Prince Harry and Meghan Markle’s wedding has inspired
a royal thirst, you might want to pick up Linda
Rodriguez McRobbie’s book, "Princesses Behaving
Badly: Real Stories From History — Without the
Fairy-Tale Endings." McRobbie, a Londoner by way of
Boston, explores the backstories of famous ladies of
royal lines, including Princess Margaret, whom McRobbie
calls Queen Elizabeth II’s "wayward sister,"
and Lucrezia Borgia, "a woman who managed to
survive not only the pit of vipers that was Renaissance
Italy, but the pit of vipers that was her own
catalogs the myriad royals into categories like
warriors, usurpers, schemers and floozies, so you can
keep your princesses straight. And it is under these
headings that readers learn about a Scandinavian
princess-turned-pirate named Alfhild, who led a crew of
lady buccaneers, and Amina of Zaria, a "wicked
archer" who rode a horse named Demon and led armies
of more than 20,000 men and women.
was a princess who went corporate, another who dressed
as a man, and Pauline Bonaparte — Napoleon’s sister
— whose seductions are legendary. And how can one
forget Viktoria Elisabeth Auguste Charlotte of Prussia
— the younger sister of Germany’s last emperor, who
held an orgy for aristocrats only to be accused of
blackmailing the officials later.
we learn more about Princess Olga of Kievan Rus (now
known as Ukraine), as well. McRobbie’s research at the
British Library revealed that enemies killed her
husband, Igor, and she took revenge on them by burying
them alive, burning them in a bathhouse and killing them
via birds who’d had their feet tied with cloths dipped
in sulfur, thus torching the owners’ houses when the
birds flew home.
talked to McRobbie about her book on the eve of the
latest royal wedding. Here’s a condensed and edited
version of the interview.
Why did you write the book?
I think it was largely about wanting to present a more
human face to the title "princess." Do a
search on Amazon for "princess," and most of
what comes up are pink-and-purple-sparkly dress-up kits
or Disney or something really fantasy driven, but I felt
that there had to be a human underneath that title.
was important to try to present a more multifaceted
version of what a princess could be than what is
available out there. The problem with the title
"princess" is that we tend to allow it to
become very one-dimensional to the detriment of the
people who are actual princesses. We lose some amazing
stories and we lose some amazing women when we only see
princesses as this flat, one-dimensional, sparkly kind
Who is your favorite princess?
Clara Ward is one of my absolute favorites. (She was an
American heiress who became Princesse de Caraman-Chimay
of Belgium from 1890 to 1897, after which she divorced,
ran off with a Hungarian fiddler and went on to marry
two more times after that.).
a time when women, especially, were required to think
about everyone else before themselves, (Ward) was
selfish, but wonderfully so. She said this is what I
want to do; this is who I want to be, and she gave
herself the freedom to do whatever she wanted. She had
that freedom, because she had a ton of money, but she
also wasn’t willing to play the game. I really admire
that; I admire that streak in her that was willing to
take the bad press.
think that’s one of the things that really comes
through: There are a lot of women who are doing the best
that they possibly could within a limited tool set and
things that they were allowed to do. Women who made
decisions in that survival mode, I have to admire them.
Is it ever a good time to be a princess?
Perhaps now? They are sort of in this remarkable
position to be advocates because they’re so visible.
But at the same time, they are also bound by years of
tradition and by expectation, so it’s a complex time.
There’s never been a good time to be a princess, but
there’s never really been a great time to be a woman
in power or a visible woman or a woman without power or
maybe just a woman.
How has the #MeToo movement influenced your work?
It’s interesting. To some degree, it’s been a
wake-up call just to realize that my work on these
stories has value, and I don’t need to apologize for
it, because the lives of these women are not really
being talked about. And their stories are not really
being heard — a lot of them.
largely fostered that shift is that there’s now a sort
of cultural movement around it — that there’s
cultural padding that says: We’re not going to devalue
our stories anymore; we’re not going to devalue
ourselves just because we’re women. I think that a lot
of the stories that are in the book are stories that are
necessary and vital and interesting and do not get
enough attention, simply because they happened to a
princess and not a prince.