Sex with the Kings by Eleanor Herman offered an interesting combination of humor, scandal, and historical facts. I didn't expect this book to be as interesting as it was. True I bought this book through a friend's recommendation and also because of the tittle of the book, I still suspected the book to be dull. However quite the opposite happened.
First I want to state that Ms. Herman's writing proved to be quite entertaining itself, filled with humor and sarcasm that had me laughing out loud as I read the book. Here I want to give some of the quotes that made me laugh:
"Lillie related that one day the prince said to her. 'I've spent enough on you to buy a battleship'. To which she tartly replied. 'And you've spent enough in me to float one" (pg26). Needless to say that the meaning behind Lillie's comment is not lost to the King or the Reader. Its my opinion that Lillie (one of the mistresses of Edward VII) spoke the opinion of many, if not all the mistresses of France and Europe. Meaning that even though the King's spent millions of dollars on their mistresses these gifts were not given freely nor wore they received freely.
It is my opinion that the life of the French or English mistress is not a lifestyle that I envy nor want apart in. Though given the fact that I live in an entirely different world and time than these ancient rulers, monarchs, and laws my opinion is squed by current social ideals, or should i say ideals of America in general. I'm sure that if I lived during those times I too would have vied for the affections of the King and sought to be a royal Mistress. Rather than envy these women I pity them for they were forced not only to deal with the whims of the King and court but also other women, often those within the family or close friends who sought to take the tittle as royal mistress from a sister or close friend. These women lived in a constant state of awareness, constantly caught up in a web of lies and deceit. Often back stabbed by the women they thought closest to them. Needless to say the battlefields of war were safer than the battle that came with the tittle of royal mistress.
Though competition between women were fierce and brutal the constant need to please the king was (in my opinion) even more brutal. Because unlike the position of the Queen the position of the mistress can be easily taken away and she placed in exile. At the whims of the king she can be stripped of all her jewels, valuables, and even her own life if she displeases the king to that point. The pressures put on the royal mistress makes me wonder why anyone with any good common sense would want to be mistress to the king. Sure the payment it unbelievable but so is the pain that one has to endure as mistress. For instance often most mistresses were in love with their kings, and always feared that a younger more beautiful woman would come and take his attention away from her. In order to prevent this the mistresses would either spread rumors about the other woman, or amplify her beauty with even more jewels. Mistresses were expected to appear beautiful in over priced dresses, gaudy jewels, with a smile on their face no matter what. They were never to appear hurt, upset, or sick (except for minor fever) in the presence of the king. Since the king came and went as he pleased the Mistress had to constantly appear happy and ready for the king since she never knew for certain if and when the king would appear. Such is the case with the mistress of Louis XV, named Madam de Pompadour who suffered from a sickness that made it hard for her to sexually please the king and made her terribly ill with bad coughs and other pains. However the king either because he was never mad fully aware of this or because he simply did not care would still order his Mistresses appearance. As the mistresses Madame Pompadour would have to put on heavy make up to hide her dark circled eyes and hide her pain as she entertained the king. She was expected to do whatever the king asked whenever he asked it no matter the pain it would cost that self. Once again I must say that this is not a position to be envied to me. To pretend I am not in pain, or ignore my illness because the king doesn't want to eat alone, or wants to have sex is something that I could not simply do. But then again these a positions that these women at the time knew about and understood the roles and the consequences of becoming a royal mistress.
Even though most mistresses were toys to the king, some even loved, there were those mistresses who used the position to elevate their own positions and gain money for themselves and their bastard children sired by the king. These women were motivated by their greed however cannot find it in myself to find them at fault (not all of them anyway) for their actions. If was a necessity to have or try to save money for ones self because the tittle of royal mistress was a temporary tittle that often changed hands easily.
However even though these women called themselves using the king they were in a sense still pawns for the kings desires because he still possessed the power to strip her of all her possessions. Mistresses were nothing but toys to be used by kings and was justified by the court.
"On one occasion the dauphin invited a pretty young actress to visit him in his rooms at Versailles. She arrived with an older, unattractive female companion. Informed that the actress had arrived, the dauphin opened the door to the antechamber, grabbed the woman closest to him- which happened to the the ugly older woman-and pulled her into his room. When his friend and procurer Monsieur Du Mont found the sexy actress waiting in the antechamber, highly amused at the mistake, he banged on the dauphin's door, crying, 'That's not the one you want! You've taken the wrong one!' The door opened, and the dauphin shoved the ugly one out. 'Wait, here she is!' said Du Mont, pushing the pretty one toward him. 'No, the business is done' the dauphin said 'She will have to await another occasion" (pg27). This is one quote that I found captured the ideas of all the men of that time.
For the most part the kings were pigs and childish boys who wanted everything their way and threw tantrums when they couldn't get their way (with their mistresses that is). Their only concern was their own appearance (such is the case with all monarchs) and sexual pleasures. For instance, though I find it laughable that it was required that the royal mistress be faithful to the king (who already has a wife), the king could sleep with whomever he so called pleased and both the queen and the mistress would have to turn a blind eye to his actions. However there was one king who truly loved his queen and rebelled at the notion of a royal Mistress and though he was forced to take one (supposedly) he never touched her and stayed with his Queen. this type of king was rare indeed for all the others not only slept with their mistresses but any other woman who caught their fancy. Like spoiled children these so called kings when they tried with one mistress disposed of her and gained another. And if it was found out that a mistress had slept with another man she was stripped of her tittle and branded a whore...she goes from a glorified whore to just a common whore. While the kings continued with what they were doing. These so called kings often neglected their wives for pleasure with the mistress. However I guess a king would cheat if he was tricked into a loveless marriage. Yet and still I don't believe that this condones his behavior towards the women within his life.
Though not nearly as examined in the book as the mistresses the few bits of information seen about the Queens portrayed them as ugly, hagged women that constantly nagged and complained. Though I am quite sure not all Queens were like that thus Ms. Herman's second book Sex With the Queens which explores the sex lives of the Queen's of France and Europe (assuming by the name)
Whether or not you were a king, queen, mistress, or chamber maid it is safe to say that being alive during those times were treacherous and dangerous, no different from now really. That the world both past and present is a vein place that values outside beauty and the whims of men rule above all. What is to be said when you live in a society that puts more value on being a mistress than the Queen?
Would I recommend to a friend? Yes, I would