The Man Who Outshone the Sun King, By Charles Drazin

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The Independent Culture

If visitors to Versailles find it grandiose and overblown, they can blame Nicolas Foucquet. The humble tax-collector turned economics minister to the king of France had, at Vaux-le-Vicomte, shown the power of architecture to butttress personal grandeur.

Now the boss, Louis XIV, had to out-do his underling with a riot of "vulgar excess". In 1664, the man who had made possible the Sun King's glory was tried for treason. Amid the "smokescreens and mirrors" of the court, his rivals had turned the king against him.

Saved from the gallows, Foucquet spent the 15 years until his death as a prisoner in an Alpine fortress. Drazin's colourful and sure-footed biography takes this intriguing figure out of the shadows and paints a court where high culture and low cunning always danced in step.