Princesses Behaving Badly

Title: Princesses Behaving Badly: Real Stories From History Without the Fairy-Tale Endings

Author: Linda Rodriguez McRobbie. She is a freelance journalist, this is her first book.

Genre: Nonfiction

Readers: Professors JoLee and Irene Adler, publishing professional Gigi, attorney Elizabeth H. and librarian Mary Liz.

Summary: You think you know her story. You’ve read the Brothers Grimm, you’ve watched the Disney cartoons, you cheered as these virtuous women lived happily ever after. But the lives of real princesses couldn’t be more different. Sure, many 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 Elizabeth of the Austro-Hungarian empire slept wearing a mask of raw veal. Princess Olga of Kiev murdered thousands of men, and Princess Rani Lakshmibai waged war on the battlefield, charging into combat with her toddler son strapped to her back. Princesses Behaving Badly offers minibiographies of all these princesses and dozens more. It’s a fascinating read for history buffs, feminists, and anyone seeking a different kind of bedtime story.

Our Take: These short real-life tales of princesses are fun and frightening, great for short reads. Not perfect for big history buffs who want lots of detail, but great for the casual lover of royalty.

JoLee

Linda Rodriguez McRobbie’s book, Princesses Behaving Badly, proves that real princesses are just as interesting to read about as fairy tale princesses and perhaps even more interesting. The badly behaved princesses in Rodriguez McRobbie’s book tried to usurp power, schemed and schemed, partied hard, and were more than a little crazy. I enjoyed the bite-size summaries of the princess’s lives and the wide variety of cultures and time periods covered in this book.

I loved that I could pick up the book and read about one or two princesses even if I only had a couple of free minutes. I also didn’t mind that the writing included a little bit of preach and more than a bit of snark. I am a big fan of How Stuff Works’ “Stuff You Missed in History Class” podcast, and when I heard about Princesses Behaving Badly I thought it sounded like it would dovetail nicely with my favorite podcast, and indeed it does. In fact, several of the princesses in the book have been featured on the podcast. This is the type of book that I would love to listen to, and there is an audiobook version available for fellow audiobook lovers out there. But, if I had listened to the audiobook I would have missed out on the beauty of the book itself with its lovely thick pages and many illustrations. Princesses Behaving Badly would be the perfect gift for your favorite history lover, royalty buff, or feminist.

Grade: A

 

Irene Adler

I enjoyed Princesses Behaving Badly as an entertaining read that will be useful to me in conversation and in raising young children. The author has collected a wide array of narratives about women whose stories provide a complicated and messy portrait of “princesses” in their times and historical contexts. While brief and somewhat speculative, the nod to the non-fairy-tale character of these assorted princesses’ lives was fun and engaging.

Arguably, on many occasions the agenda of the volume overtakes the stories of the princesses themselves, which are colorful enough without the many asides and witticisms about their actions. I felt that the many anachronistic colloquialisms in the descriptions of the women were a bit tiresome, e.g., “Daddy’s Girl,” “Ready to Rumble,” “Three’s a Crowd,” or “Worst.Marriage.Ever.” Still, Rodriguez McRobbie has provided a wealth of claims, stories, and anecdotes to follow up on—and, most importantly, she has given me lots of good ideas for future Halloween costumes.

Grade: B+

 

Gigi

I thought this was great! The author begins with princesses from the dawn of history, reconstructing as much as we can know from their mythologized histories and comes down to the modern day. Each princess gets about 3-5 pages so it makes a good bedtime read as you have many stopping places for when you want to go to sleep. I am considering giving it to my ten-year-old goddaughter for Christmas. I hesitate a little because when the title says “badly”, it means it; Lucrezia Borgia is included in all her glory. On the other hand, what is a godmother for? I do wish there were even more modern-day princesses included. I feel like the stories could only get more interesting as women gained more power and our records got better.

Grade: A

 

Elizabeth H.

This is a fluffy romp through history, with princesses doing exactly what the title says: behaving badly. Or being forced to behave badly due to circumstance, or being treated badly by other people. Basically, these are character sketches of princesses…minus the happy endings.

I find the criticisms of the book as not being scholarly enough perplexing–what were these reviewers expecting? And yes, the notes are scanty, but the prose is fun and so far as I could tell, accurate, and if you’re reading this for a term paper, you aren’t doing it properly, anyway. Go read Anne Somerset or Jenny Uglow for the weighty stuff. (Their notes will help you with a dissertation.)

This is a fun, fast read. It’s a great gift for a friend who likes history (but you never know if they’re currently stuck on Soviet gulags or Regency England). I find the omission of Eleanor of Aquitaine glaring, but not enough to deduct a star. I loved that the author didn’t neglect Asian or African princesses.

Grade: A

 

Mary Liz

It always seems that princesses, whether they are the Disney or the Buckingham palace versions, have enviable lives. They live in palaces, have beautiful wardrobes, and marry handsome princes. But in Linda Rodriguez McRobbie’s book, Princesses Behaving Badly, we get a fascinating peek behind the magical curtain and learn that not all princesses live fairy tale lives.

McRobbie takes us from the fifth century Black Sea to current day Great Britain telling quick three to four page stories of princesses who are everything from pirates to bank robbers. These short stories are an enticing introduction to princess lore but unfortunately they fall short in regards to satisfying the reader. Each story was more of a tidbit of information that left you wanting more rather than just a true historical account. It felt as though the accuracy and factual details suffered in order to keep the book light and readable.

Overall I enjoyed the stories and think that both teens and adults will be entertained by this book. It is a fine introduction to the real life stories of princesses throughout history but may also leave you a bit unsatisfied.

Grade: B-

 

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