Princesses Behaving Badly: Real Stories from History Without the Fairy-Tale Endings
by Linda Rodríguez McRobbie
E-ARC, 304 pages
Published March 6th 2018 by Quirk Books
You think you know her story. You’ve read the Brothers Grimm, you’ve watched the Disney cartoons, you cheered as these virtuous women lived happily ever after. But the lives of real princesses couldn’t be more different. Sure, many were graceful and benevolent leaders—but just as many were ruthless in their quest for power, and all of them had skeletons rattling in their royal closets. Princess Stephanie von Hohenlohe was a Nazi spy. Empress Elizabeth of the Austro-Hungarian empire slept wearing a mask of raw veal. Princess Olga of Kiev murdered thousands of men, and Princess Rani Lakshmibai waged war on the battlefield, charging into combat with her toddler son strapped to her back. Princesses Behaving Badly offers minibiographies of all these princesses and dozens more. It’s a fascinating read for history buffs, feminists, and anyone seeking a different kind of bedtime story.
Historical princesses have been capable of great things as well as horrible things…. These women were human, but the word princess, along with its myriad connotations, often glosses over that humanity… But history is only as accurate as those who record it, and that goes double when the subject is a woman.
This book is the perfect book for Women’s history month; filled with amazing women who achieved much from taking back the throne which was rightfully hers, went to war against the enemies, to the ones who refused the marriage of convenience arranged for them or fought hard to keep her family together.
This book is divided into 7 parts, all corresponds to a certain characteristics of the princesses that make them famous. For example, the first part is titled WARRIORS and it’s about princesses who literally fought their own battles. Sometimes they won, sometimes they don’t.
And that’s what I love the most about this book: they humanize the princesses. As the introduction tells us above, princesses are idolized because of the “happily ever after” expectations; they are thought o have this happy and perfect life and we refuse to acknowledge that they have their problems too (same goes with celebrities, but that’s another conversation). Just because they wear tiaras and pretty dresses, physically perfect, and have a title (sometimes titles), doesn’t mean they don’t face problems. Some of them got married off whether they wanted to or not, some of them died protecting their people and kingdom, and some of them got killed in revolutions. In the end, they are all human.
Another reason why I love this book, other than how it highlights princesses from the past (and some of them still alive until now), is because of how laid back the writing style is. It doesn’t read like a biography, nor it is as a historical book. It reads like some sort of blog or magazine, and in a good way. As in, it’s easy to read. I also love how it gives social, historical, and geographical context surrounding that princess life, so that we understand better why they did what they did.
All in all, this is a perfect book to be read by everyone and because I don’t have much things to say except endless praises, I decided to highlight my favorite princesses from all the six princesses. I highly recommend this book to everyone, this is definitely my favorite non-fiction this year!
Warriors: Princesses who fought their own battles
Rani Lakshmibai is the legendary Indian queen who died fighting the British. She was the Queen of Jhansi (rani means queen) a kingdom in India. Her son died and a few years later her husband the king also died, sadly, these events coincided with the arrival of the British to India. The King has adopted a son as his heir but obviously the British wouldn’t acknowledge that, so they lay siege to Jhansi. At first, Lakshmibai does not lead her people agains the British, they were too busy fighting other Indian kingdoms that set their eyes on the now-ruler-less kingdom of Jhansi. She even asked for help to the British. But as her pleas got ignored and the British annexed the kingdom, she had no choice but to fight for her people. She usually depicted riding valiantly into the battle with her son on her back. Unfortunately, she died in battle and Jhansi ended up being taken over by the British.
Usurpers: Princesses who grabbed power in a man’s world
Before Cleopatra, there was Hashepsut. She was the daughter of Tuthmose I and stepsister to Tuthmose II, whom she married (incest was common in ancient Egypt, this book also provided insight on incest in European royal families). They had a son, Tuthmose III, who was crowned when he was only 2 years old. She ruled as regent, but overtime she crowned herself as Pharaoh. How she managed to do that is explained in detail in the book, what I want to focus in is as unusual as she was, she lead Ancient Egypt to peace era and built a lot of amazing buildings. Unfortunately, after her son Tuthmose III ascended the throne, all trace of her was removed; statues destroyed, inscription removed, buried in simple coffin.
Schemers: Princesses who plotted and planned
Isabella of France
Dubbed as “The She-Wolf of France”, Isabella of France is one hell of a queen. She was married to Edward III of England, who was openly gay and favored his lover openly than Isabella. I mean, his lover sit next to him in their wedding dinner and coronation. He also spend a huge amount of money and titles for his lover. To make matters worse, he was an incompetent king who put England to bankruptcy. She went back to France (she was daughter to the King of France after all) under the guise of diplomatic visit, and then refuse to came back until the lover was removed. Fortunately, all the incompetencies of the king caused the nobles to side with Isabella and the king has no choice other than removing his lover. Isabella acted as regent for his son and then, his husband died mysteriously (shhhh). His son managed to take the throne back from her mother and she spent the rest of her life retired from the public, but still in relatively lavish lifestyle.
Survivors: Princesses who made controversial and questionable choices
The original Femme Fatale and arguably one of the most famous person in history, Lucrezia Borgia lived up to her family name. Born to the Borgia family, which is one of the most powerful family in Reinassance Italy (her father is Pope Alexander VI) and got their power through blackmail and killing, Lucrezia sure did some of her own shady businesses. She was married three times, rumored to have incestous relationship with her brother Cesare, have ring filled with poison, along with murders attributed to her. Hate her or love her, she did it and managed to secure her position in Reinassance Italy, even after her family influence waned.
Partiers: Princesses who loved to live it up
Gloria von Thurn und Taxis
Definitely my favorite in this whole book is Gloria. She was known as this lavish party princess in 1980s after her marriage to ___ 30 years her senior. After his death however, she found out she was left with ____ debt. She stopped partying, studying economics and accounting, sell some assets, and managed to pay all the debts and managed to raise her family. Talk about an extraordinary princess.
Floozies: Princesses notorious for their sexy exploits
If you think she sounds familiar, that’s because she’s the sister of the infamous Napoleon Bonaparte. But in her era, she managed to made a name of herself, without the help of her brother, through partying and countless affairs. Growing up poor, even had to resort to washing clothes to earn money, she received no formal education and therefore, considered pretty wild for her era. She married twice, the first one ended in death (by natural causes) and the second one in estrangement. Her antics always became the talk of the era and only Napoleon able to controls her. Pauline, in turn, is wholly devoted to Napoleon, even begging to follow him when he was exiled (she was not allowed).
Madwomen: Princesses who were likely mad, or close to it
Elizabeth if Austria
Have you ever watched Chanel 2014/2015 campaign, starring Cara Delevigne and Pharrell? That was my first exposure to the story of Elizabeth of Austria, or more well known as Sissi. She was married to Emperor Franz Joseph I, but initially, it was her elder sister that was supposed to marry the emperor. Sissi was brought up in less formal environment and as the result, she didn’t mix well with the tight-up society of Austrian royals. She also had a hostile relationship with her mother-in-law, Sophie, who controls all aspect of her life and even took her children away. As the result, she suffers from eating disorder and extreme diet regime in an attempt to control the only aspect of her life she could control: her beauty, which was legendary at that time. She also spent her time travelling away from the court to escape it and when she was there, she suffers from extremely low episodes. The thing is, her husband truly love her; he never berated her for spending her time gallivating away and his first thought when hearing the words of her death was she finally cracked and commited suicide (she was murdered). He also never take another wife and never remarried.
Have you read this book? Who is your favorite historical princesses?