For the better part of 10 years I’ve seen Eleanor Herman’s Sex with Kings: 500 Hundred Years of Adultery, Power, Rivalry, and Revenge for sale in bookstores and advertised in catalogs. Based on its relative popularity (not to mention its sexy title) I figured it was a worth reading, but I never consciously incorporated it into any of my to be read lists. Then one afternoon as I was rummaging through the shelves at my neighborhood library and spotted a copy of Sex with Kings my curiosity got the better of me. With Rose City Reader’s European Reading Challenge inspiring me to read books about Europe (and my own personal series Reading the Renaissance and Farewell to the 15th Century inspiring me much the same way) little wonder I could resist an opportunity to read about the sordid sexual adventures of Europe’s great royal families. As I grabbed Herman’s book it became immediately apparent that the hardcover copy I selected was considerably worn and battered. Knowing from experience that a well-worn book is usually a well-read one – and therefore one worth reading – I added it to the three or so other library books already clutched in my hands and headed to the automated check-out machines. After I finished it a few days ago over my morning coffee it looks like my instincts were correct. I picked a very good book.
Rest assured this is not some cheap laundry list of royal sexapades. Sex with Kings is a sophisticated read that’s both well-written and well-researched. With intelligence and at times dry humor, Herman pulls back the curtain on centuries of royal bed-hopping not to mention palace intrigues, sexual jealousies and cuckoldry. Along the way you meet Madame de Pompadour, mistress to Louis XV who for all practical purposes ran the French state until her fall from grace after France’s defeat in the Seven Years War, a war she helped instigate. One mistress of England’s Charles V, when confronted by an anti-Papal mob yelled, “I’m a Protestant whore, not a Catholic one!” and was promptly greeted with supportive cheers, blessings and sent upon her way. One former royal mistress while taking a break from the fetes and delights of European high life, moved to California’s rough and tumble Gold Rush country and managed a gold mine before heading back to the old country. There’s plenty in Sex with Kings to keep the reader entertained.
If I can ever put a dent in the tower stack of library books perched precariously near my bed, I’d like to read Herman’s other books Sex with the Queen: 900 Years of Vile Kings, Virile Lovers, and Passionate Politics and Mistress of the Vatican: The True Story of Olimpia Maidalchini: The Secret Female Pope. While I’m at it, I should also read Karl Shaw’s Royal Babylon: The Alarming History of European Royalty since according to a well-read friend of mine, it contains quite a lot of dirty laundry when it comes to Europe’s great royal families. Hopefully before it’s all said and done, I will.