Thanks to fairy tales and Disney many little American girls grow up wanting to be a princess. We are shown this idealized, fantasy version of a woman who has everything she wants, is pursued by the man of her dreams and has nothing better to do than wear pretty dresses and sit around looking beautiful.
When I heard about the book Princesses Behaving Badly I knew I had to read it. I stumbled upon the PBS series Million Dollar Princesses, hosted by none other that Lady Cora Crawley of Downton Abbey herself. I enjoyed the look into the lives of American heiresses who wed into European nobility and when the book was referenced I immediately put it on my Amazon wish list.
Princesses Behaving Badly is a collection of stories written about women throughout history (including those of legend) and how their positions of wealth, title and power impacted their lives. The book covers the lives of thirty women dedicating an average of about five pages per person. It is further organized by categories such as Warriors, Schemers, Floozies. It does not give a comprehensive study on each woman, but merely a general “wikipedia style” summary of each life.
I found this to be an easy read, a book I could pick up at random times when I had a couple of minutes to spare. The fact that you can read as much or as little as you want at a time makes it a handy little book to keep in the car, the bathroom or any other place you may have a few extra minutes. It does not give a lot of historical detail, but it did whet my appetite to research some of the women further for more of their stories.
It’s been a very long while since the idea of being a princess has held any appeal to me. In my mind, it is a life of duty and responsibility with a loss of privacy and the freedom to choose the path of your own life. The lives of these women prove that sometimes it has been even worse than that. The majority of them were pawns of a patriarchal system which forced them into sacrifices which benefited their families and husbands but came at great personal cost to themselves. A few of the woman were able to fight that system and win, or use it to their advantage, but a great many more of them were powerless and denied the freedom to choose within their own lives. After finishing this book I realized that the reality of being a princess is in many cases the opposite of the fantasy. If young girls were to read more stories like this, there would be less make believe. I’m not sure that is necessarily a good thing. In fact I think fairy tales can play a necessary part in teaching us how to imagine and dream. Princesses Behaving Badly does however provide a helpful counter point to a steady diet of princess films helping us realize that wealth and position don’t guarantee happiness.