Sex with Kings: Five Hundred Years of Adultery, Power, Rivalry, and Revenge

Sex with Kings: Five Hundred Years of Adultery, Power, Rivalry, and Revenge

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by Eleanor Herman

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Throughout the centuries, royal mistresses have been worshiped, feared, envied, and reviled. They set the fashions, encouraged the arts, and, in some cases, ruled nations. Eleanor Herman's Sex with Kings takes us into the throne rooms and bedrooms of Europe's most powerful monarchs. Alive with flamboyant characters, outrageous humor, and stirring poignancy

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Throughout the centuries, royal mistresses have been worshiped, feared, envied, and reviled. They set the fashions, encouraged the arts, and, in some cases, ruled nations. Eleanor Herman's Sex with Kings takes us into the throne rooms and bedrooms of Europe's most powerful monarchs. Alive with flamboyant characters, outrageous humor, and stirring poignancy, this glittering tale of passion and politics chronicles five hundred years of scintillating women and the kings who loved them.

Curiously, the main function of a royal mistress was not to provide the king with sex but with companionship. Forced to marry repulsive foreign princesses, kings sought solace with women of their own choice. And what women they were! From Madame de Pompadour, the famous mistress of Louis XV, who kept her position for nineteen years despite her frigidity, to modern-day Camilla Parker-Bowles, who usurped none other than the glamorous Diana, Princess of Wales.

The successful royal mistress made herself irreplaceable. She was ready to converse gaily with him when she was tired, make love until all hours when she was ill, and cater to his every whim. Wearing a mask of beaming delight over any and all discomforts, she was never to be exhausted, complaining, or grief-stricken.

True, financial rewards for services rendered were of royal proportions -- some royal mistresses earned up to $200 million in titles, pensions, jewels, and palaces. Some kings allowed their mistresses to exercise unlimited political power. But for all its grandeur, a royal court was a scorpion's nest of insatiable greed, unquenchable lust, and vicious ambition. Hundreds of beautiful women vied to unseat the royal mistress. Many would suffer the slings and arrows of negative public opinion, some met with tragic ends and were pensioned off to make room for younger women. But the royal mistress often had the last laugh, as she lived well and richly off the fruits of her "sins."

From the dawn of time, power has been a mighty aphrodisiac. With diaries, personal letters, and diplomatic dispatches, Eleanor Herman's trailblazing research reveals the dynamics of sex and power, rivalry and revenge, at the most brilliant courts of Europe. Wickedly witty and endlessly entertaining, Sex with Kings is a chapter of women's history that has remained unwritten -- until now.

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Editorial Reviews

Jonathan Yardley
Sex With Kings is entertaining: a beach book, and a lot more fun than Danielle Steel or Dan Brown.
The Washington Post
Carol Peace Robins
Open Sex With Kings at almost any page and you'll find yourself immersed in a bawdy, deliciously appealing illicit scene occurring in the highest places. In her first book, Herman has written an enlightening social history that is great fun to read … With obvious relish, Herman has created vivid tableaus of these worthy subjects.
The New York Times
Publishers Weekly
When kings marry foreign strangers for dynastic or financial reasons and queens are trained in piety over sensuality, royal mistresses seem an inevitability. Kings had flings and extramarital relationships through much of European history, and in her first book, Herman offers, with relish and dry wit, a delightful overview of their sexual escapades. Her subjects are international, though France dominates and England gets a strong showing. It's a lively account, organized by topic e.g., "The Fruits of Sin-Royal Bastards." Herman weaves into a larger pattern the tales of recurrent figures, such as Louis XIV's mistress Ath na s de Montespan and Madame de Pompadour, who is perhaps more famous than her royal lover, Louis XV. Fashions, love potions and cheerful conversation kept kings enthralled while mistresses made themselves wealthy, husbands acquiesced or simmered, courtiers wooed the mistresses and the public admired or ridiculed. A striking number of these relationships continued despite arguments and even the lack of sex. George II even felt it necessary to keep a mistress for his reputation despite actually loving his wife. Herman ends on a modern note, recounting how Camilla Parker-Bowles famously introduced herself to Prince Charles by noting that her great-grandmother had been his great-great-grandfather's mistress. Herman ends on a serious note, but her wit and perceptiveness will carry readers through this royally pleasurable romp. Agent, Barbara Perlmutter. (July) Forecast: As Janet Maslin has already indicated in the New York Times, this could be the high-brow sexy beach read of the summer. And though a commoner and American-born, Herman dresses regally in her author photo. BOMC main selection. Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
An irreproachably researched and amusingly written history of European monarchs' jezebels. In this well-rounded study of royal mistresses past and present, newcomer Herman draws on a wealth of historical documents, letters, diaries, and ambassadorial reports-a treasure trove she mines with an intelligence that can discern between fools' gold and the genuine article. (She makes equally good use of the contemporary lampoons and verses that dot the text.) First, Herman outlines the place of the queen and the mistresses in broad context: obviously there were exceptions, but the queen was often little more than "a walking uterus with a crown on top . . . chaste almost to the point of frigidity, thereby ensuring legitimate heirs," while the ma"tresse en titre could play a much more complex role. After all, "the king could lift the skirts off almost anyone in his realm," so his chief mistress had to possess a variety of talents. She needed to be skilled in bed, of course, but she also had to calm, buoy, and encourage the king; she must have been serene, loyal, and unpretentious, with "a colorful personality, dry wit, kindness, and intelligence that attracted more than high cheekbones and full lips." (It helped if she could charm ambassadors as well.) An official mistress "exerted political influence, the influence of a loved one persuading the monarch to look at a problem from a different angle, to consider different solutions." Herman delves into the respective roles of mistresses in England, France, Belgium, Poland, Germany, and Spain, examining the impact of their milieu on how they were treated and the influence they yielded. She also explains the role of the cuckolded husband, whofrequently got a share of the goods. Today, by contrast, "the royal mistress has no political power whatsoever-as her prince has none himself."Scholarly and entertaining, written with a keen eye for the politics, but never forsaking the pleasures. (16-page color insert, not seen)Agent: S. Fischer Verlag/Krueger Verlag, Germany
Barbara Wegmann
“With all the suspense of a thriller… this book is simply ideal for a historical bestseller!”
New York Times Book Review
An enlightening social history that is great fun to read”
Dallas Morning News
“A smart, keenly researched history written with wry wisdom.”
New York Times
“Sexy, Dishy and Funny”
Boston Globe
“An irresistible book… Deliciously bawdy, outrageously entertaining… Herman’s writing sparkles off the pages.”
Entertainment Weekly
“Addictively Good Dish”
Washington Post Book World
“Sex With Kings is...a lot more fun than Danielle Steel or Dan Brown.”
“Herman’s spirited history of royal “mistresshood” is certainly a catchy read.... History made as buoyant as fiction.”

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Sex with Kings

500 Years of Adultery, Power, Rivalry, and Revenge
By Herman, Eleanor

William Morrow & Company

ISBN: 0060585439

Chapter One

Sex With The King

When there's marriage without love,
there will be love without marriage.

-- Benjamin Franklin

We picture the royal mistress as, first and foremost, a sexual creature. She has a heaving bosom, a knowing smile, eyes sparkling with desire. Ready to fling her velvet skirts above her head at a moment's notice, she offers irresistible delights to a lecherous monarch. The entreaties of his anguished family, the bishop's admonitions, his own sense of royal sin and guilt, are useless against the mistress's enticements when compared to those of the woodenly chaste queen.

Indeed, the horrifying state of most royal marriages created the space for royal mistresses to thrive. A prince's marriage, celebrated with lavish ceremony, was usually nothing more than a personal catastrophe for the two victims kneeling at the altar. The purpose of a royal marriage was not the happiness of hus-band and wife, or good sex, or even basic compatibility. The production of princes was the sole purpose, and if the bride trailed treaties and riches in her wake, so much the better.

Napoleon, franker than most monarchs, stated, "I want to marry a womb." And indeed most royal brides were considered to be nothing more than a walking uterus with a crown on top and skirts on the bottom.

Disaster at the Altar

Princesses were brought up from birth to be chaste almost to the point of frigidity, thereby ensuring legitimate heirs. While virtue could be taught, beauty could not. Ambassadors, selling the goods sight unseen to a prospective royal husband, inflated the looks of the princess with hyperbolic praise, often bringing a flattering portrait as evidence.

In 1540 Henry VIII was duped by the portrait trick in his search for a fourth wife. He wanted to cement an alliance with France and wrote François I asking for suggestions. François graciously replied with the names and portraits of five noble ladies. But Henry was not satisfied. "By God," he said, studying the flat, unblinking faces on canvas, "I trust no one but myself. The thing touches me too near. I wish to see them and know them some time before deciding." He wanted to hold a kind of royal beauty pageant at the English-owned town of Calais on the north coast of France where he would personally select the winner after close inspection.

The French ambassador replied acidly that perhaps Henry should sleep with all five in turn and marry the best performer. François sneeringly remarked, "It is not the custom in France to send damsels of that rank and of such noble and princely families to be passed in review as if they were hackneys [whores] for sale."

Chastened, Henry returned to perusing portraits and decided on a Protestant alliance based on a lovely likeness of Anne of Cleves. But when the royal bridegroom met Anne he was shocked at how little resemblance there was between this hulking, pockmarked Valkyrie and the dainty, smooth-faced woman in the portrait. The king was "struck with consternation when he was shown the Queen" and had never been "so much dismayed in his life as to see a lady so far unlike what had been represented." He roared, "I see nothing in this woman as men report of her, and I marvel that wise men would make such report as they have done." He continued, "Whom shall men trust? I promise you I see no such thing as hath been shown me of her, by pictures and report. I am ashamed that men have praised her as they have done -- and I love her not!"

Try as he might, the king could not extricate himself from the marriage to his "Flanders mare," as he dubbed Anne. The duchy of Cleves would be offended if Henry returned the goods. Two days before the wedding, Henry grumbled, "If it were not that she had come so far into my realm, and the great preparations and state that my people have made for her, and for fear of making a ruffle in the world and of driving her brother into the arms of the Emperor and the French King, I would not now marry her. But now it is too far gone, wherefore I am sorry."

Henry went to his wedding with less grace than many of his victims had gone to their executions. On the way to the chapel, he opined to his counselors, "My lords, if it were not to satisfy the world and my realm, I would not do what I must do this day for any earthly thing."

The wedding night was a fiasco. The morning after, when Lord Thomas Cromwell, who had arranged the wedding, nervously asked Henry how he had enjoyed his bride, the king thundered, "Surely, my lord, I liked her before not well, but now I like her much worse! She is nothing fair, and have very evil smells about her. I took her to be no maid by reason of the looseness of her breasts and other tokens, which, when I felt them, strake me so to the heart, that I had neither will nor courage to prove the rest. I can have none appetite for displeasant airs. I have left her as good a maid as I found her." The rest of the day he told everyone who would listen that "he had found her body disordered and indisposed to excite and provoke any lust in him."

True to the double standard of the time, no one asked Anne what she thought of the king's appearance. Her royal bridegroom boasted a fifty-seven-inch waist and a festering ulcer on his leg. Anne was quickly divorced and glad to depart with her head still on her shoulders. But Lord Cromwell felt the full force of Henry's wrath in the form of an ax cleaving his neck ...


Excerpted from Sex with Kings by Herman, Eleanor Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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What People are saying about this

Barbara Wegmann
“With all the suspense of a thriller… this book is simply ideal for a historical bestseller!”

Meet the Author

The author of Sex with Kings and Sex with the Queen, New York Times bestselling historian Eleanor Herman has hosted episodes for the National Geographic Channel and the History Channel's Lost Worlds. Born in Baltimore, Maryland, she is married and lives in McLean, Virginia.

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Sex with Kings 4.3 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 58 reviews.
PiggityPig More than 1 year ago
At time I too felt that this book was disjointed, however, that doesnt mean it wasnt a good read. I truly enjoyed this book, its fun to get into the nitty gritty of things at times. I've used Herman's books as well as Farquhar's books to occasionally break up my more serious reading. You will learn a lot reading these books, but its fluffier than some other books. I look forward to reading her book about the female pope!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This was a disappointing read. It's written in a casual, almost blog-type or Enquirer style, which shoots all over the place to the point that it made my head spin. It would have flowed more smoothly had it been written chronologically, but instead, the author chose to write the chapters by subject. The readers would have been better served had the author written about the monarchs from a historical perspective. I was hoping that I would have learned something about history while getting the scoop about the sex life of monarchs, but instead I was inundated by a constant jumping around through the centuries. It really could have been a great read, as the subject matter is juicy, but sadly it just left me yearning for a better book.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I found this book to be a fun little ditty. The relatively short chapters make it good light reading. The intriguing title made me want to read, but I was greatly disappointed. I agree with a previous reviewer when she stated that more in depth research could have made this a better book. I also found the book to be repetitive in many places, restating facts (ex. pompadour was a sickly women)in practically every chapter. Additonally this book lacked organization, which made it harder to read. One was constantly jumping around from country to country and over many different time spans. The chapter headings are clearly not enough to make this mess organized. Overall this was a fun book, but nothing I would recall a year from now.
Illyrah More than 1 year ago
This book is The Star of history books... which is perfect for me! I think too often people try to be overly academic in the history writing and research; history should not always be glorified they had their drama everyday as us. This book is great for relaxed and enjoyable reading. Its incredibly entertaining. At times it seems disjointed in its presentation, however, its not so bad as to detract from the book or her great deal of research. I look forward to reading more of her books!
Guest More than 1 year ago
Okay! I have finished this book and loved it. I highly recommend it if you are interrested in the behind the sceens life of the royalites. I'm going to pick up Sex with a Queen as soon as I leave work!!!
Guest More than 1 year ago
I have not even finished this book yet and realy love it. It is very informative and entertaining. I read a lot of historical fiction on the monarchs and just about every story includes one mistress or another. This book takes you deeper into the functionality of the mistress and how she got to her status and/or may have lost it.
AnaMardoll More than 1 year ago
Because B&N doesn't support line breaks in reviews, my lengthy review for the (5-star) content of this book can be found elsewhere online. This review will focus on the formatting of the eBook at time of writing (03/30/2011). This eBook is extremely well-formatted - I never noticed any errors in the text nor in the table of contents links. However, the paperback copy of this book has several full page color pictures of the kings and their mistresses, whereas in the eBook format the pictures have apparently been left out entirely, which was disappointing. Otherwise, this is an extremely well-formatted eBook with no major flaws.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Entertaining and well researched. A guilty pleasure you won´t want to put down.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I got a kick out of this book, and not just from the eyebrows raised when people saw it in my bookshelves. It is a fast, easy read that details the life and times of some of the women behind 'great' men. I found it incredibly eye opening, especially from a standpoint of fiscal (ir)responsibility. I found the book to be a tad redundant in some places...the same mistress and her story was mentioned multiple times with no new information. But, overall, I recommend this book to people who enjoy somewhat obscure niches of history.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I thought the author could have done more. what drives a powerful man to adultery? What sexually satifed these powerful men? What about some dirty little bedroom secrets of the most powerful men of there time? As readers we were only given the most mundane of sexs acts ' one dirty little Frenchmen with a toe fetish' there has to be more. I also could have used a little more of the authors personal views her voice not unlike an automated phone answering machine 'just the facts mam'. I removed the dust jacket so as not to look like a perv reading somthing with the word SEX in four inch red letters. This is probly a good coversation starter at the local starbucks but with out the depth this subject could have the book left me looking for more.
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running_n_place More than 1 year ago
This is absolutely one of my favorite books, and I recommend it to my friends all the time!  I couldn't put this book down, and I have read it several times since.  Absolutely on the top of my list of favorites!
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