In the world of princesses, there are the famous —
Diana, Grace — the infamous, like Princess Stephanie of Monaco, and the princesses you never knew about, but should. Though being a princess is more of a figurehead role these days, oftentimes being a princess wasn't all it's cracked up to be. Beyond the tiaras and trains, there has often been a lot of political maneuvering, not to mention sexism. Disney ain't got nothing on some of the world's more scandalous princesses; they've taken thrones, joined the circus, waged war, been exiled, and saved their citizens. And that's just the start. Sitting around in a pretty dress isn't the half of it.
Defining a "princess" can be tricky in lineages that don't necessarily use the term, but historians tend to use the word for any female heir to a throne who hasn't claimed it yet; once they've claimed the throne, they become queen. Or,
in one amazing case, king. No matter their official title, there are some princesses from past centuries that should definitely be better known for their antics. Compared to this lot, the princesses of today look decidedly mild and easygoing, save for their constant messy buns.
Tamar, Georgia's only female monarch in history, is known as "King Tamar" because the concept of the throne in Georgian history was entirely male. Tamar was the sole heir of George III, and came to the throne
in 1178 as a co-regent at the age of 18, when she was still a princess. The move was unprecedented and made Tamar a hugely powerful woman. When the king died six years later, she became his successor, and, depending on who you ask, either convinced doubting nobles of her excellence through diplomacy or just had them all killed. She was apparently a very successful ruler either way, expanding Georgia's empire, but she clearly took no sh*t: In 1187 she decided she was fed up with her husband, divorced him, and exiled him to Constantinople.
Princess Joan of Kent's marital history is notoriously tricky to unwind;
she secretly married a knight at age 12, then was married by her family (against her will) to the Earl of Salisbury a year later. The husbands fought over that for decades until the Pope himself declared the knight, Thomas Holland, her true spouse. When Holland died, Joan was a controversial widow with four children, but that didn't stop Edward, the "Black Prince" of Wales, from pursuing her. They married in 1361 with the blessings of the Pope, who had to personally give permission for the wedding to take place because they were closely related. What's more, Princess Joan was the first woman in the royal family to be bestowed the title Princess of Wales — a title later shared by Princess Diana.
Truganini was a member of the Tasmanian Palawa people, and the
the daughter of a tribal elder. When Australia was being colonized in the 19th century, Truganini formed an alliance with a settler, George Augustus Robinson, who had been tasked with convincing the Palawa to move to a neighboring island to escape the violence of colonization, where they were later imprisoned. Truganini is remembered for leading her people through this era with courage and strength.
Mirabai was not only a princess in 16th-century India, but also a highly
feminist poet, and later, a literal saint. Mirabai refused to consummate her marriage to a prince because of her devotion to the god Krishna, and after her husband's death, refused to take on the traditional role and garb of a widow and worshiped Krishna openly. Apparently — and quite a lot of Mirabai's life has become legend, so take some bits of this with a grain of salt — her family was highly displeased by this and attempted to kill her on numerous occasions, but she became a wandering holy woman and a bhakti saint, and never returned to her aristocratic home.
If anybody exemplifies the fact that not all princesses are heroines, it's Agrippina the Younger. The wife (and niece) of Claudius, and mother of Roman emperor Nero, she led a life of intrigue. She was
exiled as a teenager for plotting against the Emperor Caligula, convinced Claudius, her second husband, to recognize her son Nero as heir over his own child, and made constant political moves to get Nero onto the throne, including possibly poisoning Claudius herself. Nero would eventually put her to death, following one thwarted assassination attempt (he put her in a sinking boat, but she swam to shore) with a successful one.
Princesse de Caraman-Chimay
If anybody on this list sounds like fun, it's the Princesse de Caraman-Chimay. Born
Clara Ward in Detroit to millionaire parents, she would become a princess through marriage to a Belgian noble, Prince Joseph de Caraman-Chimay, when she was still a teenager. But the princess would rapidly attract scandal; King Leopold II of Belgium was allegedly so attracted to her that she had to leave his court to avoid gossip, and she later left her husband and kids to run away with a Hungarian nightclub performer, Rigo Janczy, in 1894. Gossips whispered that the wealthy heiress gave Rigo pet elephants and tigers as gifts, and the two performed together in clubs for several years (and even got matching tattoos). They eventually separated, and the princesse would marry several more times before dying at the age of 43. Bustle’s Royally Fascinated series is all about owning our obsession with princesses — and exploring why that's an empowering thing.