Everyone knows that princesses are really lame. That is, the typical pop culture princess — all baubles and fancy dresses and complete lack of agency — is really lame. But luckily, some princesses break the mold (or even break the bones of their enemies). This week, we’ve been hearing a lot about The Princess Who Saved Herself, a book that “reinvents the princess myth” for the modern girl, so it seemed like a good time to take a look at a few other badass princesses you might not have heard of (yet). Sound the royal trumpets and make way: here come ten princesses who are the opposite of lame — some fictional, some historical, all awesome.
Gloria Cheng Epstein Takahara de la Garza Champion
This kick-ass princess is “an awesome kid who lives with her pet snake and plays rock ‘n’ roll all day to the huge annoyance of the classical guitarist witch who lives down the road.” Multiracial, cool, assertive, and confident, she’s just the kind of princess we need in everyday life.
Urraca of Zamora
OK, so: Urraca was one of the five children of Ferdinand I the Great (Count of Castile, King of León, Emperor of Spain, etc). When Ferdinand died, he split his lands between his five children, imploring them to each rule their own little city-state in peace. But of course, Sancho, the eldest brother, decided that he wanted all the lands his father had conquered, and went around overthrowing his siblings — until he got to Zamora, that is. Urraca not only fended him off, as none of her siblings had been able to do, but when he tried to surround her city and starve her out, she basically set up a plot to have him killed. And then the little sister took down the bully and won! The end.
According to 12th-century historian Saxo Grammaticus (as summarized by Linda Rodriguez McRobbie) the fifth-century Gothic king was extremely protective of his pretty daughter. He had her cover her face at all times (so men who saw her would not be driven mad by lust), gave her vipers to raise as protective pets, and swore that any man who tried to get inside her room would be beheaded. When finally a man broke through all her father’s defenses, Alfhild decided that instead of marrying him, she’d go become a pirate, raising a crew of other lady pirates (and later a crew of adoring gents) and adopting “the life of a war-like rover,” eventually building herself an honest-to-goodness fleet. Eventually, her spurned suitor fought his way to her and won her back to his bed, blah blah blah, but that doesn’t negate any of her badass princess pirating.
In Norse mythology, Brynhildr is a shieldmaiden/valkyrie princess who was asked to decide a battle between two kings, and pissed off Odin when she ruled against his favorite. As revenge, Odin sent her to live in a tower, sleeping in a ring of flames, until she was rescued. But a sorceress meddled with her lover’s affections, sparking a revenge spiral that ended with everyone dead, Brynhildr throwing herself on the pyre of her hero’s son.
Princess Pingyang wasn’t technically a princess until she helped her army general father dethrone the sitting emperor in 617 China and found the Tang Dynasty. That is, she singlehandedly recruited some 70,000 troops and rebels to march under the banner of the Army of the Lady, and was instrumental in securing her father’s rise to the throne. By the way, she was only 19 at the time. Talk about badass.
The first book in Patricia C. Wrede’s excellent Dealing with Dragons series begins: “Linderwall was a large kingdom, just east of the Mountains of Morning, where philosophers were highly respected and the number five was fashionable. The climate was unremarkable. The knights kept their armor brightly polished mainly for show-it had been centuries since a dragon had come east. There were the usual periodic problems with royal children and uninvited fairy godmothers, but they were always the sort of thing that could be cleared up by finding the proper prince or princess to marry the unfortunate child a few years later. All in all, Linderwall was a very prosperous and pleasant place. Cimorene hated it.” Well, so would you, if you were a stubborn, smart princess with a mind of your own. Cimorene learns Latin and magic and fencing and how to make cherries jubilee, and then runs off to be a dragon’s princess, telling every knight and prince and well-meaning first son who comes knocking on her cave entrance that she’d rather not be saved, thank you. Later, she saves the whole realm. A bunch. Why has this not been made into a movie?
This 13th-century Mongolian princess (who happened to be the great-great-granddaughter of Genghis Khan) was a warrior girl who fought at her father’s side in battle and who, more than anything else, loved to wrestle. She was also awesome at it (that’s what happens when you’re the youngest of 15 children, and all your older siblings are boys). She swore she would never marry any suitor unless he could beat her on the wrestling mat, and as the years went on, no man in the kingdom could topple her. Eventually she did marry — but it was when she felt like it, for love. No one ever beat her at wrestling.
Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind
The heroine of a manga and then a film by Hayao Miyazaki, Nausicaä is a smart princess of a minor kingdom in a post-apocalyptic land, an avid explorer who spends her time “windriding,” studying the ecology of her strange world, doing experiments, and has a particular gift for talking to creatures of other species. While an able warrior, she seeks peace and knowledge — and gets them both.
Princess Alice of the United Kingdom
Feminist! Supporter of women’s education and job training! Ran the field hospitals and served as a nurse during the Austro-Prussian War! Ran the field hospitals and served as a nurse during the Austro-Prussian War while super pregnant! Basically awesome.
Forget the (very badly received) Disney version. In Alexander Lloyd’s The Chronicles of Prydain, Eilonwy is a feisty, sarcastic, back-talking beauty who not only could hold her own in a fight, but was also, you know, a sword maiden enchantress in a long line of sword maidens and enchantresses. She liked to run around barefoot and yell at Taran, the supposed hero of the books, who was deeply confused by her. Until, like, the last few pages of the last book. But we’ll forgive that.