- Politique, guerre et fortification au Grand Siècle. Lettres de Louvois à Louis XIV
Any publication of archival sources is to be welcomed, and this collection of letters from François-Michel Le Tellier, marquis de Louvois, to his sovereign, Louis XIV, is no exception. Archivists Salat and Sarmant present here 163 letters written by Louis's Secretary of State (for War) to the Sun King between 1679 and 1691. The editors provide a brief abstract of each letter as well as its full text, include footnotes identifying the individuals mentioned in the documents, and also provide a brief annual chronology at the beginning of each chapter. An index includes all the people and places mentioned in the letters, as well as a list of the various regiments mentioned by name.
The letters discuss a variety of matters over these dozen years, but primarily recount Louvois' inspections of fortifications, provide cursory descriptions of garrison regiments in these fortresses, and summarize incoming news from various theaters for the king. Fortifications are clearly the first interest of the editors, evidenced not only by their decision to include letters full of detailed information on the subject, but also by their detailed footnotes which provide historical context to each of these places. These minutiae are the real value of this collection: scholars and local historians interested in a detailing of which outworks required refurbishment circa 1680 will find much of use, including several photographic reproductions of various fortresses.
Less useful is the second half of the correspondence, and the editors largely recognize the shortcomings of their selection. The rarity and irregularity of Louvois' missives to Louis, a result of their rarely being apart, provide a very uneven view of events with significant gaps. As an example, the siege of Mons in 1691 frustrates by holding out the prospect of reading Louvois' eyewitness account of the siege – a hope [End Page 562] dashed just as the siege begins, where the correspondence halts completely when the King joins Louvois at the siege! Few attempts are made by the editors to fill in these gaps. Perhaps more disappointing is the rarity with which Louvois moved beyond simple description of events to any interesting discussion of alternatives, judgments, or opinions in general. Nor does the editors' decision to focus on Louvois' letters to Louis fulfill the volume's stated objective very well, which is to illustrate how 'cabinet strategy' was conducted in a reign famous for its political control over its generals. The idea of cabinet war revolves around the Court dictating the plans and maneuvers of generals in the field – this selection of letters can tell us little about such matters as they ignore any outgoing instructions to the commanders (and barely discuss what these orders were or would be). Those interested in the wars fought at the time, or even those looking for a deeper understanding of how Louvois and Louis controlled war from afar, will only find Louvois' bare-bones, second-hand summaries of reports received from generals and other intelligence sources (with many of the originals still languishing in the archives). Despite such frustrations, it is to be hoped that more of these precious archival documents will be published (and even be put online), so that a fuller picture of cabinet war in the age of Louis XIV can be glimpsed.