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!

The Unknown Princess

Then a thought came back to her which made the color rise in her cheek and a spark light itself in her eyes. She straightened her thin little body and lifted her head.
Guillaume Charles Brun - The ribbon seller
“Whatever comes,” she said, “cannot alter one thing. If I am a princess in rags and tatters, I can be a princess inside. It would be easy to be a princess if I were dressed in cloth of gold, but it is a great deal more of a triumph to be one all the time when no one knows it.”

A Little Princess, Frances Hodgson Burnett

Living the Story

Well, after Thursday’s dramatic line in the sand, reality turns out to be not so heroic.

After a few days (nights) of reduced sleep, I struggled on Friday morning. The weather forecast was unexpectedly nasty. I had to replan the multiple layers of my wardrobe for the day, and in the end I didn’t get any writing done at all.

Bundled up 7897

But I did get up. I thought about piking out and sleeping in, but I didn’t.

It makes me wonder: how much of what I do is because that’s part of the narrative I have determined I will live? How much is that helping, and how much hindering?

Surely, I can’t be the only person who weaves narratives around themselves to ameliorate the mundanity of their life?
Anyone? Anyone at all?

Away with The Fairies Part2

Having cast myself as the dedicated but struggling writer, I can’t very well turn round and sleep in past seven. It ruins the story. And living the story helps me keep going.

Of course, this can turn against you (no, I mustn’t have the heater on! the starving garret-writer wouldn’t have that!) but for the most part, it helps.

Being true to the rôle is more fun than following the schedule or the regulations. It’s more creative. It’s more like play.

On the spotlight

So, now that I’ve put my internal child quivering in the spotlight for playing make-believe at the age when other people are doing Serious Adult Things like having mortgages and career aspirations – who wants to join me?

We can be prisoners of war, plotting escape (thank you, Professor Tolkien); knights under siege (merci, Monsieur Buhet); or a misunderstood girl on a heroic quest (thank you Terry Jones).

Medieval woman defending her castle

Sometimes it even helps to pretend things are worse than they are. Sara Crewe may have pretended to be a princess to escape the drudgeries of domestic servitude, but how many people since have pretended to be Sara Crewe?

girl and cat

I don’t mean to suggest that I spend my days thinking I’m someone else – I have grown up a bit, after all. But when I find myself in adverse or tiresome circumstances, it can be enlivening to think: what characters (fictional or otherwise) have been this way before me? What would they do? What did they do? What if -? (And incidentally, would it not be very cool if I was a superhero?)

I can be efficiently domestic with Lucy Eyelesbarrow (this is more productive when at home), persist to the bitter end with Cazaril, or be quietly indomitable with Jane Eyre.


So what narrative eases the flow of your days? “Stories etch grooves deep enough for people to follow.” Or do you do it the hard way, scratching the beginnings of a new groove with each succeeding day?

Is it just me?