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A Lust for Virtue: Louis XIV's Attack on Sin in Seventeenth-Century France

A Lust for Virtue: Louis XIV's Attack on Sin in Seventeenth-Century France (Hardback)

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Synopsis

Midway through his reign, in the critical decade of the 1680s, the lusty image of Louis XIV paled and was replaced by that of a straitlaced monarch committed to locking up blasphemers, debtors, gamblers, and prostitutes in wretched, foul-smelling prisons that dispensed ample doses of Catholic-Reformation virtue. The author demonstrates how this attack on sin expressed the punitive social policy of the French Catholic Reformation and how Louis's actions clarified the legal and moral distinctions between crime and sin. As a hot-blooded young prince, Louis XIV paid little attention to virtue or to sin and, despite his cherished title of God's Most Christian King, violations of God's Sixth and Ninth Commandments never troubled him. Indeed, for the first two decades of his reign, he paraded a stream of royal mistresses before all of Europe and fathered sixteen illegitimate children.

Yet, midway through his reign, in the critical decade of the 1680s, the lusty image of Louis XIV paled and was replaced by that of a straitlaced monarch committed to locking up blasphemers, debtors, gamblers, and prostitutes in wretched, foul-smelling prisons that dispensed ample doses of Catholic-Reformation virtue. Using police and prison archives, administrative correspondence, memoirs, and letters, Riley describes the formation of Louis's narrow conscience and his efforts to safeguard his subjects' souls by attacking sin and infusing his kingdom with virtue, especially in Paris and at Versailles. Throughout his attack on sin, women--so-called Soldiers of Satan--were the special targets of the police. By the seventeenth century, fornication and adultery had become exclusively female crimes; men guilty of these sins were rarely punished as severely. Although unsuccessful, Louis's attack on sin clarified the legal and moral distinctions between crime and sin as well as the futility of enforcing a religiously inspired social policy on an irreverent, secular-minded France.

PHILIP F. RILEY teaches in the Department of History at James Madison University. He is the co-author of The Global Experience: Readings in World History to 1500 and The Global Experience: Readings in World History Since 1500, (2001) and with Michael D. Richards, Term Paper Resource Guide to Twentieth-Century World History (Greenwood Press, 2000). He is a recipient of the James Madison University Distinguished Teaching Award.

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