The Royal Art of Poison

Filthy Palaces, Fatal Cosmetics, Deadly Medicine, and Murder Most Foul
Narrated by: Susie Berneis
Length: 10 hrs and 31 mins
4.5 out of 5 stars (1,823 ratings)

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Publisher's Summary

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.

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.

©2018 Eleanor Herman (P)2018 Dreamscape Media, LLC

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Average Customer Ratings

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  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars
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    5 out of 5 stars
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    5 out of 5 stars

More fun than poison should be!

I enjoyed this rollicking, pus-filled tale of poisoning, unintended self destruction and mysteries of famous deaths. The narrator is excellent, with just enough "wink" in her voice to convey sly humor. The stories are sprinkled with interesting facts about both famous and obscure historical personalities, and there's something for everyone to learn. I highly recommend this book, whether you're a fan of true crime, murder mysteries, medical oddities or just looking to learn something new.

71 people found this helpful

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    5 out of 5 stars
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    5 out of 5 stars

Relieved and surprised

Boy, I wasn't sure if I could make it past Part One; you've got to have a very strong stomach to be able to get through those detailed descriptions of some of the unmentionable habits of Renaissance royalty...but as the book progressed, I was hooked. Once the summaries are completed, you move on to case-by-case summaries of some of the more well-documented accounts of people who were assumed to be killed by suspicious means, including modern diagnoses.
It is a well-written, thoroughly-researched, and hugely entertaining book. The cherry on top is the narration; I was so impressed by Susie Berneis's performance that I'm going to look up her other works.
I highly recommend this book for those who can handle talk about worms, fistulas, and excrement. If that's not the subject matter for you, you may still be able to handle it; just skip past Part One. Seriously.

138 people found this helpful

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excellent

This book is great for anyone who likes "fun facts" some of them had me giggling while others made my mouth drop in horror. I have always enjoyed learning new information about royalty and daily life during that time. This book will definitely help you see it in a different light, the movies/tv shows have definitely skipped a few things in their story telling.

21 people found this helpful

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Wow what a great read.

It is so fascinating how this book pulls the reader through history, the icky side that is. Well written and performed. The last chapter is dull but the rest is great. Well worth the credit.

26 people found this helpful

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    4 out of 5 stars

Fascinatingly GRIM

If you are looking for a morbid and fascinating read, this is definitely it. Not only does the author cover important poisoning, but also hygiene and palace filth. Wow. JUST WOW. If Dr. Who arrived in one of these locations, she/he would get out of the tardis, gag immediately from the stench, and get back in.

The only criticism I have is that toward the end of the book the case by case scenarios start out pretty engrossing, but then become a little dry. However, that could be because I listened to this book over the course of a long work day. Overall, completely cracking read.

37 people found this helpful

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Now I never want to time travel...

And I really don't want to be a princess. I am quite happy to be a common middle class person in the present time. I love vaccines, germ theory, and hand washing. Also, I literally would die without running clean water, filtration, and basic modern medicine. No thank you foul humours, begone miasmas, and fie upon evil spirits. I will take an aspirin, a nap, and wake up refreshed, with no blisters on my skin, all my blood within my veins, and my gut undisturbed by inductions we won't mention in this review.

11 people found this helpful

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Fantastic facts, well written and amazingly acted!

I cannot stress enough how much I loved this book. Not only is the text erudite and full of detailed information (but nowhere near dry and boring) but the narrator was incredibly well chosen. The way the author writes, inserting clever and wry observations on what a modern person might think about the current subject, is brought fabulously to life by the voice actress, who reads these little jokes and comments with an almost audible wry smile and sly wink.

Chock full of great (and gross) details on historical hygiene (or more often, lack thereof), crazy sounding (and often deadly) cosmetic procedures and medical treatments that are closer to torture, this was a fascinating listen that had me immediately restart it after I'd finished, just to hear all those repellent and fascinating facts about castle life and those intimate and interesting details so often glossed over in other non fiction accounts.

The second section examines 20 something cases of suspected death by poison and includes many many details of the case, the autopsy or forensic examination from the time of death (if available), then a modern analysis, including (again, where possible) new examination of the remains, often revealing the truth!
I am a great lover of historical biography and facts about day to day European life in the Renaissance and medieval period, and this has to be one of my top 3 non fiction collections. To anyone who might be interested in this subject, this is a great reference, and an even better listen. Far from romanticizing the time period (as so many authors do, focusing on gowns and masquerade balls rather than the ugly truth), the author revels in the true facts (many of which are very clinical and frankly disgusting, those who are sensitive to descriptions of bodily functions such as vomiting or diarrhea should probably skip this one, since it is focused frequently on the symptoms of poison victims and does not spare any details), and the voice actress was a perfect pick, being sober and respectful where needed, but also articulate and slyly humorous, almost as though she worked with the author to write the jokes! Her reading and delivery is very natural, and it is very easy to tell voices apart when she is recounting dialog.

5 stars all around. I would of course listen to this many times over. I used my monthly credit on this but would gladly have paid full price for it. I was only disappointed it wasn't longer! Ha ha.

This review was entirely unsolicited, left because I enjoyed it so much I thought others should at least give it a try. Heck, audibles returns policy is great, so if you are into this sort of thing and have a credit to spend, go for it! Worst case scenario you don't like it, return it and get your credit back, and best case scenario you have a new favorite book and dozens of gruesome facts to disgust your friends and coworkers!

8 people found this helpful

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Very informative.

Lots of historical info. I learned a lot. Narrator was fabulous. Awesome ability to pronounce foreign terms. Bravo!

11 people found this helpful

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Highly recommended for anyone!

loved this book. It's amazing what we used to do to ourselves. Book full of interesting facts that shock you and make you happy we're live in the time we do

10 people found this helpful

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Simply Clean is Priceless

Could I say I truly loved this book? Well, it was not only intriguing and educational, but at times, deeply disgusting, shocking and sadly, true. However, this being part of our human history--low and dirty though it is--I would choose to know it. Let's remember it so as not to repeat these mistakes. Ever.
How amazing it is that what we accept as simple facts today were ridiculous, outrageous, or insane until just a blink of years ago...and how incomprehensible that the most horrific things were done by the wealthiest, most powerful in the name of truth. In other words, history does not change much.
It was a perfect pairing of author and narrator, who brought the book to life, making the most of Herman's vivid descriptions and sparkling wit.
Note: 1. I have found that it is real motivation to keep one's abode, person, and relationships spic & span, doing unto others with respect, grace and kindness. 2. This book was enjoyed chiefly while deep cleaning and tidying. If you listen to this book, you'll understand why!

4 people found this helpful