Insatiable kings. Lecherous queens. Kissing Cousins. Wanton consorts.
Welcome to nearly 1,000 years of Naughty Behavior.
Sex and power have always gone hand in glove, and monarchs have been merry throughout history. Nothing can bring down a government-not even high treason-like a good sex scandal. Nowadays people yawn through newspaper accounts of civil warfare, economic downturns, even reports of appalling corporate greed. But give them a juicy sex scandal peppered with high and mighty protagonists, and it’s the first story readers turn to. We can never seem to get enough of them.
Throughout the centuries, royal affairs have engendered substantially more than salacious gossip. Often they have caused bloodshed. For example, Edward II’s homosexual affairs infuriated his barons and alienated his wife, Queen Isabella, who decided to have an extramarital affair of her own. The vicious cycle of adultery, murder, and betrayal resulted in the overthrow of the monarchy, the king’s imprisonment, and quite possibly, his assassination.
The unholy trinity of sex and politics is incomplete without religion. And a study of the extramarital affairs of Great Britain’s royals also ends up chronicling the journey of the realm’s religious history. Henry VIII’s passion for Anne Boleyn culminated not only in their marriage but in a brand-new faith that created a lasting schism with the Church of Rome, and led to hundreds of years of strife and violence among Catholics, Protestants, and Puritans that would have a lasting impact on millions of lives.
And what of the mistresses? During the earlier, and more brutal, eras of British history, a woman didn’t have much (if any) choice if the king exercised his droit de seigneur and decided to take her to bed. Often, girls were little more than adolescents when their ambitious parents shoved them under the monarch’s nose. However, most of the mistresses in Royal Affairs were not innocent victims of a parent’s political agenda or a monarch’s rampaging lust. They were clever, accomplished, often ambitious women, not always in the first bloom of youth and not always baseborn, who cannily parlayed the only thing they had-their bodies-into extravagant wealth and notoriety, if not outright fame. In many cases, their royal bastards were ennobled by the king, making excellent marriages and living far better than their mothers could have otherwise provided. Eventually taking their place in the House of Lords, the mistresses’ illegitimate sons went on to become the decision makers who shaped an empire and spawned the richest and most powerful families in Britain.
Incongruous as it may sound, England’s trajectory from absolute to constitutional monarchy can be traced through the history of its sovereigns’ sex scandals. Rough justice and kangaroo courts once dispatched any dissenters from the royal agenda; when an absolute monarch who ruled by divine right shouted “Off with her head!” it tended to take care of matters.
As time went on, the power of the public, from Parliament to the press, steadily eroded the sovereign’s supremacy, until, by the mid-1930s, King Edward VIII, a constitutional monarch with limited input in the workings of the government, felt compelled to abdicate, believing that the tide of public opinion was against his love match. In fact, suppressed by the media, the very opposite attitude was true.
From Henry II’s blatant disregard of international treaties and alliances in favor of his young French mistress to Edward VIII’s abdication for the woman he loved; from Henry VIII beheading his adulterous wives on Tower Green to Charles and Diana discussing their extramarital infidelities on national television, the world has in fact come a long way. Or has it? In the history of royal scandals is writ the ever-evolving story of our own society.
In this delightful addition to the countless other books written about the British Royal Family, Carroll deftly constructs information chronologically by ruling dynasty, from the Angevins to the Windsors. As her previous experience writing historical fiction under the pseudonym Amanda Elyot attests, Carroll can ably research and distill facts and has a true talent for weaving fascinating narratives. Her entertaining writing style makes this one book you do not want to put down. Entertaining, impeccably researched, and extremely well written, it will appeal to all readers with an interest in British history as well as to those with a more specialized interest in the personal lives of the British royal family. Highly recommended.