Mansel, Philip 1943-

views updated

MANSEL, Philip 1943-

PERSONAL: Born March 3, 1943, in Carmarthen, Wales; son of John Philip Ferdinand and Anne Rees Harrison Mansel; married Margaret Docker, August 24, 1968; children: Nicol, John, Richard. Education: Attended Grosvenor College, Carlisle. Religion: Conservative Church of England. Hobbies and other interests: Golf, skiing, shooting.

ADDRESSES: Home—2 Deyncourt Close, Darris Hall, Ponteland, Northumberland, NE20 9RP, England. E-mail—[email protected]

CAREER: Historian. Eden-Vale Engineering Company, Ltd., former chairman.

MEMBER: Washington Rotary Club (youth exchange officer, 1995).


Lily and the Lion, HBJ Press, 1980.

Louis XVIII, Blond and Briggs (London, England), c. 1981.

Pillars of Monarchy: An Outline of the Political and Social History of the Royal Guards, 1400-1984, Quartet Books (New York, NY), 1984.

The Eagle in Splendour: Napoleon I and His Court, George Philip (London, England), 1987.

The Court of France: 1789-1830, Cambridge University Press (New York, NY), 1988.

Sultans in Splendour: The Last Years of the Ottoman World, Vendome (New York, NY), 1989.

Constantinople: City of the World's Desire, 1453-1924, St. Martin's (New York, NY), 1995.

(Co-editor with Kirsty Carpenter), The French Emigrés in Europe and the Struggle against Revolution: 1789-1814, St. Martin's Press (New York, NY), 1999.

Paris between Empires, 1814-1852, John Murray (London, England), 2001.

SIDELIGHTS: Philip Mansel is a leading historian and author of many books detailing revolutionary and post-revolutionary France, the rise and fall of the Ottoman Empire, and other phases in world history.

Louis XVIII is a biography about the decadent French king best known in textbooks for tactlessness and indulgence. Aiming for a more extensive portrait, Mansel writes about Louis XVIII's exile, his decision to switch his exile locale from Russia to England, and his complicated return to the throne by the indecisive Allies of post-revolutionary France in 1814. Mansel plumbs the day-to-day details of Louis' life, tracking mood swings, broken promises, smart and poor choices, and manipulations.

Mansel surveys the impact resulting from Louis's stepping down from the throne—he aimed to preserve royal rule by rejecting the revolution—as well as the mood in France in the days after his return. According to Irene Collins in Times Literary Supplement, Louis XVIII was considered to be out of touch with post-revolutionary, post-Napoleonic France, an overeater too lazy for analysis or pro-action who embraced religion late in life simply because his married mistress told him to do so. Collins said, "Philip Mansel's Louis is a more credible figure, however, than this historical caricature....His realism and adaptability were too easily construed as cynicism and cowardice." She added, however, "The scholarly nature of Mr. Mansel's book is to some extent belied by the phrases he often uses, reminiscent of a children's story."

Collins, on the other hand, commended Mansel for sharing engaging tidbits throughout: for instance, Louis was not allowed to learn English because his mother deemed it immoral, did not receive a first name until age six, and collected furniture obsessively, purchasing 574 beds over five years.

Douglas Johnson wrote in Spectator, "One of Philip Mansel's more telling phrases is to describe Louis as 'tenacious rather than tough' and one of his convincing arguments is to point out that people often began by serving other masters, but they usually ended up by serving Louis; governments sometimes began by telling Louis that he could not do certain things, but sooner or later we find that Louis is doing what he wanted to do."

Roger Bullen, in British Book News, praised Mansel's book as a "fresh and lively portrait" that excavates information to paint a realistic picture of the seldom-studied ruler. He wrote, "[Mansel] argues that [Louis'] ten-year reign was in fact a triumph of accommodation and moderation, with a record of consistent success in many fields."

Pillars of Monarchy: An Outline of the Political and Social History of the Royal Guards, 1400-1984 traces the tradition of royal security troops and personal bodyguards to the fifteenth century. For hundreds of years, monarchs in Europe and the Middle East have depended upon guards to protect them and enhance their public image. Mansel outlines the guards' function and practices during the Middle Ages, Enlightenment years, and modern times. Roger Mettam wrote in History Today, "Mansel errs towards modesty in calling his book 'an outline'. It . . . includes nearly every Christian and Islamic monarchy, is easy to read, well illustrated, and contains many entertaining details."

A king could staff his guard by choosing among his aristocracy or enlisting foreign men with no real ties to the throne. Some aristocrats expected appointments as guardsmen, saw it as their inalienable right, and kings granted them positions. In other cases, Albanians, Arabs, and others traveled to distant lands to protect unfamiliar rulers. These elite guardsmen, according to Mansel, were well rewarded. In some cases, however, their elevated status went to their heads.

Tom Hartman suggested in Spectator that Mansel performed more research—-he consulted 720 texts—and touched upon more information than may ever have been matched in a book less than 200 pages. "It is not in the least surprising that the result is sometimes hard to digest when so many facts have to be crammed into so little space.... Nevertheless, on the whole the author has risen splendidly to the challenge he has set himself and the book is a mine of fascinating information."

In the illustrated The Eagle in Splendour: Napoleon I and His Court, Mansel examines the post-revolutionary French court, the dynamics of Napoleon and his family, the role of courtiers, the organization of the court, Napoleon's mistakes, triumphs, and legacy, and other details. Mansel portrays French courtiers, for example, as self-serving and often deceitful.

James K. Kieswetter, in American Historical Review, bemoaned the lack of information about Napoleon's considerable effect on music, and on the subject of his possible murder. "Although this work contains little that is highly original, it makes a useful contribution to Napoleonic studies. But it must be used with care for it suffers from occasional overgeneralizations and from various omissions."

Writing for History Today, Nigel Nicolson said of The Eagle in Splendour, "The book is of the cut-down coffee-table type, with many reproductions of grandiloquent paintings, some double-spread, some in colour, and accompanied by a text which is clear, well-researched, always interesting, and ultimately, by intention, stupefying."

The Court of France, 1789-1830 is a follow-up of sorts. Mansel, emphasizing the political and administrative details of the courts of Louis XVI, Napoleon I, Louis XVIII, Charles X, and that of the July Monarchy, also touches upon social and personal affairs. Readers learn the court's significance in establishing a monarch's power and esteem. Mansel also delineates between courts' organizations. For example, Napoleon's court was quite different from that of the Bourbons, with acceptance depending upon one's official position rather than inherited nobility. Conversely, Louis XVIII's post-revolutionary regime separated the court from "officialdom." After 1820, in what Mansel terms "the golden age," the court regularized hierarchy. It was then decided that official position and financial status should determine court membership.

Switching to a survey of rulers in the Middle East, Mansel published Sultans in Splendour: The Last Years of the Ottoman World. It analyzes the final period of the Ottoman Empire and features 200 previously unpublished photographs of the chronicled autocrats. Sheila Allen said in School Librarian, "The book begins with the opening of the Suez Canal in 1869 and ends with the departure of King Farouk from Egypt in 1952....the history must be superficial but this is an ideal book for extra or background reading." Mansel describes, among other things, the lives of self-possessed harem women, the Khedive with his solid-gold toilet and other eccentricities, and the European overtaking of the Muslim empire. Rana Kabbani remarked in Observer, "It makes poignant reading, jerking the reader's feelings in different directions."

In Constantinople: City of the World's Desire, 1453-1924 Mansel traces the trials and tribulations of the Ottoman Empire's capital city, Constantinople. Michael Moorcock wrote in the Times Literary Supplement, "The Ottoman Centuries brought fresh wealth, magnificent public art and one of the world's greatest cuisines. Mansel describes the gorgeous emergence from the medieval world . . . to the modern, to which they were sublimely unsuited, of the House of Osman, which gradually relinquished the power of life and death over its subjects . . . then quietly vanished . . . in 1924."

Mansel explains that Constantinople was larger than Paris or London at the start of the eighteenth-century, but lacking modern industry, began to lose ground in the nineteenth-century. Readers also learn that Ottoman Constantinople was half-Muslim, and for some time functioned as a diverse community of Muslims, Christians, and Jews. Cyril Mango, covering Constantinople for Spectator, remarked on the wide-ranging material, "The accumulation is sometimes excessive, but does succeed in producing a richly evocative panorama."

Edited with Kirsty Carpenter, The French Emigrés in Europe and the Struggle against Revolution: 1789-1814 is a collection of essays depicting the French emigration at the end of the eighteenth century. Taking samples from journals, personal letters, and archival sources, the book analyzes the movement's long-term effects on European and American history.

Readers learn that the first emigrés left France because they disagreed with the Revolution's stance, but most emigrés, in fact, departed post-1792, after the start of the French civil war. Many of them were poverty-stricken men and women.

Giulia Pacini remarked in French Forum, "Countering legendary representations of the emigré as a nostalgic and decadent aristocrat doggedly attached to ancien regime life, this book is at its best when it illustrates the fundamental heterogeneity of the French emigrés."

Paris between Empires, 1814-1852 maps the history of Paris between the fall of Napoleon I and the proclamation of Napoleon III, a period during which the affairs of society were of central political importance. Gillian Tindal, in her Times Literary Supplement review, criticized Mansel's consistent emphasis on affluence and nobility. "The sources on which the author has drawn are admirably copious, yet the overall impression is of a Paris populated exclusively by the nobility, varied only by the super-rich.... More common stock tend to be represented by the actresses, singers and demi-mondaines ...not exactly a comprehensive view of Paris at the period." The book was nominated for England's Samuel Johnson Prize for nonfiction.

Philip Hensher, however, wrote in Spectator, "Philip Mansel has written an excellent, entertaining history. It benefits from his having slogged through the life of Louis XVIII before, and he has an eye for the good story and the telling detail." In Times Higher Education Supplement, reviewer Shusha Guppy commended, "Mansel's deep scholarship, elegant prose, narrative pace and cohesion dazzle."



American Historical Review, October 1988, James K. Kieswetter, review of The Eagle in Splendour: Napoleon I and His Court, pp. 1064-1065; December 1990, James K. Kieswetter, review of The Court of France: 1789-1830, pp. 1552-1553.

Asian Affairs, October 1996, Geoffrey Lewis, review of Constantinople: City of the World's Desire, 1453-1924, pp. 340-341.

Booklist, September 15, 1985, Brad Hooper, review of Pillars of Monarchy: An Outline of the Political and Social History of the Royal Guards, 1400-1984, p. 96; October 1, 1996, Sandy Whiteley, review of Constantinople, p. 319.

British Book News, May 1981, review of Louis XVIII, p. 318.

Canadian Journal of History, April 1990, Michael Grenon, review of The Court of France, pp. 131-132.

Choice, 1989, B. Rothaus, review of The Court of France, p. 371.

Contemporary Review, January 2002, review of Paris Between Empires, 1814-1852, p. 59.

Economist, July 14, 2001, article, "Fun and Games; 19th Century French History," p. 7; July 14, 2001, review of Paris Between Empires: 1814-1852, pp. 100-101.

French Forum, Spring 2001, Giulia Pacini, review of The French Emigres in Europe and the Struggle Against Revolution: 1789-1814, pp. 113-115.

French Review, April 2001, Tom Conner, review of The French Emigres in Europe and the Struggle Against Revolution, pp. 1028-1029.

History: The Journal of the Historical Association, June 1989, John Mackrell, review of The Eagle in Splendour, p. 329; February 1991, Geoffrey Cubitt, review of The Court of France, pp. 146-147.

History Today, June 1985, Roger Mettam, review of Pillars of Monarchy, p. 57; February 1988, Nigel Nicolson, review of The Eagle in Splendour, pp. 51-52; December 1992, Richard Vinen, review of The Court of France, p. 57; April 2002, Pamela Pilbeam, review of Paris Between Empires, 1814-1852, p. 62.

International History Review, December 2000, William S. Cormack, review of The French Emigres in Europe and the Struggle Against Revolution, pp. 910-911.

Library Journal, September 15, 1996, Robert J. Andrews, review of Constantinople, p. 80.

Los Angeles Times Book Review, January 12, 1992, Charles Solomon, review of The Courts of France, p. 10.

New York Times Book Review, December 26, 1996, Robin Cormack, review of Constantinople, p. 9.

Observer (London), 1989, Rana Kabbani, review of Sultans in Splendour: The Last Years of the Ottoman World, p. 43.

School Librarian, May 1989, Sheila Allen, review of Sultans in Splendour, p. 82.

Spectator, January 31, 1981, Douglas Johnson, review of Louis XVIII, pp. 18-19; February 16, 1985, Tom Hartman, review of Pillars of Monarchy, p. 29; August 22, 1987, Peter Quennell, review of The Eagle in Splendour, pp. 25-26; July 22, 1989, Richard Cobb, review of The Court of France, pp. 28-29; November 11, 1995, Cyril Mango, review of Constantinople, p. 44; June 9, 2001, Philip Hensher, review of Paris Between Empires, p. 32.

Times Higher Education Supplement, September 20, 1996, Averil Cameron, review of Constantinople, pp. 21-22; August 24, 2001, Shusha Guppy, review of Paris Between Empires, p. 25.

Times Literary Supplement, May 1, 1981, Irene Collins, review of Louis XVIII, p. 494; November 17, 1995, Michael Moorcock, review of Constantinople, p. 10; September 21, 2001, Gillian Tindall, review of Paris Between Empires, p. 26.

Washington Post Book World, February 2, 1997, John Ash, review of Constantinople, p. 7.*

About this article

Mansel, Philip 1943-

Updated About content Print Article