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Prince of Europe: The Life of Charles-Joseph de Ligne (1735-1814)

London, Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 13 February 2003, 338 pages, ISBN 029782922X
Paperback: London, Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 2005, 338 pages, ISBN 184212749
as Der Prinz Europas: Prince Charles Joseph de Ligne (1735-1814)] Stuttgart, Klett-Cotta, 2006

Prince Charles-Joseph de Ligne was a Renaissance man in Enlightenment Europe: a grand seigneur, a talented general, a provocative writer, a brilliant conversationalist, a great garden lover, a moralist and a memoirist. His desire for military glory and literary fame was as great as his appetite for lovers.

The Prince de Ligne witnessed the fall of Napoleon, who fascinated him but whom he refused to meet. He died during the Congress of Vienna, which redrew the map of Europe to the accompaniment of balls and intrigues. Though sometimes neglected in Britain, Ligne has remained a popular historical figure in Europe. As the continent moves towards greater integration, Philip Mansel has provided a colourful and timely biography of this effortless European – a man for our time.

Philip Mansel approaches him through space as well as time through the countries, as well as the epochs in which he lived. There are chapters on Beloeil, Austria, The Republic of Letters, Paris, Versailles, Russia, Turkey, Belgium, Vienna, Bohemia, Napoleon, War and Peace, Europe.

This is a new version, revised and expanded, of Le Charmeur de l’Europe (which was republished in France in 2002 as Le Prince de Ligne).

‘Philip Mansel’s Prince of Europe makes me long to have known Charles-Joseph de Ligne, a man whose affairs were as merry as his wit. Mansel’s authoritative book describes an extraordinary period. Ligne was adored by both sexes, treasured by Voltaire and Goethe; Mansel makes it easy to see why.’ Miranda Seymour (Books for Christmas 2003, Sunday Times).

‘Excellent and important’ Tim Blanning (Times Literary Supplement).

‘Mansel presents the fruits of his massive labours with delicate care, and the book is written in readable, anecdotal explanatory prose. It is scholarly without being pedantic, and he has had the wisdom to see that the life needs no imported rhetorical colouring.’ Min Wild (Independent on Sunday).

‘This is a story overflowing with memorable incidents and characters, told with delicacy and great skill; into its fabric, much of the complex dynastic and diplomatic history of late 18th-century Europe has been effortlessly woven.’ Noel Malcolm (Sunday Telegraph).

So, in this masterly biography, Mansel does not idolise his subject, and he does not hesitate to quote those who called Ligne ‘a chatterbox’ or ‘a scatterbrain’ and who were important in condemning him to inactivity.’ Douglas Johnson (The Spectator).

‘A superbly funny, colourful and debauched journey through the palaces and bedrooms, taverns and battlefields of emperors, charlatans, philosophers and prostitutes with the wittiest and naughtiest charmer in Europe. I wished it had been twice as long.’ Simon Sebag Montefiore (Sunday Times).

‘As well as profiting from the scholarship I really enjoyed reading Philip Mansel’s Prince of Europe. I wish I had known the Prince de Ligne. A fascinating biography.’ Antonia Fraser (Mail on Sunday)

‘Vibrant and enjoyable …This book should be required reading for the politicians and civil servants now struggling to agree on the final text of a constitution for the European Union … a dazzling journey through the Europe of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.’ (The Tablet)

‘A wonderful read … No-one conjures court life better than Mansel … Sharp observations temper his vast scholarship and memorable anecdotes abound.’ Shusha Guppy (Times Higher Educational Supplement)

‘An elegant and lively book that is not only the first biography in English but the most reliable in any language.’ Derek Beales (English Historical Review)

‘For the unlikely few who may be tired of the Duc de Saint Simon’s memoirs, I highly recommend Philip Mansel’s extraordinary biography of the Prince de Ligne.’ Gore Vidal