Sex with the Queen: 900 Years of Vile Kings, Virile Lovers and Passionate Politics is Eleanor Herman’s follow-up to Sex with Kings: 500 Years of Adulter, Power, Rivalry and Revenge. The latter book dealt with the (not very glamorous) life of a royal mistress or courtesan while the former deals with, obviously, the queen’s sex life. While the usual suspects like Catherine the Great, Diana, Princess of Wales and Anne Boleyn are represented, Herman also focuses on other, less well-known royals of Spain, Denmark, England, Portugal and France. The book is organized chronologically, beginning with queens in the medieval period and ends with the 20th century. A good deal of time is spent on the period of time between 1500-1900. While Herman presents queenly sexual adventures, she attempts early on to establish the thesis that being a royal bride and consort wasn’t the great honor it would appear since queens often had to put up with hideous, occasionally insane or troubled if not cruel spouses in order to fulfill their primary duty of royal womb and were often driven to find love where they could. The reader is meant to have some sympathy for the position of these unfortunate women.
This book is a quick, gossipy read that is decently researched. Herman makes some attempt to back up her stories with facts. Some of the stories are less interesting than others, but overall, the book is fun. I think the primary feeling I was left with after reading the book was pity. No, I don’t envy these women. Despite having plenty of money and luxury (in many but not all cases), their lives were hard. I can’t imagine what it would be like to have to marry and copulate with some of the horrid specimens of manhood that some of these kings were. In this, I know Herman was not exaggerating…especially with the Spanish kings. Many of them were so inbred that generations of insane, often deformed monarchs ruled. Can you imagine being a 16-year-old bride, knowing your duty was to THAT????
I did wonder at some of her stories, though. For example, Marie Antoinette and Axel Fersen. I wasn’t sure it was established that they were lovers. The same for Empress Alexandra and Rasputin. I wasn’t certain that story belonged in the book. And maybe Diana, Princess of Wales’ story is too recent to be included, and it was clear that Herman wasn’t a big fan of the late princess. I appreciated how many pages were devoted to the lusty Catherine the Great, but I objected at how Herman depicted some of the unfortunate, neglected queens as insatiable. There’s certainly nothing wrong with liking sex, but it seemed to make these women even more pitiful and pathetic than they already were. I feel like in her attempt to inject naughty, salacious bits in her story, she occasionally hurt the depiction of the queen. No, no one made these women take lovers, and in many cases, they chose horribly. But at the same time, does it help to paint them as insatiable? I’m not sure it helps her thesis much, especially when you see the women making disastrous decisions for their countries based on their infatuation with their lovers.
Would I love beautiful gowns and fabulous jewels? Yes. Would I love to be called “Princess Bibliophylia” or Your Majesty? Certainly! But I wouldn’t want to trade my freedom to choose my path for any of it.
This book’s a good beach read. Enjoy with a potent potable and thank heavens it is the 21st century.