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Royal Babylon: The Alarming History of European Royalty Paperback – May 29, 2001

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Royal Babylon: The Alarming History of European Royalty + A Treasury of Royal Scandals: The Shocking True Stories History's Wickedest, Weirdest, Most Wanton Kings, Queens, Tsars, Popes, and Emperors + Behind the Palace Doors: Five Centuries of Sex, Adventure, Vice, Treachery, and Folly from Royal Britain
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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

From the madness of King George to the equine escapades of Catherine the Great, from the intramural squabbles of Elizabeth and Di to the staggeringly decadent exploits of Charles X: in this gossipy chronicle of regal shenanigans, British journalist Karl Shaw dishes plenty of dirt--and ably demonstrates why royal watching is such a satisfying hobby.

Was there ever a good monarch? To judge by Shaw's account, it's unlikely. Instead, he writes, "Every monarchy in Europe has at some time or another been ruled over by a madman," adding in passing that only Bavaria's King Ludwig had the good grace to turn his madness into a source of tourist revenue for his subjects' descendants. Of the mad and the downright curious there's no shortage in these pages, as Shaw delivers anecdote after anecdote concerning the demented, sometimes awful, sometimes entertaining behavior of the likes of Germany's Frederick the Great, who "drank up to forty cups of coffee a day for several weeks in an experiment to see if it was possible to exist without sleep"; Russia's Catherine I, "a raddled old alcoholic with bloodshot eyes, wild and matted hair and clothes soiled with urine stains ... [who] once survived an assassination attempt too drunk to realize that anything had happened"; and England's Queen Mary, "the only known royal kleptomaniac," whose aides would surreptitiously gather the knickknacks she'd lifted from her subjects' parlors and return them with muffled apologies.

Royal Babylon is a guilty pleasure of a book, and one that does a fine job of explaining, in Shaw's tongue-in-cheek words, "why most continentals can't get enough of royalty, provided it isn't their own." --Gregory McNamee

From Publishers Weekly

Anyone who loves scandal, particularly the juicy dish on royalty, will inhale this gossipy account by British writer Shaw (The Mammoth Book of Tasteless Lists). In a style reminiscent of low-end tabloids, the author presents a litany of negative and sometimes disgusting details about the personal lives of the men and women who ruled Britain, Germany, Russia, Belgium, Spain, Portugal, Poland and Austria. Leaving the late 20th century mostly behind (his only mention of Charles and Diana is in the introduction), the author concentrates instead on royal misbehavior back to the 1700s. Entertaining overall, many entries are indisputably not for the faint of heart, such as the truly gross story of Russia's Peter the Great ("`Great' was generally a recognition of power or brute strength, no matter how they lived, how many people they had killed or how repulsive they were"), described by Shaw as a "paranoid sadist." This tsar was an alcoholic who tortured people for fun and once forced an attendant to bite into the flesh of a corpse. This chronicle is replete with royal sexual activities, including those of the Bourbons of France, whom Shaw credits with possessing "extraordinary appetites." Irony is Shaw's strong suit, which lends a great deal of humor to often humorless anecdotes. For example, he notes that Spain's King Philip IV fathered 30 illegitimate children "but being a good Catholic always felt bad about it" and forced his wife to have sexual relations three times daily. Like Michael Farquhar's A Treasury of Royal Scandals..., this irreverent and amusing exposé of royal indiscretions will appeal especially to those who like their history "lite." Illus. not seen by PW.

Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information, Inc.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 336 pages
  • Publisher: Broadway Books; New edition edition (May 29, 2001)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0767907558
  • ISBN-13: 978-0767907552
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 0.7 x 8.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 13.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (71 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #392,583 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

86 of 90 people found the following review helpful By Andrew S. Rogers VINE VOICE on December 29, 2001
Format: Paperback
I have to admit I wasn't expecting much from an author whose previous works, according to the bio on the back cover, include Gross: A Compendium of the Unspeakable, Unpalatable, Unjust and Appalling, Gross Too, and The Mammoth Book of Tasteless Lists. However, I was very pleasantly surprised. Compared to A Treasury of Royal Scandals: The Shocking True Stories History's Wickedest, Weirdest, Most Wanton Kings, Queens, Tsars, Popes, and Emperors by Michael Farquhar, which covers much of the same ground in a far more tendentious fashion, 'Royal Babylon' is a very good book.

The sell-copy on the book's cover makes 'Royal Babylon' sound like nothing more than recycled gossip and titillating stories about Those Nasty Royals. It's actually a somewhat more systematic history than that, with in-depth profiles of several monarchs and thumbnail sketches of many others. Shaw also charts thoroughly the recurring incidences of mental and physical illness in the massively inbred family trees of European royalty, and tells tales of drunkenness and debauchery that never made it into the official history books.

Unlike Farquhar, Shaw doesn't moralize about monarchy as an institution, or argue that his findings invalidate the very idea of having a hereditary head of state.
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44 of 46 people found the following review helpful By Francis McIlvaine on February 25, 2002
Format: Paperback
I thought that the book had some promise, when it started to describe how the inbreeding of the Royal houses caused a number of genetic health problems. The book quickly degenerated into a history according to rumor. The usual scandals are dredged up with no attempt to separate fact from fiction. The book then started to get sloppy, did anyone edit it? For example, in the section of Catherine the great the author states that she had three children with three different fathers. On the same page he then names the man responsible for her three children. The author also wants to cover as many people as possible so there is little depth on any one figure. It really reads like a long gossip column.
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21 of 21 people found the following review helpful By Robert P. Carver on July 14, 2007
Format: Paperback
I enjoyed reading this light treatment of the royals of Europe, but was seriously distracted by the numerous errors in facts regarding names and relationships. As a retired professor of history, I find this to be very poor editorial work on the part of both the author and his editorial "professional" at the publisher! Just a couple of examples of what I consider serious errors:
(1) p. 94 - "Louis [i.e., Louis XIV of France] was at one time enamored of his new sister-in-law, the buxom Austrian Princess Henrietta." This Louis had only one brother, Prince Philip of Bourbon, Duke of Orleans, who married twice: (1) Princess Henriette Anne of England, daughter of Charles I, King of England, and his wife, Princess Henrietta Maria of France; and (2) Elizabeth Charlotte, Countess Palatine of Simmern, daughter of Charles Louis, Elector Palatine, and his wife, Charlotte of Hesse-Cassel. There was NO SISTER-IN-LAW who was a 'buxom Austrian Princess Henrietta."
(2) Likewise, the entire treatment of Prince Philip of Bourbon, Duke of Orleans, the brother of Louis XIV, emphasizes the numerous heterosexual activities he supposedly had with multitudinous women....yet it is a confirmed fact that his primary sexual nature was homosexual and was known for his "mignons" and the way he and his followers dressed and cavorted at Versailles and other places.
(3) p. 113 - "Alphonso [i.e., Alfonso XII of Spain] plunged into an almost suicidal depression from which he never quite recovered. He regained his poise sufficiently to honor his dynastic obligations, and a year later was remarried to Maria, daughter of the star-crossed Austrian Archduke Franz Ferdinand."

The Iberian rulers named Alfonso (in English) rarely if ever had their names written as Alphonso...rather as Affonso.
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35 of 40 people found the following review helpful By L O'connor on January 1, 2004
Format: Paperback
This account of European royalty between the 17th-20th centuries has some interesting stories about the eccentric and often deplorable behaviour of the members of various royal families. There is an emphasis on sexual misbehaviour, and Mr. Shaw's own prejudices show up quite clearly. He obviously has a strong distaste for the idea of women having sex past a certain age, Catherine the Great comes in for particular censor for being still interested in sex while in her sixties (ugh!)He refers sneeringly to George I's mother as a "flabby, toothless crone"She was a very old lady at the time, but that's no excuse, evidently, for being flabby and toothless. I suppose Mr Shaw thinks she should have been working out at the gym, or something. Camilla Parker-Bowles is refered to dissaprovingly as 'Prince Charles's forty-five year old mistress' (one feels Mr Shaw would dissaprove of her less had she been in her twenties).Mr Shaw seems to feel that hereditary power, combined with in-breeding, is the cause of the bad behaviour of monarchs, though as a previous reviewer pointed out, that hardly explains the deplorable behaviour of such non-hereditary monarchs as Napoleon, Hiter, Stalin, Pol Pot, Mao etc. An intersting book if you don't mind the constant dwelling on (sometimes wildly exaggerated) disgusting details. The blurb on the back of the book describes this volume as 'side-splitting' but it is hardly that. Midly amusing perhaps. If you want a side-splitting history book, try 'The Decline and Fall of Practically Everybody' by Will Cuppy.
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Royal Babylon: The Alarming History of European Royalty
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