Sex with the Queen: 900 Years of Vile Kings, Virile Lovers, and Passionate Politics

by Eleanor Herman

Hardcover, 2006

Call number

306.73 HER



William Morrow (2006), Edition: 1st, 336 pages


In this follow-up to her bestselling Sex with Kings, Eleanor Herman reveals the truth about what goes on behind the closed door of a queen's boudoir. Impeccably researched, filled with page-turning romance, passion, and scandal, Sex with the Queen explores the scintillating sexual lives of some of our most beloved and infamous female rulers. She was the queen, living in an opulent palace, wearing lavish gowns and dazzling jewels. She was envied, admired, and revered. She was also miserable, having been forced to marry a foreign prince sight unseen, a royal ogre who was sadistic, foaming at the mouth, physically repulsive, mentally incompetent, or sexually impotent--and in some cases all of the above. How did queens find happiness? In courts bristling with testosterone--swashbuckling generals, polished courtiers, and virile cardinals--many royal women had love affairs. Anne Boleyn flirted with courtiers; Catherine Howard slept with one. Henry VIII had both of them beheaded. Catherine the Great had her idiot husband murdered, and ruled the Russian empire with a long list of sexy young favorites. Marie Antoinette fell in love with the handsome Swedish count Axel Fersen, who tried valiantly to rescue her from the guillotine. Empress Alexandra of Russia found emotional solace in the mad monk Rasputin. Her behavior was the spark that set off the firestorm of the Russian revolution. Princess Diana gave up her palace bodyguard to enjoy countless love affairs, which tragically led to her early death. When a queen became sick to death of her husband and took a lover, anything could happen--from disgrace and death to political victory. Some kings imprisoned erring wives for life; other monarchs obligingly named the queen's lover prime minister. The crucial factor deciding the fate of an unfaithful queen was the love affair's implications in terms of power, money, and factional rivalry. At European courts, it was the politics--not the sex--that caused a royal woman's tragedy--or her ultimate triumph.… (more)

User reviews

LibraryThing member JenneB
I get the feeling that the author wanted this to be sort of dishy and titillating, but the truth is that most of the queens had incredibly sad and depressing lives, and it's hard to make that sound fun.

Still, it was pretty fascinating. Catherine the Great was awesome, and the thing about the horse is totally not true.… (more)
LibraryThing member hlselz
Herman's second book about the royal love affairs in Europe and Russia was much better then the first. An amazing collection of letters, quotes, and historical evidence show the infidelty of past queens.
LibraryThing member TeachArt1
Eleanor Herman's non-fiction book "Sex With the Queen" covers roughly 900 years of sexual escapades and adultery by queens and princesses. I had always known that kings had many adulterous liaisons, but I had assumed that queens had little opportunity to be anything but faithful to their husbands.

Although many ordinary people envied royalty's beautiful attire, rich surroundings and fabulous jewels, the fact is that queens had little freedom and led lonely, boring lives. They lived in foreign countries, far from their native languages and customs, and in most cases never saw family and friends for the rest of their lives. Servants did their work and took care of their children, leaving the queens to do little but embroider all day.

In order to avoid inbreeding and create international liaisons, princes and princesses where betrothed to royalty from other countries, often sight unseen. In some cases, the kings or princes were fat, ugly, uncouth, unfaithful, insane, gay, cold, or even impotent.

Frustrated women turned to other men for affection with varying results. Some queens were beheaded, imprisoned, exiled, or sent to convents, and some were tolerated and a few queens even thrived despite their illicit behaviors.

Many of the stories are quite funny, like the unfortunate woman who married an impotent king who was so fat that he had his servants roll him through his palace's corridors and insisted that priests say mass in his bedroom but were not allowed to awaken him. Many stories had tragic endings. But whatever the outcomes, the queens' stories made fascinating reading.

The first two chapters of this book give examples of so many kings and queens, some of whom I had never heard of, that my head was spinning. But starting with chapter three, Herman goes into depth about the love affairs of the wives of Henry VIII, as well as Catherine the Great, and many other queens, up to and including Princess Diana of England who was so desperate for love that her life was vastly more pathetic than I ever imagined.

If your prurient interests may be aroused by the funny, sad, uplifting and tragic tales of historical women who desperately sought love and sex despite potential consequences, I highly recommend this well-researched and very readable book.
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LibraryThing member shojo_a
My lil' sis gave me this one. It's basically about various queens love affairs. The chapter on Marie Antoinette and Fersen, which was sufficiently romantic for my sensibilities, having been raised on BeruBara.

I have learned though, that while it may have been good to be the King (and even that's really debatable: The last King I read about was pretty much tortured into insanity by his tutors in their attempts to make him a 'real man') it was not good to be the Queen. Married off in your early teens to a man who was often cruel, insane or at best neglectful, without any friends, the slave to the whims of your husband and a pawn to political factions? And if you did find love with a handsome courtier, you and he could be exiled, tortured or executed? No thank you.… (more)
LibraryThing member ghneumann
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.
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LibraryThing member bookwormteri
A fascinating look at a woman's role throughout history as royalty. Women were treated as political pawns and often married to horrible men that cheated on them as well. Queens took pleasure where they could and it often cost them everything. Absolutely fascinating.
LibraryThing member claudiabowman
A fun read about queens, their affairs, and their consequences. More fun than Sex with Kings.
LibraryThing member delirium
This book provides an interesting hook to tell 900 years of European aristocratic history. Adultery with queens was far more sensational than the routine indiscretions of kings. It came in several different forms, from powerful ruling queens who openly took several lovers at a time to consorts who were beheaded for one (falsified) indiscretion. Over all, a worthy peek into a side of history that you don't often learn in high school. Eleanor Herman has a knack for catchy and imaginative depictions, though I was a little disappointed that all of the affairs covered were heterosexual.… (more)
LibraryThing member risadabomb
I enjoyed this book. The only reason I gave it four stars is because I was not sure how accurate her facts were.
LibraryThing member Meggo
Having read Herman's Sex with the King, I had high hopes for this book. In reality, it was a disappointingly voyeuristic look at the extra-marital affairs of queens regnant. Since the king was a personage who wielded power and authority, those having affairs with the king were in a position to influence. People having sex with the queen only had power and authority only if the king allowed it, or if the queen ruled in her own right and permitted it, like Catherine the Great. The vast majority of queens fell into the "powerless" group, rather than the "powerful" group, and as a result, the book quickly became tedious. A disappointment, except for the section on Catherine the Great, which was titillating.… (more)
LibraryThing member MarmotandWombat
Companion to Sex with Kings, Sex with the Queen examines the other side of the royal marriage bed. This work has a tighter structure than Sex with Kings and benefits from that over the earlier work. It is a very good overview of how the Queen, often ignored, frequently stuck with a husband of no great distinction (aside from a crown), made due and met her own needs, and sometimes paid the price.… (more)
LibraryThing member meggyweg
A history of European queens and their lovers, this is a very worthy companion to Herman's other book, Sex with Kings, a history of European kings and their mistresses. It was engagingly written, well-researched and full of titillating details. Even people who normally don't go for history will enjoy this. I highly recommend!
LibraryThing member Kellswitch
I enjoyed this book but it wasn't as enjoyable as Sex With Kings.

I'm sure it has much to do with how tragic and depressing many of the stories are, as well as the hypocrisy in regards to infidelity on the part of the Queen vs. the King.
After awhile it just started to wear me down to read one depressing story after another and she seemed to dwell a lot on the really tragic ones and give the happier or less so less time.

I can't really tell how accurate her stories are, but she gives enough detail to make the stories engaging and interesting, to make the people talked about come alive and seem real.
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LibraryThing member booksandwine
This book was more well-written than Sex With Kings. Hermann structures the book in chronological order with various anecdotes of different countries. I felt the queens were much more interesting than the kings. These women had to put up with incompotent, unloving men. Catherine The Great, was perhaps the most interesting, as she lead one of the most powerful nations and was, the most in touch with her sexuality out of all of the women described in the book. I wish Herman had spent more time on Eleanor of Acquitane, because she's awesome to read about. This woman was married to the king of France and mistress to the king of England, oh and she had Richard the Lionhearted and King John as children. She's awesome. I thought it was intersting that Herman decided to conclude the book with anecdotes on Princess Di Spencer. I didn't really know much about her, but I found it fascinating the amount of lovers she had. It was nice that Herman didn't paint her as a saint, but as a regular woman with passions, stuck in a loveless marriage. I would definately recommend this book to anyone with an interest in the royals, or a passing interest in sex.… (more)
LibraryThing member arthistorychick
This is a fascinating book that I read in pieces.
LibraryThing member knightlight777
A good read. As some others had expressed lots of difficult lives in these profiles. Just conditions of living were tough. But the dreariness that a lot of these women were placed under was really pitiable. My biggest surprise was the last on Princess Di and how she had such number of lovers as she parted from Charles. Also how Dodi did not seem to mean much in her life.… (more)
LibraryThing member satyridae
Silly, salacious and about as meaningful as People Magazine, this book is compulsively readable. It's well-written, engaging and pruriently interesting. It appeals to all of the same trash receptors in one's brain that fuel the National Enquirer, Star and the other weekly mags featuring vapid celebrities. The big difference is that the vapid celebrities in the book are royal and dead. A fun read nonetheless.
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LibraryThing member setnahkt
Eleanor Herman has followed up her successful Sex with Kings by covering the other half of royal adultery with Sex with the Queen. Although still amusing, it’s not quite as good as the first book; perhaps it was a little rushed or perhaps there’s just not as much information available about royal lovers as there is about royal mistresses. Herman abandons the categories of the first book to go with a more conventional chronological order here, but her emphasis is still feminist; the difficult life of a royal mistress in the first book is paralleled by the notion that being queen is not all it’s cracked up to be. Princess Sophia Dorothea of Hannover was imprisoned until her death after she was caught trying to flee with her lover, Count Philip von Köningsmark (Köningsmark was killed and buried in quicklime under the palace floor). Matilda of Denmark’s lover Count Struensee had his hand chopped off (because he had presumed to touch the queen) before being drawn and quartered. Queen Caroline of England and her husband George IV hated each other so much that when George was told that his worst enemy was dead, he gloated “Is she, by God!” only to be disappointed when he discovered the messenger was referring to Napoleon.

Women who were Queen in their own right did somewhat better than adulterous royal consorts. Tsarina Elizabeth of Russia had four admitted lovers at a time, and her successor Catherine the Great (after Catherine’s annoying husband Peter III was strangled by her lover Gregory Orlov) had a whole stable of them.

Herman finishes the book with a tabloidesque discussion of the affairs of Princess Diana. I can’t quite get a feel for what Herman actually thinks about Diana; she reports every rumor of Diana’s affairs (including the one that Prince Harry is actually the son of James Hewitt) but also expresses some grudging admiration for someone who she believes stood up to the British establishment. Diana does come across as moderately wacko, but I might end up that way too if reporters followed me around trying to acquire my used tissues so they could get DNA samples out of it.

This book has much more prurient language that Sex with Kings, although most of the nastiness is direct quotes from original sources. Rumor has it that Herman’s next book will be about sex with Popes, which ought to complete the series. Lightweight reading, with some interesting history thrown in.
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LibraryThing member lemuralley
Decent overview of the love lives of European queens over the centuries. Occasionally reads like an old, bad romance novel, but that's easily overlooked. This is probably a good starting point for someone looking to delve into female political history.
LibraryThing member birthsister
An enjoyable read if you're willing to forgive a fair amount of historical inaccuracy and flagrant manipulation of the facts. I can't tell if she should be accused of shoddy research or bending history to fit her narrative, but this book should be taken with a grain of salt either way. If you're genuinely interested in learning about any of these queens, do your own research and don't rely on her two dimensional representation of these women.… (more)
LibraryThing member bowiephile
Eleanor Herman's latest proves that being a Queen is more than just swanning about in amazing gowns with a tiara on your head before adoring crowds. Being a queen or royal consort usually meant marrying for power (sometimes to a close family member-hello Haspburg dynasty!), horrid in-laws (for example, the Electress Sophia, mother of the future King George I of Great Britain), fighting with your husband's mistress (such as Madame Pompadour) , being a political scapegoat (Czarina Alexandra; Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall; Wallis, the Duchess of Windsor) and having to ensure the royal bloodline above all else to gain even a little respect from the Court (Catherine the Great of Russia; Marie Antoinette). Read this along with Ms. Herman's "Sex with Kings" and Karl Shaw "Royal Babylon" for even more eye opening royal truths.… (more)




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