The story of poison is the story of power. For centuries, the royal families of Western Europe 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 faeces 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. Gazing at gorgeous portraits of centuries past, we don’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 tells the true story of Europe’s glittering palaces: one of medical bafflement, poisonous cosmetics, ever-present excrement, festering natural illness and, sometimes, murder.
‘Herman has a delightful appreciation for all things beautiful and terrible. With her dishy signature style and a dazzling command of the facts, she brews up a heady mix of erudite history and delicious gossip’
Aja Raden, New York Times bestselling author of Stoned
‘Whether deliberate, accidental or the result of an antidote, the gruesome outcome of ingestion of toxins is deftly described’ Penny Le Couteur, author of Napoleon’s Button