Book Review: Princesses Behaving Badly: Real Stories From History Without The Fairy-Tale Endings
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Princesses Behaving Badly
Real Stories from History Without the Fairy-Tale Endings
Hardcover | Kindle Edition
Written by Linda Rodriguez McRobbie
Quirk Books
Release Date: November 19, 2013

Most people find history dry and boring, suffering through the classes in school because it was required. But there are a few of us that know that history tells the best stories. Princesses Behaving Badly: Real Stories from History Without the Fairy-Tale Endings is proof of this. Disney likes to make everything all cute and pretty but in reality the truth is a far cry from that. The past contains a multitude of ladies who weren’t content to sit on the sidelines, they got up and forged their own destinies. And there were no helpful animals or fairy godmothers backing them up.

Containing short biographies of over thirty women from days gone by, this book is sectioned into seven parts. First off, we have the warriors. Loaded with tales of death and destruction, we learn how these ladies were the match for the men of their day in both physical prowess and warfare. Though many didn’t start off with that intention, circumstances led them to it. One became a pirate, another a general. One even defended her homeland with her infant son in tow!

The next group is named the usurpers since everything in their stories involved taking power in what were predominantly male-led societies. Whether forced to present themselves as men or dressing their male concubines up as women, these women were unconcerned with what the majority of their peers thought. Instead, they appealed to the people to back them and surrounded themselves with as many supporters as possible. What their followers actually thought of them, we may never know. But they did remarkable things, despite the gender based oppression of their times.

No list would be complete without the schemers of history. While a few of these ladies used their influences to maneuver themselves into positions of power, a few were already there by birth. One thing they had in common, however, is politics. And in fact, playing that game proved hazardous to each of them in different ways. One appealed to the greatest threat her empire ever faced, earning her banishment. Another manipulated men for decades before being cast aside by her own offspring. But most recently, one forged and alliance with a ruthless dictator who believed in his country’s superiority over all others. Interestingly enough, these ladies all lived to tell their tales. It must be true that only the good die young.

The chapter on the survivors, on the other hand, is a grouping of stories that revolve around some terrible decisions and the aftermath of those choices. Though a couple of these women were not so innocent, the majority of them found themselves at odds with everyone around them. Working as a translator for an occupying army or rallying those around them to rebel against the government are sure-fire ways to find yourself inside of a prison, as several did. But overcoming those odds seems to be the recurring theme with this bunch.

The next two sections are all about the partiers and the floozies who did what they wanted, when they wanted…regardless of what, or who, they should have been doing. Crossdressing, lying, horniness, and promiscuity are all traits you will find here, much to the chagrin of their contemporaries. Hell, there’s even a story about one who loved to show off her goods…constantly. But not all the stories are bad; there are a few short pieces on how love conquered all and several ladies gave up their fame and fortune to marry commoners. Who knows, maybe all we need is love?

The final group are called the madwomen, and no it’s not talking about being angry. More like clinically insane as far as I can tell. Of course, no one probably gets better when they are bricked up inside a room, just saying. The story about the princess who wore a silk mask filled with raw veal (to rid herself of freckles) pretty much makes Lady Gaga seem tame by comparison. There are several more excerpts of unfortunately deranged women who may or may not have had any claim to being royal but throughout this section is an overwhelming sense of dread.

While at times I was humored by the stories that Linda Rodriguez McRobbie included in this book, I spent most of it amazed at the lengths that some of these poor women had to go through just to be who they wished to be (excepting the mentally ill ones, of course).

Many of the tales are tragic and most end on a sour note but such is life, especially in times past. There are no guarantees and being born royal (or ascending to royalty) is no exception. I’ll tell you one thing that holds true, though. If you are a history buff then this book is a must have. I absolutely loved it from start to finish. Never dry or boring, the text is kept on point but with a bit of flair to keep you focused. Take a look at this one folks, trust me on this.

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