My latest read is called Prince of Europe: The Life of Charles-Joseph de Ligne. It is a fascinating work about Ligne, his beginnings in the Austrian Netherlands, his time at the court of Maria Theresa, in France, and in Russia, with amazingly intimate descriptions of the characters of people like Marie Antoinette, Maria Theresa, Joseph II, Catherine the Great, Prince Potemkin and Frederick the Great. He also talks of his meetings with people such as Casanova, Voltaire and Rousseau. He even lived next door to Beethoven for a while, and we are told that Ligne preferred Gluck to Mozart. We also get a first-hand account of the effects of Napoleon’s march across Europe, and its effects on the revolutionary movements in Belgium.
Some of the most interesting parts of this work are the snippets of information given about individuals such as the Marquis de Bonneval, or ‘Ahmet Pasha’ who, after leaving the French and Austrian armies under a rather large cloud, fled to Constantinople in 1731, and helped modernise the Sultan’s army. To get around the need for circumcision, he invited the mullahs to dinner, got them drunk, left the room and came back in with a piece of bloody sheep intestine. Another is the story that his beloved daughter, Princess Clary, had a penchant for watching buildings being pulled down, and was given advance notice by Joseph II of Austria to make sure she didn’t miss anything.
For a fascinating romp through the political, cultural and sexual milieu of Europe from the mid 1700’s to the beginning of the 1800’s this book is a fantastic read. Often quoted by biographers, Ligne is all the more fascinating as a contemporary biographer, writer, and commentator. Ligne’s own life, with its striving for glory, its “Jack of all trades” quality, its experimentalism, and its sheer ebullience makes for a riveting read. I whole-heartedly recommend this book.
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