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Sex with Kings: 500 Years of Adultery, Power, Rivalry, and Revenge

3.69  ·  Rating details ·  6,336 ratings  ·  762 reviews
Throughout the centuries, royal mistresses have been worshiped, feared, envied, and reviled. They set the fashions, encouraged the arts, and, in some cases, ruled nations. Eleanor Herman's Sex with Kings takes us into the throne rooms and bedrooms of Europe's most powerful monarchs. Alive with flamboyant characters, outrageous humor, and stirring poignancy, this glittering ...more
Paperback, 304 pages
Published April 5th 2005 by William Morrow Paperbacks (first published 2004)
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Average rating 3.69  · 
Rating details
 ·  6,336 ratings  ·  762 reviews

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Sep 07, 2007 rated it really liked it
What I learned was that, back in the day, the fundamental order of operations, in terms of position went a little something like this:

mistress at her peak
bastard son of king
legit son of king
sack of shit
mistress at all other times
sack of shit on fire
Mar 09, 2008 rated it it was ok
Shelves: non-fiction, history
Although the topic was very interesting, the organization of this book completely killed it. Herman jumps around from one royal mistress to the next, and it became very difficult to follow who was who - I found myself flipping back to earlier chapters to see who she was talking about. I really wanted to enjoy this book, but I couldn't even finish it. With a good editor and some chronological organization, it has potential to be really interesting stuff. As it is, it's only poorly written, unorga ...more
Aug 17, 2008 rated it liked it
Shelves: history
I had mixed feelings about this book. On the plus side, it's a fascinating read, giving a perspective on history that we don't often get. It's also laugh out loud funny in a lot of places.

On the minus side, the author has a couple of quirks that I found slightly irritating. One is that she's constantly beginning sections of the book with passages like, "We imagine that the life of a royal mistress must have been glamorous, full of ..." Maybe it's just that I've read enough history to know bette
May 24, 2010 rated it did not like it
I could not finish this book; I read up to page 120 and then skipped to the last chapter (p. 237-255). The organization of the book did not work for me; my main issue were the author's point of view, founding assumptions, and 'values', which I found distasteful.

I thought the organization of this book was detrimental to its content. Each chapter was on a theme, one aspect of the king-mistress relationship; there were also subchapters for a more granular look at the theme. Because of t
Apr 09, 2010 rated it really liked it
New Review

Educational gossip!

Old Review

It is impossible not to like a book that has the line "many men were willing to lay down thier wives for their king".

Totally impossible.

At times funny, at times surprisingly sad, this is a good book. Herman writes about the mistresses withuot making them saints. She is sympathic to husband, wife, and the other woman and the other woman's husband. While the book focuses mostly on the French, there are some really funny an/>Old
Nov 15, 2007 rated it liked it
Shelves: nonfic
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 ...more
Cheeky Cher
Nov 07, 2015 rated it liked it
Shelves: nonfiction
3 stars - It was good.

Mistress Virginie di Castiglione once stated "The more I see of men, the more I love dogs." Reading about the history of men making befuddled fools of themselves in the name of lust makes it incredibly easy to agree with that statement.

This made for an entertaining, though also disheartening read about vacuous men and jealous wives throwing tantrums over their unworthy partners. It's amazing how 1000 years later, the more things change the more they stay the same.
OK, so I have to start by addressing a common complaint that I've heard about this book, which is that it only deals with, like, half a dozen mistresses, which, if that were true, hardly supports the theory that almost all European monarchs had mistresses. This is simply not true. Out of sheer perversity, I kept count, and there were more than seventy mistresses specifically named in this book. Most of them were either in England or France, but there were also some from Russia, Saxony, Austria, ...more
Oct 02, 2007 rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: fans of romantic and historical fiction, fans of royalty, nobility and scandal
Okay, well this is a saucy book. It certainly details most aspects of the mistress/queen/king dynamic. And being a royal mistress was good while it was good, but it was hardly a life to envy.

Yes, it was considered an honor to be chosen. It came with riches, power and a shot at (occasionally) being queen. It also came with venereal disease, bastard children, crushing poverty and a pit of vipers known as the royal court.

Mistresses were not always beautiful, or thing. Howeve
Dec 31, 2009 rated it liked it
Shelves: romantical, history, owned
The author of this book is much less like a historian than she is like a gossipy old grandma from a bygone stuck-in-its-ways-and-ideas generation, telling you tales by the fireside. She's judgmental, melodramatic, partial (she's got a huge crush on the French) and very silly... but also delightfully vicious, gleefully arch, and has some of the best stories ever. Approach the book with that image in mind, and you'll have a blast.

Full of as much sex, intrigue, backstabbing, catcalling,
Oct 25, 2009 rated it it was ok
This book was a disappointment overall. Herman takes a fascinating topic and reduces it to a gossipy, disorganized read, largely judging the women discussed based on their looks and weight. Though I certainly learned a lot of historical information from this book, it seemed to exaggerate and scandalize many events of history, as if listening to a jealous woman at court discuss these subjects rather than an objective contemporary "historian". At times, the author seemed downright catty in discuss ...more
Dec 02, 2011 rated it liked it
Shelves: history
This book was very lucky. I read it on the beach in Portugal on my honeymoon. I think under almost any other circumstances I would have lost patience with it much more quickly. As it was, I made it almost all the way through in good spirits, and only got impatient the last couple dozen pages.

I have shelved the book "history," but I'm not actually sure about that. It's really more "history lite" or some other nonsensical genre. She did do some research, but she focused on a handful of
Jessie  (Ageless Pages Reviews)

Engrossing, but somewhat chaotic execution. Still, this was a really interesting read for me.
Nov 04, 2011 rated it it was amazing
SEX. Did that get your attention? Ha.

I don't know about you, but I consider sex to be very interesting. Combining sex and history sounded like an intriguing read so when I saw Sex with Kings at my local used book store I just had to have it! I was completely engrossed in this book (which hasn't happened for a long time) so I would definitely recommend this book to others. I've noticed that a lot of people dislike Eleanor Herman's organizaton of the book, but it didn't bother me. Rath
This was so not-annoyingly written in terms of prose and clever selection of stories (more on that later) that I almost gave it four stars. Sadly, one glaring problem stuck out like a sore thumb: the author.

Getting real tired of your shit, Eleanor Herman.

Again, the prose in "Sex with Kings" is not at all bad. The selection of anecdotes and the manner in which they're presented is witty and most definitely worth a trip to the library. Yes: definitely pick this one up at th
Jennifer Johnson
May 25, 2009 rated it liked it
With a detailed look into the lives of royal mistresses, Eleanor Herman’s book really opens your eyes to the scandalous position. Not all about the sex, the role of royal mistress was demanding physically, sexually and intellectually. Not only did a mistress bear SCADS of royal bastards and have to constantly be ready and willing to please the king, she helped guide his politics, kept the king in control, worked tirelessly, (and often to her own detriment), on her appearance all for the chance t ...more
Rio (Lynne)
Jan 06, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is an interesting light read about some of the most infamous mistresses in history. From Madame de Montespan's witchery to Lady Castlemaine's historic control over Charles II. The author covers the how and why of how of these ladies came into the King's world, held their positions, fought for pensions, outwitted rivals and queens, birthed bastards and how after their meal tickets either moved on or passed away leaving these ladies to fight their enemies. She doesn't go deep, so if you aren' ...more
Aj Sterkel
Jan 25, 2017 rated it liked it
Shelves: nonfiction
Have you ever wondered what Game of Thrones would be like in real life? Well, this book might satisfy some of your curiosity.

The author, Eleanor Herman, guides the reader through 500 years of European history and tells the stories of Europe’s most powerful royal mistresses. The writing is lively and sometimes laugh-out-loud funny. The book includes passages from letters and diaries that were written during the time that the mistresses lived. Royal courtiers were snarky. I didn’t know if I should laugh o
Carrie Kellenberger
As my friend Jaclynn said when she loaned me this book, there's nothing quite like reading about ancient gossip. She was right. Sex with Kings takes the reader through five hundred years of Europe's most formidable and influential monarchs and their royal mistresses. These were the women that kings sought for themselves, rather than the foreign princesses they were forced to marry for the sake of their nation. In many cases, royal mistresses were treated better and received more money, clothing and j ...more
May 05, 2012 rated it really liked it
Recommended to Gina by: Lisa
Shelves: 2013
This was a pretty indulgent read, kind of like if Perez Hilton was a woman and a European historian/academic, and had a dry, British sense of humor (how's that for a recommendation?)

Let me start off by saying it doesn't get to graphic with the details, most of the intrigue has to do with the court gossip, the jealous queens, the power plays and the extent to which the royal mistress could influence politics. There are just as many Great Love stories here as there are affairs of a les
May 07, 2009 rated it liked it
If you like history and nonfiction, this is an entertaining read. It's not as graphic as the title might suggest, instead it explores the influence that mistresses have had on kings for centuries. You can read about one mistress at a time, jump to different chapters in the book (it's done by mistress) and not worry about leaving it for long periods of time and returning, since each chapter could stand alone. I think it does a decent job of telling the other side of the story, discussing what a m ...more

Sex with French Kings: 200 years of fighting to stay on top in the court of Versailles would have been a more accurate title, since most of the mistresses documented here are French between 1600 and 1800. There’s a fair amount of English mistresses along with some Polish, German and a few Russian ones, but France dominates.

The book is arranged by themes such as jewels, beauty, children, after-the-king, etc. which means Herman keeps covering the same group of mistresses, just at different point
This was amusing and well-researched - a good book for the bus, easy to dip in and out of. It was indeed gossipy and accessible.

But considering that this book is only 12 years old, it was remarkably dated, especially with regard to sexism. I'm not going act like this book could have been written without a frank discussion of women's beauty and how it affected their fates, but this book was at many points shockingly reductionist. I felt SO BAD for so many of these mostly-long-dead wom
Aug 22, 2010 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2004
This one was a lot of fun. "500 years of adultery, power, rivalry and revenge." From Henry VIII to Prince Charles, it's full of juicy tidbits about the Queens, Kings, their mistresses and life at court. The job of a royal mistress was about much more than beauty and sex--she was a confidant, advisor, and cheerleader. She made sure he was well-fed, comfortable and entertained, and gave him a respite from his responsibilities. From the 1400's to the late 1800's, being a royal mistress was a really ...more
Mar 07, 2009 rated it really liked it
Recommended to Kirsti by: Jen
Shelves: history, nonfiction
"The more I see of men, the more I love dogs." --Virginie di Castiglione, a mistress of Napoleon III

"Hark the herald angels sing / Mrs. Simpson stole our King!" --naughty British schoolchildren in 1936

Lively and well-researched account of the mistresses and wives of royalty. I thought this passage was especially interesting:

"It was generally accepted that bastards were more intelligent and better looking than legitimate children. The belief was that intercours
Jun 03, 2007 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A collection of all the history that got edited out of classroom textbooks because of adult content. Sex With Kings is combined biography of famous royal mistresses, from Madame de Pompadour to Camilla Parker-Bowles. They may have been sluts, but these women rocked, and they sound like a lot more fun than the monarchs they slept with.

My one quibble with this book, and the reason it doesn't get five stars: Anne Boleyn, one of my favorite historical figures EVER, is conspicously absent for almost
Mar 30, 2017 rated it it was ok
Shelves: non-fiction, sex
It wasn't tawdry enough to be good gossipy fun or academic enough to be educational. It skirted a wholly disappointing line between the two and was simultaneously too long while not giving me enough information.
Jan 09, 2012 rated it did not like it
I should have seen the warning signs. Right from the beginning I found myself making excuses for the author because I wanted to like this book so much. I have been on a Tutor kick lately, and was really excited to read some different history about monarchs and their scandals because it is oh-so-fun.

I excused the author for abrasive language, thinking that maybe she was writing this way to be funny. This mistress is just a silly whore and that one is duller than a box of spoons. It's a good
Oct 30, 2018 rated it really liked it
I found Sex with Kings an incredibly enjoyable read, although reading this book in public will probably lead to some eyebrows being raised (as did happen to me on a few occasions). :) Structurally, it is set up as a bunch of vignettes on royal mistresses, each chapter focussing on one particular topic. I understand that this may drive some readers a little crazy, particularly those who enjoy their history chronologically, but it did not really bother me. In fact, I feel it enhanced Herman's writ ...more
Eleanor Herman is definitely not the first place you go for 100% historical accuracy; but her books are a really good source of entertainment along with the basics. I liked "Sex with Kings", which details the lives of various royal mistresses to kings, precisely because it goes in-depth on the character of "the mistress".

We hear a lot about Kings because they were male and many times despotic and autocratic. We hear a decent amount about Queens because they were often considered important enoug
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New York Times best-seller Eleanor Herman's new non-fiction book, The Royal Art of Poison: Filthy Palaces, Fatal Cosmetics, Deadly Medicine, and Murder Most Foul, is set to come out in June 2018. Think royal palaces were beautiful places to live? Think again!

Herman offers a rare combination of skills for a historian – her research is intensely scholarly, yet she writes the story in a c
“When the destiny of a nation is in a woman’s bedroom, the best place for the historian is in the antechamber. — CHARLES-AUGUSTIN SAINTE-BEUVE” 2 likes
“Boring, religious, and intellectually limited, Marie Leczinska was called one of the two dullest queens in Europe by her own father, the other dull queen being his wife. Marie” 1 likes
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