The Royal Art of Poison by Eleanor Herman (Book Review)

I received a free copy of this book, thanks to St. Martin’s Press and NetGalley, in exchange for my honest review. This does not affect my opinions on the book.

The Royal Art of Poison by Eleanor Herman - Cover


Book Blurb:

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, 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 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.

Rating: 4.5/5 Stars

Tags: Non-fiction, Poison, History, Entertainment, Royal Life

My Thoughts:

From time to time, I read non-fiction as long as they’re entertaining or useful. This one plonks its scandalous rear-end on the former. Although, a bit of its right butt-cheek can’t help spilling onto the latter as well.

The Royal Art of Poison is a guilty-pleasure read, one where you simultaneously retch at its repulsive depictions of life in the olden days and yet, can’t peel your eyes away. A bit of schadenfreude is required for this read.

It’s a well-balanced book of courtly intrigue, poison biology, history and case-studies with prose that flows easily. If only history textbooks were written like this, not a single student would fall asleep! Of course, this is suitable for older pupils only, the olden days are the stuff of nightmares! Anyone who brandishes their lament at being born in the wrong century can have a good look at this Eleanor Herman’s book. You will drop your I-was-made-for-ballgowns-and-white-knights flag before you can say ‘diarrhea’!

‘To cure constipation, he recommended giving a pound of quicksilver at a time to a puppy, collecting it when it came out the other end, boiling it in vinegar, and drinking it.’

I recommend reading The Royal Art of Poison leisurely, and preferably not while eating. I’m appalled by the living conditions in those times and how ignorant people were. I even had a bad dream while reading this book(I know it had a hand in that nightmare). I say leisurely because you can get disgust fatigue(yes, it’s a new term).

The Royal Art of Poison is a ghastly, sinfully entertaining read and I end my review with a quote from the ‘Author’s Note’ I share the same opinion with:

‘Though we may laugh at lead face paint, mercury enemas, and arsenic skin lotions, future generations will certainly laugh at us for poisoning ourselves with chemotherapy and whatever unknown elements in our modern society that cause increasingly high rates of cancer, autism, and dementia.’


Parental Guidance: 15+
Violence – Plenty of gruesome and gross descriptions
Sex – Scandalous accounts
Religion – No preaching
Profanity – None

Should You Get This Book?:

Get it if:

  • You like a little extra gossip
  • You want a glimpse of the ugly side of life in the bygone eras
  • You don’t appreciate modern plumbing

Don’t get it if:

  • You want to keep fooling yourself that historical palace-life(or olden life in general) is covetous
  • You don’t enjoy accounts of depravity, gore and wholly grossness

Grab this now on: Amazon | Book Depository |B&N | Goodreads

5 thoughts on “The Royal Art of Poison by Eleanor Herman (Book Review)

Add yours

  1. Wow. Just by your review, the posh swankiness of old-time royalty goes down in flames (or as we say in the nursing world, a ‘hot mess’).
    I had heard some similar things from my friend who’s a professional seamstress, going to Jane Austin festivals and similar period events.
    If this was the example set by ‘royalty’, I shudder to think of what conditions the commoners lived in.
    And even in regard to the royalty, I won’t even ask about the bed-bugs.
    This gives great justification to Louis L’Amour’s themes of his pioneer families (the Sacketts and the Travens) pushing west from colonial America, where the characters would say it was easier for wounds to heal out in the wilderness. In towns and places where you had more people, you had more filthy conditions and more chances for a wound to become dirty and infected.
    Thanks for posting.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Oh, wow, THANK YOU for your comment!! You’ve brightened my day 😀

      Hahaha, isn’t it? I wasn’t aware of the extent of living standards in those days of yore but Eleanor’s book has opened my eyes! Bed-bugs! How does lice down there sound? *shudder*
      I agree with every point you’ve mentioned here, I can scarcely believe how anyone survived for as long as they did! So, so glad and grateful I was born in this century than earlier. Let me know how you found Royal Art of Poison if you ever get to it!

      Liked by 1 person

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