Thursday, June 23, 2016

Book 30: Sex With The Queen


"If the queen followed the traditional pattern of bearing children, embroidering alter cloths, and interceding for the poor- pious duties that the Virgin Mary would have approved of- even if she took a lover she was usually left in peace. There was rarely reason to shoot down a political nonentity at court. But an intelligent ambitious woman who spoke her mind and built up a faction was always open to the accusation of adultery by her political rivals, whether the accusation was true or fabricated."

Dates read: March 12-14, 2016

Rating: 7/10

I don't know about you, but when I was a little girl, I wanted to be a princess when I grew up. There was the influence of Disney, but there was also the influence of Prince William (this was obviously before he grew up and started to look a lot more like his dad). From what you see on the outside, as a young girl, being a princess looks wonderful. You're rich, famous, and you get to wear a tiara. As a 13 year-old, I was pretty sure I'd found my future.

As it turns out, not so much. Also as it turns out, being royalty kind of sucks. There's plenty of speculation that Prince Harry's trouble in finding a steady girlfriend is (at least in some measure) the pressure of becoming a member of the royal family. As an adult, the idea of trading living under a microscope, with public interest in your private life extending not just to juicy stories, but to snooping on your phone and long-lens photography hoping to catch you taking off your top to tan more evenly, is a devil's bargain for getting to wear some pretty headgear once in a while.

But as much as there are significant downsides to being royalty today, it used to be much worse, especially for women. Author Eleanor Herman details the very real drawbacks being a princess or a queen. Royal women weren't people, they were bargaining chips in international diplomacy. They were married off to princes and kings who were old and fat, who were impotent, who were gay. They were expected to tolerate their husband's infidelity without doing anything that would cast doubt on the true parentage of their children. Those children were frequently unceremoniously confiscated from them and raised according to the wishes of others. Their lush castles were drafty and dirty, and their expensive physicians were as likely to kill them as help them. Their access to funding was usually controlled by other people and so they were slaves to the whims of those who held the purse strings. They were often deprived of the company of those to whom they could speak their native languages...their ladies-in-waiting from their home countries could be dismissed without their consent and seeing their family members required long, complex negotiations that fell through more often than not.

Some princesses and queens, though, didn't follow the rules. They took lovers at great risk to themselves...and even greater risks for the men in question. It is those women (and their men) who Herman's Sex with the Queen is about. After detailing how awful it actually was (and still is, on a certain level) to be a princess, Herman moves into the good stuff: dishy gossip. From the Tudor queens Anne Boleyn and Catherine Howard all the way to Princess Diana (it's not just English queens, there are stories from all over Europe), we're regaled with tales of forbidden passion and courtly intrigue. It covers the expected subjects (the aforementioned Tudor queens, Marie Antoinette, Catherine the Great) as well as some lesser-known stories, like that of Sophia Dorothea of Celle and Queen Maria Francisca of Portugal. There's not a lot of substance here, it's mostly well-written soap opera, but it's fun and frothy and easy to read.

Tell me, blog friends...would you want to be royalty?

Note: Review cross-posted at Cannonball Read

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