Princesses have it rough.
Sure, Disney makes it look like fun, with all the balls, dresses, money and perfect skin. Sometimes they even get to be feisty and make their own decisions, just so long as they’re still wasp-waisted and doe-eyed. But no one takes a princess seriously. It took 20 years for Princess Peach to finally get her own gig and show big baddy Bowser that she wasn’t just a damsel in a shockingly ugly pink dress. And 75 years for Wonder Woman to get a movie that was even remotely worthy of her badass-ness. Real life princesses, too, get a bum deal.
So here’s a call to arms: Below are five women – just the tip of the princess iceberg, really, who deserve their own shows, movies, graphic novels, comics, plaques.
- Queen Tomyris, who kept her enemy’s skull for a drinking cup
Tomyris was the 4th century queen of the Massagetai, a nomadic, warrior people of what is now Iran. Tomyris became queen after her husband, the king, died; Cyrus, ruler of the Persians, thought this would be the ideal opportunity to mount an attack on the Massagetai. Cyrus sent an emissary to Tomyris’s court, pretending to be in the market for a wife, but canny Tomyris knew that it was her kingdom and not herself that Cyrus wanted.
After an initial defeat, Tomyris mustered all the warriors of her kingdom and led them personally into battle against the Persians. It was a fiercely pitched struggle, but eventually the Persians fell – Cyrus included. When she found his body amongst the fallen, she decapitated it and dipped his head in blood. Legend has it that she kept his skull for a drinking cup.
- Alfhild, the pirate princess
Alfhild was the only daughter of a pathologically over-protective fifth century Goth king, Siward. Not only was she forbidden to show her face to any man, but her father also gave her “a viper and a snake to rear, wishing to defend her chastity by the protection of these reptiles when they came to grow up”, according to a 12th-century text detailing her (possibly apocryphal) story. If any man could get past her defences, he might be worthy of her.
One brave (or stupid) young man, managed to dispatch Alfhild’s charming pets and survive to ask for her hand in marriage. But Siward declared that Alfhild was free to make up her own mind whether she wanted to marry Alf. After Alfhild rejected Alf’s proposal, she decided to take some time for herself. Also, she became a pirate.
- Khutulun, the wrestling princess
Princess Khutulun, niece of Khubilai Khan and the great-great-granddaughter of Genghis Khan, was the only girl in a family of 14 boys – and she could out-wrestle all of them. She was also a fierce warrior who could shoot a bow and arrow almost as well as she could wrestle. In 13th century Mongolia, this wasn’t too unusual – high-born women ruled vast territories, and commanded the armies that protected them.
And as far as Marco Polo or any of the other visitors to Mongolia who chronicled her story knew, she’d never been beaten – she’d reportedly amassed a herd of more than 10,000 horses, all won through wrestling.
- Clara Ward, the American Dollar Princess who defied all of Europe
American heiress Clara Ward had buckets of money, and was one of the original celebrities. Her exploits attracted the same kind of attention in the late Victorian press that a Kardashian’s would now.
Late in 1896, after just two years of marriage (and two children), Ward left her husband and ran away with a Hungarian violinist she met at a nightclub in Paris. At her divorce hearing two months later, Ward declared in a statement read before a packed courtroom, “I am done with it all. I wanted to be free.” But she was never free from the attentions of the press. It followed her through her tumultuous marriage, and her days as a nearly nude model at the Folies Bergere, as a scandalous fixture of the Parisian Belle Epoque nightclub scene; through her next divorce and hasty marriage to the “handsomest man in Naples”; though her next marriage, and her death of pneumonia; and finally, through the reading of her will and the distribution of that glorious wealth that made her life so possible.
- Princess Noor Inayat Khan, the pacifist spy princess
Before World War II, Princess Noor Inayat Khan, descendent of Tipu Sultan, ruler of the Indian Kingdom of Mysore, was a harpist, children’s book writer, and a devout Muslim Sufi pacifist.
In 1940, Noor joined the Women’s Auxiliary Air Force and trained to be a wireless operator. Two years later, Britain’s Special Operations Executive deployed her to Nazi-occupied France as a wireless operator – armed only with a false passport and a pistol, codenamed “Madeleine”. At 29 years old, she was the first female wireless operator in occupied France.
She was betrayed by a contact and, after three months on the run, was caught by the Gestapo. She fought like a tiger and soon tried to escape, climbing out of a bathroom window, but she was caught. She spent 10 months in solitary confinement in a German prison in chains, beaten, starved, tortured. But she never talked. Noor was executed by the Nazis on September 13, 1944 at Dachau prison camp, shot through the back of the head. The last word on her lips was “Liberté”.
Princesses Behaving Badly is out now from Quirk Books.