Royal Pains

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Published by: NAL
Release Date: March 1, 2011
Pages: 416
ISBN13: 978-0451232212



The author of Notorious Royal Marriages presents some of history’s boldest, baddest, and bawdiest royals.

The bad seeds on the family trees of the most powerful royal houses of Europe often became the most rotten of apples: über-violent autocrats Vlad the Impaler and Ivan the Terrible literally reigned in blood. Lettice Knollys strove to mimic the appearance of her cousin Elizabeth I and even stole her man. And Pauline Bonaparte scandalized her brother Napoleon by having a golden goblet fashioned in the shape of her breast.

Chock-full of shocking scenes, titillating tales, and wildly wicked nobles, Royal Painsis a rollicking compendium of the most infamous, capricious, and insatiable bluebloods of Europe.


Having written two books about royal relationships-the extramarital (Royal Affairs: A Lusty Romp Through the Extramarital Adventures That Rocked the British Monarchy) and the marital (Notorious Royal Marriages: A Juicy Journey Through Nine Centuries of Dynasty, Destiny, and Desire)—I decided it would be fun to shake things up a bit and move in a different direction for the third book.

There’s never any shortage of royals behaving badly, and sibling rivalry, particularly in royal families, is also both evergreen and omnipresent. So I decided to play with those themes. And I interpreted the phrase “royal pain” broadly enough to allow some leeway to include a number of colorful characters. Sprinkled among a crop of genuine baddies, serial psychopaths with troubled childhoods such as Vlad III (also known as Vlad the Impaler and Vlad Dracula), Ivan the Terrible, and the Hungarian countess Erzsébet Báthory (Was there something in the water in central and Eastern Europe and Russia?), are the royals who were pains in the butt to their relations and sovereigns, such as Lettice Knollys and Pauline Bonaparte, and the royals whose actions (or reputations, whether appropriately earned or completely invented by the press) utterly embarrassed their families as well as the monarchy (I’m looking at you, Archduke Rudolf, Prince Albert Victor, and Princess Margaret, Countess of Snowdon).

I didn’t list them all here, and there are many more Pains who didn’t make the table of contents, leaving the door open for Pains Redux. Human nature + noblesse oblige= invariably bad behavior, whether it’s media-anointed American royalty like Charlie Sheen, Lindsay Lohan, and Michael Vick, or those people with yummy accents who live far away and wear crowns and ermine on special occasions and have thrones and coats of arms that they inherited, rather than purchased on e-bay. I’m always amazed that the rest of us continue to eat it up (the bad behavior), even as we tut-tut and shake our heads and claim to refuse to excuse it. That in itself fascinated me enough to write Royal Pains.


According to an anonymous source addressing the subject of a major mid-eighteenth-century scandal, a royal’s conduct was “a matter of national as well as private concern, such a dangerous influence do they derive from their titular and elevated station.” In other words, the members of a royal family had a duty to both crown and country to behave themselves.

Dereliction of that duty is what this book is all about.

When I selected the subjects for this volume, I had no single overarching definition of “royal pain,” other than classifying them according to the broad characterizations delineated in the subtitle. But as the chapters took shape, it became clear that each royal pain had his or her own standard for inclusion.

Contained within these pages are profiles of a number of brats, brutes, and bad seeds, whether they were the monarchs’ brothers, sisters, cousins, or offspring (and sometimes the rulers themselves). They represent a panoply of vibrant characters whose rotten behavior scandalized the kingdom in their own day. Their actions earned them a lasting reputation in the pantheon of rotten royals, and shaped the course of history within their respective realms.

Some members of the cast, such as Ivan the Terrible, Vlad Dracula, and Richard III, merit inclusion because they rank near the top of a proverbial “A-List” of regal evildoers, responsible for the assassinations of members of their own families, or for the deaths of thousands of their own subjects. Other royal pains in this volume, like the Duke of Cumberland and Pauline Bonaparte, embarrassed their reigning relatives and, by extension, the crown and kingdom, with their numerous ill-advised and publicly conducted “sexcapades.”

And whenever and wherever there was a free press, some of these royal pains made newspaper headlines, victims of their own celebrity. Whether openly or obliquely, their misbehavior ended up splattered across the front page.

Deprived of the opportunity to do anything substantive well into adulthood, the last three royals chronologically profiled here-Rudolph, Eddy, and Margaret-became lost souls. The exercise of their oversize sense of noblesse oblige led to ill-conceived associations and churlish behavior, exposing not only themselves but the entire royal family in an unflattering light.

The gothically gruesome pact that Crown Prince Rudolf of Austria made with his teenage lover Mary Vetsera very likely evolved into a murder/suicide that became the focus of an international cover-up. During his brief lifetime, the shy Prince Eddy was internationally believed to be not only lazy and stupid, but an active player in London’s dicey homosexual subculture. Sexy and flamboyant Princess Margaret, caught smoking a cigarette in a nightclub, became a royal cause célèbre. And her star-crossed romance with a divorced courtier put the crown itself in the hot seat, accused in 72-point type of rampant hypocrisy.

Occasionally, the sovereigns themselves were bad news, real bastards-in the unofficial sense of the word, and brutes par excellence. They ruled their realms with iron fists-and saw no need to glove them in illusory velvet. They thought nothing of torturing their own subjects; even the most loyal adherents might find themselves at the wrong end of a sharp object if their sovereign perceived that they had crossed him.

In this volume, jealousies, lusts, and betrayals are played out on the world stage, pitting relations against one another for the highest possible stakes; it’s sibling rivalry and combative cousins on metaphorical steroids. You may never look at your own family the same way again.