Sex With Kings by Eleanor Herman was published eight years ago. I received a copy as a gift from a friend last year, and finally got around to reading it last week. Here’s my better-late-than-never review.
This is a gossipy look at European royal mistresses. Like most gossip, it’s full of surprises and juicy details. Instead of presenting biographies of various royal mistresses, it jumps around in time, each chapter covering a different topic, such as The Mistress and the Queen, The Mistress’s Husband, and The Wages of Sin.
The author dwells on the mistresses of Britain’s Charles II and France’s Louis XIV and Louis XV, but squeezes in many others, including the scandalous Lola Montez, mistress of Ludwig I of Bavaria, and the controversial Camilla Parker Bowles, mistress of — well, you know who.
Of course, the problem with gossip is that facts can get twisted along the way. I spotted some examples of this in the book (for instance, the writer refers to British king George I’s half-sister as his mistress; according to historian Lucy Worsley’s book The Courtiers there is no evidence to back up that rumor). But facts aren’t the point of gossip. The point is to tell a good story, and there are some amazing stories here.
My favorite is the story of Don Antonio de Medici, "the son — and yet not the son — of Archduke Francesco de Medici of Tuscany and his mistress, Bianca Cappello." Long story short, Bianca passed someone else’s baby off as her own, and when her duped royal lover found out that “their” son wasn’t actually related to either of them, he still tried to make the child heir to his throne.
Is this story true? I don’t know, and Wikipedia isn’t much help, but you can read the rest of the story — true or not — in Sex With Kings. Despite the seemingly trashy topic, it isn’t a trashy book (although it is racy). It’s written with verve and imagination by an author who obviously enjoyed her topic. If you like gossipy royal history, you’ll enjoy this book, too.