Princesses Behaving Badly: Real Stories from History without the Fairy-Tale Endings

Linda Rodriguez McRobbie
288 pages
19 November 2013Perhaps the best way to make sure that the fairy tale doesn’t become the expectation is to talk about real princesses and to stop turning their lives into fairy tales. Some real princesses were women who found themselves in circumstances they couldn’t control.”
Princesses Behaving Badly by Linda Rodriguez McRobbie

The first time I ran across Princesses Behaving Badly: Real Stories from History without the Fairy-Tale Endings, was actually on a really neat Tumblr post. Someone had taken a section about one of the many interesting princesses and shared it for others to read. I enjoyed it enough that I decided to see if I could find a copy of the book to read more stories. Growing up with a history teacher for a father, I learned to love quirky history stories, so I was excited to begin this book.

One of the first things I really enjoyed about this book was the clear layout that McRobbie chose. The book starts with a very interesting introduction that briefly discusses the growing “princess culture” and some of the concerns with that. One of my favorite moments was when she quoted Peggy Orenstein from her book Cinderella Ate My Daughter: “Orenstein, among many others, worries that princess play presents unrealistic expectations of feminine beauty, is overly restrictive (pink ball gown, or purple?), and is turning little girls into budding narcissists. So do I.” Rodriguez McRobbie then expanded on who princesses really were, and why she wrote this book. The quote below was a perfect explanation about who princesses really are.

Historical princesses have been capable of great things as well as horrible things; they’ve made stupid decisions and bad mistakes, loved the wrong people or too many people or not enough people. They are women who lied, murdered, used sex as a weapon, or dressed like a man to hold on to power. They weren’t afraid to get a little dirt, or blood, on their hands. These women were human, but the word princess, along with its myriad connotations, often glosses over that humanity.”

From there the book was laid out by themes that the princesses shared, with a handful of princesses for each of those theme. The themes were: Warriors, Usurpers, Schemers, Survivors, Partiers, Floozies, and Madwomen. I liked some sections much better than others, but this was very much my personal preference. Below are some of my favorite stories and quotes (to be honest most of them are from the first half of the book).

Alfhild- “Instead, she decided to trade her modesty for men’s clothing and go to sea as a rampaging pirate, leading a crew of lady buccaneers. As you do.”

Tomyris after promising an invading leader she would give him his fill of blood if he attacked her country– “When she found his body among the fallen, Tomyris decapitated it and dipped his head in blood, making good on her threat. Legend has it that she also kept his skull as a drinking sup.”

Neat tidbit-“Geneghis Khan considered his daughters superior leaders compared to his sons, and awarded them kingdoms that they defended tooth and nail (oftentimes against their male siblings).”

My favorite story was about Winnaretta Singer the lesbian who married Prince Edmund de Polignac (who was 31 years older than her and gay). It was apparently real love with “their mutual love of salons, of music and art, meant that they never lacked for things to talk about, were always each other’s best friend, and could still enjoy romantic relationships on the side.”

My favorite quote of all was about Princess Caroline when Prince George IV saw her the first time, “she certainly wasn’t run-away-and-get-drunk ugly.”

Overall, I found the book very easy to read, and enjoyable. I would have trouble remembering any of the princesses by name now, but I think I would be able to talk about some of their stories. While I have read some people complaining about the accuracy of some of the stories, I think it was sufficient for me. This book acts as a nice introduction to each of the woman, and if you want more information there is a helpful bibliography at the end. I really enjoyed McRobbie’s voice and her way of telling the stories, and would recommend this to some of my friends.

Final Verdict: A nice introduction to some of the interesting women who have held the title of Princess throughout the ages. A good book to read on holiday.

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