The king was "struck with consternation when he was shown the Queen" and had never been "so much dismayed in his life as to see a lady so far unlike what had been represented.
I promise you I see no such thing as hath been shown me of her, by pictures and report. I am ashamed that men have praised her as they have done -- and I love her not! Try as he might, the king could not extricate himself from the marriage to his "Flanders mare," as he dubbed Anne. The duchy of Cleves would be offended if Henry returned the goods. Two days before the wedding, Henry grumbled, "If it were not that she had come so far into my realm, and the great preparations and state that my people have made for her, and for fear of making a ruffle in the world and of driving her brother into the arms of the Emperor and the French King, I would not now marry her.
But now it is too far gone, wherefore I am sorry. Henry went to his wedding with less grace than many of his victims had gone to their executions. On the way to the chapel, he opined to his counselors, "My lords, if it were not to satisfy the world and my realm, I would not do what I must do this day for any earthly thing. The wedding night was a fiasco.
The morning after, when Lord Thomas Cromwell, who had arranged the wedding, nervously asked Henry how he had enjoyed his bride, the king thundered, "Surely, my lord, I liked her before not well, but now I like her much worse! She is nothing fair, and have very evil smells about her. I took her to be no maid by reason of the looseness of her breasts and other tokens, which, when I felt them, strake me so to the heart, that I had neither will nor courage to prove the rest.
I can have none appetite for displeasant airs. I have left her as good a maid as I found her. True to the double standard of the time, no one asked Anne what she thought of the king's appearance. Her royal bridegroom boasted a fifty-seven-inch waist and a festering ulcer on his leg. Anne was quickly divorced and glad to depart with her head still on her shoulders.
I did learn something; for example, that "royal mistress" could be an almost official position; and simply about a lot of people I'd not have heard of otherwise. Herman's strength is in pulling together variations on her general topic sexual scandal and intrigue embroiling kings to highlight certain themes and convey some general truths about long- ago times, all the while keeping her subjects human and accessible.
It was a fast and addictive read. But, except when I had some prior knowledge of the history and people being discussed, because of her overdramatic writing habits I never fully felt that I could trust in the truth of the stories told. They became something in between real history and fairy tale. On a somewhat more personal note, as a parent to young children, I found one story in the middle of the book extremely upsetting. I had to stop reading it for a while and, though I eventually finished, it ruined the light experience of the book for me and ensured I would never read it again.
I am pretty sensitive so that might just be my problem, but although the story was relevant to the book, I found the level of detail too dark and awful. In general Herman does not strike me as sympathetic to the often hapless children who resulted from both royal marriages and affairs, in contrast to the royals themselves whose thoughts and feelings she so frequently describes. But I'm giving it three and a half stars because there's definitely a place in my world for the light read, and it was good enough that I'm now reading the "sequel".
LibraryThing member LarsTheLibrarian. I picked up this book a few years ago because of an article in the magazine Mental Floss , and enjoyed it as a light and somewhat fluff read. I just reread it and remember that there are some large problems with it. The organization is really awful, the chapters pretend to be about large categories but are conversational and don't seem to be held together much.
The author skips from anecdotes about one mistress to anecdotes about a mistress from hundreds of years previously, in fact, all of the information about one woman can only be found by reading the wholebook. I personally would have prefered to read the whole section about each king at once, and it would have curbed the author's tendancy to call a mistress meek one sentance and describe her temper tantrums in another. The author also has a hard time seperating opinion from facts, of course a difficult problem when dealing with uncertain historical information, yet she deems Madame Pompadour as frigid, Wallis Simpson as a harpy, etc as if it were definite fact.
Lack of sex as one gets older and sicker does not necessarily make one frigid. The author paints only one side of many women, not the "woman's point of view" or "feminist retelling" the book flap promised. Still, I enjoyed it because it is the interesting, fun history. I learned quite a bit about history, I just wish it had been presented in such a fashion that I could remember who was who, and that the author left out her bias so I could trust it more.
LibraryThing member rampaginglibrarian. LibraryThing member setnahkt. OK, I just finished a book on evolutionary biology and a heavy biography of Christopher Wren. I get to have a little fun, alright? And this one is a little fun. It was good to be the King. Each chapter discusses a different aspect of being a royal mistress; qualifications for the job, how you presented your resume, benefits and perks, public relations, and the retirement program.
On the light side, we have Agnes Sorel turning up in the earliest surviving painting of a royal mistress. The mob burst into laughter and let her go. It's abundantly clear that the mistresses were almost always smarter than their royal companions. They had to be, it was clearly not all fun and games. Being the royal mistress was an official position in the prerevolutionary French court you got to attend cabinet meetings, which must have been a mixed blessing and because it was potentially extremely lucrative families competed to have their daughters selected for the job.
Some of the daughters were clearly not enthused about the idea. Dorothy Jordan, the actress-mistress of William IV, bore him ten children. All ten were ennobled by the King, but they and their father allowed their mother to die alone in poverty because she was now an embarrassment.
After light and heavy we get just plain strange; King Pedro of Portugal wanted to legitimize his children by long-time mistress Inez de Castro and petitioned the Pope accordingly. It must have been disconcerting for the nobility who were forced to kiss her hand. On a final note, the author really got into her research; she dressed in Baroque style for awhile just to see what it felt like she liked the jewelry and brocade gown but was less than enthused about the corset.
A picture of her so garbed in the endpapers is quite appealing. Really enjoyed the book.
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Excellent historical accounts that you wouldn't find in history books. The only thing I didn't like about it is the author mainly writes about a few mistresses, probably because they are so well-known.
It would be interesting to read about less famous ones as well, instead of returning to the same ones over and over again. But overall, a really good read. LibraryThing member ghneumann. At least in part, the implication is that royal men took mistresses not only because they wanted to, but to demonstrate to their courts that they were virile and vigorous.
An overactive sex drive was and to a certain extent, continues to be an expected trait in men, and the king was supposed to be the manliest man of all.
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But the services that a royal mistress was to provide went far beyond sex look no further than Madame de Pompadour, whose sexual relationship with King Louis XV ended long before her reign as royal mistress ended : she was to provide pleasant companionship to the King whenever he wanted it.
That meant being available at all times, never being snappy or rude although some mistresses were famous for quick tempers, most were not , never complaining of any inconvenience. They were rewarded with fancy rooms in the palace, titles, and estates, but those could be stripped when a new favorite was installed, so the smart ones got jewels and cash.
While the structure is fairly similar a topic, like the children of mistresses, is the focus of each chapter and various examples are highlighted to illustrate it , Sex With The Queen also took a deeper dive into a few stories, like Catherine the Great, and told them straight through. I think that approach was ultimately more successful than the one used in this book, which has a few women to whom it constantly returns Madame de Pompadour, Madame du Barry, Louise de Keroualle, Lady Castlemaine, and Lola Montez are particular favorites.
You don't really get a sense of the full scope of these women's lives as their stories get told piecemeal, and it can get confusing to try to keep them and all their details straight. I found myself having to flip back, try to remember which king they were attached to, who their rivals and predecessors were, what country and era they lived in. Along with the issues with the way in which the stories were told, Herman's fondness for cheesy physical description gets a little eye-roll-y at times. The women seem to uniformly have "cascading hair", "sparkling eyes", and a "dazzling complexion". I like that she's trying to make the mistresses and their lives and struggles feel contemporary and real instead of something out of a stuffy history book, but I think their stories are compelling enough without the gushy language.
That all being said, these are interesting stories and ones which we don't usually come across. Herman does a good job of shedding light on details we might not usually think about when it comes to how these women's lives actually played out behind the scenes, and this would be a great starter book if you're interested in this kind of thing, like I am, and want to get ideas about biographies you'd like to explore.
I'd heard of Madame de Pompadour before, and the information in this book was definitely enough to make me interested in reading more about her! LibraryThing member TheLoisLevel. Somehow seemed too much on the surface. Herman tells a lot of stories about various courtesans, but she never seems to put the phenomena in any sort of context. But maybe it's the nature of the beast. LibraryThing member jshillingford. Great romp through the many royal mistresses of Europe. The prose is easy to read, descriptive, and engaging.
The author did a lot of research on her subject and it shows. The secton on Madame du Pompadour was especially well done, as she "reigned" as a royal mistress until she was quite old, comparatively. My only gripe with this book and the reason for 4. A more chronological approach would've been smoother.
I look forward to reading the sequel, "Sex with the Queen. LibraryThing member Bodagirl. Excellent read. Herman focuses on the heyday of the royal mistress 17th and 18th centuries with some forays into more modern times. Tantalizing but not vulgar, she explores the everyday life and eventual fates of the world's most famous courtesans: Madame Pompadour, Nell Gwyn, Lady Castlemaine, and Lola Montez, to name a few. Well paced and well organized.
wp.davincisalute.com/the-young-forester-illustrated.php A definite must-read for quirky history readers. Sex with Kings is an extremely enjoyable book.
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It's chock full of juicy, gossipy tales of royalty behaving badly, making history a bit more interesting why don't we ever read these kinds of books in school? The writing is clear and engaging, the only flaw being the organization in the book. Instead of going chronologically, the book is written in sections which relate some aspect of a royal mistress' life her finances, her relationship with the queen, etc which makes the book a little choppy and difficult to follow.
With so many titles and French names it can be a little hard to tell who is who and who is sleeping with who, thus, this probably wouldn't make a very good reference book. But, for pure entertainment purposes it works like a dream.
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LibraryThing member MarmotandWombat. It is in-depth enough to bring in some obscure facts while not being a "heavy" academic work. LibraryThing member mrsholt. Exhaustively researched, sly, to-the-point prose, with a surprisingly sympathetic eye towards its subjects. LibraryThing member yougotamber. It's not THAT graphic but it does have a few parts not for the child's eye.
The story is so well written, you won't feel like you have been reading about history. The stories flow with astonishing information that will make you say "really? I highly recommend for ANY reader. You will enjoy this. LibraryThing member molliewatts. As the title suggests, this book is chock-full of amusing tales about some of history's most notable mistresses.
Since historical evidence of royal liasons is seriously lacking especially where the "other woman" is concerned , Herman has chosen to focus on the handful of mistresses for whom substantial historical records do exist, such as those of Charles II and the Louis XIV and XV. A very entertaining way to learn history, although one must always tread cautiously where historical facts mingle with anecdotal tales. I very much enjoyed this book and its successor, Sex with the Queen. The one thing I did not like about this book was its layout - chapters are divided into topics and subjects rather than people - the second book is divided chronologically by people and it is much easier to read and remember.
But, all in all this is a worthy read for historical romantics and it is quite interesting to learn about these women and how they kept or didn't keep their place as king's mistress - hint, it's not all about sex. LibraryThing member mchrzanowski. This was a fun and quick read. Some people may find it a little easier to follow if they take notes on who is who. The information was really interesting and entertaining. The only real negative aspect of the book for me was the way it was organized.
Otherwise, I found it to be quite delightful and worth buying from the store. LibraryThing member beadinggem. I enjoyed this book about the various royal mistresses in history. The author did not divide the book into separate biographies as is more usual.