In her new book, The Royal Art of Poison, Eleanor Herman traces the use of poison as a political -- and cosmetic -- tool in the royal courts of Western Europe from the Middle Ages to the Kremlin today.
The story of poison is the story of power. For centuries, royal families have feared the 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.
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. 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.
Eleanor Herman combines her unique access to royal archives with cutting-edge forensic discoveries to tell the true story of Europe's glittering palaces. Herman is the author of Sex with Kings, Sex with the Queen, and several other works of popular history. She has hosted "Lost Worlds" for The History Channel, "The Madness of Henry VIII" for the National Geographic Channel, and is now filming her second season of "America: Fact vs. Fiction" for The American Heroes Channel.
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