Review: Sex with Kings

Sex with KingsSex with Kings 
by Eleanor Herman

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Sex With Kings / 978-0-061-75155-4

I read "Sex With Kings" immediately after reading Herman’s equally wonderful "Sex with the Queen", and was not disappointed. SWK contains the same measured scholarly tone, the same engaging conversational voice, and the same careful research and annotation (unlike other fun, but more gossipy works like "A Treasury of Royal Scandals") that can be found in the delightful SWTQ.

What's different and fascinating between these two works is the overall layout. Whereas SWTQ divided up the centuries and went through each noteworthy queen in chronological order, SWK instead employs a "topical" divide, with many of the same characters popping up again and again throughout the book as Herman explores the interesting facets of life that came with being a royal mistress. This difference in structure may be jarring to readers, but absolutely makes sense in context: whereas the queens-and-lovers in SWTQ often had extremely unique stories that deserved to be told from start to finish, the kings-and-mistresses in SWK tend to have very similar stories across the board, and it makes sense to split those stories into common themes to be analyzed.

SWK considers the total rise and fall of royal mistresses in a conversational-yet-scholarly manner, with clear examples for each facet of life discussed. Herman provides fascinating insight into the lives of royal mistresses: the constant struggle against competing women and conniving courtiers, the disapproving presence of the royal wife, the fate of their husbands and bastard children, their grants (or not, as many of the cases illustrate) of wealth and power, their position in society, and their eventual fate as they (or the king) grew old and died. Like the material in SWTQ, the data presented here seems meticulously researched and clearly presented, and even serious students of history are almost certain to find new and interesting material here.

One of the things I liked most about SWK is that even though Herman's writing is scholarly in tone and isn't intentionally trying to sympathize the royal mistresses to the reader, by the end of the book it's almost impossible *not* to sympathize at least a tiny bit with the "fallen women" who grace the pages of this book. If Herman has proved one thing with SWK, it is that life as a royal mistress was never all fun and games, and that the traditional image of "good wife, evil mistress" in royal histories is so much more complicated than that.

~ Ana Mardoll

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