When we were little, Disney movies made us believe that being a princess was wonderful and exciting and full of magic. And then The Royal Diaries rolled up to burst that bubble. Sure, the "diaries" were fictional, but the historical princesses were very, very real. And their lives were mostly terrible. As it turns out, being a princess doesn't involve a lot of singing with animals, but it does involve a lot of murder, forced child-marriage, and cultural genocide. So, in case you forgot, here are just a few times that The Royal Diaries series ruined your childhood.
A lot of us children of the '90s grew up thinking of princesses as mythical creatures. They lived Long Ago and Far, Far Away, and they all spoke English and wore poofy dresses. So when The Royal Diaries turned up at the Scholastic Book Fair, we were beyond excited to learn about real princesses. And so we read the books. And that's when we realized that adults had been lying to us for years. Real history is a lot less Disney and a lot more Game of Thrones. Princesses are forced to drink poison wine. Princesses are married off against their will. Princesses are swept up in colonial violence and unable to protect their own people. In short, it's tough out there for a princess:
1. When Elizabeth's dad is the worst
Most children have heard of Queen Elizabeth I. And most people have a vague idea of King Henry VIII and how he executed half of his wives. But the book Elizabeth I really drives home the fact that Elizabeth's mother was one of the unlucky, executed wives, and little Elizabeth was constantly afraid of being beheaded by her own dad. Plus, the author likes to remind us that people rarely bathed in Tudor England, so everyone was smelly and plotting murder all the time.
2. When Cleopatra is served her sister’s head on a platter
Speaking of bad dads, Cleopatra's dad gives Henry VIII a run for his money. Cleopatra VII was my favorite book in the series as a kid (mostly because Cleopatra got to have a lot of wacky pets). But I was less charmed by the scene where Cleopatra's sister tries to murder her with poisoned wine. Or when Cleopatra's father beheads her sister Berenice and then serves the head to Cleopatra on a platter in order to remind her not to mess with him. There was family tension, to say the least.
3. When Anatasia is murdered
To be fair, the diary part of Anastasia doesn't describe Anastasia's murder, for obvious reasons. But all the books included a fun little historical section at the back, where you could find out what happened to the little princesses after they grew up. But of course Anastasia never grew up. Yes, there are lots of theories about her mysteriously surviving, but it's a little harder to believe the conspiracy theories after you read about Anastasia and her sickly little brother being shot and killed at point blank range.
4. When Anacaona is murdered
Pro tip: if any of The Royal Diaries books begin outside of Europe, and then a bunch of Europeans show up, everyone's going to die. Brutally. Anacaona, for example, is a female ruler who actually has a degree of power and is beloved by her people. Sounds too good to be true, right? Well it is, because then the Spanish arrive in Haiti, terrorize the population, and decide to publicly execute Anacaona by hanging because she refuses to become a sex slave.
5. When Kazunomiya is actually a prisoner and being a princess isn’t very fun
Even when the princesses aren't being shot or hanged for no reason, their lives are pretty bleak. Kazunomiya, for example, lives in luxury. But she's also essentially a prisoner of the Japanese court. She's betrothed to one guy at age four, and then betrothed to a different guy as a teenager, because she's pretty much a human bargaining chip who's not supposed to go outside or have any free will (at least she's not as murdered as some of the other princesses, right?).
6. When being a warrior princess is no joke
Again, Europeans showing up outside of Europe is, historically, very bad news. Nzingha already has to deal with being overlooked because she's a girl (even though she is way tougher and smarter than her brother). And then the Portuguese arrive to ruin everything. Nzingha isn't just a hunter and a warrior, she also has to try and negotiate peace with the Portuguese to avoid being killed or sold into slavery. When's she's thirteen. No pressure.
7. When Weetamoo’s entire way of life is destroyed
I did mention how the Europeans ruin everything, right? Well Weetamoo is a great example of that. She starts out as the daughter of a Pocasset chief, eager to prove herself worthy of leadership, and winds up with her head on a spike. OK, so maybe that part was in the historical note at the end, but still. Even without the head-on-a-spike ending, the whole book has Weetamoo trying to hold onto her culture as European invaders become more and more of a threat.
8. When Kaiulani’s entire way of life is destroyed
Did I say the Europeans ruin everything? I meant the Americans. The Americans ruin everything. Kaiulani is the princess of Hawaii. She rides her pony on the beach. Life is pretty all right. But then she gets shipped off to English boarding school away from everyone she knows and loves, Hawaii is forcibly annexed to the United States, and (historically, at least) Kaiulani dies of a broken heart. Seriously. Look it up.
9. When Marie Antoinette has to marry a gross, puffy prince
We all know that Marie Antoinette didn't end up living happily ever after. But even before her execution, her life wasn't all wigs and ballgowns (and she never actually said "let them eat cake"). At age fourteen she's sent to France to marry a gross monster, learn all the creepy intricacies of the French Court, and wear a lot of restrictive clothing. She's basically a living doll. But I think her disgust over her forced marriage is probably the most stomach-churning part of the book (although historically, the two of them didn't consummate their marriage for seven years so... there's that).