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.
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. -- PUBLISHERS WEEKLY.
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June 29, 2004
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Excerpt from Sex with Kings by Eleanor Herman
Sex with Kings
When there's marriage without love, there will be love without marriage.
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 husband 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.