Novelist and chronicler of royalty Carroll (Notorious Royal Marriages, 2010, etc.) unearths the legendary bad behavior of some members of the royal class.
“Disobedience is my joy!” screams the dedication page of this workmanlike exposé. The quote is attributed to the late Princess Margaret, Countess of Snowdon, whose romantic scandals of the 1960s and ’70s gave her sister, Queen Elizabeth, a sour royal pucker. Margaret’s shenanigans offer a somewhat lame conclusion to the tales of a dozen “bad seeds” chronicled here, including more notorious specimens such as Vlad the Impaler and Pauline Bonaparte. The subjects are endlessly fascinating, though the writing is fairly pedestrian and dry. King John thought nothing of betraying his father, Henry II, and became such a failure as king that his barons rose up to force him to sign the Magna Carta in 1215. The medieval Transylvanian count Vlad, on whom Bram Stoker based his Dracula character, so effectively used his impaling technique to display his ferocity that the invading Turkish sultan exclaimed in amazement that he “could not win the land from a man who does such great things and above all knows how to exploit his rule and that over his subjects in this way.” Ivan the Terrible killed his own heir in a fit of rage and forced the miscarriage of his son’s wife. Carroll also profiles a host of bratty ladies, including the comely Lettice Knollys, who lured away Elizabeth I’s favorite, Robert Dudley, even though he had a well-established roving eye; Erzsébet Báthory, a Hungarian countess who “made the Marquis de Sade look like Mother Teresa” because of her penchant for torturing peasant girls just for fun; and the highly promiscuous Pauline Bonaparte, the favorite youngest sister to Napoleon.
Moments of fun mixed with a bit of edification.