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Royal Babylon: The Alarming History of European Royalty [Paperback]

Karl Shaw
3.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (22 customer reviews)
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Book Description

May 29 2001
An uproarious, eye-opening history of Europe's notorious royal houses that leaves no throne unturned and will make you glad you live in a democracy.

Do you want to know which queen has the unique distinction of being the only known royal kleptomaniac? Or which empress kept her dirty underwear under lock and key? Or which czar, upon discovering his wife's infidelity, had her lover decapitated and the head, pickled in a jar, placed at her bedside?

Royally dishing on hundreds of years of dubious behavior, Royal Babylon chronicles the manifold appalling antics of Europe's famous families, behavior that rivals the characters in an Aaron Spelling television series. Here, then, are the insane kings of Spain, one of whom liked to wear sixteen pairs of gloves at one time; the psychopathic Prussian soverigns who included Frederick William and his 102-inch waist; sex-fixated French rulers such as Philip Duke D'Oreleans cavorting with more than a hundred mistresses; and, of course, the delightfully drunken and debauched Russian czars - Czar Paul, for example, who to make his soldiers goose-step without bending their legs had steel plates strapped to their knees. But whether Romanov or Windsor, Habsburg or Hanover, these extravagant lifestyles, financed as they were by the royals' badgered subjects, bred the most wonderfully offbeat and disturbingly unbelievable tales - and Karl Shaw has collected them all in this hysterically funny and compulsively readable book.

Royal Babylon is history, but not as they teach it in school, and it underlines in side-splitting fashion Queen Victoria's famous warning that it is unwise to look too deeply into the royal houses of Europe.

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Product Description

From Amazon

From the madness of King George to the equine escapades of Catherine the Great, from the intramural squabbles of Elizabeth and Di to the staggeringly decadent exploits of Charles X: in this gossipy chronicle of regal shenanigans, British journalist Karl Shaw dishes plenty of dirt--and ably demonstrates why royal watching is such a satisfying hobby.

Was there ever a good monarch? To judge by Shaw's account, it's unlikely. Instead, he writes, "Every monarchy in Europe has at some time or another been ruled over by a madman," adding in passing that only Bavaria's King Ludwig had the good grace to turn his madness into a source of tourist revenue for his subjects' descendants. Of the mad and the downright curious there's no shortage in these pages, as Shaw delivers anecdote after anecdote concerning the demented, sometimes awful, sometimes entertaining behavior of the likes of Germany's Frederick the Great, who "drank up to forty cups of coffee a day for several weeks in an experiment to see if it was possible to exist without sleep"; Russia's Catherine I, "a raddled old alcoholic with bloodshot eyes, wild and matted hair and clothes soiled with urine stains ... [who] once survived an assassination attempt too drunk to realize that anything had happened"; and England's Queen Mary, "the only known royal kleptomaniac," whose aides would surreptitiously gather the knickknacks she'd lifted from her subjects' parlors and return them with muffled apologies.

Royal Babylon is a guilty pleasure of a book, and one that does a fine job of explaining, in Shaw's tongue-in-cheek words, "why most continentals can't get enough of royalty, provided it isn't their own." --Gregory McNamee

From Publishers Weekly

Anyone who loves scandal, particularly the juicy dish on royalty, will inhale this gossipy account by British writer Shaw (The Mammoth Book of Tasteless Lists). In a style reminiscent of low-end tabloids, the author presents a litany of negative and sometimes disgusting details about the personal lives of the men and women who ruled Britain, Germany, Russia, Belgium, Spain, Portugal, Poland and Austria. Leaving the late 20th century mostly behind (his only mention of Charles and Diana is in the introduction), the author concentrates instead on royal misbehavior back to the 1700s. Entertaining overall, many entries are indisputably not for the faint of heart, such as the truly gross story of Russia's Peter the Great ("`Great' was generally a recognition of power or brute strength, no matter how they lived, how many people they had killed or how repulsive they were"), described by Shaw as a "paranoid sadist." This tsar was an alcoholic who tortured people for fun and once forced an attendant to bite into the flesh of a corpse. This chronicle is replete with royal sexual activities, including those of the Bourbons of France, whom Shaw credits with possessing "extraordinary appetites." Irony is Shaw's strong suit, which lends a great deal of humor to often humorless anecdotes. For example, he notes that Spain's King Philip IV fathered 30 illegitimate children "but being a good Catholic always felt bad about it" and forced his wife to have sexual relations three times daily. Like Michael Farquhar's A Treasury of Royal Scandals..., this irreverent and amusing exposé of royal indiscretions will appeal especially to those who like their history "lite." Illus. not seen by PW.

Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information, Inc.


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Customer Reviews

Most helpful customer reviews
3.0 out of 5 stars Amusing but disjointed April 24 2003
Format:Paperback
With the descent of the modern media onto the current royal family, and the loss of the aura of untouchability that led to frank examinations of the lives Prince Charles and Andrew, the re-examination of royal institutions has led to the publication of a number of books similar to Shaw's Royal Babylon. The stories range from amusing to tragic to downright silly, but the underlying theme is to portray how ridiculous the institution of monarchy is, and how ridiculous its various officeholders have been throughout a number of nation's histories. The stories, some popular and others not so well known are protrayed in vivid fashion with vigor by Shaw. Anyone looking for evidence of ample royal insanity, or those who revel in reading about the less-than-graceful moments of a number of historical figures will enjoy this book, and it does make for good light amusing reading. However, the book does have a number of problems. First, the author appears to fall victim to wild exaggeration that reduces the validity of the stories. In one story about Prussion emperor Frederick Williams fascination with collecting tall men for his army, he claims that "the tallest were almost nine feet tall", a very unlikely claim. His overexaggeration of the grotesqueness, insanity, and unpopularity of a number of monarchs not only disgusts the reader after a time, but makes his claims dubious. A number of his claims about the popularity of various monarchs flies in the face of most accepted perceptions of them. In addition, his chronicle jumps wildly from time to time and country to country. There is absolutely no continuity of the tales, and a bit of organization of thoughts would have helped the reader follow a particular line. Read more ›
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4.0 out of 5 stars The Mad Houses of European Royalty Feb. 25 2003
Format:Paperback
This is a popular history of the Royal families of Europe that is censored from most histories. It has a bibliography, but no index. From the Hanoverians of 1714 until 1871 the British royal family was never popular. They were attacked in the press for profligacy, indolence, stupidity, or squalor. Page 3 tells how "spin doctors" and the British press turned public opinion in favor of the royal family. Yet they compared favorable to the royal houses on the continent. Their escapades in the 1990s are a return to past traditions.
Spain's rapid economic decline coincided with the reigns of mad rulers. The Habsburgs, Braganzas, Savoys, Hohenzollerns, and Wittelsbachs were inbred, insane, or both. While academic history books deal with trade or battles, they censor the personalities behind those events. The rulers called "Great" were not given that name for any good works. Until the 19th century royals were very often illiterate (like their subjects). History is as much about the madness of men as about social events. The more powerful a ruler, the greater the danger of his folly. So read about the last three centuries of European dynasties. Let's hope that it can't happen here, with an Imperial Presidency and Corporate Aristocracy!
This book appears to be a spicy confection. but there is whole wheat beneath the pink icing. This book teaches without preaching; the facts speak for themselves.
Page 95 gives the origin of "God Save the King". The personality of Kaiser Bill is described on pages 144-8. The history of the Romanovs is on pages 151-188. Did you wonder what the world lost in that dynasty? The frequent absences from England by George I was the reason for the creation of a Prime Minister (p.193).
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4.0 out of 5 stars Amusing but a little confusing... Sept. 18 2002
Format:Paperback
Royal Babylon is history lite at it's best - entertaining, witty, and frothy. It is basically one long gossip column and is very hard to put down; I read this straight through in just a few days. The author, Karl Shaw, takes us on a tour of royal antics and foibles spanning several centuries of Europe's monarchs and their families. We learn, for example, that Czar Paul had steel plates strapped to the knees of his soldiers in order to make them goosestep without bending their legs, and that the Duke of Cabaria, heir to the Spanish throne, liked to wear up to sixteen pairs of gloves at the same time.
In Royal Babylon, Shaw covers the Bourbons, Romanovs, Hohenzollerns, Hanoverians, Windsors, Wittelsbachs, Saxe-Coburgs and Hapsburgs. Personally, I would have liked to have seen more time devoted to the Austrian Hapsburgs. From all accounts, they were as zany as the rest of the bunch, but little time is spent describing them apart from a select few.
This would have been a 5 star read except that Shaw tends to jump around so much at times, that it can be a little difficult to follow. The first chapters are arranged thematically, the second part of the book is more geographical/by family. The same individuals are touched on in both parts of the book though, so I found myself going back several times, trying to figure out exactly how King A was related to Prince B and Queen C, etc. As a previous reviewer has already mentioned, I think an index would have been very helpful. Still, a great read overall!
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Most recent customer reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars I hope that I haven't got any blue blood in my veins.
Karl Shaw is a wonderful compiler {he must be aided by a good research team}. I can recommend all of his books - I have two others besides this one - to one and all of adult age. Read more
Published 11 months ago by Perplexity
2.0 out of 5 stars Interesting but hardly side-splitting
This account of European royalty between the 17th-20th centuries has some interesting stories about the eccentric and often deplorable behaviour of the members of various royal... Read more
Published on Jan. 1 2004 by L O'connor
2.0 out of 5 stars interesting cover, but could use some work!
I rated this book two stars because sometimes it got extremely boring. Shaw seems to only depict English royalty and it got boring reading stories about the Hanovers. Read more
Published on Aug. 29 2003 by Someone Special
4.0 out of 5 stars Entertaining and a fun read, not academic but interesting
I enjoyed this book. I never tried to take it seriously and I think that's why it was so fun. It was the kind of book you can read, put down, and go back to over time. Read more
Published on June 20 2003 by DMH
5.0 out of 5 stars It had me from the crown on Victoria's head
That is the one covering her eyes, so she couldn't see what her children and grandchildren and great-grandchildren were doing. Read more
Published on June 6 2003
2.0 out of 5 stars Disappointing
This book has a lot of little factual errors, that should have been caught by a good editor or fact checker. The writing is only fair-to-poor. Read more
Published on April 16 2003 by SusieQ
1.0 out of 5 stars NOT if you are a serious reader of royalty
I am always searching for new books on Russian and English royalty from 1875 to 1940. I enjoy reading about their inner families, habits, fights etc but I want it to be true and... Read more
Published on March 19 2003
4.0 out of 5 stars Terrific ammo for pro-republicans in Britain
This author seems to specialize in books about the tasteless, gross, and unspeakable -- his own words -- but he seems to have done his research on the dubious mental health,... Read more
Published on July 5 2002 by Michael K. Smith
4.0 out of 5 stars Alarming indeed....
Alarming is an apt description, as after reading this, you wouldn't want to spend much time in the company of any of the monarchs listed in this book. Read more
Published on April 16 2002 by Todd Hagley
2.0 out of 5 stars Promising start - incredibly sloppy
I thought that the book had some promise, when it started to describe how the inbreeding of the Royal houses caused a number of genetic health problems. Read more
Published on Feb. 25 2002 by Francis McIlvaine
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