Sex and Sexuality in Stuart Britain - A Review

I was gifted a copy of Sex and Sexuality in Stuart Britain for the purposes of the review - however, all opinions are my own. 



It is definitely true that we have a secret fascination with the sex lives of kings and queens of history. Many people know much more about Henry VIII and his series of turbulent marriages than the extent of his religious reforms or foreign policy, for example. Was James I gay? Was Elizabeth really a virgin? How many mistresses did Charles II have? These are questions that are asked, on online historical forums, every day. We are drawn, with a curiosity, towards what sex and sexuality meant for people who lived hundreds of years ago, and how it might be different for us today. 

So it's a good job Andrea Zuvich has written a book about it. 

Sex and Sexuality in Stuart Britain attempts to give us an understanding of the whole spectrum of the subject during the Stuart reign in England from 1603-1714. It starts with an exploration of everyday life. What did people find sexy and alluring? How did they express sexuality? Did people visit prostitutes, and were there punishments for practicing sexual acts considered outside the 'norm'? 

As it turns out, the Stuarts weren't that different to us, maybe more rigid in what they accepted as 'normal' but fundamentally, we like the same things. Between Charles II's private portrait of Nell Gwynn delicately grasping a string of sausages with her eyes lowered towards us and her dress unbuttoned - and the X-rated etchings of Agostino Carracci, it's clear that people in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries enjoyed saucy literature, erotic art and bawdy poems. Well, ok, we're better nowadays at contraception (animal organs, anyone?), lubrication (animal fat, yes?) and we don't generally wear pubic wigs that often come loose and fall off amid the heights of passion. 

A discussion about sex and sexuality at this time wouldn't be complete without the ruffled, open shirts of the well-known Libertines, and they feature here in their lascivious antics and rude poems. John Wilmot, 2nd Earl of Rochester; Thomas Killigrew and Sir George Etherege are all here. 

Sexuality was of course was much more judgemental and regulated than it is today. Women were scorned for wearing 'masculine' clothes and there were harsh, physical punishments for affairs conducted outside the marriage or homosexuality. 

At the end of the book, there's a discussion about the various Stuart monarchs and what we know of sexuality at the richer end of the scale: the mistresses, the favourites and the pregnancies. I thought I knew quite a bit about the Stuarts, but I learned quite a few new things here. 

The book is definitely thorough. I don't think there's an aspect of sexuality that hasn't been covered. It also serves as a great spring board for finding out more about the subject as many contemporary sources are mentioned that you can go away and read for yourself. It's written with a sense of humour too, which helps break down the stiffness (sorry) and awkwardness of discussing the ins and outs (sorry again) of the sex lives of the Stuarts. 

Interested? Of course you are. Who wouldn't be? You can find Sex and Sexuality in Stuart Britain over at Pen and Sword Publishing or check it out in your local bookshops. 

What do you think? Have you read the book? Let me know what you think in the comments below. 

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Comments

  1. This sounds great! Super interesting and nicely written, clear review :) thanks for sharing!

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    Replies
    1. Thanks! Really enjoyed the book - totally recommend it.

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