“You think you know her story. You’ve read the Brothers Grimm, you’ve watched the Disney cartoons, and you cheered as these virtuous women lived happily ever after. But real princesses didn’t always get happy endings. Sure, plenty 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 Elisabeth of the Austro-Hungarian empire slept wearing a mask of raw veal. Princess Olga of Kiev slaughtered her way to sainthood while Princess Lakshmibai waged war on the battlefield, charging into combat with her toddler son strapped to her back. Princesses Behaving Badly offers true tales of all these princesses and dozens more in a fascinating read that’s perfect for history buffs, feminists, and anyone seeking a different kind of bedtime story.”
The princesses concealed behind the pages of this book are not Disney or Fairy Tale princesses, there is not a single doubt about that.
The book is divided up into seven parts, as the author spends time writing about warrior princesses, usurping princesses, scheming princesses, princesses who were survivors, partying princesses, ‘floozy’ princesses and princesses who may or may not have been madwomen.
Some of the names found in the book were ones I already knew some, basic history on, such a Lucrezia Borgia, Wu Zetian or Hatshepsut – I knew who they were, but Princesses Behaving Badly shed more light on what they did, how they lived, and their accomplishments (or sometimes, their fall from accomplishment).
The book was a light, fun read, with each spotlighted princesses getting only a few pages in summary before we were moved on to the next misbehaving lady.
There were some princesses who I felt were unjustly put into the wrong category, for example – Gloria von Thurn und Taxis (that’s the shortened version of her name). She might have partied it hard and been rightfully placed in the ‘Partiers’ portion of the book, but Gloria’s story wasn’t just that of a princess who spent money, hosted parties and lived it loud and wild. Reading about Gloria (who, honestly, might have been my favorite spotlighted princess in the whole book), her story was that of a survivor. She was an impoverished waitress with a useless royal heritage until she married Johannes von Thurn und Taxis. Yeah, Princesses Gloria lived it up in her youth, but she ended up becoming a businesswoman who saved the name of her husband’s lineage and preserved the von Thurn und Taxis heritage for her son.
But, that is almost the charm of the book.
I read a previous review that scolded the book for its lack of feminist goggles, especially in the floozies, madwomen and partiers categories. The reviewer claimed that Princesses Behaving Badly‘s author Linda Rodriguez McRobbie didn’t give enough grace and instead put these ‘poor women’ into categories of judgment – I found no judgment whatsoever, though.
McRobbie doesn’t take the time to explain the actions of the partying princesses or give a medical condition that might have caused the mad princesses to go insane. She doesn’t write about Stephanie von Hohenlohe (a princess who partied and socialized in order to spread Adolf Hitler’s influence) or Malinche (an Aztec princess who assisted Cortes and his men in taking Mexico and was the mother of Cortes’ son) in order to say “these women betrayed their people/worked for an evil regime, and that is why they are bad.”
In fact, McRobbie doesn’t ever paint a single woman in this book as wicked, evil or nefarious. Were their actions doubtable and likely nefarious? possibly. But McRobbie mentions again and again (especially with poor Lucrezia), that history is sometimes unfair in how it portrays women who acted outside of the status quo.
Did Lucrezia sleep with her brother? Was she truly All That Bad? McRobbie never says; instead, she tells you what we absolutely know about the lives of the women who were considered mad, witches, floozies or partiers, and then tells you what the public of the time was told to believe about these women – and lets you make the final decision.
McRobbie gives just the facts, and it shouldn’t be surprising, considering her day job is that of a reporter for various news outlets, and not a historian. She loves her topic, but she doesn’t sensualize it – she tells you as it was, what was what, and the rest? it’s up to you.
Were these princesses truly behaving badly? Or were they just victims to a mindset of the time that wanted them corsetted, quiet and gentle? Princesses Behaving Badly doesn’t make an attempt at answering those questions. It doesn’t condone every action and it doesn’t demonize the women who might have earned it.
My biggest complaint? Boudicae deserved more pages.
Just the Facts Ma’am:
Author: Linda Rodriguez McRobbie
Page Count: 288
Year of Publication: 2013
Publisher: Quirk Books
I would recommend this book for more mature readers. While the book never goes into explicit detail, it does discuss some princesses who were known for their “sexy exploits” and might be a bit above that of a young reader’s level.
The writing style itself is simple, and an easy read and shouldn’t pose any difficulty for any level of mature readers.
I purchased my copy of Princesses Behaving Badly and was not compensated in any way for the act of reviewing.