Little girls the whole world over have wondered what it must be like to be a princess. 

It’s not unusual for many young girls to declare that when they grow up they’re going to marry a handsome prince and become a princess, living in a castle and perhaps riding their horses all day or playing joyfully in the vast gardens. 

The growing collection of films portraying the lives of princesses as luxurious and glamorous no doubt adds to the appeal of living life as a royal princess, however far removed from reality these stories and fables may be. 

Yet those who have lived closely to royals or been a part of their entourage will vouch for the many hidden aspects of life as a princess. It seems that behind the fancy balls and exquisite dresses, there’s more to being a princess than the perks, privileges and royal pastimes

The Royal Duties Of A Princess

The lives of many princesses throughout the ages have undoubtedly been blessed with a great deal of fine living, wealth and splendour. 

However, as such a high profile role within a royal family, the role of a princess can also include a high degree of duty, responsibility and expectation. 

Sometimes these expectations come from the royal family itself, perhaps the monarch or higher-ranking royals decree a certain way of living or conforming to the rules and traditions of royal life. 

Other times, the expectations may come from beyond the royal family, perhaps from the general public, those in positions of political power, or in modern times, the pressures of the media. 

Despite the seeming glamour of life as a royal princess, there’s no doubt that throughout history this privileged existence has included a range of duties and demands, some that many modern minds might find intolerable or an unacceptable control of their freedom. 

A Strategic Marriage

A classic example of the extent of royal demands on princesses through the ages is the idea of a strategic marriage. 

Many kingdoms have been strengthened by the careful planning of a royal princess’s hand in marriage. 

Catherine of Aragon
Before becoming King Henry VIII’s first wife, Catherine of Aragon, was Princess of Wales while married to Henry’s elder brother, Arthur, Prince of Wales, for a short period before his death, a betrothal designed to form an alliance between England and the kingdoms of Aragon and Castile. Lucas Horenbout, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Such alliances were common practice for centuries, in Europe and around the world, where a daughter could be used as a pawn to broker peace with other monarchs, offering the princess as a bride from an early age in a bid to create a political or military union with another country. 

In many respects, this practice worked spectacularly well. The royals and nobles of Europe managed to establish vast empires and great kingdoms, partly due to the marital connections that were carefully and strategically brokered precisely for that reason. 

For generations, it was expected that the daughters of kings and queens would be promised in marriage as a means of strategic alliance, either to engineer peace between warring nations, or to combine two realms into one larger alliance. 

These arrangements may appear to be callous and cruel to modern minds, but the ideas of romantic love were vastly different in past centuries. Though it’s likely that there were some disagreements between the princesses and their marriage planners, the idea of marrying well as a duty was strongly established for generations. 

Providing An Heir

Beyond the duty to marry according to social or political dictates, another expectation for many princesses was the hugely important role of providing an heir to the throne. 

Historically, realms and kingdoms have lived and died depending on the presence of an heir to the throne. So many princesses of the ages have found that their greatest royal duty is to provide children in a royal marriage, particularly if they are key players in line to the throne. 

Given the laws of primogeniture – the rule that only males could inherit royal positions – there was even the added pressure for a princess to provide a male heir, as these would secure the lineage of the entire monarchy. 

In the past, once a princess had been strategically married, her next and most important duty was to provide the next generation of kings and princes. 

While there was enormous pressure for royal women to produce male children, there was also a strong expectation of producing many children, most likely because the next line of daughters could then become the new marriage candidates for future alliances. 

Again, these duties may seem inhuman, especially considering the high mortality rates during childbirth, yet these customs had been established for many centuries, in times when survival was the utmost priority, and before modern sensibilities called into question the morality of regarding princesses as mere vessels for future generations. 

The Duties Of A Modern Princess

Times have changed since the princesses of history were powerless pawns in the larger games of monarchy and royal power

These days, modern princesses are not usually commanded to marry strategically in service to the family line – at least, not quite so openly. 

Modern princesses are also, for the most part, treated as more than mere producers of heirs and spares. 

While the nature of royal duty has shifted over the centuries, with contemporary human rights and ideas of freedom playing an increasing role in royal decisions, there are still some duties that modern princesses are expected to perform. 

For example, for some princesses holding a key role in the royal lineage, there is still a strong hope, and often a good deal of pressure, that she will provide the required children. 

Beyond this sometimes pivotal requirement, there are also formal duties and expectations that can dictate the lifestyle and commitments of a modern princess.   

These can include a great array of charitable works, especially for monarchies keen to hone their public image in the face of modern shifts towards democracy and republicanism. 

Modern princesses can also feel a duty to use their profile and influence to advance worthy causes or be an ambassador for social change, for example the work in Early Childhood being advocated by the current Princess of Wales. 

As royals, there is also likely to be an endless round of public appearances, ceremonies, royal functions and formal dinners, many of which modern princesses will be required to not only attend but also to look glamourous and sophisticated, and remain charming throughout. 

Contrary to the classic fairytale image of the idyllic life of a princess, the women and girls who have held this royal title throughout history have undoubtedly been subjects to a range of regal expectations. 

Though it may seem to be a life of privilege and freedom, the royal duties of princesses over the centuries have played an important role in the evolution of monarchies, and the modern princesses are continuing this tradition as they work tirelessly for their royal families, their public and their chosen causes.