Herman, Eleanor 1960-
HERMAN, Eleanor 1960-
PERSONAL: Born 1960, in Baltimore, MD; married. Education: Graduate of Towson State University.
ADDRESSES: Home—McLean, VA. Agent—c/o Author Mail, Morrow/HarperCollins, 10 E. 53rd St., New York, NY 10022.
Sex with Kings: Five Hundred Years of Adultery, Power, Rivalry, and Revenge, Morrow (New York, NY), 2004.
SIDELIGHTS: Eleanor Herman's Sex with Kings: Five Hundred Years of Adultery, Power, Rivalry, and Revenge is a history of the royal mistresses of Europe, primarily in England and France. Carol Peace Robins wrote in the New York Times Book Review, "Open Sex with Kings at almost any page and you'll find yourself immersed in a bawdy, deliciously appealing illicit scene occurring in the highest places."
Herman explains that mistresses were most often chosen as companions, women with whom their royal, who was often forced to marry another, not necessarily attractive royal, enjoyed spending time. These royal mistresses provided more than sex. Uncomplaining, they catered to every whim, and many had considerable power, as well as the rewards of income, titles, jewels, palaces, and pensions, all of which they kept if they were replaced by a younger woman. Madame de Pompadour, who was known to be frigid, acted as Louis XV's unofficial spokesperson, making appointments, choosing generals, and dispensing titles. She was respected and respectful. She developed the arts, built up a fortune, and contributed her jewels to the war effort. She befriended Queen Marie, a Polish princess chosen for Louis because her family was known for its fertility. De Pompadour died after serving the king for nineteen years, and after giving birth to many stillborn heirs and losing her only child.
One of the less admirable mistresses included in the book is the promiscuous Lady Castlemaine, who threatened to bash in the head of one of Charles II's illegitimate children in his view. She also charged a wealthy nobleman a fortune to "go where the king had been" and then sent another woman into the darkened room to complete the bargain. More evil was Louis XIV's mistress, Athenais de Montespan, who slit the throats of babies as part of black magic rituals. Some of the royal mistresses had husbands who were more than willing to ignore the situation and reap the rewards. While most of the queens, knowing mistresses could never replace them, looked the other way, some took drastic measures, like Eleanor of Aquitaine, who had her rival killed. On the other hand, George II loved his wife, but kept a mistress to preserve his reputation.
Among the more modern couplings Herman includes is that of Great Britain's Edward VIII, the duke of Windsor, who abdicated the throne for commoner Wallis Simpson because, Herman writes, the immature Edward never wanted to rule. She also follows Prince Charles's thirty-five-year affair with Camilla Parker-Bowles, who he finally married years after the death of his first wife, Diana, Princess of Wales. She notes that Charles's great-great-grandfather, King Edward VII, had an affair with Camilla's great-grandmother, Alice Keppel, a fact Camilla used to introduce herself to Charles.
Bruce Emond noted in the Jakarta Post that Herman "obviously relishes her subject … and she liberally and entertainingly spins the juicy tales of rivalries and sexual peccadilloes," while Booklist reviewer Brad Hooper described Sex with Kings as "history made as buoyant as fiction." A Kirkus Reviews contributor called the book "scholarly and entertaining, written with a keen eye for the politics, but never forsaking the pleasures."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Booklist, June 1, 2004, Brad Hooper, review of Sex with Kings: Five Hundred Years of Adultery, Power, Rivalry, and Revenge, p. 1676.
Boston Globe, September 19, 2004, Caroline Leavitt, review of Sex with Kings, p. D8.
Entertainment Weekly, July 16, 2004, Karyn L. Barr, review of Sex with Kings, p. 81.
Jakarta Post, January 30, 2005, Bruce Emond, review of Sex with Kings.
Kirkus Reviews, May 15, 2004, review of Sex with Kings, p. 483.
New York Times Book Review, August 1, 2004, Carol Peace Robins, review of Sex with Kings, p. 12.
Publishers Weekly, July 12, 2004, review of Sex with Kings, p. 59.
Washington Post Book World, July 1, 2004, Jonathan Yardley, review of Sex with Kings.
Eleanor Herman Home Page, http://www.sexwithkings.com (March 18, 2005).