"Notorious Royal Marriages" by Leslie Carroll

Pros: Interesting look at the private lives of some of the more famous (or infamous) European royals.
Cons: The genealogy can get confusing because many names were passed down through generations.
Rating: 4.5 out of 5

Review book courtesy of Penguin Group


Many of us are curious about the private lives of royalty, both in the past and the present. What could be more tantalizing than the relationships (or lack thereof) that occur between the royal sheets? Leslie Carroll has created a fascinating read about not only some of the more famous unsuccessful royal marriages, but of successful ones as well. It’s a journey into the past showing that while some things change throughout the years, others stay the same.


I must admit, I was excited to see Leslie Carroll’s Notorious Royal Marriages: A Juicy Journey Through Nine Centuries of Dynasty, Destiny, and Desire find its way into my review pile. Ever since reading The Devil’s Queen, I’ve become more and more curious about royal marriages and what they entailed. Ms. Carroll provides an enjoyable and informative romp in and out of various monarchs’ bedchambers, often in the company of a mistress or two. One of the things that made this such an informative read for me was the way that Ms. Carroll was able to summarize political intrigues and factions so that even though explanations were minimal, I still understood why events were happening the way they were. There are few things more frustrating to me as a reader than not understanding why things are happening in a certain fashion.

One of those few things, however, is not knowing exactly which person an author is referring to. I realize that in royal courts, names can be handed down in the same manner as a favorite piece of jewelry, but there were many times throughout the book where I wasn’t sure if she was referring to a person I’d met in the last chapter or to a different relation. A few genealogy charts would have helped me to see the relationships in an easily comprehensible fashion. (Granted, they would probably have looked more like spiderwebs than linear charts, but that’s why inbreeding and consanguinity became problems as royal houses progressed…)

Another thing that I appreciate about Ms. Carroll’s writing is that it does not feel as if she is attempting to solicit sympathy for one partner or the other. Possible reasons for antagonistic feelings are explained, as opposed to typecasting one or the other as cold or unfeeling. It also fascinated me to see how some couples, such as Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette, grew closer to each other towards the end of their marriages. The stories and hearsay, based upon what I’ve heard, seem to portray their marriages as static.

Quite possibly, Ms. Carroll’s greatest strength lies in portraying these royals as not the ruling elite, but as people, with faults and foibles. It made it much easier to relate to them, because I can read their stories and see a few mistakes that I’ve made in my own relationships. The easiest way to get me interested in history is to talk about the individual people and who they were, not only what they did. Notorious Royal Marriages does this very well, and that’s why I enjoyed it so much.

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