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0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Engaging popular biography but also well researched
This book explores the life of this lady who was the mistress of King Louis XIV of France for many years, eclipsing in her beauty, wit and intelligence the non-descript real real Queen Marie Therese. Her rivalries with her predecessor as mistress, Louise de Vallieres and with her successors La Fontanges (briefly) and Madame de Maintenon are well described and often quite...
Published 23 months ago by John Hopper

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19 of 22 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Split personality
Another review describes this book as a "biography that reads like a novel". Exactly so, and the problem is that Lisa Hilton doesn't seem to be able to decide which she is writing. The book, therefore, treads a somewhat uneasy path between serious analysis and breathless, speculative storytelling.
Hilton does provide an overview of 17th century French royal...
Published on 1 Mar 2003


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19 of 22 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Split personality, 1 Mar 2003
By A Customer
This review is from: Athenais, The Real Queen Of France: A Biography of Madame de Montespan (Hardcover)
Another review describes this book as a "biography that reads like a novel". Exactly so, and the problem is that Lisa Hilton doesn't seem to be able to decide which she is writing. The book, therefore, treads a somewhat uneasy path between serious analysis and breathless, speculative storytelling.
Hilton does provide an overview of 17th century French royal history, starting with the Fronde and dipping into the early years of the 18th century for the death of her principal characters. Her description of the creation of Versailles is useful, and she evokes very well the stuffy and rigid formality of the Court. She also does a good job in rehabilitating her heroine, who (as Hilton coherently argues) is one of the more maligned figures in history.
Where the book starts to come unstuck is in Hilton's eagerness to defend Mme de Montespan by blackening the names of her enemies. Yes, of course Mme de Maintenon was sanctimonious, manipulative and hypocritical. Yes, Louis XIV was selfish, self-obsessed and deeply flawed as man and monarch. Yes, the Duc du Maine was an unpleasant, unsympathetic and unattractive character. However, Hilton, in her novelist's guise, manages to skate over her heroine's faults and her heroine's contribution to the faults of others (in particular her children) and to make the supporting cast one-sided in their goodness or evil. Only at the very end does this slip when, in the most atmospheric piece of writing in the book, Mme de Maintenon is permitted to grieve for her erstwhile friend. Even this is supposition.
Hilton also falls into the trap of presenting an hypothesis (possible but unproven) and then treating it as given fact. The text is littered with comments such as "As we have seen...." when, in fact, we have not seen it at all, except through the very partial window of Hilton's own supposition. Characters are given attitudes and reactions which cannot possibly be known, and only inferred through the same partial supposition on the part of the author. This is fine in a novel, when the author can take whatever liberties are necessary in the development of characters, but is unacceptable in serious historical study.
Hilton adopts a racy style of writing which is certainly easy to read, but often grates, especially when she makes very 20th century, very Anglo-centric value judgements, in very 20th century terms, on the actions of people in 17th century France. She also insists on quoting verses in French (fair enough) and providing her own, not very good, verse translations in the notes. A piece of showing-off that really doesn't come off.
This is an interesting book, and draws together a lot of information about La Montespan into a sympathetic narrative. However, for an example of how to write accurate history that reads like a novel, go to Antonia Fraser's biography of Marie Antoinette.
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3 of 5 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Too biased to inform, 22 Jan 2009
By 
MarkE (Oxford, UK) - See all my reviews
This review is from: Athenais, The Real Queen Of France: A Biography of Madame de Montespan (Hardcover)
Others have noted that Hilton is very biased in favour of her subject and I found this obvious bias meant I had no confidence in anything I did not already know. As I read this book to broaden my knowledge this is a fundemental flaw. I am sure much of the contemporary criticism of La Montespan was unfair and motivated by the envy of others, but I find it hard to believe she was the only three dimensional human being in Louis' court which was otherwise filled with two dimensional caricatures.

I'm afraid the only recomendation I can make in connection with this book is to avoid it. Antonia Fraser's Love and Louis XIV is not perfect, but a much better study of the women in Louis' life including La Montespan.
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3 of 5 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Great as novel, but too many flaws for a serious biography, 12 Dec 2007
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Amelrode (Vilvoorde) - See all my reviews
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Lisa Hilton has re-created the Versailles of Louis XIV and the readers are soaked into the world of courtly luxury, glamour and intrigues of his reign. She follows the up and downs of King's mistress career. It is quite colourful, intriguing and an entertaining read.

But this book is supposed to be a serious biography. However, Mrs. Hilton's style of writing a quite bit to novel-like for a serious biography. It seems as if she could not decide what she is wants to write. Another reviewer pointed this already out and I share his view on this.

Furthermore, she is far to one sided and really tries to whitewash Madame de Montespan. Trashing others personalities - and often she is right with pointing out the flaws if these personalities - seems to be no convincing argument for seeing La Montespan in a more favourable light. And stating that she was very much in line with the accepted codes of the time is no help either because one has to ask oneself why this sweeping statement does not apply to the others? And I doubt that this was really true.

The title The Real Queen of France" is rather odd as well and shows in my view a total misconception of Louis XIV and his concept of royalty. The Queen - Marie Therese of Austria, Infant of Spain, - was properly an unattractive and not very sexually appealing person and on top rather stupid, but she was a real princess and the most desirable of all princesses at the time. She was very much part of the King's "Gloire" and only she could bear the heirs to the throne. Madame de Montespan was not in her league and could never ever been queen. A "court star" is something complete different, even if she was mitresse en titre.

As a novel I would have found this book quite good, but as a serious biography it has far too many flaws. It is not a waste of time to read it, but you will find better biographies.
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0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Engaging popular biography but also well researched, 25 Aug 2012
By 
John Hopper (London, UK) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Athenais, The Real Queen Of France: A Biography of Madame de Montespan (Hardcover)
This book explores the life of this lady who was the mistress of King Louis XIV of France for many years, eclipsing in her beauty, wit and intelligence the non-descript real real Queen Marie Therese. Her rivalries with her predecessor as mistress, Louise de Vallieres and with her successors La Fontanges (briefly) and Madame de Maintenon are well described and often quite amusing. The bizarre and horrible Affair of the Poisons is well described and while I don't believe Athenais was involved in the alleged poisonings and supposed Satanism, my main sympathy was with the innocent victims kept imprisoned for the rest of their lives under the horrible lettres de cachet process. The stultifying etiquette-bound atmosphere of the court at Versailles is also well described, as is the phenomenon of gloire which The Sun King and his whole court and indeed the whole country promoted around the person of Louis. There are some very colourful characters here during Louis's long reign - 72 years, the longest in West European history - plotting, betraying, loving, marrying, having affairs with each other, it's like a giant baroque soap opera. 5/5
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0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Real Queen of France:Athenais and Louis X1V, 21 April 2010
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Mrs. M. Key (Scotland) - See all my reviews
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I thoroughly enjoyed this book - a 'couldn't put down' book! Athenais de Montespan comes vividly to life throughout, as Louis X1V's famous mistress and mother of his many children. The book also reveals much about how Court life was conducted, within its pecking order, and also the dreadful cruelties incurred in the judicial system of the period. I would highly recommend this book.
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8 of 18 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars My best read for 2002, 9 Nov 2002
By 
Erica Lewis (Trejouls, Midi-Pyrenees France) - See all my reviews
This review is from: Athenais, The Real Queen Of France: A Biography of Madame de Montespan (Hardcover)
Brilliant! A biography that reads like a novel-you can't wait to see what happens next. The detailed research brings Athenais, the heroine, alive and reveals fascinating insights into life behind the scenes at the court of the Sun King.
What I found most fascinating were the differences between the public and private lives of the King's mistresses - behind the pomp and ceremony, these women needed to have such stamina and courage to sustain their position.
I can't wait for the next book from this highly-gifted writer.
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0 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars happy hooker, 2 Jan 2004
At least we have a biography worthy of Athenais de Montespan! Whatever feelings this woman stirs in you, here she emerges as a flesh-and-blood person, in 3-d and full technicolour. In this respect, "The Real Queen of France" deserves full honours. This extraordibnary woman was too much of a personality to fit the shoes of a harpie, who poisoned her way to the top. Hypocrite believer? Bad mother? Unfaithful friend? Hilton skips the preconceptions on Athenais' personalities, which found their way into the romantic novels, and she concentrates on the facts. De Montespan was a jewel in Louis' crown when the monarch was at the height of his "gloire". She patronised the arts, built palaces, indulged in cards and charity, back-stabbing and, most infamously, got involved in black magic. She was entirely of her times and it is in this context she ought to be judged. Here's the most important point of the book, the point which other reviewers seem to have overlooked. She lived in the age (as we do now) when the romanticised view of the woman's role in the society only existed in romatic novels, people were more frank about their expectations of life.
It is inappropriate to judge her on 19c Victorian values. Also, do we have to admire instead Mme de Mantenon's hypocritycal resignation to "duty" (in keeping the king away from sin), or Louise de Lavaliere's romantic dullness (which, as the king found out, was suited more to fiction than the real life), as other biographies suggest? Do we have to feel a justified Victorian indignity at Athenais who dared to be brilliant? This book suggests otherwise.
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