During the four centuries form 1400 to 1800 the history of Europe revolved around the history of its courts. As centers of power they drew together men of ability, energy and ambition; as centers of privilege they set the standards of society; as centers of patronage they conditioned the development of culture. The result was a situation in which ceremony, display and the exercise of taste were necessary ingredients of government. Immense state resources were mobilized in the service of the arts because the arts were in a sense the tools of propaganda. After a rapid survey of the medieval scene, the authors examine twelve courts. In each case the balance of forces...king, courtiers, mistresses, royal relations, ministers, churchmen, artists...has its own peculiarities. The personalities involved are strikingly varied. So are the degrees of artistic talent. Charles I failed as a king, but lives as a symbol of royalty though the genius of Van Dyck. Urban VIII and Louis IV, like star actors, move through the world created for them by Bernini, Mansart and Le Notre; while Philip IV remains the private melancholy figure seen by Velazquez, and Louis XV almost disappears beneath the inherited trappings of splendor. Even within a single dynasty there is often no unity of impression...Habsburg contrasts with Habsburg, Tudor with Tudor. Henry VII is a dimmer figure for most of us than Henry VIII, partly because Henry VII had not Holbein. By bringing together research from many areas and disciplines, the authors uncover not only the making of history, but also something of how life could be enjoyed at the apex of privilege.