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Sex with Kings: 500 Years of Adultery, Power, Rivalry, and Revenge Hardcover – June 29, 2004

4 out of 5 stars 116 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From 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 Athénaïs 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.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

From Booklist

Certainly a catchy title. And Herman's spirited history of royal "mistresshood" is certainly a catchy read. Her book is not a collective biography of mistresses of European kings through the ages, although she does pay relatively brief but nevertheless trenchant visits to famous ones and some not so famous. No, her book is more an accounting of the "art and science" of being a royal mistress, ranging in time from the "departing mists" of medieval Europe (before which "royal sin" was kept from public knowledge) to the present day (namely, Prince Charles' girlfriend, Camilla Parker-Bowles). Her treatment is a royal-mistresses-for-dummies look at male monarchs having sex on the side. She establishes a basic chronological history of the institution and assigns it a set of general characteristics (for instance, the paramour is "never to be tired, ill, complaining, or grief-stricken"). The author explains what mistresses got out of their relationships, and she looks into the issue of how mistresses traditionally got along (or didn't) with queen wives. History made as buoyant as fiction. Brad Hooper
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved

Product Details

  • Hardcover: 304 pages
  • Publisher: William Morrow (June 29, 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0060585439
  • ISBN-13: 978-0060585433
  • Product Dimensions: 6.1 x 1 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (116 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,172,797 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Eleanor Herman is the New York Times best-selling author of Sex with Kings and Sex with the Queen, non-fiction works on the love lives of European royals through the centuries;Mistress of the Vatican, the biography of a woman who ran the Catholic Church in the 17th century for her reputed lover, Pope Innocent; and King Peggy, the true story of a Washington, DC secretary who became a king of Ghana. In 2015 her first YA novel came out. Legacy of Kings, Blood of Gods and Royals is the first of four books on the adventures of Alexander the Great at sixteen. It has been optioned by the WB network for a TV series. She has appeared on the National Geographic Channel, The History Channel, and the American Heroes Channel to comment about historical matters.

Eleanor is so immersed in the past she is sometimes surprised to find herself in the present. She lives in McLean, VA with her husband, four rescue cats, and a dog, and sneaks out to the movies periodically, not to see the movie, but actually to eat the hot buttered popcorn.

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
Okay, the title is going to make people giggle or cringe. But "Sex With Kings: 500 Years of Adultery, Power, Rivalry and Revenge" is a genuinely engrossing book, full of funny and tragic stories about royal mistresses through history. From Madame de Pompadour to Camilla Parker-Bowles, Eleanor Hermann studies these controversial -- sometimes fascinating -- women.

There are mistresses of all types: married and single, noble and low-born, beautiful and ugly, smart and stupid. Some befriended the queens, some attacked (and were attacked by) them. Some died alone and unhappy, some became nuns, and some lived in luxury to the end. Some were sweet and pious, and some were nightmares. Hermann studies why the kings got involved with these women, and how brains and sweet natures could mean a lot more than a pretty face. They could (sometimes) influence politics, succession, and their illegitimate children were sometimes better-loved than the king's legitimate kids.

The mistresses themselves are a colorful bunch, from the bratty, grasping Lola Montez, bawdy Nell Gwynn, pious Louise, and the legendary Madame de Pompadour. One of the most memorable is the grasping Madame de Montespan, who used black magic to ensnare the king, only to eventually drive him into the arms of a "batlike" governess.

Yes, it's called "Sex with Kings." But it's not all about sex -- in fact, it becomes clear that sex is only one factor. Hermann does a pretty good job of studying all angles of mistresshood. Sure, a mistress sometimes got the prettiest dresses and jewels, but she could be kicked out on a whim. There were dozens of setbacks, and only a very wily mistress could avoid them. The author also devotes attention to the mistress's children, her lover the king, and sometimes the mistress's husband.
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Format: Hardcover
This is a breezy telling of the somewhat spotted history of royal mistresses, from King David & Bathsheba down to Prince Charles & Camilla. There's a rather light-hearted approach to the subject, but it does go into detail of the lives of the women who seduced, or were seduced by, various monarchs. Interwoven in the tale is much of European history, and a lot of diplomacy which was occasionally (mis)managed by politically ambitious mistresses. The ends of mistresses varied greatly, from death in childbirth, to dismissal with pensions or not, to long lives with their husbands, to early death from illness, to being murdered. The story of the Duke and Dutchess of Windsor is particularly interesting, for it puts a different slant on that affair than I had ever considered, and for that bit of information alone I consider the book well worth reading.
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Format: Hardcover
Sort of embarrassed,I stood in line with my "Sex with Kings" book for all to see in the hands of this prim prime-timer, hoping the transaction would go quickly.

Worried about the outside, I soon learned I had nothing to fear from the inside. "Sex with Kings" has no sexual details unless you consider one mention of a king's foot fettish sexy, but, oh is it rich with life details.

I discovered amazingly interesting history from the Biblical mistress Bathsheba to today's Camilla Parker Bowes. Some main mistresses ruled both the kings and their kingdoms for years while some along with their children nearly starved. One mistress was so hated for marrying her prince that the king ordered assassins to rip her to shreads in her own garden.

And, the author has an obsession with Madame Pompadour who appears throughout the book as if the icon for a king's mistress.

One mistress went to war with her king. Most mistresses were constantly at war with those who would unseat them.

Out in our Wild West one Bible studying Lola, King Ludwig's mistress who broke his heart, chased, caught and horsewhipped a man.

Can you imagine what one former mistress lectured about in 1857 at 37 in America and Europe and was well paid for it and attracted crowds?

Find out about the tossed aside mistress whose jealous and insane husband announced he was a tulip, planted his feet into the ground, and ordered his servants to water him, which they did. Learn the fates of the cast aside mistresses who went crawling back to their husbands.
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Format: Paperback
I was rather disappointed in this book. It was not well organized at all. Too much time is given to the same kings (Louis XIV and Charles II) and mistresses and the book jumps all over the place in general, which is a major distraction. I can't believe she spent so little time on Edward VII, arguably one of the most randy kings in history. The barest mention is made of any king prior to Charles II. And there is hardly any mention of Russian Czars and their mistresses. Her follow-up book, "Sex with the Queen", is MUCH better. She put that book in chronological order, which I think would have served this material much better. It would indeed have been interesting to see the development of the mistress' powers throughout the centuries. This book is OK, but not the page-turner it could have been. Do yourself a favor and buy "Sex with the Queen" instead.
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