Review: Princesses Behaving Badly

I received this book for free from Publisher in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

Review: Princesses Behaving BadlyPrincesses Behaving Badly: Real Stories from History Without the Fairy-Tale Endings by Linda Rodriguez McRobbie
Published by Quirk Books on November 19, 2013
Genres: History, Humor
Pages: 288
Format: ARC
Source: Publisher
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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.

Despite my general hesitance to mess with nonfiction, I was actually pretty intrigued when Princesses Behaving Badly arrived on my doorstep unsolicited. I actually love history, and this sounded like a fun, light collection of historical facts, running more along the lines of trivia than textbook. It’s the dryness of much nonfiction writing that keeps me wary of leaving my fictional home. Princesses Behaving Badly is exactly what I was hoping for: a humorous read full of historical anecdotes with which I was unfamiliar.

fun and silly

McRobbie writes in a very friendly, conversational sort of style. Princesses Behaving Badly reads more like a blog post than a textbook. For me, this was a good thing, particularly given the subject matter. McRobbie’s diving into some of the most impressive and outlandish stories about princesses in history, so a dry tone wouldn’t particularly suit the goal here. Plus, it made reading Princesses Behaving Badly a lot more fun. Obviously, this method won’t work for everyone, but I thought it was nice and made the book very engaging and interesting.


One awesome thing about this collection of historical stories is that I really didn’t know much of anything about most of these women. Though I was a history major, a lot of the included princesses were in regions or time periods I never studied. Even the ones that were generally were not covered in my courses or textbooks, because they weren’t necessarily influential to the bigger picture. There’s not much of a focus on women in historical texts or textbooks, which meant that Princesses Behaving Badly was packed with almost entirely new information. Plus, the stories are all fascinating in different ways. Reading about badass past princesses is awesome but reading about the crazy ones is definitely fun as well.

daring princess

So far as the accuracy of the history herein, I really couldn’t say without doing a whole lot of research, which I lack the time and inclination to do just now. McRobbie openly admits in several places that many of the stories are conjecture. As I mentioned, historians were often less interested in princesses, so what sources do exist often aren’t in depth or reliable. It’s often unknown whether reputations were earned or merely slander. Basically, you couldn’t use this book as a reference in a scholarly paper, but it’s a nice overview of some of the wilder princess stories written in a really engaging way. The finished book will come with a bibliography for further reading, which would be necessary for true knowledge of any particular princess.

Princesses Behaving Badly details exactly what the title says it will, in that same non-serious tone. While not a book for serious historical inquiry if, like me, you enjoy reading up on some of the largely forgotten and somewhat scandalous bits of history, then Princesses Behaving Badly is a good choice. The goal is history in an entertaining package, and McRobbie succeeds.

Favorite Quote:

Princess Alfhild had a choice to make.

On the one hand, a really awesome guy had finally managed to bypass her father’s deadly defenses and call on her without finding himself impaled or poisoned. She could marry this brave young man and enjoy the life of domestic bliss that women of her era were supposed to aspire to. Or she could ditch the pampered royal life and become a pirate.

18 responses to “Review: Princesses Behaving Badly”

  1. Meg says:

    This sounds really interesting. I’m with you on the beware of dry nonfiction, so yay for none of that! I love collecting unusual facts in my brain trap (like a bear trap but squishier) and this sounds fun.

    Please tell me Princess Alfhild went with the pirate option.
    Meg recently posted…Review: Croak by Gina DamicoMy Profile

  2. Kayla Beck says:

    Yep, this was what I was hoping for! *does the happy dance* Now to get through these two books ahead of it in line… *glares*
    Kayla Beck recently posted…Blog Tour (Review & Giveaway): Spring Moon by HRH Princess Sophie Audouin-MamikonianMy Profile

  3. I loved this one! Such a fun collection of stories. Quirks Books is quickly becoming one of my very favorite publishers. I’ve liked everything I’ve read by them. Glad you enjoyed this one too!
    Dana (Little Lovely Books) recently posted…Right NowMy Profile

  4. Jana says:

    I loved reading this book, and I’m happy to see it getting such positive reviews!

  5. Sold. Going on the TBR right now.
    Shae/Shelver @ Shae Has Left The Room recently posted…Review: THESE BROKEN STARS by Amie Kaufman and Meagan SpoonerMy Profile

  6. This sounds pretty fantastic. I’m also not a big fan of non-fiction, but it sounds as if this is much more approachable than most works. Also, that subject matter is just so interesting. I only heard of this book recently, but now I will definitely make an effort to check it out! Great review, Christina!
    Amanda @ Late Nights with Good Books recently posted…Review: Belle Epoque by Elizabeth RossMy Profile

  7. Whitley says:

    “You’ve read the Brothers Grimm, you’ve watched the Disney cartoons, you cheered as these virtuous women lived happily ever after.”
    Something tells me the blurb-writer didn’t read the Brothers Grimm…

    “McRobbie openly admits in several places that many of the stories are conjecture.”
    To be fair, a good number of our stories about men are the same way, just no one gets their knickers in a twist trying to point out that stories of men being awesome could, maybe, possibly not be true, so don’t take it to heart, really, it’s probably all lies, don’t get any ideas, stay in the kitchen.
    Whitley recently posted…Will of the Empress: Ch 13My Profile

    • Christina Franke says:

      Bahahaha, I totally did not read the blurb, but, yes, they certainly have not read the Grimm stories in the original form.

      I see your point, but I’ve seen similar caveats in history about male figures. Good historians generally note the limitations involved, rather than presenting things as fact that are solely conjecture. McRobbie’s goal definitely was not to imply that women should remain in the kitchen, and she generally said she subscribed to the women having done something rather daring, instead of it all having been slander/propaganda.

      • Whitley says:

        I didn’t mean to comment on McRobbie (I doubt she would write a book about awesome princesses if she wanted to perpetuate the myth that women are naturally docile) but it still irks me that that line gets thrown out far more often in regard to women and minorities than it does in “regular” history. If anything, I assumed she included the line as a preemptive counter against critics who no doubt would be using it as a way to discount awesome historical women, since that happens nearly every time stories of female awesometude come out, historical or otherwise. Which, in and of itself, is sad.

        My ranting ran off without context again. I really need to work on that. :\
        Whitley recently posted…Will of the Empress: Ch 13My Profile

        • Christina Franke says:

          Ahhh, I see. Well, there’s also the fact that there’s so much less historical data available on women, so there’s a lot more conjecture available, so the sexism of the past begets sexism in the present. Things like this are part of why I rarely venture into actually history. I prefer my fiction, even if I know the historical fiction I enjoy generally plays fast in loose in order to give the female characters more agency.

          Everyone rants without context sometimes. I’ve been known to do it myself.

          • Whitley says:

            Yeah, it’s quite the self-fulfilling prophesy we’ve fallen into. There’s a long tradition of leaving women out of history, so trying to put their stories back in leads to people saying “but I haven’t heard of women being awesome, so instead of thinking there’s something wrong with that, I’ll just assume that’s how it’s supposed to be and make you work extra hard to convince me.” Alas.

  8. Andrea says:

    This. Sounds. Fabulous. And I must have it. I’m obsessed with anything Princess related and I love the idea about these princesses who had “secret lives.” Every one in a while I get sucked into non-fiction and love reading biographies about long dead royalty specifically.
    Andrea recently posted…Shadow and Bone by Leigh Bardugo (Review)My Profile

  9. Ellis says:

    “It’s a fascinating read for history buffs, feminists, and anyone seeking a different kind of bedtime story.” This sounds a bit like you, doesn’t it? I think it does.

    I’m wary of non-fiction for the same reason. Beyond Heaving Bosoms changed that for me, though. It’s a work on the romance genre, written by the women behind the Smart Bitches, Trashy Books blog. It is hilarious. They swear all the time and completely parody the Anita Blak/Merry Gentry series at one point. It’s because you mentioned that Princesses Behaving Badly read a bit like a blog that I bring it up. BHB has the same familiarity.

    Princesses are often so ignored throughout history and I hate it. It just proves all the more how much of a commodity they were. I love the entire idea behind this book. Also, perfect gif usage is perfect.
    Ellis recently posted…Rewind Review – Every Which WayMy Profile

  10. Sean A says:

    You know how much I love this stuff. I have to check it out. If you’re interested, I’ll let you know about any historical inaccuracies. The best information about warrior women comes from Antonia Fraser, who is sure to decipher fact from fiction and embellishment.

  11. Lyn Kaye says:

    I like the sound of this one!
    Lyn Kaye recently posted…Book Review: The Cutting Room Floor by Dawn KlehrMy Profile

  12. Bookworm1858 says:

    I read an e-copy of this which was riddled with grammatical and typographical errors-was the hard copy better edited at this point? It made it a most difficult read when I was constantly stopping, trying to figure out what was meant.
    Bookworm1858 recently posted…So Into YouMy Profile

  13. I was really on the fence about this book, because I heard a few negative things about it and it doesn’t have the greatest Goodreads rating, but your review really made me want to hit that “want to read” button, and I did! I’m occasionally a fan of nonfiction, but like you, hate the dryness of some of it. The fact that you say it’s not dry makes me really want to try it out. And since I don’t think I’ve ever heard of any of the princesses mentioned, I don’t think I’ll really mind too much if the historical accuracy isn’t…quite so accurate, as that’s the biggest complaint I’ve heard about it.
    Miranda @ Tempest Books recently posted…Weekly Wrap-Up (#11)My Profile

  14. I like reading historical fiction. I don’t read non-fiction very often, but this one sounds like fun. Especially because it’s all about princesses and that is kind of my thing!
    Mel@thedailyprophecy recently posted…Review 220. Michelle Diener – Mistress of the wind.My Profile

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