Monday, 28 October 2013

Just Finished - Please & Ambition the life of Augustus the Strong

I picked this biography up for £5 at Partizan purely as a bit more background reading for the early 18th century.
Augustus was the Elector of Saxony during the War of the Spanish succession and Great Northern War.  As such he was in a position to influence the political maneuverings by both sides in both conflicts.  The French were prepared to pay him handsomely to stay out of the war and the Allies paid him even more to keep him in the war for the Spanish throne.
In turn he looked to enlarge his sphere of influence and seek a legacy for himself.  Ultimately this led him to buy the Polish throne and into conflict with Charles XII of Sweden.
The book is written largely using the diaries and letters of the various diplomats used by England & France, along with the court records of Sweden & Austria.  As such there is a great deal of speculation and theorising over some of the events in his life and what may or may not have been the reality.  The death of his brother and the elevation of Augustus to be Elector being just one example - the gossip of the time being that Augustus had killed his brother and lover to gain power, the conclusion in the book being that he might have been involved but other parties took the initiative.
All in all it is an intriguing read (although slow in places and the prose can be a little bland).  Augustus was a man who comes across as being a player but easily led.  He had ambitions that should have been easy to realise if he hadn't liked wine  women more.
As a background to some of the events of the time it is a book that will sit well on my shelf.  I would have liked more maps since the few that are given are difficult to interpret.  Equally I would have liked some photographs of portraits for the characters portrayed.
Well worth the price paid.   

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