I’ve had my eye on Sex with Kings for a while – I became a huge fan of history since the first week of Western Civ as a college freshman when I realized that history isn’t just tedium comprised of names and dates. History is a living thing, made up of people like you and me, just in different cultures, circumstances, and outfits. One of my all-time favorite history novels is A World Lit Only By Fire by William Manchester, who de-mythologizes the Renaissance and makes history into something fun and vibrant. And he goes into detail about all the orgies the popes had at the time, too.
Along that same line is Sex with Kings by Elanor Lipman. Here, the author goes into the royal bedroom and writes about the lives of royal mistresses across a broad range of European history. Since kings had that aura of divine right – up until around the time of the French Revolution, anyway – the taking of mistresses was considered a royal perk, a bit distasteful but necessary, something to be tolerated by the queen and for the court to snicker about behind her back. Lipman refers to official documents and diaries of the time, making it an exhaustively researched book instead of simple titillation. The stories of kings and courts of nonexistent nations does get a bit overwhelming at times, but Lipman goes beyond an encyclopedic listing of affairs and writes about the life of a mistress, what was expected of her, how queens and court reacted to them, what the mistresses’ husbands got out of the deal, and how the position of royal mistress – no pun intended – changed over time.
If you’re a fan of history, it’s fascinating stuff. And don’t worry, ladies, Lipman wrote a sequel chronicling the other side of the bedroom in Sex with the Queen.