Strong women rulers have always suffered violent attacks on their sexuality. To the Romans, Cleopatra was the lascivious “harlot queen,” a woman “whom her own slaves would grind.” In the Middle Ages, Isabel of England got the same treatment from her enemies, as did Catherine of Medici and Anne of Austria. Even Elizabeth I of England, the Virgin Queen who masterfully remained above the male fantasy mill, could not stem all rumors of her “uncontrollable female desires” and was thought to have been behind the riding-accident death of her longtime friend Robert Dudley’s wife.

 

But perhaps the most tragic victim was Marie Antoinette. From early in her rule, the Austrian-born queen inspired in her French subjects the most virulent misogyny. The market was flooded with whole libraries of violent pornography that depicted her as a wasteful and treacherous… More…

 

If you happened to be wandering the streets of ancient Rome at dusk (or, in the summer months, the seaside resort of Baiae on the Bay of Naples), you might be accosted by a slave inviting you to an imperial banquet.  All rich Romans were expected to be fabulous entertainers — the more extravagant their feasts, the more powerful they were perceived — and the emperors were obliged to be the most over-the-top hosts of all. On most evenings, hundreds of complete strangers — males and females of all social classes, although with a bias towards the well-dressed and the good-looking — would be lured to events in splendid, marble-floored villas, where they would be bombarded with food and wine to the accompaniment of flute music and erotic Asian dancers. Prostitutes of both sexes would be on offer… More…