Presented by Disenchantment on Netflix.
Fairy tales are sort of like manure, because they're used to cover something ancient and organic with something that's mostly shit. Not to say they aren't entertaining... they're just often very distant from the truth. Thanks to fairy tales, little girls dream of becoming princesses, but the realities of that lifestyle can be closer to the stuff of nightmares. Let's scrap the "Once Upon a Time" business and just get right to it, shall we?
As a princess, your first mistake was being born. Yikes! That's gonna take a few decades of therapy to deal with. For centuries, sons were more desired among royalty, since they were believed to be more capable of succeeding their parents to the throne. In fact, it wasn't until 2011 that British Commonwealth leaders finally repealed a law in which younger sons took succession precedence over their older sisters.
King Henry VIII was so confident in his ability to produce a male heir with his wife, Anne Boleyn, that he planned jousts and fireworks to accompany the birth. But on September 7th, 1533, the couple instead welcomed a baby girl, Princess Elizabeth. That's gotta be a bummer if your own birth cancels a night of fireworks. Like a regular gender reveal party, but somehow even more depressing.
Princess Hwahyeop was another disappointment, and her father, King Yeongjo of the Korean Joseon Dynasty, didn't attempt to hide his resentment. He supposedly even threw water toward her house after using it to clean out his ears. However, when the princess died before her father, the king left hundreds of letters inscribed in stone in her tomb, documenting his regret. Hopefully at least one of them was, "Sorry for throwing earwax water at you. I'm disgusting."
In the same vein, as a princess / future queen you were expected to give birth to a son, especially since you had failed so miserably to be one yourself. Hooray, a second chance at redemption! Unfortunately, in vitro fertilization wasn't a thing yet, and there's no documented magic spell to ensure a male baby. So, this could actually just be another opportunity for you to screw things up again. Hooray?
Over in 16th century England, the pressure to have a baby affected Mary I so much that she had a phantom pregnancy. Princess Mary became queen when her brother Edward died, and she quickly sought a husband to knock her up with a new heir. She chose Prince Philip II of Spain, and the two married in July 1554. That November, Mary swore she felt a baby moving in her womb. Both England and Spain were thrilled at the news, and all the necessary measures were taken to prepare for a May delivery. Mary and Philip arrived at Hampton Court and waited for the contractions... all month. Rumors that a beautiful prince had been born swirled around England with no basis. June came, then July, then August. The Venetian ambassador wrote that Mary's pregnancy was more likely to "end in wind rather than anything else." He appeared right, and unfortunately for Mary, a fart is more of an air than an heir.
Princesses Eugenie and Beatrice of England both attended and graduated from public schools, but that wasn't always the case for royalty. For most of history, growing up as a princess often involved being homeschooled in your own palace. That meant always getting stuck at the 'loser' table at lunch, a.k.a. the big long one with your mom and dad.
Princess Victoria may have had it the worst. Victoria's mother, the Duchess of Kent, was what we today might affectionately call a power-hungry control freak. She created an intense set of rules called the Kensington System, under which the young princess had to share a bedroom with her mother, couldn't go anywhere unsupervised, and had to write down every single thing she did each day. The Duchess also used her manipulative system to make herself queen for a few years instead of the rightful heir, Victoria, who probably spent most of her subsequent reign dealing with some royally intense mommy issues.
Of course someone of royal blood cannot share the same lunacy as some filthy commoner, which is why many royals went ahead and literally invented their own brand of crazy.
For example, Princess Alexandra Amelie of Bavaria experienced a mental condition that was quite grand. That's because the 23-year-old royal had a delusion that she had swallowed a grand piano made of glass as a child, and it still remained intact inside her. She would tiptoe through the halls of her palace, being careful not to touch any walls for fear that her piano shatter. According to Ye Olde WebMD, this aptly named "glass delusion" was surprisingly common among nobles from as early as 1388. Of course, there wasn't always a piano involved; some sufferers were convinced they had glass hands, feet, or even buttocks. Modern psychologists believe this was a manifestation of how "vulnerable, fragile, and exposed they felt in their public positions" and represented their desire to be left alone. I've heard "your ass is grass", but I guess, among royalty, it was more like "your ass is glass... and you've swallowed a piano."
Princesses needed a prince, and their marriages were often arranged to ensure the purest bloodline. Therefore, similar to the lame excuse your old high school friend gave when explaining why you weren't invited to her wedding, royal matrimonies were often "strictly family." That's right, princesses mostly married people they were very much related to: cousins, brothers, uncles, oh my! Gotta get that pure blood. Unfortunately, at some point this blood became so pure that it refused to perform the same mundane tasks as commoner blood, like clotting. Because of that, European princesses often lost many of their male heirs to Hemophilia, as the disease mostly affected boys. Welp, "not being a son" doesn't seem so bad now.
Other princesses, perhaps catching wind of this whole bloody mess, took drastic measures to prevent their arranged marriages from even happening. French princess Jeanne d'Albret was 12 when she was set up with William de la Marck, the Duke of Cleves. She wrote and signed a whole petition denying her consent in the marriage; nevertheless the two were wed, and she was forcibly carried down the aisle. Afterwards, though, she made enough of a scene to avoid the marriage bed, and four years later the Pope annulled the marriage on the grounds that "it had never been consummated". Basically, Jeanne cockblocked herself and it was super effective.
Alright, so you got married, you popped out a couple sons... now you can just sit back, relax, and do whatever you want, right? Well, not exactly, Princess. You see, there's a whole list of traditions that have been passed down over the years that you'll need to follow. But don't worry, some of them have gone out of style. Like ye olde practice of princesses being examined fully nude by their suitors that was promptly rejected by Isabeau of Bavaria's father in 1385. Obviously, that practice no longer occurs today, except maybe sometimes on reality TV.
One tradition that has managed to stick around is the proper way for a princess to sit. Obviously, manspreading is completely out of the question, but equally intolerable is crossing your legs at the knee. Kate Middleton inspired a specific way of sitting called "the duchess slant", which involves "keeping her knees and ankles tightly together and slanting her legs to the side". Who knew there's another way to sit besides criss-cross-applesauce? Princesses are also expected to comply with a strict diet. For instance, members of the royal family are advised to never eat shellfish, since it's a common cause of food poisoning. The queen can even add her own food rules in the event that she just feels like it. In the current royal family, everyone is banned from eating garlic in Queen Elizabeth II's presence, because she hates the taste. And you never know when you'll need to make out with grandma!
Not to kinkshame, but throughout history royal families have seemed to have a bit of a voyeuristic thing going for them, on top of the whole "marrying your cousin" thing. Take for instance Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette; on their wedding night they were led to bed by the King (ya know, the groom's DAD) and a bunch of other wedding guests who stuffed the newlyweds with ceremonial food and wine before undressing them in preparation. Because nothing sets the mood like your aunt pulling off your garter and serving you crackers! If you can believe it, this ceremony did not do much for the bride and groom's joint libido. Not only did they not have sex that night, they didn't have sex for the next seven years. Which seems like the appropriate mourning period for surviving what can only be described as a Freudian wet dream.
Up in England, the Tudors proved not much better, in this arena and several, several others. On the night of a princess' wedding consummation, the royal court was heavily involved, reportedly demanding to see the couple's legs touch before leaving them "to it." Then, swiftly after the deed was did, chambermaids would be brought in the inspect the bed sheets, before sometimes flying them outside the palace to confirm that the royal marriage had been consummated. Man, all that invasiveness is enough to make you NOT want to marry your cousin...almost.
So, it turns out being a princess isn't all it's cracked up to be, except for the occasional luxurious ear wax showers. Luckily, in Disenchantment, Princess Bean of Dreamland redefines what it means to reign supreme, of both one's kingdom and one's destiny. Watch Disenchantment, the new series from The Simpsons creator Matt Groening. Now Streaming, Only on Netflix.