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 lead. Men rubbed feces 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. 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.
The Royal Art of Poison is a hugely entertaining work of popular history that 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.