4. Chilonis, like many princesses before and after her, was married young to a man many years her senior – but she was prepared to pay the ultimate price for true love
Very few princesses ever married for love. In most cases, their husbands were chosen for them by their families. Young women would be paired up with men many years their senior and expected to play the dutiful wife. And, of course, they were expected to provide their husbands with children, no matter how badly the men behaved. This was certainly the case with Chilonis, a Spartan princess who lived in the 3rd century BC. The daughter of Leotychidas, she was forced to marry Cleonymus for political reasons. He was many years older than Chilonis. What’s more, he was a brute of a man, and he was even barred from inheriting his father’s throne due to his violent temper.
The unhappy princess found solace in the arms of Arcotatus, the son of King Areus I. Then, in around 272BC, the armies of her husband and her lover clashed. Princess Chilonis was forced to make a choice. She decided she would prefer to die than be with her husband. According to Plutarch, the princess was on the point of hanging herself when she received news that her husband had been defeated in battle. The princess lived happily ever after, marrying her lover. He would reign as King Aerus II, with Chilonis beside him as his queen.
3. Truganini was the princess of a persecuted people, but she fought back to become an indigenous Australian legend
Truganini was the daughter of an important chief, one of the native Palawa people of Tasmania. However, she was never able to enjoy the pampered life of a princess, even when she married another indigenous tribal leader. That’s because she was born 1812 and grew up at a time when European settlers were persecuting the aboriginal peoples of modern-day Australia. The Palawa people were killed in their thousands, royals included. Truganini’s own mother was brutally murdered by settlers, and her sister was taken as a sex slave. To save herself, and the rest of her people, Truganini agreed to work with the Englishman George Robinson, though her cooperation came at a price.
At first, the union went smoothly. Robinson wanted Truganini’s help in re-settling the Palawa people on a smaller, uninhabited island. However, when the English became even more brutal in their methods, the native princess became an outlaw. She recruited a gang to help find and rescue her kidnapped sister. She was captured and charged with stealing from, and even killing, white settlers. Luckily for her, at her trial, Robinson spoke in her defense. Only the Palawa men were hanged for their alleged crimes. Truganini was exiled to Flinders Island, where she lived out the remainder of her days, a princess without a kingdom.
2. Princess Chiomara was supposed to be a pawn in an ancient power struggle, but brutally slayed the Roman soldier who violated her – and took his head home with her as a trophy
As every student of history knows, the Roman Empire could be brutal in suppressing its enemies. And it wasn’t just enemy soldiers who felt the power of Rome. Countless innocent men, women and children also suffered. Only a few were able to hit back. And one woman who did was Chiomara, a princess of the Tectosagi tribe and one of the ancient Galatian people who lived in modern-day Turkey. In 189BC, the forces of Rome attacked and defeated the Galatians. Princess Chiomara was taken prisoner. The centurion tasked with guarding her attempted to seduce his royal prisoner. When she turned down his advances, he raped her.
Perhaps feeling guilty, or maybe fearing he would be punished for his actions, the centurion offered Princess Chiomara her freedom back. He agreed to release her – for a ransom, of course. When her fellow Galatians came to pay the ransom, Chiomara ordered them to attack the Romans instead. She then ordered the centurions execution. The soldier was beheaded. The princess then wrapped the severed head up in her dress and took it back to her home town, presenting it to her husband and pledging that only one man who had been intimate with her would ever be allowed to live.
1. Princess Pingyang defied gender expectations in 7th century China and fought alongside her own ‘Army of the Lady’ to make her father the Emperor
At her funeral in the year 623, mourners were told that Princess Pingyang was “no ordinary woman”. This was a massive understatement. At a point in history when women, even female royals, were supposed to be quiet and subservient, she was the exact opposite. Famously, she played a pivotal role in helping her father claim the throne and so found the Tang dynasty. Pingyang volunteered to go behind enemy lines, into the castle of her father’s enemies, the Sui Dynasty. Initially, she was just supposed to spy on the Emperor Yang of Sui. However, once inside his stronghold, she used her female initiative – and made history.
Realising that Yang’s men were not completely loyal to their Emperor, Pingyang used her considerable wealth to start buying their loyalty. Before long, she had persuaded hundreds of soldiers to switch sides. What’s more, she then used her charm and social status to convince agrarian rebel leaders to join her father’s cause. Eventually, it’s believed that she gathered a force of some 70,000 men. They became known as the “Army of the Lady” and in 617, helped overthrow Yang and bring the Sui Dynasty to an end. When she died six years later, Pingyang was granted a full military funeral – a first for a woman in Imperial China.
Where did we find this stuff? Here are our sources: