Saturday, January 14, 2006

Sex With Kings, by Eleanor Herman

Sex With Kings, by Elanor Herman

This essay attempts to detail the role of the royal mistress in history. It is an interesting book, but hard to follow in places. The chapters are arranged by topic (“Rivals for a King’s Love—The Mistress and the Queen” and “The Fruits of Sin—Royal Bastards” for instance) which means the time lines jump around wildly. Coupled with the fact that many of the ladies have quite similar names (for instance Maria Louisa, Maria Theresa, Maria Anna Christina, and Queen Maria of Castille, or the five different French queens names Marie) and the kings all seem to be either Louis, George, or James I was frustrated more than once. A simple timeline would have been very useful as an appendix. While poorly organized, it was still enlightening.

I was surprised at how much political power the mistress used to possess. They were recognized in court with official titles and regularly performed such duties as welcoming ambassadors— in addition to the obvious duties of course! A far cry from today where a mistress can end a political career. France and England in the 1500’s and 1600’s account for most of the ladies discussed; the only modern mistresses mentioned were Wallis Simpson and Camilla Parker-Bowles. While these modern mistresses provide a sharp contrast between the duties and attitudes of our century and the ones of long ago, there unfortunately wasn’t any explanation of how the shift came about.

A lot of interesting anecdotes, but this book is in desperate need of an editor.

First Sentence:
We picture the royal mistress as, first and foremost, a sexual creature.

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