Members of royal families were the world’s earliest celebrities, and we still seem transfixed by them today. Princesses in particular have been highlighted in popular culture (I mean, the entire Disney legacy is based on them), and are often looked to as fashion icons and models of beauty. What’s often overlooked is the leadership, power, and sheer awesomeness of these women. So in that regard, I give you the most influential princesses in history.
You most likely haven’t heard of Rani Lakshmi Bai, daughter of the Indian prime minister in 1835. She spent her childhood becoming a master at swordsmanship, archery, and shooting, until her land was seized by the British government. At the tender age of 12, Rani headed up a freedom-fighter movement with like-minded women and headed off into battle (she notoriously strapped her infant son to her back while fighting – do you know how hard it is to find a babysitter in the middle of war?).
The actual, non-Disney version of Pocahontas is much less fanciful and much more tragic: taken prisoner and held in Jamestown by the English at the age of 17, Poca was married off to a widower. After giving birth, she died at 21, and that is the sad end to her short story. But the real power comes in the attention that this story brought to the plight of the Native American people, and how badly new American settlers treated those they found here. Pocahontas remains one of the most recognizable Native Americans in history despite her relatively minor role.
Not just a fashion icon, Princess Diana was well-known for her commitment to charity work. A regular at hospital schools and military events, Diana soon began focusing on health issues outside of her royal duties. She became involved with AIDS and leprosy research, homeless youth, and banning landmines. This set the stage for future British princesses to branch out beyond what was expected and get involved in serious issues.
Yes, she’s most famous for being beheaded. But before that, she was pretty darn important. As France descended into financial instability, Marie’s nickname, “Madame Défici,” grew more popular, and her lavish spending and extravagant lifestyle did more than rankle the masses that were starving in the streets. She became a symbol of the revolution, and her beheading is pointed to by many as the turning point in la Révolution!
Yes, Leia is fictional, but she was one of the first to buck the trend of helpless-princess-stuck-in-a-tight-spot-waiting-to-be-rescued-by-a-big-strong-prince. Leia is one of the heroes of the “Star Wars” saga, known for killing Jabba the Hutt, turning the Noghri against Grand Admiral Thrawn, and redeeming her brother while destroying the Clone Emperor. Plus, that hair is iconic!
Well, she was ranked the sixth most powerful Arab in the world in 2012, so there’s probably something going on here. Not just a Saudi Arabian princess, Ameerah serves as the vice chairwoman of Al-Waleed bin Talal Foundation, supporting humanitarian causes around the world including poverty alleviation, disaster relief and interfaith efforts with a special focus on empowering women.
Sometime around 272 B.C., Sparta was at war with Crete, and their armies were engaged. Sensing Sparta’s vulnerability, the Pyrrhus armies decided to invade but the Spartan women refused to be sent off to safety. Instead, Arachidamia led the women into battle, and despite waging war against more than 20,000 well-trained troops and 5,000 elephants (!), they managed to turn back Pyrrhus. Arachidamia was probably also the first person to bellow, “This is Sparta!” If that’s not power, I don’t know what is.
Razia Sultana was one of the only Muslim princesses to ever ascend to a throne, as her father chose her over her brothers to rule India during the Mughal era (1236-1240). She is credited with establishing peace in the region, along with increasing trade, building infrastructure like roads, wells, and schools, and encouraging the growth of art. Although she ruled briefly and died in battle after her people turned on her (apparently she made some bad choices regarding certain Hindus she wanted to eliminate), as the only woman to hold the Indian throne, she makes this list.
There is one reason Joanna makes this list, and it’s a good one. Legend has it that upon finding her husband, Llewelyn ap Iorweth (people really did have better names back then), in bed with another woman, she burned the bed down. And she was only 14. She stayed with him and ended up helping to rule Wales alongside him, but definitely made her point.
Genghis Khan is remembered for founding the great Mongol Empire, but it was his daughters who truly turned his initial conquests into the international sensations they became. Though their legacy was diminished (their brothers turned against the powerful women), they are still remembered for fostering trade, education, and religion, and expanding their influence across the Pacific Ocean and Mediterranean Sea.
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