An etching of Rani Padmini (also known as Padmavati) circa 1765, at the Bibliothèque nationale de France, Paris. Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons

If fairy tales are to be believed, princesses through the ages were damsels in distress, who did nothing but helplessly wait in their stone towers for rescue. History says otherwise.

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The lives of historical princesses paint a different picture from what we are told in story books. Here are three examples that may surprise you:

1. Princesses could defend their home

As the eldest daughter of Edward I, the King of England from 1272 to 1307, Princess Eleanor married Henri, the ruler of a small province in France. In 1293, when he was captured by hostile French forces and taken prisoner, Eleanor became responsible for securing the county. She didn’t just manage to raise money for Henri’s ransom, but successfully marshalled what remained of her husband’s army to defend her home, and safeguard her children’s inheritance.

2. Princesses could decide their own fate

Belonging to the royal family of the Singhal Kingdom, Rani Padmini was a legendary 13th century princess who was adept in war strategy and battle skills. When it came time to select a suitor, she put forth the condition that she would only wed the person who was able to defeat her champion. That champion turned out to be Rani Padmini herself. She managed to defeat dozens of hopefuls until she lost to King Rawal Ratan Singh of Chittor, who was well-known for his bravery, administrative tactics and love for art. Their love story was short-lived, however, because the sultan of Delhi – Alaudin Khilji – heard about her beauty and waged a war to win her hand. As the battle raged, Rani Padmini and about 13,000 of her female companions escaped to Jauhar Kund through a secret passage, where they lit a mass pyre and self-immolated themselves, rather than fall to Khilji’s army. The story of Rani Padmini has inspired many historical fictions and even a controversial Bollywood film.

3. Princesses could go against the king’s wishes

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Joan of Acre, Daughter of Edward I Longshanks, with her betrothed Hartman of Germany, Son of Rudolph I of Germany. Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons

Known for being headstrong and holding her own, Joan of Acre married against her father’s wishes and even though she owed him many debts, never repaid him. Her most direct snub to the king’s authority came in July 1305, when King Edward confiscated the estates and income of his son (the future Edward II). He did it to reprimand the prince for his troubling favouritism in court. Despite the king’s orders, Joan sent her own seal to her brother, asking him to use it for whatever he wanted. Although others would never have gotten away with such insolence, the king was used to his headstrong daughter, and once the chastened Prince Edward returned the seal, nothing more was said of the incident.

4. Princesses could rule

A colour reproduction of the 1895 lithograph depicting Queen Tamar of Georgia. Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons

The daughter of George III, Tamar of Georgia, co-ruled with her father for nearly six years as a princess, before defeating her opponents to take the throne at the age of 18, after the death of the king. She is known as ‘King Tamar’, since she is the only female monarch in Georgian history.

5. Princess could go to battle

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A statue of Rani Lakshmi Bai in Agra, India Image Credit: Creative Commons/Jugga Dery

When Rani Lakshmi Bai of Jhansi, lost her husband at age 22, and was stripped of her titles by the British who were occupying India at the time, she revolted. She led an Indian army to battle, putting to good use her childhood experience of learning archery, horse riding, and sword work, and the tactics she picked up as the daughter of an aide to India’s Prime Minister. Legend has it, she even intensely fought the British with her adopted son strapped to her back. People still flock to Jhansi Fort, to see the spot from where Rani Lakshmi Bai jumped to escape British forces.

Which princess do you admire most in history? Play today’s Word Search and let us know at