The Princess: A Royal Dilemma.
Locked in the High Tower.
In today's zeitgeist, there is an extremely firm notion of what being a princess entails, some are even audacious enough to have it as a moniker on their Facebook profiles. She is effortlessly beautiful, imbued with a flawless grace as demure as the comeliness tangible to all laying eyes on her, externally and internally, a radiance glimmers, no matter the pitfalls besetting her. Those envious of her highly cultured magnificence are waylaid by the agents establishing themselves to honour and cherish her undimmed elegance (the Prince Charming, her adoring public). Although the insidious auspices of evil conspire to dismantle the heroine's mantle, her integral exquisiteness survives captivity, politicking and perhaps attempted murder to resurface as the sun every morning in the east. This is the allegory of the princess, a pampered, unattainable, lofty idyll of aesthetic physicality and a lifestyle where every whim is seen to. Aspiration as stratospheric and ergo, more ephemeral to the vast majority of girls as being Captain of the England Football Team is to most boys.
With the exception of some of the new films like Brave and Frozen, this has been the prosaic dream regurgitated out to many generations of women since the Disney Dream Factory opened business. Snow White, Sleeping Beauty, Cinderella, Belle, Jasmine, even Princess Fiona to an extent, a plethora of girls have spent their youth waiting to be rescued and they grow up, learning the harsh lesson that this day doesn't really arrive. Reality is the bitter pill we all swallow, a gut rending tonic that teaches us we need to stand alone.
Because of the (mainly Disney led) fairytale hue cast over the light of many girl's childhoods , the notion of the princess itself became skewed, a watered down aspect of a more far more insidious reality (evolving into the WAG, the Kardashian). An invidious undertone, blighting modern ideals of empowerment, freedom, equality and justice. The princess in reality (probably even taking into account the "dream life" of Grace Kelly, for example) was the polar opposite of the pampered, idyllic young beauty surrounded by opulence and reverence.
Royal Oven At the Beginning of the Production Line.
In the long, inexorable process throughout history, the drudgery of reality was encapsulated many times, by the princess herself. The truth of being the daughter of a king is, in all actuality, murkier than torchlit passageways in a Medieval castle. We are all familiar with the chessboard, it's characters etched in the vernacular of our culture and understanding. You have the elevated and power figures in the back row: King, Queen, Bishop, Knight, Castle (Rook), the princess throughout many western nations, were closer to the pawn. Positioned in order for those in power to remain secure, sacrificed for the greater good of their people, the pawn and princess signified little more than cattle historically. The lot of the king's daughter was, if not the convent, was to be handed around to the most eligible noble in neighbouring European courts. They were the linchpin of alliance, the promise of truce and peace.
Glancing through English history, it is ripe with examples, starting as far back as Judith, the last wife of the Wessex King, Athelwolf. On returning to England from pilgrimage to Rome and reaching the French court, the king of France presented to him (ostensibly as a gift) his 12-year-old daughter... Athelwolf was 61. Subsequently he died soon after and Judith (Saxons did have morals, apparently) scandalised Saxon Wessex, when the teenage queen married her stepson, King Athelbald.
Alfred the Great's granddaughter, Athelflead, gained power herself, though only by being married off to the ailing King of Mercia. Her aging husband was useless in staving off the viking threat, so she bore the brunt of the Danes. Uniting with her brother, King of Wessex, Eadward "The Elder." Siblings repelled the Norse threat. Yet her fortune of impunity came at the expense of luck and marriage.
Fast forward to Emma, wife of Athelred II "The Unready," saved from obscurity, "acquired" when married to the all-conquering Canute.
This was the "power" of a princess, to knit together tenuous claims to land and douse angry flames of regional/international conflict. To be granted more was an unconscionable action or thought, as in the case of Princess Matilda. Made heir by family tragedy as opposed to birthright - her brother dying in The White Ship Disaster of 1120 - her father, Henry I, made the Barons swear to accept Matilda as Queen upon his death, they reneged on their vow. Flocking around her cousin Stephen like flies round... well, you know! The Barons prepared for war as Matilda bitterly fought for what was denied her. How did she get the power to fight? Marrying Geoffrey Plantagenet, Count of Anjou. Despite managing to seize London and hold it for the better part of a year (the new capital created by her father, changed from Winchester), Matilda's birthright never became a reality. Forward thinking (no doubt in part desperately brought about by Henry I concerned about none of his progeny having the throne. Having possibly stole the throne himself by maybe killing - never verified - his brother, William II, incarcerating his eldest brother Robert, Duke of Normandy and having more illegitimate than legitimate offspring) by Matilda's father, if seen through, could have resulted in England being a far different culture. Though her cousin Stephen suffered the same misfortune as his uncle Henry I. His own son, Eustace, instead of sinking, was slain in battle. Thus Matilda's son, who became Henry II, was granted the English throne, as well as granting a nod to his mother's endeavours by adopting the handle "Fitzempress" (Son of the Empress) in his title.
Further evidence as use of princesses as pawns on the European board, was the Hundred Years' War. Edward III claiming right to the French throne by grace of his mother's blood (Princess of France). The heritage of another princess, Margaret Beaufort, ensured the Tudor claim to the throne and the convenience of Elizabeth of York (Edward IV's daughter, Edward V's sister) healed the wounds of a war torn nation, after Bosworth Field. Princess blood granted Hanoverian accession to the throne. A daughter (Elizabeth) of James I/VI of Scotland, being the grandmother of George I.
Even today, the worth of the princess is measured in her ability to produce healthy heirs, Princess Diana was hounded to the point of death and even now we are told to coo and gaggle with delight over Kate Middleton and her son George and the second baby she is expecting. A princess' power (if any) was in the covert talisman of alliance she represented, though this was limited and only worthy if her end of the bargain, a son and heir (a spare too, preferably) were upheld. For example, Catherine of Aragon's failure to produce a son, resulted in one of the biggest schisms in politico-religious history. Locked in a tower surely, sought after definitely, but also certainly not a life to aspire to.
The Fog of Aspiration.
Of course, there are female figures in history to be admired. Catherine the Great, Elizabeth I, Boadicea, Cleopatra, Hypatia of Alexandria, Emmeline Pankhurst, Ada Lovelace, Marie Curie, Hedy Lamarr and many others. Is the notion of the princess as inspiration a convenient control and conformity tool? I am not for a second avowing that a woman should deny her exterior femininity, appearance and not celebrate that appearance. But we are a whole, that which is internalised is far more beneficial on a personal level. Life can often mean on the way to identifying with ourselves, that we endanger wandering into being lost in a woods. And many false prophets in the guise of old crones materialise to offer us poison apples. But the real Prince Charming, is our souls.
I said previously that we stand alone, but individualism is a beacon. It produces it's own radiance and illuminates the void and scrabbling tempest out in life's ocean. Swim in that personal ocean and don't emulate others!
© Brad James, 2014.