Damsels Not in Distress: Cassie-la Bows to “Princesses Behaving Badly” by Linda Rodriguez McRobbie

Princesses Behaving Badly Linda Rodriguez McrobbiePrincesses Behaving Badly: Real Stories from History Without the Fairy-Tale Endings by Linda Rodriguez McRobbie (Advanced Reader Copy)
Release Date
: November 19, 2013
Genre: Nonfiction, history, princesses, humor, I’m still angry that Alice can’t be in the Disney princess line
Rating: 3.89 out of 5 stars

Summary: Not all princesses are of the prince-marrying and living happily ever after variety. Some of them would rather fight, kill and scheme to get their way rather than lay around hoping that one day an attractive man will show up and kiss them while they sleep. Within this book, author Linda Rodriguez McRobbie compiles true life stories of royalty who broke the Disney mold to show that not all princesses are created equal and that life is anything but a fairy tale.

As explained in its introduction, Princesses Behaving Badly seeks to destroy the myth of the “Princess Industrial Complex” covered in the book Cinderella Ate My Daughter: Dispatches from the Front Lines of the New Girlie-Girl Culture by Peggy Orenstein. It argues that this belief in the fantasy princess life perpetuated by Disney and the real-life Kate Middleton is a dangerous one because no one seems to realize this imaginary world is an unrealistic one with harrowing real life consequences, such as the death of Princess Diana.

It explores this idea by detailing stories of princesses who don’t fit into this mold, presenting easy to read and digest mini-biographies of real world princesses who were anything but the well-behaved marriage alliance, baby-making machines and damsels in distresses we know from fairy tales.

The book gives a wide swath of princesses to read up on and is divided by types: Warriors, Usurpers, Schemers, Survivors, Partiers, Floozies and Madwomen, exploring princesses from 1500 BCE to the 21st century, telling tales of Vikings, Egyptians, Tudors, and punks. Although not necessarily in order.

McRobbie writes entirely readable histories of the women like the pirate princess, Egyptian ruler Hatshepsut, the princess who tried to wed Atilla the Hun, Isabella the “She-Wolf” of France who was buried with the heart of her husband in her hands, Lucrezia Borgia the mafia princess, the prisoner princess who wed a man dubbed “Pig Snout,” the princess who became a communist, the punk rock princess, Pauline Bonaparte the exhibitionist princess and even Franziska the woman masquerading as the missing Grand Duchess Anastasia Nikolaevna to name a few.

Each princess gets her own chapter complete with full biography that details the important parts of their lives and McRobbie stuffs the book with even more princesses by including fun little sections within each chapter dealing with other types of women and their royal counterparts throughout history.

For example, women accused of witchcraft (see: Anne Boleyn and Elizabeth Woodville), so-called Dollar Princesses who kept European businessman afloat with money in exchange for titles, princesses who gave up their titles for love and mad princesses (see: Countess Elizabeth Bathory) which was my particular favorite section. Maybe she’s born with it, maybe it’s the blood of 600 slain virgins.

Still other sections just seek to expand upon a historical practice at the time or more general topics such as the purpose of royal incest, how to fake being a princess and famous last words. While nothing could top the supposed last words of Oscar Wilde which are misquoted and not his last words (“either this wallpaper goes or I do”), Marie Antoinette’s were pretty good. She allegedly said, “Pardon me, sir, I did not mean to do it” after stepping on the foot of her executioner.

The book is also full of princesses accused of sexual debauchery, but as the author is quick to remind her reader, “the easiest way to slander a woman in any era is to call her a slut.” Actually nailed it!

To sum thing up for you, Princesses Behaving Badly is a must read for any history buffs, lovers of interesting historical tidbits or anyone who ever wishes their princesses were more Merida and less Snow White.

THE GOOD:
-Covers wide range of places, time periods and various historical figures
-Written in sassy and easy to digest manner, not your dry history book
-You’ll learn a thing or two, interesting and informative = bonus points!

THE BAD:
-With so many princesses it’s hard to learn too much about each one
-Some tales are more interesting than others because this is the nature of these collections

For more books about bad-ass women in history (albeit specifically medieval history) I highly recommend you check out tomes about Empress Matilda (When Christ and His Saints Slept by Sharon Kay Penman), Eleanor of Aquitaine (Eleanor of Aquitaine: A Life by Alison Weir) and Joan, Princess of Wales (Here Be Dragons by Sharon Kay Penman, which also includes appearances by Eleanor of Aquitaine). The Medieval Studies degree in me couldn’t help but share.

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4 thoughts on “Damsels Not in Distress: Cassie-la Bows to “Princesses Behaving Badly” by Linda Rodriguez McRobbie

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