Louis XIV (1638-1715), otherwise known as the Sun King, remains to this day the longest reigning European monarch, with a reign spanning seventy-two years. This period is known as the ‘Grand Siècle’, during which France rose to become the dominant player on the European stage. Voltaire’s seminal account of this era, the Siècle de Louis XIV (1751), was the first major overall account of the period. This text is the starting-point for any reflection on the political and cultural history of the era of the Sun King, and is a monument of eighteenth-century historiography, paving the way for both modern historiography and literary history.
The lasting success of this flagship work is due to the depth of Voltaire’s insight into the people and events that he is describing and to his historical method, which was remarkable for its day. The emphasis on first-hand accounts from those who witnessed events, and on the perspective of the age as a whole rather than a parade of facts, bears the stamp of Voltaire. The work includes the sometimes overlooked ‘Catalogue des écrivains français qui ont paru dans le siècle de Louis XIV’, an important and fascinating text in its own right.
‘The Siècle de Louis XIV is the foundational text of French literary history. This edition reveals the depth of erudition that lies behind each of Voltaire’s lines, and it highlights the central role of the Siècle in the emergence of modern historical thinking.’
Pierre Force, Professor of French and History, Columbia University
Explore the world of Louis XIV
Additional resources for students, to support and enrich a reading of Voltaire’s Siècle de Louis XIV.
Voltaire: historian of modernity
Voltaire’s histories were highly regarded in his lifetime, and were a powerful influence on the other great historians of the age, Hume, Gibbon and Robertson.