligne, has added another facet to these studies by looking at dress other than in terms of the history of fashion.

His aim is to show how dress, which he defines as court dress, national dress, military or civil uniform, was believed and used to “encourage loyalty, satisfy vanity, impress the outside world, and help local industries”. Charles James Fox thought that “neglect of dress in people of fashion” had contributed much “to remove the barriers between them and the vulgar and to propagate levelling and equalising notions”. Nowadays that result is achieved even more rapidly by the wearing of jeans, trainers and baseball caps.

Mansel’s book Dressed To Rule is structured around a series of thematic chapters entitled “Splendour”, “Service”, “Identity”, “Revolutions”, “The Golden Age” and “Empires”. These themes help to define the perimeter of a wide topic, especially as the author covers much of the globe over four centuries.

Dress was part of that “conspicuous consumption” that Starkey once described as an attribute of a royal or princely court. Splendour of apparel signalled the nature of court society, though Mansel does point out that at some courts, there was often a battle between splendour and sobriety. That battle was not necessarily fought out on religious lines. Protestantism had no effect on a king’s need for splendour, as William III showed. Mansel quotes Pepys, who declared that a simply dressed king was not indeed a king. Because of the importance of clothes to the monarch, those who helped him to dress acquired political influence: Abigail Hill with Queen Anne, and the premiers valets de chambre with the last three Bourbon kings of France.

Louis XIV was the epitome of the peacock king. His gold-embroidered clothes were further enhanced by the use of diamonds and other precious stones. The daily ritual of the royal lever at Versailles enabled courtiers and distinguished foreigners to witness the creation of the King’s sartorial image.

The habit a la francaise, and its more modest version, the habit habille, based on the King’s clothes, became the standard court dress of European monarchs and princelings.

Under the theme of “Service”, Mansel delineates a rival image to splendid dress as the expression of majesty, that of military uniform. Charles XII of Sweden is the model here, perhaps the innovator, with his plain blue campaign uniform (with no embroidery), black cravat, and elkskin breeches. The use of uniform reflected two developments.

First, there was the spread of uniforms in European armies between 1650 and 1720 as a means of instilling discipline and esprit de corps. Secondly, uniform reflected the size and better organization of armies. Peter the Great used uniforms as part of his campaign of Westernization in Russia. Catherine II wore different regimental dress and developed a sense of political loyalty among her Army by entertaining officers on specific regimental anniversaries. Though not mentioned by Mansel, the use of distinctive regimental china on these occasions was part of the ritual. He is aware that his argument requires nuances.

Frederick II of Prussia, for instance, and later Napoleon I on the battlefield, used what he aptly calls “reverse ostentation” to proclaim that they were “above normal standards”.

The chapter on “identity” concentrates on dress as an indicator of national identity and on how it served to convey a political message. The greater the challenge or threat to that identity, the greater the importance of wearing national dress. For that reason it was popular with Poles, Swedes, Scots, Hungarians and Albanians. Mansel’s expertise on the Ottoman Empire enables him to apply his argument more widely.

Where Scotland is concerned, he confirms a young Francois de La Rochefoucauld’s observation in 1786 (in Norman Scarfe’s excellent edition of his travels, not cited here) that tartan continued to be worn despite the ban of 1746. It is a pity that the author did not include here the section on Queen Victoria which comes later on in Dressed To Rule. The Queen took the wearing of tartan a stage further, introducing three different ones for the use of the royal household in Scotland. The kilts became extraordinarily long, down to the knee, “very German”, as Edward VIII later observed. Queen Victoria distributed kilts to her foreign descendants. As a child of four, the future Kaiser Wilhelm II wore one at the wedding of his uncle the Prince of Wales, in 1863, when he brandished his dirk and threw his sporran into the choir. Mansel has been to Huis Doorn and seen the outfit, which the exiled monarch lovingly preserved until his death in 1941.

The chapter “Revolutions” begins oddly with a detailed consideration of special uniforms worn at the French court, which could usefully have been included in the earlier “Splendour” chapter. The French may not have worn military uniforms at court under the ancien regime, but they wore special uniforms for the different residences to which the king moved, and also for each type of hunting. It was green for Compiegne, green and gold for Choisy. The princes of the blood followed suit, with red for the Duc d’Orleans’s huntsmen and yellow for those of the Princes of Conde and Conti. George III created a court costume, the Windsor uniform, dark blue and gold with red collar and cuffs, which is still worn today by members of the royal family and household. From 1787, it was worn away from Windsor, and wearing it soon became a way of proving one’s loyalty to the Crown.

Pitt the Younger adopted it, and Mansel interestingly draws one’s attention to the Windsor uniform worn by Wellington and Peel, as well as by the Groom of the Stole, the Master of the Horse, and the Lord Steward of the Household, in Winter halter’s revealing depiction of the reception of King Louis-Philippe by Queen Victoria at Windsor Castle in 1844. Windsor uniform served as a British civil uniform throughout the French Revolution and as a “loyalty indicator” well into the mid-nineteenth century.

The strength of the chapter “Revolutions” lies elsewhere. It demonstrates that, far from consigning the fripperies and flummeries of monarchy to oblivion, Revolutionaries presided over the golden age of the uniform. The new “representatives of the People” soon found that uniforms inspired respect and facilitated the performance of their often brutish duties. Ancient Rome provided the inspiration for some of the more extravagant costumes devised by men who called upon the services of the painter David as a designer. Despite his simple and distinctive dress on the battlefield, Napoleon I attached great importance to lavish uniforms, especially when he re-established a court in Paris and in Milan.

When the occasion demanded, he wore some extraordinarily sumptuous and hybrid creations. In those few monarchies uninvaded by the French, the nobility closed ranks and increasingly proclaimed its loyalty to its rulers by a greater addiction to uniforms.

Mansel makes the valid point that, in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, the British Empire adopted uniforms “as enthusiastically as the Russian and Austrian Empires”. Civil uniform, which had replaced Windsor uniform, was extended down the line in five different gradations, and across the oceans. In India, it was worn informally by 1876. When the practice became official, tight rules were enacted: “Uniform is not obligatory in the case of Assistant Superintendents who are not also Assistant Commissioners”. The effect was sometimes bizarre.

In a passage not quoted in Dressed To Rule, J. E. C. Bodley, Dilke’s secretary and later an expert on Third Republic France, described a ball given by Lady Stanley, wife of the Governor General of Canada, in 1888. “The men who had uniform wore them, Lord Stanley in Privy Councillor’s Undress (not like Blake (the Governor of Newfoundland) who wears and is photographed in full dress coat and trousers which is quite wrong), some of the Canadian officers in scarlet and others in dingy rifle uniform. Bagot looked the best in the scarlet and silver of the Westmorland Yeomanry. Mercier wore the rosette of the Legion of Honour.”

At court, traditions dating back to the seventeenth century were maintained. As late as 1903, the decollete and bare shoulders were de rigueur for old and young ladies, and officers were positioned at the entrance of state apartments to remove any offending covers. Almost a century earlier, Madame d’Agoult (the author Daniel Stern) had been presented to aged relics of Marie Antoinette’s court, who probably looked no different from the raddled Duchess of Devonshire (formerly of Manchester) at the court of Edward VII.

With the end of the First World War, this world disappeared. Edward VIII banished the frock coat, though Mansel tells us that stiff collars are still worn in the Lord Chamberlain’s Office. The King only kept his father’s suit in Rothesay hunting tartan, replacing the trouser buttons with what the author amusingly calls “a Freudian zip”. The last edition of Dress and Insignia worn at His Majesty’s Court, of which Mansel has made good use, appeared in 1937.
Civil uniform and court dress went out two years later, and Jeremy Thorpe was possibly the last politician to wear a Privy Councillor’s uniform, in 1973 in Brussels for the signing of Britain’s accession to the Common Market. Though Churchill paid great attention to, and spent large sums on, his civil, naval and military uniforms, he was dilatory in paying his tailors’ bills.

As for the London tailors, the decline in the wearing of court uniform was only partially alleviated by the orders which the Soviet Government placed with them for gold braid when Stalin reintroduced epaulettes in the interests of “order and discipline” in his armed forces.

Mansel’s book is full of insights based on his extensive knowledge, his remarkable skill at ferreting out information from every type of source material, and his extensive travels to remote places. At times, he is tempted to overplay his hand, as when he argues that many British peers preferred to be painted or photographed in civil uniform rather than in parliamentary garb, citing Lord Curzon, who was photographed wearing civil uniform under the robes of the Order of the Star of India. Could it not be argued that there were many peers but few viceroys of India? Earlier Mansel claims that “even foreigners (if not of royal rank) were not allowed to appear at Versailles in uniform”.

What of Count Fersen appearing in his sexy Swedish uniform and causing a serious flutter in the heart of Queen Marie Antoinette? However, these are minor quibbles about a seriously researched, beautifully illustrated and elegantly written book.

In his concluding chapter, Mansel considers the impact of “globalization” on dress. The English court may not be what it was, but it is still properly regal. However, the author cannot avoid considering the significance of dress for Muslim fundamentalists in their struggle with secular governments. The last picture in the book is of Osama bin Laden in the white Islamic dress of the Wahhabis, over which he wears an American combat jacket, both “indicators” of intent. This final image is distinctly more worrying than the thought of George V’s Rothesay tartan suit as amended and worn by Edward VIII. Philip Mansel has tracked down its present whereabouts, Jimmy’s Bronx Cafe in New York, where it is on view as the “suit of two kings”. That is very reassuring.

Roy Strong, The Spectator, 6 August 2005

The Spectator, August 2005

The Emperor’s Real Clothes

by Roy Strong

Like Philip Mansel I am a passionate believer in the importance of trivia in history, or rather what most academic historians would regard as such. Years ago, at the close of the Sixties, I was the first chair of the newly formed Costume Society, in the main because I could keep the warring women gathered around the table from tearing each other’s hair out. That society has just celebrated its 40th anniversary and both it and the course on the subject at the Courtauld Institute signal that the topic at last has gained status. It is the one which first drew me to history when I was a child and thence to the study of Elizabeth I, history’s greatest monument to power dressing.

And the complex relationship of dress to power is the topic of Philip Mansel’s quite marvellous book, one which should, perhaps, be read in tandem with David Cannadine’s foray into the importance of bling, Ornamentalism. Both explore the almost manic hold which court dress, uniform, robes and insignia have had on people for centuries. Let me add that it is not extinct. It is an urge which can work in contrary directions. One is, as I’ve said, to dress up, and the other is to dress down, and both are accurate reflections of society’s aspirations and power structure.

Mansel’s survey runs from the court of the Sun King down to the dissolution of that world by 1918. I wish that he had poked back a century or so more to lay down some roots in the court of the dukes of Burgundy and then perhaps in those of its successors, the courts of Charles V and Philip II. But no matter, for he has a compulsive tale to tell, one which embraces the whole of western Europe and beyond to the Russian and Turkish empires.

He cleverly themes his sartorial topic in a series of chapters provocatively entitled such things as ‘Splendour’, ‘Identity’ and ‘Revolution’. The story is not a straight- forward one that power equals diamonds are a court’s best friend. It is more subtle than that. It is a pendulum which swings from splendour to simplicity. It opens with Louis XIV’s Versailles and a cult of extravagance which was crippling for those caught up in it. What Mansel brings out so well is not only the use made by successive kings of France of this prescribed opulence but its relationship to the French luxury industries. It was one which didn’t vanish in 1789, for both the textile manufacturers in Lyon and the dressmakers in Paris welcomed the return of magnificence in the person of Napoleon and later in Napoleon III, whose wife, the Empress Eugénie, patronised the first great couturier, Charles Worth. The House of Worth outlived the world of the courts, only finally closing after 1945. But in the late 19th century it dressed most of the queens of Europe.

Uniform took over in the 19th century, casting the ruler with his wardrobe of them as the supremo of both his armed forces and the machinery of government. Every court had its hierarchy of uniforms covering every aspect of the state’s activity. Through its application people were reduced to wearing livery of a kind which was carefully graduated by means of gold lace and buttons to spell out a pecking order. Uniform fitted the post-1789 world exactly, for it registered neither wealth nor birth. Nor did the value of uniform vanish with the demise of the courts, for its inheritors were Hitler’s brown and Mussolini’s black shirts. More horrendous as an instance of control through dress was the mandatory wearing of the Mao suit, which denied both a person’s sex and personality.

Britain has its own idiosyncratic story to tell, for here alone a faint trickle of the old world of the courts survives. The Windsor uniform, invented by George III, is still worn. Royal Ascot still imposes a dress code which at once enhances the monarchy and, at the same time, brings work to couturiers and hatters. Members of the royal family still have wardrobes crammed with uniforms to meet their roles as commanders-in-chief of this or that. White tie and orders remain de rigueur at any state banquet and the Yeomen of the Guard, the Household Cavalry and Gentlemen-at-Arms continue to provide a uniformed escort on state occasions.

This is a hugely readable and important book charting new territory which is only just beginning to be explored. But Yale University Press, usually the non-fiction publishers sans pareil, have missed the boat on this one. Dressed to Rule cries out for a large format and wonderful illustrations. It has been given neither, registering a sad lack of judgment in marketing such a highly visual topic to a far wider audience than will ever read this stimulating book.

Veronica Horwell, The Guardian, 2 July 2005

The Guardian, 2 July 2005

Power Dressing

Anne Kjellberg and Susan North’s ‘Style and Splendour’ and Philip Mansel’s ‘Dressed to Rule’ give differing accounts of Europe’s fashion revolutions

by Veronica Horwell

Louis Leroy, who has a walk-on part in Philip Mansel’s history of court costume, began work as an accessories hand for Marie Antoinette’s couturier, then escaped the French revolution by using his talents in service of the stage and theatrical republican regimes. He found a patron in Josephine de Beauharnais, mistress of the Directoire’s senior monster; she went on to be style adviser, and more, to scruffy officer Napoleon Bonaparte, and when emperor Boney became obsessed with impressing Europe and rescuing French luxury industries, Leroy robed Josephine and her successor empress Marie-Louise, plus the Bonaparte family and retinues.

Post Waterloo, the wives of the gallant allies made Leroy’s maison their first destination in conquered Paris, and he outfitted the restored Bourbons. “Turncoat” is an inadequate description for a designer in continuous employment from the diamond shoebuckles of the ancient regime, through the gold bees of the empire, to the diamond swordhilts of the revived monarchy - a designer who could, moreover, pleat a tricolor cockade on command.

Leroy’s eras, when the wrong choice of clothes could doom the wearer, provide Mansel with great material. He is comfortable with punctilio, exactly specifying the width of embroidery proper to the pocket of a premier officier - 122mm, since you ask - but his sharpest observations are made in the discomfort zones where rules were overruled. Revolutionary taste in 1789, he points out, detested the red heels and silks of Louis XVI’s courtiers less because they advertised privilege than because they were out of fashion in a world where power had already changed into a coat of plain wool (the frac), or military uniform. During the 18th century, men with money from bank, bourse and land, especially the land of America, doffed silks for cloth outfits that evolved into the modern suit. While the soldiers of Sweden, Prussia, Russia, Austria and Britain were standardised and glamourised by the use of uniform, “the king’s coat”, des Kaisers Rock, soon adopted by actual monarchs, although not the Bourbons. Frederick the Great’s was snuff-stained and gone at the elbows - like Stalin long after him, he asserted autocrat status through shabbiness yet gave a dressing down to anyone who did not dress up.

Balzac wrote that the French revolution had been a debate between silk and wool cloth, but the real winner was gold braid. Napoleon, having to motivate an army, a state and annexed countries, supervised the invention of his own peculiar court wear and battledress of spectacular fraudulence (although it looked great in long shot, the leopardskin was fake, and not top-quality fake, either), and uniformed civil officials, a practice widely imitated after the Congress of Vienna.

Only Englishmen and Americans were left preferring civvies, something the US made up for later by insisting on livery for park rangers and the serfs of Mac-commerce. For melodramatic swank, English royals could always misuse Scots highland dress: Prince Albert insisted that kilts at Balmoral almost cover the knee, which real lairds laughed at as “so very German”; the Duke of Windsor, in exile after his 1936 abdication, draped himself and minions in more tartan than the Old and Young Pretender put together.

Mansel draws a remarkable global panorama from 1840 to 1914, with monarchs and top brass “fishing for uniforms”, as Queen Victoria once sniffed - that is, claiming the right to wear the grandest regalia of friends and ex-enemies, so that Kaiser Wilhelm II was “quite giddy” to dress like Nelson, while Franz Josef of Austria-Hungary had to swap kit so often and fast that he felt sympathy for actors.

Further down the social scale, vestments established not just authority but identity; servants of the new post and transport companies, schoolchildren and students wore uniform from the Atlantic to Siberia. (And in Japan after it was prised open; its schoolgirl get-ups preserve the fashion for rigging out regal heirs as sailors on holiday in Osborne, Baden-Baden and St Petersburg.) An empire could pass for modern with assistance from tailors. The Ottoman sultan shed his sublime kaftan for an epauletted tunic and unwound his turban to reveal the east-west compromise fez - the foundation of the imperial fez factory was a Turkish move towards Europe.

Even clothes that rebelled against militarism were conscripted. The liberal Hapsburg Archduke Johann retreated to the Alps, there to flaunt himself in protest gear - hunting jacket and lederhosen, both later drafted into the service of nationalism. Loyal followers of Garibaldi in their casual red shirts (which their leader likely borrowed from Argentinian slaughterhouse workers) were easy targets for ex-comrades who had put on the blue coat of King Victor Emmanuel II’s troops. Garibaldi’s mono-colour garment worn as a political statement did become the power dressing of the 20th century, but not the way he would have wanted: millions massed, willingly or not, in black or brown shirts, or Chinese blue jackets. Mansel has a wicked eye for meaning, especially in his postcript about Osama bin Laden, whose broadcast kit is the white robe and headgear of Wahabite purity, with a US combat jacket atop to communicate command of macho, techno and potency.

Queens and empresses were subject to the conflicting requirements above, plus a demand that they set fashion, at least while young; after that, it could be all pinning and shawling, plus gumboots. Empresses Eugénie of the French second empire and Elizabeth of Austria patronised a second Leroy, couturier Charles Worth, whose creations (and those of his heirs) clad the rulers of rival, even warring, states until after the second world war. Queen Maud of Norway, the subject of Style and Splendour, had Worth ensembles in the vast lifetime wardrobe she left in the royal palace in Oslo. Born the daughter of the Prince and Princess of Wales (later Edward VII and Queen Alexandra) in 1869, she had modern model proportions, petite and neat-waisted, and constantly updated her taste; she seemed to grow ever younger, from her postbridal going-away gown, upholstered in the mode of 1896, to her final purchases around 1938. By then, her Worth evening suit was far simpler than the lightest layer of her underwear had been 40 years before, and after the fashion of most women skiers, she wore tailored trousers on the slopes. Another revolution.

Christina Larson, Washington Monthly, July 2005

The Washington Monthly, July 2005

When Real Men Wore Heels

The demands of empires have shaped the history of fashion - by Christina Larson

This summer, Japanese businessmen have been asked to disrobe. With an eye on the Kyoto Protocol, the government is requiring business owners to keep thermostats set at a toasty 82 degrees Fahrenheit and cajoling salarymen to shed their jackets and ties. It’s a hard sell in a country where, as one apparel retailer explained to The New York Times, it’s long been assumed that “the man who is wearing a suit is a businessman and the man who’s not is unemployed.” That’s why the government has coaxed cartoonists to draw CEOs in short sleeves, mounted extravagant fashion shows, and recruited the iconic chairman of Toyota, Hiroshi Okuda, to prowl the runways jacketless, hoping that eco-friendly fashion will trickle down.

In Washington, however, doors still swing open for pinstripe suits. Though much of the corporate world has gladly left cufflinks and wingtips in the closet, Senate suites and federal agencies remain sanctuaries for starched shirts. On Pennsylvania Avenue, formality starts at the top. If the commander in chief doesn’t wear a suit he seems, to voters, less than presidential, incongruous with the lavish decor of the Oval Office. (Jimmy Carter bucked tradition, but his cardigans inspired giggles, not imitation.) With the gold standard set in the White House, all members of the president’s court—cabinet officials, senators, policy advisors, and lobbyists seeking his attention—feel compelled to match the shine on his shoes.

Fashions change, but wardrobe’s power to signal rank and membership endures. In Dressed to Rule, a book that would appeal to Machiavelli and Martha Stewart alike, Philip Mansel retells modern history with an emphasis on how political leaders have used dress to impress and transgress. Editor of The Court Historian journal, Mansel gleans details from coronation portraits, family albums, travel diaries, and newsreels to show how rebels and kings have wielded highland kilts, high heels, and headscarves as shorthand for identity and ideology. Strategic displays of fabric and flesh often denote not only who’s in command, but whether the claim to reign is staked on birth, might, or wit. An historian by training, Mansel is careful in his assertions, and his book is not crafted in service of a central argument. Yet, he implicitly builds the case that no political upheaval has ever occurred without an accompanying revolution in dress.

Once the alpha male of the Western world, Louis XIV shrouded himself in resplendent satin coats with gold embroidery and lace sleeves, silk stockings and full-bottomed wigs—which Mansel suggests showcased the Sun King’s divinely-ordained right to rule France. At a time when most mortals wore course shirts of flax and wool, the king brandished strategic splendor as later rulers would display military might. He also invited his courtiers to watch him dress. Robing the king was an elaborate 90-minute ritual each morning, with attendants crowding the antechambers awaiting their turn to enter: Only the highest officials of state were admitted while he was shaving; bishops, marshals, and provincial governors could enter later. Visiting dignitaries were sometimes awarded the privilege of handing the king his shirt. The ritual afforded the French court a close look at the king’s new clothes—significant because nobles affirmed their allegiance by imitating the king—and kept business flowing to the nation’s silk looms and lace factories. The dress industry then employed a third of wage-earners in France (many of the lace factories were founded by finance minister Colbert), and if members of the Third Estate were busy stitching sleeves, they had less time to plot rebellion.

Admission to court functions and access to his majesty’s counsel was assured by proper attire: Male courtiers were required to don silk or velvet coats encrusted with jewels and embroidery, while women squeezed into corseted dresses with puffy sleeves and long trains. Ordinances prohibited untitled aspirants from donning such finery. One emblematic accessory, which Louis turned into a must-have item among both ladies and gents at court, was a pair of red high heels, or talons rouges. The fashion, as Mansel explains, advertised a lifestyle of leisure, “demonstrat[ing] that nobles did not dirty their shoes.” Seventeenth-century aristocrats, after all, believed they were born into privilege and didn’t need to saunter far or break a sweat to earn their keep.

Soon discerning rulers across Europe coveted talons rouges. With outthrust calves and pointed toes, contemporary monarchs in Britain, Austria, Saxony, and elsewhere flaunted scarlet heels in coronation portraits. French fashion marched farther than French armies, as dolls dressed in the latest styles from Versailles were prized as far as Constantinople and St. Petersburg, and, Mansel notes, even in capitals distinctly hostile to the Bourbon throne, including London and Vienna.

But as the novels and essays of Voltaire and Montesquieu wound along the same trade routes, Enlightenment thought pricked Europeans to question aristocratic entitlement and kingship based upon divine right. In Eastern Europe, military monarchs began to fortify their armies, articulate new justifications for kingship, and restock their closets. Frederick II of Prussia, who saw the army as central to national greatness and prided himself on the martial virtues of strength, stamina, and public service (he spoke of himself as “the first servant of my state”), paraded in military uniform to state dinners and diplomatic functions, the more battle-worn, the better. “The more victories he won,” Mansel notes, “the shabbier his uniforms became. Some were stained with snuff, torn, darned and patched at the elbows. He wanted to look as he appeared on the battlefield.” Showing off his dirty boots had become a way to flaunt work ethic and war prowess.

On the day she seized power in a coup, Catherine the Great of Russia donned the uniform of the palace guard to enlist their help overthrowing her husband. To commemorate her special day, she commissioned a portrait of herself on horseback in the regiment’s green and gold uniform, wearing boots and brandishing a sword. When she later hosted state dinners for soldiers, she often descended the staircase in her “regimental gown” — a singular hybrid with a military jacket-like top, glittering insignia on the lapels, and a billowing skirt. By 1790, court dress in Russia and Prussia resembled that of army battalions more than of ballrooms, as martial attire was practically de rigueur and well-dressed gentlemen wore swords.

As the industrial revolution helped jumpstart the rise of the British empire, British regiments and diplomats marched new fashions across the globe: the full-length trouser, which the English infantry favored over constricting knee-breeches (bending far forward had been a hazard to the seams); the black jacket for formal attire (it didn’t show soot in 19th-century London); and the advent of khaki in workaday clothes. Khaki, which means “dust-colored” in Hindi, was first introduced in 1848 for British regimental uniforms in India; later the color was adopted by the entire army (and later still by legions of casual-Friday office workers).

India’s rajahs disdained the garb of the imperial officers, but in many regions never forcibly colonized, dark suits and trousers were viewed as the uniform of modernization. In 1871, the Emperor of Japan traded his customary robes for western-style jackets and required his officials to follow suit. When one official pleaded to wear traditional robes, a minister of the emperor quipped, “Are you still ignorant of the world situation?” At the end of the nineteenth century, Afghan princes were seen hiking up mountaintops in Highland kilts.

As the sun set on military and colonial empires, western leaders again changed tailors. Two world wars rattled Europe’s enthusiasm for martial uniforms, as dressing to affirm allegiance to the state (anywhere other than the battlefield) became an unpleasant reminder of the regimes of Hitler and Mussolini regimes. Stalin’s fondness for strutting in martial attire at Yalta and later Mao’s attempt to impose a civilian uniform in China did nothing to spur a revival. After World War II, as economic strength increasingly became the engine of international prestige, many returning soldiers went to work in offices, and the business suit became the uniform of the successful globe-trotting gentlemen.

Dressed to Rule is largely a history of male fashion, which is somewhat delightful in its irony—until you stop to think about it. With the exception of Catherine the Great and her regimental evening gown, very few women appear as sovereigns in these pages. To posit that men have historically used fashion to project political ambition, while women have used it for seduction would be inaccurate. The ladies at Versailles who flaunted ever more elaborate coiffures adorned with miniature boats and other baubles were competing mainly with each other; the Parisian hostesses who convened Enlightenment salons were political agents, ambitious for influence, not simply historical glitter. But Mansel may yet endear himself to feminist historians. He’s provided new evidence to ponder why, when it comes to formal attire today, men’s clothes, it seems, are from Mars, women’s from Venus. After reading Dressed to Rule, one might wonder if the distinction is as much historical as biological. Men’s suits and dress shoes are more practical for marching than ladies’ fitted skirts and high heels, which often oblige the wearer to hail a cab home. Perhaps if women had also been conscripted into the Prussian army, they too would have kicked off their talons rouges for walkable flats.

Mansel does not lavish much attention on recent years, but it’s possible to draw out the thread of his argument. Over the last decade, as companies have updated their management philosophies—tradition and rank are out, flattened hierarchies and innovation are in —the business suit, with its connotations of status and tradition, has given way in many offices to golf shirts, turtlenecks, and khaki pants.

But not in Washington. Inside the federal city’s unique ecosystem of power and patronage, old trends linger, and new ones arise. Since the advent of C-SPAN and color newspapers, lady senators and cabinet officials have strolled to press conferences in brighter hues—dress suits of yellow, green, peach, and red—which might look curious inside a Chicago law firm, but stand out exquisitely well in a crowd on television. Condi Rice, who favored black and navy in her academy days, now regularly dons yellow and crimson in view of news cameras.

On the sidewalks along Pennsylvania Avenue, business suits are becoming, if anything, more common and more pricey—in keeping with the vaunted formality and discipline of George Bush’s White House, as well as the growing legion of K Street lobbyists now shuffling between downtown and Capitol Hill (in the last five years, the city’s lobbying industry has doubled in size).

But like the fashions of all empires, this parade will someday pass. Styles sewn with politics tend to sparkle and fade with the ideologies they embody. For example, Paul Bremer, as administrator of the Coalition Provisional Authority, sallied from Baghdad board rooms to military briefings in fine suits paired with combat boots. When visiting Bremer in Iraq, Rumsfeld dressed to match his host. The ensemble did perfectly showcase the Pentagon’s strategy for occupation—minimal troop presence, maximal use of private contractors—but in recent months, stability in Iraq has proved elusive, Bremer has gone home, and American officials no longer aim to be seen ambling around Baghdad in pinstripes.

(Christina Larson is the managing editor of The Washington Monthly.)

Prince of Europe: The Life of Charles Joseph de Ligne (1735-1814)

Tim Blanning, Times Literary Supplement, 13 June 2003

Times Literary Supplement, 13 June 2003

Discreet Charms of a Priapic Adventurer

by Tim Blanning

This highly entertaining book has to be approached in two ways. At the most obvious level, it is a romp through the boudoirs of old-regime Europe in the company of a particularly energetic guide. If not the richest or grandest of grands seigneurs, the Prince de Ligne was undoubtedly very rich and very grand.

Together with a liberal endowment of charm, self-confidence and intelligence, his inheritance helped him to become one of the best-informed commentators on the society of his day. Moreover, he took good care that posterity should know about him, writing tirelessly about every subject under the sun -his various publications listed in Philip Mansel’s biography run to almost seventy volumes.

The three centres of his frenetic social life were his estates in Flanders, centred on the Chateau de Beloeil; Paris-Versailles; and Vienna. But he also roamed much further afield, to England (which he disliked intensely), Berlin, St Petersburg, Moscow, the Crimea, and even the Danubian Principalities of the Ottoman Empire. More surprisingly, he never travelled in Italy, his knowledge of the Mediterranean being confined to one short visit to Provence.

This is a quintessentially aristocratic world, ruled by lineage, rank and etiquette, dominated by values derived from military conceptions of honour. In de Ligne’s words, his father “treated God as an old general who had a few more quarterings than himself”. It was also a world devoted to the pursuit of pleasure.

Mansel is very good at bringing out the sheer self- indulgence of the European aristocracy and, moreover, at showing that it did not change one jot as a result of the French Revolution. The high society which gathered in Vienna for the peace conference in 1814 was just as hedonistic as those who had wallowed in les charmes de la vie before the Revolution, recklessly spending money on every form of enjoyment. De Ligne died in December of that year at the age of seventy-nine, but almost until the end he was still indefatigably dragging himself from reception to ball to card-party. It was he who coined the memorable comment on the diplomats’ relaxed attitude to business: “The conference dances but does not advance”.

The conference also fornicated. The sexual act in one form or another appears on almost every page of this book. Although de Ligne got off to a relatively late start, losing his virginity to a maid at the Black Bear inn in Munich at the age of sixteen, he then made up for lost time with a tireless enthusiasm which -by his own account -qualified him as one of the greatest sexual athletes of the period. Over the next sixty-odd years he had sexual relations with hundreds, perhaps even thousands, of women. Married at twenty to the fourteen-year-old Princess of Liechtenstein, he remained faithful for just three weeks before succumbing to the temptation offered by a maid of Countess Nostitz. Like many other priapic adventurers, he also consorted with members of his own sex. At a time when sodomy was punishable by death, he was prepared to read out a “Defence of Pederasty” to a salon in Vienna, arguing that the practice was not against nature, was the best way of avoiding the venereal disease rife among heterosexuals, cost nothing, and was highly enjoyable to boot, concluding “one is not a b . . . for f . . . (sic) one’s man (servant) from time to time”.

However, Mansel’s biography is much more than just another, if unusually explicit, ramble through the already well-surveyed sexual landscape of late eighteenth-century Europe. In the first place, it has been very thoroughly and professionally researched in twenty-five archives in eleven different countries. Secondly, it brings an intelligent and constructively benign eye to bear on a phenomenon which continues to elude most anglophone (and indeed francophone) historians, namely the Holy Roman Empire. What Mansel demonstrates so successfully through his subject is the unique political culture which kept this amorphous, polycentric, confusing but durable structure in being. De Ligne himself summed up its secret with succinct insight: “this body, monstrous in appearance by the singularity of its constitution, is as good in practice as it is bad in theory”. It may not have had a centre, but it did have a heart, in the shape of the House of Habsburg. It was the court of Vienna which kept loyalty pumping round the arteries of Central Europe, and it was to that city that de Ligne regularly repaired to render homage, solicit favours and have a good time.

The destruction of the Holy Roman Empire by Napoleon proved to be one of the deepest self-inflicted wounds in human history. In the short term it brought a huge accession of power to his adopted country; in the long term it guaranteed France’s eclipse at the hands of a new German nation-state. It would no longer be possible for an aristocrat like de Ligne to claim, “I have six or seven fatherlands, the Empire, Flanders, France, Spain, Austria, Poland, Russia, and nearly Hungary”. In fact, it was even more complicated than that, for his sense of identity shifted according to circumstance. During the “Brabant Revolution” of the late 1780s, he even felt a tremor of Belgian patriotism, while the brutal arrogance of the French Revolutionaries prompted him to write that he ended his life as he began it -hating the French nation. This last remark alone gives the lie to the only false note struck in Prince of Europe, which alas also comes in the closing sentence: “Knowing how to think, live and act as a European, the Prince de Ligne is a man for our time”. Yet everything Philip Mansel had written previously in this excellent and important book suggests that, if there was one aspect of twenty-first-century life that his subject would have detested, it was the Brussels of the Eurocrats.

Antonia Fraser, The Mail on Sunday, 27 April 2003

The Mail on Sunday, 27 April 2003

In Love … 250 Years Too Late

by Antonia Fraser

HOW I wish I had known the Prince de Ligne! I don’t envy Marie Antoinette very much — some pretty frocks and country life at the Petit Trianon hardly makeup for a rotten sex life and a grisly ending—but l do envy her friendship with this fascinating man.

He was a grand aristocrat, a talented general, a provocative writer, a brilliant conversationalist and, of course, a great lover of women. He was the kind of cosmopolitan hero that Hello! Magazine would die to feature, although somehow I think he would have refused.

Prince de Ligne, the subject of this fascinating biography, was born in 1735 making him 20 years older than the Queen of France. Already middle-aged at the fall of the Bastille, he had been able to enjoy life to the full under the ancien regime, but also lived to see the rise and fall of Napoleon and the Congress of Vienna.

He was born in Belgium but went to Vienna at the age of 16; he could claim to be a relative of sorts not only of the Habsburgs but also of the kings of France, Prussia and Poland. No wonder he called himself ‘an Austrian in Prance’ and ‘a Frenchman in Austria’ - in other words ‘a foreigner everywhere’, a status he much enjoyed.

From Marie Antoinette’s point of view, this was an enormous asset. Long before the revolution, she formed around her a group of foreign friends who she knew would not be jostling for expensive positions at the French court, but would none the less provide her with chivalrous homage.

Ligne, in this respect, was one of her great supporters. It was he who drew attention to her fabled complexion, for instance, writing that her skin and her soul were both equally white — ‘a thousand times too good’ — when too many people were taking exactly the opposite view of her soul, if not her skin. It also helped that he was an intimate member of her brother the Emperor Joseph II’s own circle.

According to the painter Madame Vigee Lebrun, the Prince de Ligne never had an equal for ‘elegance of mind and manners’. His mind might have been elegant — his style certainly was — but as Mansel demonstrates, his attitudes were far from conventional.

He attacked marriages of convenience of the sort made by most of his contemporaries: ‘The only pleasure of marriage is to be delivered from your relations. But what an abuse of the most sacred matters! One has a wife like one has a regiment, a government position: to have.’

He went even further, lamenting the injustice of a wife’s property belonging to her husband, and believed there should be two trial marriages before the real one.

Although a legend in his lifetime for his female conquests, Ligne also issued a robust defence of homosexuality in youth, in terms which were probably intended to shock his audience at the time and might still raise a few eyebrows today: ‘One is in love with one’s school fellows until 20 … it costs nothing and whatever people say, it is enjoyable.’

In the late 1760s and early 1770s while travelling by carriage between Paris, Vienna and his estate at Beloeil in Belgium - ‘the three poles of his life’, as Philip Mansel puts it - Ligne composed innumerable epigrams. Some of these expressed his private atheism: he much preferred ‘the temple of love’ to ‘the altars of another God... Whose favourites (priests] are such bad company’.

As a man of action, Ligne was also capable of original thinking. Considering, with justification, Napoleon to he the enemy of Austria, he nicknamed him Satan the First. But the battle of Austerlitz convinced Ligne that Napoleon was also a genius. He therefore suggested that all the other European nations including England, should band together to defeat him, while Austria should remain neutral.

Alas, his opinion of the English as a nation was not much better than that of the Emperor Joseph II, his crony. He described them as ‘arrogant, drunken, badly brought up and ignorant of everything happening on the Continent’.

All the same, I still envy Marie Antoinette his friendship and support. Surely the Prince de Ligne - known as ‘the Charmer of Europe’ was far too gallant to hold mere nationality against a woman?

Noel Malcolm, Sunday Telegraph, 6 April 2003

The Sunday Telegraph, 6 April 2003

When It Happened, He Was There

by Noel Malcolm

Towards the end of Voltaire’s Candide, there is a chapter in which the hero, staying in a cheap hostelry in Venice, finds that all the people dining there are deposed monarchs (to be precise: four kings, an emperor and a sultan). The scene combines grandeur, poignancy and preposterousness in a way that would surely have appealed to Charles Joseph, Prince de Ligne - who regularly dined with emperors, and was himself one of the most engaging and most preposterous figures in 18th-century Europe.

Again and again, while reading Philip Mansel’s new biography of this extraordinary man, I found myself thinking of Candide, despite all the obvious differences between them. Both stories are peripatetic and picaresque: the Prince de Ligne pops up all over Europe, getting to know all the most interesting people (Marie Antoinette, Prince Potemkin, Goethe) and having encounters that would seem improbable in any comic novel.

In some ways, of course, the Prince de Ligne was the precise opposite of Voltaire’s hero: he was rich, noble and - to a considerable extent - the master of his own destiny. He also became, after years of experience of court life in Versailles, Vienna, Potsdam and St Petersburg, a sophisticated and somewhat cynical man of the world. And yet somewhere in his character there was an immense fount of boyish enthusiasm, which bubbled over into almost everything he did. The enthusiasm is genuinely infectious, and no one who reads this book can fail to be touched by it.

Ligne came from an old aristocratic family (“Prince” was a noble title, between Marquis and Duke) in what is now Belgium, but was then the Austrian Netherlands. Although dynastic marriages had connected the Lignes to most of the royal families of Europe, their primary allegiance was to the Habsburgs in Vienna. It was to the Habsburg court that Charles Joseph was packed off as an impressionable 15-year-old in 1751, and it was there that he acquired his life-long fascination with the external formalities and private intimacies of court life.

The usual next steps in a young aristocrat’s life now followed: marriage (to a dour but rich Liechtenstein princess, whom he had hardly met); military service (during the Seven Years War); and much carousing with his dashing officer friends. But already it was clear that Ligne was different from the normal run of well-connected young men about town. He had immense personal charm, of the non-egotistical variety - the charm of someone who is always interested in other people. And he also had intellectual ambitions, combined with what Mansel aptly calls “graphomania”, a compulsive urge to write.

Much of what we know about Ligne’s subsequent career is drawn from his own chaotic writings - a mass of memoirs, treatises, essays, letters and poems, filling 44 volumes in the standard editions. It is mostly from his own accounts that we learn of his conversations with Voltaire and Rousseau, his intimate friendship with Marie Antoinette at Versailles in the 1770s, or his successful cultivation of Catherine the Great during his quasi-diplomatic mission to Russia in the early 1780s.

Philip Mansel’s scrupulous researches, in archives as far afield as Cracow, Helsinki, Brno and Edinburgh, have added important new items to this stock. By bringing to light the original versions of letters which Ligne later published, Mansel demonstrates that he often re-touched the past, for stylistic or emotional effect. And yet, when it is possible to correlate his account with that given by some contemporary letter-writing or diary-keeping courtier (and Mansel’s knowledge of such sources is unrivalled), Ligne’s basic trustworthiness is borne out every time.

The Prince de Ligne hovered at the edges of world-historical events; occasionally he was given an active part to play (such as command of the Austrian siege of Belgrade in 1789), but it was never as important as he wished. During Austria’s disastrous wars against Napoleonic France, when he was well into his seventies, he lobbied earnestly but absurdly to be given command of the Austrian army. His criticisms of those ill-prepared campaigns proved fatefully accurate; yet his own attitude to war remained, at heart, the boyish gung-hoism of an officer cadet who never quite grew up.

The Napoleonic period was not kind to the Prince de Ligne. When the French took over the Netherlands, his ancestral estates were all confiscated (though his Francophile younger son eventually got them back), and he was reduced to living in a few ill-furnished rooms in Vienna. A man who had once laid on a drinks party for the entire population of Brussels was now reduced to offering his guests weak tea with no biscuits. This was Ligne’s own real-life equivalent of Voltaire’s hostelry in Venice.

But he never complained, and never looked back - except when joking about the past in his memoirs. Instead, he looked for new experiences (or old ones with new people - he never stopped bedding beautiful women), and was constantly making new friends: Goethe, Casanova, or the impetuous blue-stocking Madame de Staël. And he lived just long enough to see the defeat of Napoleon, and the coming together, at the Congress of Vienna, of that extraordinary gathering of politicians and crowned heads that would both symbolise all the values of the old era and lay the foundations of the new.

This is a story overflowing with memorable incidents and characters, told with delicacy and great skill; into its fabric, much of the complex dynastic and diplomatic history of late 18th-century Europe has been effortlessly woven. The question may be asked, nevertheless: does this story matter?

The Prince de Ligne was not, in the end, a historically important person, if the measure of importance is the degree of a person’s influence on events. Had he had an unfortunate encounter with a cannon-ball during one of his youthful cavalry charges, it is hard to see that the history of Europe would have turned out very differently (though Mansel suggests that he did play a useful part in cementing the Austro-Russian alliance of the 1780s).

This man was not historically important; but he was historically “significant”. To learn about his life is to understand significant things about the way the world then worked, at the level of high politics, diplomacy and dynastic affairs. Above all, it is to understand the complexities of court life - something that has been, until recently, systematically under-estimated by historians.

We need to know about the Prince de Ligne, not because he changed things, but because he explored to the full those aspects of his world that are now most alien to us; engaging with all the oddities of his life not only entertains us, but makes that world less strange.

Douglas Johnson, The Spectator, April 2003

The Spectator, April 2003

Tormented Prince Charming

by Douglas Johnson

The story begins at the château of Beloeil, the seat of the Ligne family since the 11th century. Now in Belgium, it stands at the crossroads of Europe, between the English Channel and the borders of the Netherlands, Germany and France. The province was governed by the Dukes of Burgundy, then by the Spanish Habsburgs, and from the beginning of the 18th century by the Austrian Habsburgs.

The subject of this biography is the seventh Prince de Ligne, born in 1735 and christened in Brussels. A nobleman of the southern Netherlands, a grandee of Spain, a prince of the Holy Roman Empire, by the past marriages of his family he was related to many foreign dynasties. He was therefore, both geographically and historically, a European figure. At the age of 16 he was taken by his father to Vienna, where he was presented to the Emperor and the Empress. From then, until his death at the age of 79, he travelled incessantly and had many residences in different countries, so that he could proudly say, ‘I have six or seven fatherlands.’ He was a soldier, a diplomat and an adviser to many important people. A prolific writer, he was the author of different forms of literature, but he was above all a remarkable historian of his age.

The Prince de Ligne in 1768,
aged 33, by J.J. Heinsius

He knew most of the celebrities of Europe and he himself became a celebrity thanks to his good looks, his charm and his gift of conversation. He was famous too for his success with women, whether they were kitchen maids or aristocratic married ladies.

Thus he is an intriguing man. Philip Mansel recounts his life directly and concisely, having researched even more widely than Ligne travelled. He has discovered documents in Sweden (Uppsala), the Czech Republic (Decin) and Hampshire (Winchester), and visiting Beloeil he has seen illustrations of the importance of the Ligne family. Two massive pictures show the entry of a Prince de Ligne to London in 1660 with a suite of 254, and his reception in the Banqueting Hall of Whitehall Palace. The occasion was Philip IV of Spain sending an embassy to congratulate Charles II on his restoration to the throne. Also in Beloeil he saw the visiting cards, the shaving bowl and the earring of the seventh prince.

As his narrative proceeds, at appropriate moments Mansel discusses the characteristics of Ligne and the period in which he lived. He tells us that this was an age that deified sexual pleasure. The Prater Park outside Vienna was a place where couples were constantly disappearing into thickets; in the women’s salons in Brussels the conversation was very lubricious; and Paris, one need not say, was even wilder. Ligne wrote a short story in which the hero explains that after ‘attacking’ many women, the pleasure of the sexual act passed, but the honour of it remained. We are told that, like his imaginary hero, Ligne believed in the ‘honour’ of sexual conquest and, in an extraordinary letter to his daughter, he proudly describes how he had a love affair with a village girl when he was about 58. But whilst he bedded servants and prostitutes and had sexual affairs with a cosmopolitan collection of aristocratic ladies, there are some doubts about all the affairs that he described in his letters. He wanted to maintain his reputation. One of his close friends said that he did not believe in half of the love affairs. As he grew older he knew that his conquests could not continue. Once, when he was inscribing a mistress’s initials on the wall of one of his houses (a strange occupation), we are told that he wrote in one of his manuscripts, ‘I always think it is the last one; oh! This time it certainly is!’ Eventually his passions became more platonic. The Princess Dolgoruky, whom he called in a letter to her ‘a mythical goddess’, was angry if his hand so much as touched hers.

Many acquaintances and observers thought that Ligne had an enviable and successful life. Goethe described him as ‘the most cheerful man of the century’ and many more ordinarily spoke of him being everywhere and being saluted with pleasure by everyone, people and grandees alike.

But Mansel suggests that ‘behind his glittering façade’ there was a dissatisfied and disappointed man. There was not only the death of his son, who was killed when fighting for the Austrian army against the French in 1794, which, as he wrote to his friend Casanova, had given him more pain than had all the pleasures of his life (‘and I have had a prodigious number of them’) given him pleasure. He found his wife unbearable (she was the Princess Francisca-Xaviera of Liechtenstein, whom he had married when he was 20 and she was 14); he had not found an ideal mistress; he never achieved military glory; he had, for the last 25 years of his life, to content himself with the role of a spectator; at the age of 75 he was still tormented with ambition.

So, in this masterly biography, Mansel does not idolise his subject, and he does not hesitate to quote those who called Ligne ‘a chatterbox’ or ‘a scatterbrain’ and who were important in condemning him to inactivity. But the one compliment he is anxious to pay Ligne was that he was a European. He united in his sympathies Christians, Jews and Moslems; he was proud of being from Flanders but was at home in the six countries of Europe where he lived; and his flexibility of mind permitted him to accept the changes. Therefore, claims Mansel in his conclusion, ‘Ligne is a man for our time’ (a reference only to his thinking and acting as a European). One can agree with this. Naturally this is old Europe.

Paris Between Empires 1814 -1852

Michael Dirda, Washington Post, 27 April 2003

Washington Post, 27 April 2003

[Untitled Review]

by Michael Dirda

Though Paris Between Empires is enthralling, one hesitates to call it popular history. Philip Mansel marshals so much information -- drawn from letters, diaries, novels, memoirs and numerous secondary sources -- that his lovingly detailed book may be off-putting to the casual reader or to anyone who simply wishes a potted history of Paris during the first half of the 19th century. Instead, what Mansel provides is a meticulous account of the tidal shifts in French politics after the defeat of Napoleon Bonaparte: the Bourbon restoration of Louis XVIII, Charles X’s succession, the revolution of 1830 that led to the installation of Louis-Philippe as “king of the French” and finally the triumph of Louis Napoleon, first as an elected head of state and then, following his 1851 coup, as Emperor Napoleon III.

Mansel appealingly concentrates on the dashing figures behind the diplomatic intrigues, social upheavals and artistic triumphs of these four decades. Many are world famous: La Fayette, Chateaubriand, Madame de Staël, Benjamin Constant, Balzac, Heine, Lamartine, Tocqueville, Marx. Still others should be better known outside of France, two in particular: The handsome Comte de Flahaut, an ardent Bonapartist, nationalist and political survivor (like his mother’s lover and his probable father, Talleyrand), and the admirable Pozzo di Borgo, Napoleon’s enemy from their childhood together in Corsica, who served as Russia’s ambassador to France and became the visionary advocate of a European Union. These two maneuver, charm and plot their way throughout these tumultuous years. But there are many other notables who crop up repeatedly, no matter who’s in charge of the government: Mademoiselle Mars, the finest actress in Europe for 40 years; the bankers Jean Lafitte and James de Rothschild (the latter’s family fortune then exceeded that of the Banque de France); and the homosexual Marquis de Custine, the era’s travel writer par excellence (and author of the celebrated La Russe en 1839).

Though men ostensibly ran this intrigue-ridden world, Mansel shows repeatedly how deeply women -- especially the queens of the salon -- influenced politics, usually by their own political acumen but sometimes through blatant sexual allure. As he says, “In the nineteenth century, social life was considered not only, or primarily, a human need and a method of government, but also a duty, a means to maintain the social order and the particular status of a family, a ministry or a court.” In the words of Madame d’Agoult, a salon was “the supreme ambition of the Parisienne, the consolation of her maturity, the glory of her old age.”

Madame Recamier, Princess Lieven and the Duchesse de Montcalm are only the most famous of the period’s political hostesses. Princess Bagration, almost certainly a Russian spy, was known as “the white cat” because of “her alabaster skin” and was “famous both for her connaissances pratiques in matters of love and for wearing nothing in the evening but ‘white muslin, clinging to her form and revealing it in all its perfection.’” By contrast, the icily beautiful and always perfectly coiffed Madame de Boigne “appeared never to have experienced an emotion and would have frozen desire before it could express itself. One day the young Albert de Broglie saw that a ribbon on her bonnet was out of place. He was not surprised to learn two days later that she was dead.” (Her memoirs are a masterpiece.) It was said by detractors that the Milan-born Princess Belgiojoso, noted for her black tresses and the pallor of her face, “looked as if she had forgotten to bury herself” or that “she would have been beautiful -- if she were alive.” The more complex but rather plain Duchesse de Duras possessed the world-weary wisdom of the 17th century: “If you have never been pretty, you have never been young. . . . Everything is bearable in life except to look back on regrets which nothing can soften, errors which nothing can repair.” When the Duchesse found herself rejected by her favorite daughter, she was consoled by Chateaubriand, who told her that now she was “in the same position as the rest of us: deceived in what we love most.”

Mansel’s own chief love is politics, and he has some fun describing how the populace put away or painted over Napoleonic insignias after the fall of Paris -- and then scrambled to restore everything when the Emperor re-entered the city in triumph during the Hundred Days, only to rush about a few weeks later changing everything back to Bourbon colors and symbols. “French nationalism,” he drily notes, “was clearly very flexible if, three weeks after Waterloo, Parisians could cheer the Duke of Wellington.” Among the unexpected figures in the British conqueror’s wake were Jacob Grimm (of fairy tale fame), sent by the Elector of Hesse to recover stolen art, and Lady Caroline Lamb, who descended on Paris to seduce the Iron Duke (her cousin wrote “and I have no doubt but that she will to a certain extent succeed as no dose of flattery is too strong for him to swallow or her to administer”). Mansel reminds us that the Russian Count Rostopchine, who set fire to Moscow when it was threatened by Napoleon’s armies, believed that Paris should have been destroyed in its turn -- but nonetheless chose to live there between 1815 and 1824. His daughter would eventually marry the Comte de Ségur and “become the most famous of all writers of children’s stories in French.” The British aristocracy also flocked to Paris in the teens and ’20s, gambling and whoring at the Palais Royal, frequenting Galignani’s for books and magazines, gathering together at the exclusive Jockey Club, even speaking their own form of Franglais.

In 1825 Charles X succeeded Louis XVIII, the coronation being grandly celebrated by Rossini with his spectacular opera “Il viaggio a Reims.” In 1830, however, following on a governmental crisis, Charles tried to seize more power than was allocated to him by the ordonnances of the post-Napoleonic charter. In response, the newspapers incited insurrection, and after the three marvelous “days of July,” the old monarch was forced into exile and his cousin the Duc d’Orleans was proclaimed “king of the French.” Genial, intelligent and -- because of years in exile -- multilingual, Louis-Philippe spoke not only French but fluent German, Spanish, English and Italian. Before long, though, the new ruler was being vilified by the very same press that had helped bring him to power.

During the years of his reign, Louis-Philippe’s capital also grew more and more revolutionary. In 1835 a Corsican attempted to assassinate the king by firing at him with “an ‘infernal machine’, a battery of twenty-five linked rifle barrels.” He missed his target, but still managed to kill 18 people and wound 22 others. Officially, the 1830s and ’40s were dominated by François Guizot and Adolphe Thiers, who seesawed in and out of ministerial power. But more and more, triumphalist memories of Napoleon and his lost Empire were beginning to stir. When the body of the Emperor was returned to Paris from St. Helena, virtually everyone in the city lined the streets. The funeral, says Mansel, “acknowledged the victory of the Napoleonic cult” and that history, as so often before and since, “was being rewritten by nostalgia and nationalism.”

Being both glamorous and tolerant, Paris continually attracted tourists, exiles and revolutionaries -- Heine emigrated from Germany, Wagner visited and left in disgust, Adam Mickiewicz lectured on Polish history and literature at the Coll{grv}ege de France, Marx met Engels. On one stroll down the boulevard in 1840, “Liszt ran into, among other friends, Heine, Balzac, Chopin and Berlioz.” At the same time, this was the money-grubbing era when Guizot was telling the French people that rather than asking the government to extend the franchise, they should instead get rich and thus win the right to vote: “Enrichissez vous,” he notoriously advised. At nearly the same moment, across town the socialist Louis Blanc was coining the phrase “from each according to their capacities, to each according to their needs,” and Proudhon was producing his pamphlet, Qu’est-ce-que la propriete{acute}?, with its starkly honest answer: “Property is theft.”

In 1848 revolution finally broke out, blood again flowed in the streets, and Louis Philippe quickly fled to England, “unshaven, wigless, wearing a black silk handkerchief round his head and calling himself Mr. William Smith.” For a brief period, the poet-politician Lamartine found himself the most powerful man in France. But soon life in the new republic settled back into its old, class-oriented hierarchies. Plus ça change, plus c’est la meme chose, concluded journalist Alphonse Karr, thus formulating the most clear-eyed and desolate of Gallic comments on life and politics.

Between 1848 and 1851, the people elected Louis-Napoleon president of the republic. But this wasn’t enough for a nephew of the great Bonaparte, and in 1851 he seized total power. The coup d’etat was largely underwritten by four people: Madame Le Hon (the lover of the Duc de Morny, himself the illegitimate son of Queen Hortense and none other than the Comte de Flahaut); the English courtesan and Louis-Napoleon’s mistress, Elizabeth Ann Howard; the English-born Marquise Campana; and the Spanish Marshal Navaez Duke of Valencia. “This decisive event in the history of Paris,” wryly notes Mansel, “was financed by four foreigners, for the benefit of a prince who had spent his life abroad.”

Yet nationalism soon provided “the foundation of Napoleon III’s policy in Europe.” Increasingly, France again yearned to extend her borders to their “natural” stopping place, the Rhine. But, as the shrewd Thiers said, in matters of foreign policy it wasn’t long before “not one mistake remained to be made.” Well, perhaps one: In 1870 France marched confidently to war against Prussia -- and was ignominiously trounced. With symbolic closure, the Comte de Flahaut, the original Napoleon’s last favorite, died on Sept. 1, 1870, the day before Napoleon III surrendered “his sword and person” to Kaiser Wilhelm I. “Military monarchy, rather than socialism or liberalism, had won the battle for the nineteenth century,” lugubriously concludes Mansel, and led to what would be, for the next 80 or so years, “the end of Europe.”

Impressively researched and admirably intelligent, Paris Between Empires is a work of crisply written narrative history in which one can learn something enlightening or amusing on every page. But, to repeat, those new to French politics in the 19th century will need to read slowly and pay close attention. Mansel is well worth the effort. I noticed only one mistake: The author of the Vie de Napoléon was not the royalist Balzac but rather Stendhal, who as a young man accompanied the Grande Armée to both glorious Italy and bleakest Russia.

Derwent May, The Times, 19 April 2003

The Times, 19 April 2003

[Untitled Review]

by Derwent May

They had a riotous time in Paris between the defeat of the Emperor Napoleon (1814) and the creation of the Second Empire by his nephew Napoleon III in 1852. Riotous in every sense in the years immediately after Napoleon, when King Louis XVIII reigned. Paris quickly became the European capital of pleasure, but then there was a continuous series of actual riots culminating in the 1848 Revolution.

Philip Mansel records what life was like in Paris in those years with masses of wonderful detail. He has read endless diaries, memoirs and letters. Both the old aristocracv and the new Napoleonic nobles were soon busy enjoying themselves again in glittering private salons, restaurants (the new fad) and opera houses that doubled as brothels.

A Russian princess, Bagration, known as the “White Cat” sat through every session of parliament wearing nothing but clinging white muslin, and sending reports back to the Tsar. Meanwhile, at the famous Café des Milles Colonnes the cashier - otherwise known as “the beautiful lemonade-seller” - sat on the former throne of Napoleon’s brother Jérôme, who had been King of Westphalia.

A dominating character is the wily Talleyrand, who declared “life would be bearable if there were no pleasures” but managed to told on to some kind of power through every change of regime.

Mansel does not neglect the politics: Louis XVIII’S serious attempt to rule as a constitutional monarch, his brother Charles X’s backsliding into old, tyrannous royal habits and the manoeuvres of their cousin the Duc d’Orléans which resulted in him becoming a sort of elected king the “citizen king” -from 1830 to 1848.

Mansel is also very good at describing the streets and buildings of Paris, and tipping a wink to the tourist about what has survived and where it can be seen. He has written altogether a most readable book.

Martin Simpson, English Historical Review, April 2003

English Historical Review, April 2003

[Untitled Review]

by Martin Simpson

Philip Mansel’s richly-detailed, informative, and vastly entertaining book takes us from the capitulation of Paris before the Allied Armies in 1814 through to France’s capitulation before the nephew, confirming Louis—Napoleon Bonaparte Emperor Napoleon III in December 1852. In tracing this turbulent history, far more than a simple chronological narrative is provided. Instead Mansel explores different themes within roughly chronological framework. Thus we find chapters such as ‘The British Parisians, 1814—30’, ‘Chambers and Salons 1815-20’, ‘City of Ink, 1810-48’ and ‘Funerals 1840-44’. This effectively presents a wide-ranging view of Mansel’s subject and allows him to argue what appears to be his central point: Paris’s cosmopolitan nature in this period.

In the absence of an introduction, Mansel’s central concerns are not immediately apparent. But he writes with such verve and offers so much intriguing detail (for instance, the visits of Louis XVIII’s favourite, the Comtesse de Cayla, were apparently greeted by loud sniffs from the gardes du corps owing to the rumour that the king took snuff from her bosom) that such questions are soon set aside as the reader is swept into Mansel’s Paris. This is a city whose artistic, intellectual and social life was so varied and rich as to ensure that Paris enjoyed cultural hegemony in this period. It is presented above all as a city of delights: we find contemporary observers waxing lyrical about the charms Paris had to offer - the magnificence of its great buildings and boulevards, the luxury of its shops (Metternich, no Francophile, found French craftsmanship so superior to that of Vienna that he purchased enough furniture and furnishings to fill several transport wagons), the charm and ease of Parisian society, the theatres, restaurants, cafés and even, in the words of a contemporary guidebook, ‘the very sweet and very accommodating women’ to be found at the Palais-Royal.

As we are guided from salon to salon and introduced to a huge range of aristocrats, politicians, writers and artists, we benefit from an unrivalled guide, a piquant observer who misses no detail. Quite simply, Mansel has immersed himself in his sources - an enormous body of material chiefly comprising memoirs, letters and diaries - to the point where he possesses an encyclopaedic knowledge of the elites he describes with such energy. We are introduced to a huge gallery of characters, from the expected such as Chateaubriand and Talleyrand to the rather less expected figures such as the Bonapartist Comte de Flahaut and the Duchesse de Dino (wags noted that her title was inappropriate, as she was not inclined to say no). In less skilled hands such a mass of material would simply overwhelm; Mansel, however, weaves the observations and recollections of a formidable (and often witty) cast together with an enviable skill to present a readable and fascinating account.

Despite its many merits this book does have some flaws. For all its aspirations to be wide-ranging, it is actually a rather narrow book. The Parisian elites are there, but both the urban fabric of the city and the people themselves are barely present. Odd remarks about the boulevards, and a brief sample of contemporary accounts of the misery and squalor in which the Parisian poor lived do not constitute a full treatment of these crucial topics. Secondly. Mansel, so sure-footed in terms of detail, is rather less reliable in terms of analysis. His chapter on 1830 provides a bracing and vivid account events but does not really engage with the causes of the Revolution in much depth. Recent scholarship is ignored as Mansel confines himself to Pinkney’s now rather dated The French Revolution of 1830 (1972). Nor is this a lone incident: the author appears so bound up in his sources as to be unaware of the current state of the historiographical debate in his field. Also he finds such riches in the period prior to 1848 that his treatment of the Revolution, Second Republic and the establishment of the Second Empire, though ably written, is rather perfunctory in comparison with the rest of the book. Yet it would be churlish to end on a negative tone. Mansel’s book has its shortcomings, but it is nonetheless a treasure-trove of detail and a compelling read. Taken on its own terms, this is a brilliant book.

Roger Price, French Historian, December 2002

French Historian, December 2002

[Untitled Review]

by Roger Price

Well-informed, replete with fascinating anecdotes, written with style, brilliantly evocative and extremely entertaining, Paris Between Empires offers valuable insights into life at the very top of the social hierarchy. Philip Mansel employs numerous memoirs and letters (carefully footnoted), many of them written by English participants in a cosmopolitan social whirl, to define the hopes and fears of members of the social elite, to describe family life and the daily intercourse of high society and to discuss the machinations of the small group engaged in high politics.

Of course it is always easy to criticize a book for what it is not. Thus Mansel’s Paris is a stage on which the rich perform and which is almost entirely devoid of representatives of the masses, save for the occasional shopkeeper or servant. More generally the city’s poor are definitely players-off, although constantly threatening to appear on stage as carriers of disease, perpetrators of crime and supporters of bloody revolution. Negative perceptions of the poor as a threatening underclass were not entirely surprising in a period of political instability, and of population growth at a rate which ensured gross overcrowding and under-employment. In these circumstances the pleasure to be gained from the ostentatious display of wealth was threatened frequently by a social fear which might be assuaged only through repression and the gracious exercise of charity, both designed to keep the masses in the place in society which God had ordained for them. The single chapter on The People is concerned overwhelmingly with the disastrous consequence of governmental failure to prevent revolution in 1830 and 1848.

Empathy is most certainly a virtue in the historian. Mansel possesses it in plenty. His book certainly enhances the reader’s sense of what it must have been like to have belonged to the small circles of wealthy nobles and the super-rich in general: those who could afford to maintain a town house and country estate, who could entertain and be entertained at dinners, balls and receptions, who were invited to salons, were accepted as members of gentlemen’s clubs, who belonged to social networks reinforced by intermarriage, and who shared political power. Empathy also, however, has its dangers. Mansel frequently takes these people at face value, stressing, for example, the ‘gratitude and emulation’ felt by their inferiors. Often, no doubt, these felt emotions sincerely expressed, but surely only part of the picture. However, the most substantial criticism which ought to be made of Paris Between Empires is that it is short on analysis. Even a book written with a non-academic audience in mind might have made more substantial use of recent academic research to develop a more refined appreciation of the structures and scale of the elite, of its internal networks and tensions and of its continuing ability to preserve its social power.

Jacques Franck, review of the French edition, Paris, capitale de l’Europe

La libre Belgique, January 2004

by Jacques Franck

En 1992, Philip Mansel publiait une biographie du prince de Ligne qui est la meilleure et la plus complète qu’on puisse lire sur le grand seigneur qui se disait «assez couleur de rose». L’historien anglais n’avait pas seulement obtenu le concours des Ligne à Beloeil, il y révélait une érudition aussi sûre que son écriture est élégante, un esprit d’une grande curiosité et un don d’empathie qui n’exclut pas la lucidité. Le livre parut la même année chez Stock en français. Je rencontrai Philip Mansel à l’époque, et saluai son livre avec l’admiration qu’il méritait. Aujourd’hui, il m’envoie de Londres une édition revue, corrigée, retraduite et augmentée de la vie de celui qu’il appelle «Prince of Europe». Elle tient notamment compte de l’édition en cours de ses oeuvres complètes, par des spécialistes dont Jeroom Vercruysse, Roland Mortier et Manuel Couvreur. Je m’en voudrais dès lors de ne pas la signaler aux lecteurs intéressés, même si elle n’existe pour l’heure qu’en anglais. Plus encore qu’auparavant s’il se peut, Philip Mansel insiste sur le caractère européen du Prince, qui écrivait en 1787: «J’aime mon état d’étranger partout.» Il en conclut que Ligne est «un homme pour notre temps». Si vous lisez l’anglais, n’hésitez pas!


Parallèlement à cet envoi, Philip Mansel m’adresse son dernier ouvrage traduit en français: «Paris, capitale de l’Europe 1814-1852». Un extraordinaire coup de projecteur sur la force d’attraction et de rayonnement de la capitale française sous la Restauration et la monarchie de Juillet. «Paris était à cette époque un centre nerveux de la vie allemande, comme de la britannique, de l’italienne et de la polonaise.» La ville comptait 7000 résidents allemands en 1831, mais 23000 en 1839, et 59000 en 1846. Un Parisien sur vingt était allemand. Dans la période considérée, 24 grands écrivains et artistes résidèrent un temps plus ou moins long à Paris: de Fenimore Cooper à Franz Liszt, de Rossini à Dickens, d’Offenbach à Bakounine. Penser qu’à partir de 1825, Meyerbeer, le compositeur juif de «La Juive», partagea son temps entre Paris, où il était directeur de la musique à l’Académie royale de musique, et Berlin, où il détenait la fonction de Kapellmeister et de Generalmusikdirektor de l’Opéra! Ce cosmopolitisme était favorisé par l’émigration d’une partie de la noblesse française après 1789: Louis XVIII et Chateaubriand parlaient couramment l’anglais, Louis-Philippe s’exprimait en quatre langues. L’Empire ensuite avait expédié des Français aux quatre coins de l’Europe. Enfin, l’Europe s’était installée à Paris, avec l’entrée des troupes anglaises, autrichiennes, prussiennes et russes en 1814-1815. Plus tard, un Pozzo di Borgo, le plus ancien ennemi de Napoléon depuis leur enfance en Corse, nommé ambassadeur de Russie, avait un accès si facile auprès de Louis XVIII qu’on disait que la France avait troqué le gouvernement d’un Corse contre celui d’un autre.

Ce qui fait l’originalité du livre de Philip Mansel, et lui donne littéralement vie, c’est l’idée qu’il eut de puiser abondamment dans les mémoires que les étrangers -princesses ou ambassadeurs, réfugiés ou touristes- ont laissés de leurs séjours parisiens. Parlant lui-même quatre langues, le plus européen des historiens britanniques apporte ainsi au portrait de Paris entre 1814 et 1852, «le contrepoint, la vision décalée qui manque parfois à l’historiographie française», comme l’a constaté Emmanuel de Waresquiel, auteur d’une récente biographie de Talleyrand.

Sur le rôle que les femmes de l’élite, détrônées par la Révolution de 1789, exerçaient «à travers leur mari, leurs amants et leur salon» ; sur une presse passionnément lue (Paris comptait 26 quotidiens en 1848); sur le courrier distribué (9212802 lettres en 1829); sur la misère: deux tiers des ménages vivaient dans une extrême pauvreté; sur la brillance des bals, des salons, de l’Opéra; sur la montée d’un nationalisme guerrier auquel Louis XVIII et Louis-Philippe surent résister avec beaucoup de courage: à chaque page, on relève un trait ou un chiffre significatif. Philip Mansel est un paradoxal héritier d’Eugène Sue.