Some time back I was lucky enough to be offered an ARC (advanced review copy) copy of the above book by the publishers in order to do a review. It’s a bit out of my time period, but nevertheless, it looked interesting, so I said yes. The following review is totally of my own opinion and words.
Any book title that contains the two words ‘royal’ and ‘poisoning’ promises some scandalous stories of wicked deeds and Machiavellian plots, and this one certainly does not disappoint on that score. There are many stories not only of royal deaths by poison, but also of how the well off tried to protect themselves against the horrific effects of something nasty dropped into the soup. From the completely bizarre stony concretions found in the stomachs of animals to the more sensible practice of getting servants to taste the food first – fear of dropping dead in a very painful and premature manner was extremely common.
Yet, ironically, these same people were already putting poisons in their own bodies thanks to the cosmetics and medicines they used, which often contained very high levels of such things as antimony and mercury. In looking at contemporary autopsies and modern observations, Herman has found that many of the bodies thus examined have levels of poisons way above what could be expected today. And if that were not bad enough, hygiene was practically non-existent, with certain eras believing that washing actually let in illnesses. Even the most opulent of palaces, where courtiers and staff often used the floor as a toilet, were nesting places for many varieties of deadly germs.
Eleanor Herman has a gift for bringing these stories to light with an often humorous tone that is necessary to cast a little lightness on such awful details. I have rarely been so educated and entertained by a read and really could not stop sneaking in moments here and there to continue reading it. I really hope this isn’t the last book from this talented author.