Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Review: Sex With Kings: 500 Years Of Adultery, Power, Rivalry, And Revenge – Eleanor Herman

Sex With Kings: 500 Years Of Adultery, Power, Rivalry, And Revenge – Eleanor Herman

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.

Review: Have you ever wondered what Game of Thrones would be like in real life? Well, this book might satisfy some of your curiosity.

The author, Eleanor Herman, guides the reader through 500 years of European history and tells the stories of Europe’s most powerful royal mistresses. The writing is lively and sometimes laugh-out-loud funny. The book includes passages from letters and diaries that were written during the time that the mistresses lived. Royal courtiers were snarky. I didn’t know if I should laugh or be horrified by the things they wrote about each other. I guess a royal court was like a middle school, but with fancier dresses.

The structure of the book didn’t work for me. Rather than being organized chronologically, the chapters are each organized around an idea. The chapters bounce randomly through 500 years of history. There are so many names and dates that I couldn’t keep them straight. I backtracked multiple times to remind myself who was screwing who. I would have been less frustrated if the book had been in chronological order and focused only on a few relationships. There was just too much stuff to keep track of. It makes me glad I’m not a historian.

If you’re doing academic research, you might want to look elsewhere. Sex with Kings is definitely meant for entertainment. It’s like the offspring of a textbook and a tabloid. The author often passes judgment on her “characters” and only discusses the most scandalous moments of their lives. It’s not a well-rounded look at royalty. It is entertaining, though. In a wonderfully trashy way.

Six Fun Facts About Royal Mistresses

1. Marriages between kings and queens were usually arranged for political or financial reasons. Often, the king and queen hated each other and weren’t interested in a relationship. The mistress is who the king really loved.

“Boring, religious, and intellectually limited, Marie Leczinska was called one of the two dullest queens in Europe by her own father, the other dull queen being his wife.” – Sex with Kings

2. Mistresses and illegitimate children were not kept a secret. Public opinion of mistresses varied widely. Some mistresses were loved; others were attacked by angry mobs.

3. Becoming a royal mistress was competitive. Imagine The Bachelor, but with murder. To become the “favorite” mistress, women resorted to witchcraft, love potions, poison, spying, psychological warfare, and faking pregnancies. One mistress even purchased a baby from a poor woman and convinced the king that it was his.

4. Mistresses were treated better than queens. They were given bigger apartments in the castle, better clothes, better jewels, more land and titles. Since they were so close to the king, they often influenced the political decisions he made.

5. There was no job security for a mistress. If the king got tired of her, he’d just throw her out on the street. A mistress had to sacrifice everything to keep the king happy. Is she tired, or sick, or pregnant, or mourning the death of a family member? Too bad. If the king wants his mistress, she’d better go to him. There were a hundred women willing to take her place.

“‘The more I see of men,’ [the mistress] grumbled . . . ‘the more I love dogs.’” – Sex with Kings

6. If a king could have any woman he wanted, you’d think he’d choose the prettiest girl, right? Many kings valued intelligence and political knowledge over beauty. Royal mistresses were often plain-looking.

I learned a lot about European royalty from this book, but the structure makes the chronology difficult to follow.


  1. Oh this sounds like something I would enjoy, who doesn't enjoy the scandalous sex lives of courtiers? I was going to ask if this was non-fiction, but I see it's more like a smutty tabloid - which I'm cool with!

  2. This sounds like a fun take on history. Too bad that structure made it hard to read.

    Nicole @ Feed Your Fiction Addiction

  3. I think it's super interesting that they tended to choose smarts over beauty. I also think about some of the...interesting love lives of presidents and prime ministers. How much has changed in those regards?

    1. I’d totally read a book about the love lives of presidents and prime ministers. So much scandal.

      Aj @ Read All The Things!

  4. I don't think I would like the book jumping all over the place in time. The idea behind the book is interesting and I like that they used letters but I will probably pass on this one.