Her Royal Highness: Reading about Princesses

It's not easy being a Princess

…or, more aptly, women of high rank.

In honor of the birth of the new Princess to the Prince of Wales and the Dutchess of Cambridge, or Will and Kate, today’s post talks about stories involving women of rank.

Princesses are ripe characters for stories because being of noble birth/station looks great on the outside, but is full of conflict and high stakes on the inside. Often being a princess involves very little personal choice. People want to read about characters whose lives they might want to try on but who also have enough drama to keep them hooked. Beautiful trappings but being a political pawn and having to be a cunning survivor on her own in a world of men despite her station? Bring it on!

the princess diaries

I read The Princess Diaries by Meg Cabot this year as part of my reading challenge category, a book that was made into a movie, and it was a 1.99 on iTunes. Cabot breaks one of the oft repeated rules of writing fiction:

Rarely, or never put references to pop culture in the work.

References to pop culture tend to anchor a novel to a certain age group instead of being timeless. Mia Thermopolis constantly has references in her journal of the specific movie stars and trappings of the world around her. I have not read enough Meg Cabot to know if this is what she usually does.

However, I still recommend it for a YA audience because the messages are good. Her best friend is a kind and dynamic person is not conventionally physically attractive but it does not change who she is and even has boys interested in her.  Another good friend is a really great person when Mia takes the time to know her. And, Mia decides that when it comes to her personal life, she is going to be who she is and be with people who know and like her insides, not her fancy princess exterior. Cabot captures the teenage angst and the angst of suddenly having to play by everyone else’s rules without foreseeable payoff.

But really, most of what I have learned about being of noble birth is from my extensive reading of Philippa Gregory’s novels of The War of the Roses and the Tudors and Plantagenets.

I cannot go further without a shout out to Anya Seton’s Katherine, about Lady Katherine Swynford and her affair with John of Gaunt, whose many direct descendants were members of the British royal family.  Katherine is a model of historical fiction and I believe should be read by anyone who wants to contribute to the genre.  Well researched but not dry and still romantic.

Katherine

I think Philippa Gregory’s historical fiction deserves mention because she is a master at dividing up the same story in history among different perspectives. She does not write from Anne Boleyn’s perspective, she delves into the world of her close sister, Mary in The Other Boleyn Girl. She writes from the perspective of Mary I’s servant who also has psychic powers that other courtiers use to predict their own future in the uncertain court after Henry VIII’s tyranny is over in The Queen’s Fool. One hopes that Edward will really come back and admit to the secret marriage to Elizabeth Woodville inThe White Queen (which is on sale right now for Kindle, last I knew), then understands Margaret Beaufort’s drive to put her son, Henry VII on the throne in The Red Queen. One feels slighted for the Neville daughters in the Kingmaker’s Daughter  when they are blocked from the throne by Edward IV’s going against their father and marrying whom he wishes.

The only one of her books in that series that I have not finished is A Constant Princess because it was hard to get even more attached to Katharine of Aragon when I knew what happens to her in the end, which is a testament to her writing to make me care so much about a character.

Despite my love of Katherine, I still loved the story of Jacquetta, Dutchess of Bedford, the heroine of The Lady of the Rivers. That woman was all cunning and class.

Gregory’s novels give depth and color to an entire history of which I otherwise would know next to nothing. I want to return to England armed with the depth of knowledge I gleaned from her books.

Her website, www. philippagregory.com is worth a look if this post has generated any extra interest in her work.  She has also written many other novels with historical settings. I have not yet read them.

And as a final note, Will and Kate’s new baby girl has an advantage that many of these noble women did not: even if a younger brother is born, she will remain fourth in line to the throne. Yay for modern times and forward thinking.

What books about royalty and those of noble birth have you read that I have missed? Please leave a comment below!

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