Cover image for The royal art of poison : fatal cosmetics, deadly medicine, filthy palaces, and murder most foul / Eleanor Herman.
The royal art of poison : fatal cosmetics, deadly medicine, filthy palaces, and murder most foul / Eleanor Herman.
First edition.
Publication Information:
New York : St. Martin's Press, [2018]
Physical Description:
286 pages, 16 unnumbered pages of plates : illustrations ; 24 cm
Introduction -- Poison, poison, everywhere -- Poison from the banquet table to the royal underpants -- Unicorn horns and rooster dung : poison detectors and antidotes -- Dying to be beautiful : dangerous cosmetics -- Murderous medicine : mercury enemas and rat turd elixirs -- Putrid palaces : a poisoned environment -- The poison chronicles : where rumors of royal poisoning meet scientific analysis -- Henry VII of Luxembourg, Holy Roman Emperor, 1275-1313 -- Cangrande della Scala, Italian warlord, 1291-1329 -- Agnes Sorel, mistress of King Charles VII of France, 1422-1450 -- Edward VI, king of England, 1537-1553 -- Jeanne d'Albret, Queen of Navarre, 1528-1572 -- Eric XIV, King of Sweden, 1533-1577 -- Ivan IV, the Terrible, Czar of Russia, 1530-1584; his mother, Elena Glinskaya, ca. 1510-1538; and his first wife, Anastasia Romanovna, 1530-1560 -- Grand Duke Francesco de Medici of Tuscany, 1541-1587, and Grand Duchess Bianca Cappello, 1548-1587 -- Gabrielle d'Estrees, mistress of King Henri IV of France, 1573-1599 -- Tycho Brahe, astronomer and imperial mathematician, 1546-1601 -- Michelangelo de Merisi, known as Caravaggio, artist to Italy's elite, 1572-1610 -- Henry Stuart, prince of Wales, 1594-1612 -- Sir Thomas Overbury, royal adviser at the court of James I, 1581-1613 -- Princess Henrietta Stuart of England, Duchesse d'Orleans, 1644-1670 -- Mademoiselle de Fontanges, mistress of Louis XIV of France, 1661-1680, and the affair of the poisons -- Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, imperial court musician, 1756-1791 -- Napoleon Bonaparte, Emperor of France, 1769-1821 -- Poison in the modern era -- Scientific advances in the Victorian age -- The democratization of poison -- Modern medicis : the rebirth of political poison -- Pick your poison -- The poison hall of fame -- Bibliography -- Index.


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1 Bob Harkins Branch 746.434 STR Book Adult General Collection

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"You'll be as appalled at times as you are entertained." -- Bustle , one of The 17 Best Nonfiction Books Coming Out In June 2018

"A heady mix of erudite history and delicious gossip." --Aja Raden, author of Stoned

In the Washington Post roundup, "What your favorite authors are reading this summer," A.J. Finn says, "I want to read The Royal Art of Poison , Eleanor Herman's history of poisons."

Hugely entertaining, a work of pop history that traces the use of poison as a political--and cosmetic--tool in the royal courts of Western Europe from the Middle Ages to the Kremlin today

The story of poison is the story of power. For centuries, royal families have feared the gut-roiling, vomit-inducing agony of a little something added to their food or wine by an enemy. To avoid poison, they depended on tasters, unicorn horns, and antidotes tested on condemned prisoners. Servants licked the royal family's spoons, tried on their underpants and tested their chamber pots.

Ironically, royals terrified of poison were unknowingly poisoning themselves daily with their cosmetics, medications, and filthy living conditions. Women wore makeup made with mercury and lead. Men rubbed turds on their bald spots. Physicians prescribed mercury enemas, arsenic skin cream, drinks of lead filings, and potions of human fat and skull, fresh from the executioner. The most gorgeous palaces were little better than filthy latrines. Gazing at gorgeous portraits of centuries past, wedon't see what lies beneath the royal robes and the stench of unwashed bodies; the lice feasting on private parts; and worms nesting in the intestines.

In The Royal Art of Poison , Eleanor Herman combines her unique access to royal archives with cutting-edge forensic discoveries to tell the true story of Europe's glittering palaces: one of medical bafflement, poisonous cosmetics, ever-present excrement, festering natural illness, and, sometimes, murder.

Author Notes

Eleanor Herman is the author of Sex with Kings, Sex with the Queen, and several other works of popular history. She has hosted Lost Worlds for The History Channel, The Madness of Henry VIII for the National Geographic Channel, and is now filming her second season of America: Fact vs. Fiction for The American Heroes Channel. Herman, who happily dresses in Renaissance gowns, lives with her husband, their black lab, and her four very dignified cats in McLean, VA.

Reviews 1

Publisher's Weekly Review

History is rife with tales of poison, as Herman (Sex with Kings, Sex with Queens) shows in her rip-roaring pop history of the role poison played in the royal courts of Western Europe. She includes expected tales of nobles using poison as a means of political gain; more surprising are the great lengths that royals went through to avoid such fate. Louis XIV maintained a strict safety protocol in his dining chamber, requiring servants to test everything from toothpicks to tablecloths for any potential poisonous threat. According to Herman, Louis was not alone in his paranoia. The irony is that many nobles were unwittingly poisoning themselves with their medical treatments and beauty regimens. After a bout of smallpox in 1562, Queen Elizabeth regularly applied a concoction of "lead ore, vinegar... arsenic, hydroxide, and carbonate" to her skin in a misguided attempt to improve her complexion. In the 17th century, the gravely ill Henry, Prince of Wales, was treated with the blood of a freshly killed bird; this was a common practice at the time, according to Herman, who adds that often doctors would leave bird carcasses on the patient's pillows for several days. By turns fascinating and stomach-churning, the book's detailed descriptions of different types of poisons will both shock and delight history buffs and enthusiasts of the macabre. (June) © Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.

Table of Contents

Acknowledgmentsp. ix
Introductionp. xi
Part I Poison, Poison, Everywhere
1 Poison from the Banquet Table to the Royal Underpantsp. 3
2 Unicorn Horns and Rooster Dung: Poison Detectors and Antidotesp. 19
3 Dying to Be Beautiful: Dangerous Cosmeticsp. 31
4 Murderous Medicine: Mercury Enemas and Rat Turd Elixirsp. 43
5 Putrid Palaces: A Poisoned Environmentp. 61
Part II The Poison Chronicles: Where Rumors of Royal Poisoning Meet Scientific Analysis
6 Henry VII of Luxembourg, Holy Roman Emperor, 1275-1313p. 83
7 Cangrande della Scala, Italian Warlord, 1291-1329p. 91
8 Agnes Sorel, Mistress of King Charles VII of France, 1422-1450p. 97
9 Edward VI, King of England, 1537-1553p. 105
10 Jeanne d'Albret, Queen of Navarre, 1528-1572p. 115
11 Erik XIV, King of Sweden, 1533-1577p. 123
12 Ivan IV, the Terrible, Czar of Russia, 1530-1584; His Mother, Elena Glinskaya, ca. 1510-1538; and His First Wife, Anastasia Romanovna, 1530-1560p. 129
13 Grand Duke Francesco I de Medici of Tuscany, 1541-1587, and Grand Duchess Bianca Cappello, 1548-1587p. 137
14 Gabrielle d'Estrées, Mistress of King Henri IV of France, 1573-1599p. 147
15 Tycho Brahe, Astronomer and Imperial Mathematician, 1546-1601p. 155
16 Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio, Artist to Italy's Elite, 1572-1610p. 165
17 Henry Stuart, Prince of Wales, 1594-1612p. 173
18 Sir Thomas Overbury, Royal Adviser at the Court of James I, 1581-1613p. 183
19 Princess Henrietta Stuart of England, Duchesse d'Orléans, 1644-1670p. 193
20 Mademoiselle de Fontanges, Mistress of Louis XIV of France, 1661-1681, and the Affair of the Poisonsp. 203
21 Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Imperial Court Musician, 1756-1791p. 213
22 Napoleon Bonaparte, Emperor of France, 1769-1821p. 221
Part III Poison in the Modern Era
23 Scientific Advances in the Victorian Agep. 233
24 The Democratization of Poisonp. 239
25 Modern Medicts: The Rebirth of Political Poisonp. 243
The Royal Art of Living and Dyingp. 259
Pick Your Poisonp. 261
The Poison Hall of Famep. 267
Bibliographyp. 269
Indexp. 279

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