Favourite Princesses of Fact and Fiction

Three historical princesses and six fictional ones, in no other order!

Elizaveta romanova
First up, Princess Elisabeth of Hesse and by Rhine, subsequently Grand Duchess Elizabeth Feodorovna, subsequently (posthumously) Holy Martyr Elizabeth Feodorovna Romanova.
Born a princess in humble circumstances (inasmuch as a princess can be in humble circumstances), she married a Russian Grand Duke, forgave the man who assassinated him, sold all she owned to found a convent of nuns dedicated to serving the poor, and was then assassinated by the Bolsheviks. A remarkable woman.

But if you think her life is remarkable, consider her niece (and god-daughter), Princess Alice of Battenberg.
Laszlo - Princess Andrew of Greece
Born deaf, she was polylingual despite having to lip-read. Born a princess, married a prince, served as a nurse in the Balkan Wars, went into exile following World War I, had five children, sheltered Jewish refugees during World War II, struggled with mental health problems, served the poor, became a nun, and became mother-in-law to Princess Elizabeth (now Queen Elizabeth II).

Agnes of Bohemia was born to be a pawn, a useful nugget of negotiation to be married off in whatever way her father found most profitable. First she was engaged to the son of the Holy Roman Emperor (she was eight, he was ten). Six years later the engagement was dissolved and her father planned to marry her off to Henry III of England – but the Emperor refused to allow it, as he wanted to marry her himself. Yes, the same Emperor whose son she’d been engaged to.
Anezka Vaclavske namestie
But Agnes had other plans: she flatly refused to marry anyone at all. This could have been war – in fact, she had to call on the pope to back her up. But the Emperor caved: “If she had left me for a mortal man, I would have taken vengeance with the sword, but I cannot take offence because in preference to me she has chosen the King of Heaven.” She went on to found a double monastery and hospital providing free care for the poor – work she did with her own royal hands.

Éowyn is the first of our fictional princesses, first introduced in The Two Towers. She is a shieldmaiden and for a time Regent of Rohan, thanks to Háma who points out that the king has a second surviving relative and “she is fearless and high-hearted. All love her. Let her be as lord”. She also goes defiantly into battle (despite her uncle’s objections), defending said uncle from the Witch-King of Angmar. “You stand between me and my lord and kin. Begone, if you be not deathless! For living or dark undead, I will smite you, if you touch him.” (Hear, hear!) After recovering from her war-wounds she retires from shieldmaidening and marries Faramir, becoming Lady of Ithilien.

Peter Nicolai Arbo-Hervors dødRoyesse Iselle is the second-in-line to the throne of Chalion in The Curse of Chalion (top on my list of I Wish I’d Written That), behind her older half-brother the roya (i.e. king) and her younger brother the royse (i.e. prince). She too lives with the threat of a most unwelcome arranged marriage, but with the aid of those loyal to her and her own indomitable spirit, she decides her own path.

Princess Ben (from the book of the same name by Catherine Gilbert Murdock), or, to give her her full name, Princess Benevolence, is a lonely orphan being raised by a most controlling aunt. She finds a chance to learn magic – and sooner or later you know she’s going to end up saving the world. But she’s a nice, sensible, relatable princess, for all that, with a witty tongue in her head, for all she daren’t use it.

Speaking of relatable princesses, there is the Little Princess, Sara Crewe. Not, perhaps, strictly speaking, a real princess, but it takes a lot of inner strength to carry on living up to the standards of princesshood when you don’t enjoy any of the advantages, which makes her a princess for the unroyal of us. As Julie Andrews said, “Behaving like a princess is work. It’s not just about looking beautiful or wearing a crown. It’s more about how you are inside.”
A Month's Darning MET ap66.240
Diana Wynne Jones’ novel Castle in the Air is replete with princesses – dozens of them – but my favourite has to be Princess Beatrice. She’s a brisk and hearty princess, a natural leader, but prouder of her practical skills such as darning socks and even mending boots. She runs away to avoid a political marriage, but the book ends with her marrying herself off – for her own ends.

Last – and I’m sure this is no surprise – is Princess Lily of Arcelia. Like Éowyn, Ben and Sara, she is an orphan, and like Ben, she has a rather controlling aunt who has very definite ideas about what kind of young lady she ought to be. Driven by a genuine passion for her land and its people, Lily follows her duty even when it leads to rebellion. Running away from home at the tender age of eighteen-next-week, Lily has to grow up fast. I must admit to being rather fond of Lily. Despite her mistakes – and she makes some so bad I flinch for her – she perseveres, she does her best, and she learns.

Alexandra Nikolaievna of Russia by C.Robertson (1840, Hermitage)Who is your favourite princess – real or imaginary? Tell us all about her in the comments!

Taking the Stairs

I’ve always liked the idea of living in a house with stairs. Not houses which require stairs to get into them – I’ve lived in plenty of those – but houses with more than one storey.

Wooden stairs are ideal – none of those disturbing steel-and-glass things that show you the yawning gulf beneath your feet (and presumably allow anyone beneath to look up your skirt).

So I was delighted when we managed to buy Narrowhaven, a house which is equipped with a proper indoor stair. The stairs are of an aesthetically pleasing shiny dark wood, and are a very important part of the function of the building. Which is to say, half of the house’s six rooms are at the bottom, and half at the top, and there’s nine feet to climb between them.

Of course, nine feet is not excessive. Particularly not when you consider the staircase that goes up the side of Mt Niesen in Switzerland, which measures one and two thirds kilometres just in the verticals. Admittedly, it’s an outdoor stair, but still, 11,674 steps is a lot. I should be thankful that I have only fifteen.

Especially considering that said fifteen steps lie between the kitchen (i.e. the Source of All Tea) and the bathroom (I trust I do not need to draw you a picture).

The call of nature draws you up, and the call of a cuppa, or your book, or pottering out to the letterbox for some fresh air calls you down again.

But I am thankful for my fifteen steps, because they are one of the chief sources of exercise in my life. It doesn’t matter what the weather’s like, or how energetic I’m feeling, up and down those stairs I must go.

I took a survey across three recent days (including one when I was out for the evening) and found that on average, I go up and down the stairs ten times a day. Or rather, down and then up, considering that I start my day in one of the upstairs bedrooms.

But how often do we even consider the sterling contribution of the humble staircase? “What is a staircase, but a corridor improved by elevation?” as Catherine Gilbert Murdock wrote in Princess Ben (very readable book that, by the way).

How many other parts of your house silently and without the slightest charge provide you exercise without you even needing to think about it? No sooner had I written this than I popped upstairs again and was on the third-to-last stair down before I’d even noticed what I was doing.

While there are doubtless those for whom stairs are Not What The Doctor Ordered (e.g. those with joint problems or chronic giddiness), they should have our sympathy, and all the more so if they have stairs anyway. For when you’re just an ordinary homebody like myself, there’s nothing like a flight of stairs to keep you moving.

Note: whoever named a case of stairs a “flight” should be sat down and given a talking-to. If there is one thing you should not attempt to do when taking the stairs, it is taking flight. Happily, our stairs come with walls both sides and a handrail, so flight options are limited.
Main stair case
It’s not just the practicality, either, it’s the aesthetics. A sweep of well-swept richly glowing wooden stairs is a much more pleasant thing to look upon than An Exercise Thing for Stepping – wouldn’t you agree? And unlike the Exercise Thing, it slides all that exercise almost unnoticeably into your day.

So here’s to the stairs, the humbly serving unappreciated stairs. Give them a sweep or a vacuum and show your stairs a bit of love today.