Sunday, May 10, 2015


I swear it doesn’t usually take me months to finish a book! I started Sex with Kings by Eleanor Herman back in February but then got slammed with reading for work (#lifeinpublishling). I ended up having to put the book down for weeks (and weeks and weeks) before getting around to finishing it. The wait was torture; I was really enjoying the book!

Sex with Kings is non-fiction, not a novel, so it’s not going to be everyone’s cup of tea, but it is mine! As I mentioned in my history book haul, Sex with Kings is a history of the kings of Europe and their mistresses over the last 500 years or so. You’ll read about the famous mistresses like Anne Boleyn (a personal favorite of mine) and Madame de Pompadour as well as lesser knowns like Athénaïs de Montespan and Nell Gwynn. What a found fascinating about the book is that reads like a juicy gossip magazine with all the credibility of a historian. In fact, Herman is a New York Times best-selling author and a bit of a media darling when it comes to commenting on royal scandals, so credibility she does have in large supply.

The book is impeccably researched, based on “diaries, personal letters, and diplomatic dispatches” through the ages. Herman weaves a tightly knit narrative that explores what it was like to be a king's mistress. She unearths recurrent patterns in the lives of the women who captivated kings and, instead of reading like a biography, you read brief, almost episodic, tales of the cat fights between queens and mistresses, rivalries amongst mistresses, and much more.

Unlike today, when mistresses are hidden from view, royal mistresses had position at court. They were public figures who often dressed more opulently than the queen and held some political currency. Herman brings the various tropes of the royal mistress to life with one scandalous story after the next. Just when you think you’ve heard the most outrageous thing you could possibly hear, Herman one-ups herself. My favorites? Probably when the Austro-Hungarian emperor Franz Josef’s former mistress, Katharina Schratt, pulled down her blinds at Hitler’s passing motorcade during his procession through Vienna, or when Napoleon III’s mistress Virginie di Castiglione pulled a Miss Havisham (Great Expectations anyone?) and locked herself in her rooms, which she had painted black from floor to ceiling, with rats and trash as her beauty faded.

My one complaint about Sex with Kings is that the section that covers Prince Charles and Camilla Parker-Bowles needs to be updated. It seems to end in 2002, before Charles and Camilla’s marriage in 2005. There is also mention of Camilla automatically becoming queen when Charles ascends to the throne. However, Clarence House later stated that it is intended that Camilla will adopt the unprecedented style of Princess Consort instead.

Still, Sex with Kings was a smart, sexy, and often times hilarious read for a history buff like me. Elizabeth Herman’s wit knows no bounds. I’ll certainly be buying myself copies of her other books, Sex with Queens and Mistress of the Vatican! I promise not to take months to read those ones though!


  1. You and I have the same tastes in books! I love finding fellow Anne lovers and this seems right up my alley! I will definitely be adding this to my to-read list!

    1. Anne lovers unite! I hope you enjoy the book once you get around to it :)