Remember in Gone with the Wind there is a scene where a group of men hide out from the Yankees in Belle Watling’s brothel? Dear old Dr Meade is shocked that Mrs Meade wants to hear every naughty detail. That a respectable woman should be interested or even know what a brothel was! In discussions over the years with many of my friends, I conclude that ‘respectable’ women are fascinated by their fallen sisters and secretly believe that if they should ever take that path they would definitely be in the $10,000 a night class and Charlie Sheen, poor, dear boy, wouldn’t know what hit him!
Having read Sex with Kings: 500 Years of Adultery, Power, Rivalry, and Revenge I suspect that they are right. Eleanor Herman’s book is packed with tasty titbits and centuries-old gossip. For instance, according to Ms Herman, Madame de Pompadour, surely the most famous courtesan in history, absolutely hated sex. In fact sex with Louis was so distasteful that she encouraged him to patronise a private little brothel stocked with handpicked, disease-free, young prostitutes. Can you imagine the conversation? ‘No really darling I don’t mind a bit, not a bit. You just go and have a nice time and then when you’re quite finished, come to my room and we’ll have a cup of chocolate and discuss whether we should go to war with those nasty Prussians again.’
Like many royal mistresses, La Pompadour acted as an unofficial Prime Minister and Chancellor of the Exchequer. Whether she was worth the estimated $200,000,000 in today’s money that Louis lavished on her we cannot judge, but she didn’t live long to enjoy it. She died, worn out apparently, at 42.
There are so many funny, tragic, tender anecdotes in this book that a historical romance novelist could pick a plot from any one of its pages. I highly recommend it as a funny and ultimately useful reference for your bookshelves.