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Sex and Sexuality in Stuart Britain

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Member Reviews

Sex and Sexuality in Stuart Britain by Andrea Zuvich is a free NetGalley ebook that I read in mid-July.

A carry-on of the 'Sex and Sexuality in Victorian Britain,' but reverting back in time with topics, like reliance on the humours, indulgence, religious faith, and physical appearances to guide one's lifespan; glans and self-play; standards of beauty and hygiene; erotic art and literature; prostitution and escort services; romantic love; the theatre; gender roles; sexual acts, practices, diseases, and crimes; giving birth; and profiles of Stuart royalty.
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Well-researched, well-written, entertaining, and immersive. I wasn't sure if I'll enjoy it but thanks to the authors' knack for delivering non-fiction in an easy way, I devoured the book. Plenty of anecdotes, curious discoveries, and reveals about Stuarts times. Well worth a read.
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The royal court of Stuart England was definitely not boring - or consistent - where sexual mores were concerned, from the relatively dissolute court of James I to the more sedate one of his son, Charles I, and then, after the interregnum Cromwell's Puritan Commonwealth, veering wildly back to the notorious excesses of Charles II and his intimates. While all this was happening in the aristocracy and upper classes, however, apart from stricter laws and public policy during the Commonwealth that affected them, the lives - and sex lives - of the ordinary people went on with relatively little upheaval. 

In the first part of Sex and Sexuality in Stuart Britain, Andrea Zuvich gives the interested reader a lively and informative guide through all strata of society where all aspects of sexuality are concerned, from marriage and divorce to prostitution, STDs, attitudes about pre- and extramarital sex, same-sex attraction, and pedophilia, to name a few. Spiced with anecdotes about people of all classes (often from court records), she portrays a society that in many ways had surprisingly modern attitudes about sex, while in other ways they seem to us to be incredibly backward. For instance, it was believed that a woman's pleasure was important in conceiving a healthy child, with the unfortunate flip side (occasionally voiced even in our own day) that if a woman became pregnant she could not have been raped. Even the Puritans, however, had a surprisingly healthy attitude towards sex in general, as long as it was kept within the bounds of matrimony.

In the second part of the book, Zuvich examines the sex lives of the Stuart monarchs themselves, which offer a great deal of material. While concluding that James I was almost certainly bisexual at the very least, she finds the rumors of same-sex relationships about the last three (William III, Mary II, and Anne) unlikely to have been true, and of course Charles II, with his many mistresses and illegitimate children, provides a lot of grist for the mill.

All in all, I found this book to be a fascinating portrait of the times, carefully footnoted but narrated in an entertaining manner that keeps the interest of the educated layperson.

Thank you to NetGalley and the publisher for an ARC of this book in exchange for. an honest review.
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It's a well researched, detailed and entertaining book that made me learn a lot of new things enjoying what I read.
I liked the style of writing and how the book is organised.
Recommended.
Many thanks to the publisher and Netgalley for this ARC, all opinions are mine.
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*Many thnaks to Andrea Zuvich, Pen & Sword and NetGalley for arc in echange for my honest review.*
A superbly researched non-fiction that provides insightful information on everything you would like to know about body and sex under the Stuarts and have never had courage to ask about.
Part one is devoted to detailed descriptions regarding the body and sexuality, including some information that may be disturbing to some readers. Having said that, I would like to add that the details are written in a most respectful manner. Part two focuses on the Stuarts themselves and is interesting as it uncovers and explains sexual behaviour of the monarchs and their relatives. Some of the information was new to me as the subject matter is not ususally so deeply analyzed in books on the Stuarts.
The book offers a unique approach and I would recommend it to anyone who is interested in the period and would like to learn more about how the most intimate sphere of life was perceived in those days.
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Sex and Sexuality in Stuart Britain is the kind of history book I adore. It's filled with fascinating tidbits and anecdotes which really give a sense of time and place.

The book covers a wide variety of topics, more topics than I thought possible, and includes things that are related to sex but aren't immediately obvious -- like witchcraft. From pre-maritial sex, to infamous women/men, to the terminology of the day. The book covers the gamut. 

One of my favorite sections was early on where the author went into a very frank and historical description of what the Stuart era Britons found attractive. This included a that many women often wore special wigs which were called merkins on their private parts if they for some reason didn't have pubic hair. But that the art reasons for the day didn't include it, not because it wasn't attractive, but for aesthetic reasons. I also loved the part where it went into how a woman's enjoyment of the marriage bed was equally important to a man's pleasure. There's really so many good anecdotes peppered with selections from various primary resources. 

So many primary resources. And not just Pepys, although he is used, but Pepys is not venerated unlike in so many other books on the Stuart Era. Pepys is presented as he is... a great diarist to be sure, but also his vices as well. I did not know that Pepys had wandering hands so problematic that while in church women would threaten to stab him with pins if he didn't stop groping them.  Yeah.  Good to know. 

Who would I recommend this book to: Anyone who is intrigued by sexual mores of the different time periods. I triply recommend it to anyone who is interested in writing in the Stuart era.  This particularly applies to romance authors who dabble in the late Elizabethan through the early Georgian Period. The period-appropriate terminology alone is worth it. But it also includes so many other useful things. 

I really enjoyed reading this book. I definitely will be re-reading it and recommending it. 

Five Stars. 

(I received a copy of this book via NetGalley)
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Did I enjoy it? No. Do I have several specific problems with it? Yes. Do I think the writing is good? No. BUT I do think this book did exactly what the author was going for, even if I don't like the end result.

There's no analysis on any of the topics mentioned in this book. There are barely any actual quantitative facts. This book is 200 pages of anecdotes strung together. It feels more like a very very surface level textbook that would be used in a high school than a book that brings any new or interesting perspectives to the topic.
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This was a romp interesting book about a seldom talked about or written about subject that is nevertheless a driving force throughout history.
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This book provides a vivid overview of what people in the Stuart period enjoyed and also suffered when it came to sex. The author presents a broad spectrum of topics from marriage and adultery to infertility and incest and a lot more. When it came to sex, the people of 17th century Britain had to deal with STDs, superstitions and magic, lack of medical care, contraception and drastic punishment.
The first part of the book deals with all these aspects of every day sexual life, always accompanied by their own voices, e.g. Samuel Pepys.
The second part focusses on the sex life of the Stuart royalty, which reminded me a lot of modern tabloids and their obsession with the sex lives of the rich and famous.
I would have preferred to get more of the first part and could have done without the royals, but overall this book is highly entertaining and well structured, a good starting point into the history of 17th century sexuality.
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4.5/5
Thank you to NetGalley and Pen and Sword for providing an eARC in exchange for an honest review!

I really enjoyed this book. The Stuart period is one of my favourites, and it often gets ignored for its Tudor predecessor. I will fully admit, sex and sexuality is not a common topic of study for me, but I learned a lot through this book. Sex does play a role in society and culture, and Zuvich examines it from many angles. I appreciated that she included several marginalised groups including LGBTQ* and BIPOC people (by period terminology).
It is quite easy reading. There are many primary sources quoted throughout the book, but it doesn't slow it down/make for difficult reading. There are some funny and interesting drawings and carvings that were included, which I think helped making it approachable and accessible to everyone (not just historians). Overall, an excellent read!
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Sex and sexuality are topics I love to read about, and so I thought this would be great fun especially since I've read quite a bit of Tudor and Stuart era historical fiction recently. Unfortunately, this wasn't nearly as exciting of a read as I had hoped. 

This reads a lot like a master's thesis (which I highly suspect it is), which is ok... and don't get me wrong Zuvich's research and knowledge is extensive. It's just that for the first 20 chapters everything reads a bit like what my English prof would have called 'a grocery list'; here is a topic, here is a definition, and here is an example, NEXT. 

I felt like what was missing was the lived experience of the people whose records and diaries were being examined. What was it like to be a Stuart era commoner, noble, king or queen and to have sex, want sex, be imprisoned or killed for sex. 

Zuvich really caught her stride though in the last chapters dedicated specifically to the different reigns within the Stuart era and the rulers's kinks and quirks. Reinforcing me, that her writing would have been stronger had she afforded the other topics with this kind of focus on the lived experience. 

Also, I appreciate that Samuel Pepys and are an invaluable resource, but if he is to be cited so frequently perhaps some time could have been spent discussing him, and the method with which the author assembled the documents that were used in the writing of this book. 

A good cursory overview, but not the in-depth history I was hoping for.
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This is a fabulous book, not only about Stuart Sexuality, but also about how attitudes to sexuality affect everything else to do with Stuart life. The text not only covers things like pornography and prostitution, virginity and contraception, but also includes broader sections on courtship and marriage, on dress, hair and make up, on relationships in the Stuart age --  including what we know about the sort of relationships which were then taboo. As you might expect, it really highlights how little we have changed, for sexual relationships of all types are represented, including some that might make your toes curl! Zuvich doesn't hold back - all the language of the day is here, so this is not a book for the easily offended. The discussions are frank, knowledgeable, and written with a light touch. 

The book takes the form of episodic snatches, with many original quotations from contemporary sources, but one thing I particularly enjoyed was the fact the book has interesting sections on the different monarchs and how their attitudes to sex affected the whole country.

All in all, an excellent book, and although I received a kindle ARC for review, a hard copy certainly deserves a spot on my bookshelf.
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Absolutely fascinating! My staff and I are "Outlander" fans and being able to apply this to what we have read and know about the Stuart reign was delightful. We loved it!
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I received an ARC through Netgalley in exchange for an honest review!

CW: discussing historical rape, pedophilia, and intimate partner violence

This was so much fun to read. The chapters were relatively short. Part One covers everything you might want to know about sex and sexuality in this time period, covering LGBTQ+ (although not called that to keep with period accurate terminology), race, gender, etc topics. It was expansive and I loved it. The second part of the book talks about the Stuart rulers and their sex lives, which was just as fun to read about. Honestly, a great book! I'd definitely have this finished copy on my shelf.
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How did people have sex in Stuart Britain? Same as us of course. Only if they got an STD there were no antibiotics to help them out. One of the reasons they wore wigs, aside from male pattern baldness, was because of syphilis. They also believed coffee caused impotence. They had no reliable birth control (though they tried) and c sections weren't a thing due to a lack of anesthesia so women died in droves due to childbirth. There was no deodorant and a lack of clean water, sanitation, and soap so body odor was a problem as we're rotten teeth. Yet, they loved sex and this book goes into the many aspects of sex and family practices as the two are tied together and that makes for an interesting book and an even more interesting afternoon and evening reading about it. The author keeps it light, interesting, straightforward, and historical. No embarrassment or pornography. The fascinating tidbits are endless and if you are interested in Stuart Britain this book is a good fun read for a change from the heavier tomes of history one usually finds to read. Thank you to NetGalley and the publisher for allowing me to read this book in exchange for a review.
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I really enjoyed this book. I think we all have this kind of curiosity about sex and sexuality in past times, and how it was potentially different to what we experience today. I found the book really thorough and the author dealt with the subject with a sense of humour, which was great. I feel I have a better understanding of part of history that is not often discussed - we're often wrapped up in the politics of an age, and so to learn more about such a 'human' subject that is relevant to all layers of society was really eye-opening. I feel like I know much more about our Stuart ancestors now, after reading the book!
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“So, get your tankard of cock ale, sit back in your cane chair by the crackling fire, and as the smells of wood smoke and tobacco from a nearby pipe mingle with the hearty scent of freshly baked pigeon pie wafting in from next door, let us go back in time to the Stuart period…”

In this book, Zuvich tracks the macro-trends in sex and sexuality in Stuart-era Britain, using examples of real people to provide touching or hilarious illustrations thereof. She discusses the opinions of the general population towards various forms of then-considered “deviant” sexual practices, various aspects of motherhood, lust, and love. This book reminded me vividly of the Love exhibition that I was able to see at the Louvre Lens a couple of years ago, where examples of graphic pornography from this era were on display for those willing to look. In the second part of the book, Zuvich briefly examines the sexual lives of the various Stuart monarchs (as well as Oliver Cromwell in the interregnum period). 

Zuvich’s voice is fresh and witty. I laughed out loud multiple times while reading this, which is very high praise coming from me. While I found her use of exclamation points a bit too liberal at various points in the book, this only served to highlight her enthusiasm and thorough knowledge of the material. This book was a broad overview of the period. It would not serve to make anyone an expert on Stuart era sexual politics, but serves as an excellent introduction to the era and a highly amusing read. A few times in the book, Zuvich talked about a personnage for one paragraph and then expected the reader to remember their names 50 pages later. However, I would still recommend this book to anyone interested in giggling over the many oddities of the Stuart era British.
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This was an excellent and concise look at the Stuart era and their relationship with sex. It covered everything I wanted and unlike the one on the Victorian era, this one had a lot more on queer and non-hetrosexual relationships. I liked the writing style and this was exactly what I wanted from a book. The writing was clear and it was easy to follow Zuvich's point.
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EVERYTHING I WANTED TO KNOW BUT DIDNT WANT TO ASK. So many things. Definitely for the curious history buff. Loved all the new information! Who knew. Thank you for this!
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This was an incredibly fun historical read. I have always been fascinated by the sexual history of the past. What were people really like? What were people’s sex lives ? What were the mores? This book does a great job putting the Stuart era of England into perspectives from the peasants to the merchant class to the royals themselves. It reads like a fun romp through the most exciting parts of history. 

Definitely give it a read if you love the Stuart era or are interested in learning more about it.
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