CLOSE
Original image
ThinkStock

Sex Parties, Scandal, and Booze: 5 Naughty Princesses

Original image
ThinkStock

No one over the age of Disney really believes that being a princess is really all it's cracked up to be, that it is a viable career option, or that Prince Charming is about to come galloping up on a white steed to rescue her from the drudgery of taxes and office work.

Except that secretly, we kind of do. Witness the fascination the world has with commoner-made-good Kate Middleton, wife of Britain’s Prince William; or worse, watch any episode of any bridal reality TV program ever and their parade of unjustified Swarovski crystal-encrusted entitlement. Moreover, the last decade’s pink-and-purple marketing blitz has turned every little girl into a princess, a kind of sparkly juggernaut that most parents can’t avoid even if they try. That the glittery fantasy which toy companies are peddling in no way matches any kind of reality hasn’t exactly put the brakes on its perpetuation.

In my new book, Princesses Behaving Badly, I looked at the lives of 30 princesses whose foot didn’t quite fit the glass slipper. These are (mostly) real women who made good decisions and stupid choices, who loved the wrong people or too many people or not enough people, and on whom a ball gown might just be silly. Some were pretty fantastic, in a warrior princess kind of way, or were driven by a cause greater than themselves; some were creative, clever, and enterprising, free-spirited and willing to flaunt convention to live the life they chose. Others were, according to their times, inappropriately ambitious; others just downright ruthless, with a side of murderous. Still others were petty, mean, vain, and jealous. And some of them just liked to party. 

1. Caroline of Brunswick-Wolfenbuttel: Under-washed and under-clothed

Wikimedia Commons

Caroline of Brunswick-Wolfenbuttel, a princess and a daughter of a German Duke, was a straight-up hot mess. She was married to George, Prince of Wales—himself a casually cruel, snobbish, profligate, corset-wearing over-indulger who would later become Britain’s King George IV—but their relationship was fraught to say the least. Upon meeting her in 1795, George ran away, got drunk, and stayed that way until their wedding night three days later; she pronounced him fatter than his portrait.

After only a year of marriage, the two—though they had managed to produce a daughter together—could no longer live under the same roof (and these were big roofs). George would spend the rest of Caroline’s life unsuccessfully trying to figure out how to divorce her, and Caroline would spend it finding new and exciting ways to embarrass him.

She did an admirable job. She wore low-cut dresses that were just a wardrobe malfunction away from real scandal, washed herself and her underthings rather too infrequently, made weird, often sexual jokes, and flirted loudly, inexpertly and obviously. She liked to host parties (where she’d often sit on the floor), but would often disappear for hours with a gentleman friend, leaving her guests to try to politely ignore their absence. By 1814, all good society was pretty much done with her, especially given that her husband made it clear that anyone who befriended her would be on the outs with him. So Caroline, now in her mid-40s, left England on a trip to the Continent, where there was new society to shock. She appeared at a ball in Geneva stripped to the waist; other English travelers reported seeing her in short dresses with “disgustingly low” bodices, and more make-up, topped now with a startling black wig. She traveled with a band of musicians and itinerant show players, having shed most of her respectable entourage early on. Rumors that she was sleeping with everyone from the King of Naples to her valet abounded.

When George became king in 1820, he flat-out refused to have her as his queen. But procuring a divorce was still much more difficult than it looked; finally, a bill to legally dissolve their union was brought before Parliament. Caroline came bustling back to England, all aglow with righteous indignation and excessive rouge, and what followed was essentially a trial—had she actually been having affairs? The answer, for Parliament, however, was no—because however unpopular Caroline was, the British public hated her husband far, far more, and outright rebellion was in the air. The bill was withdrawn.

But even though the couple was still married, George refused to allow Caroline to be crowned alongside him at his coronation; he had Westminster Abbey bouncers deny her entry. Caroline died just a few months later.

2. Charlotte of Prussia: Sex party swinger

Wikimedia Commons

The eldest daughter of the Prussian crown prince and princess, Princess Charlotte grew up a rather unloved, oft-criticized girl. She seemed to channel this unsatisfactory home life into making herself the “most arrogant and heartless coquette at court” and a mean girl extraordinaire who would turn on friends in an instant. Even her own brother called her “Charley the Pretender” for her two-facedness. Her marriage in 1878, at the age of 17, left her even freer to pursue gossip (and chain-smoking) with abandon; after her brother became Kaiser Wilhelm II in 1888, she became one of the most unpopular popular women at the Berlin court.

And then, the sex party. In November 1891, Charlotte threw a party for a select group of nobles at a palatial hunting lodge just outside of Berlin. But the next day, after the cavorting nobles had all departed with fond memories and who knows what else, they all began receiving anonymous blackmail letters threatening to reveal just what they’d gotten up to that night. The letters helpfully included pornographic drawings, just in case the swingers couldn’t remember. Suspicion immediately fell on Charlotte—she was just catty enough, everyone agreed, to have thrown the party herself to entrap the nobles. Charlotte wasn’t the blackmailer (she was bad, but not that bad), but the investigation into the letters took years, ruined one man’s reputation, left another dead in a duel, and fully destroyed Charlotte’s relationship with her brother, prompting her de facto exile to a quiet German backwater.

3. Christina of Sweden: The cross-dressing princess

Wikimedia Commons

Christina of Sweden wanted to be the kind of queen who shaped the course of history, whose opinion mattered not only in her own kingdom but everywhere else in Europe; she wanted to be taken as seriously as she took herself.

Except, not really. After spending nearly all of her early life preparing for the role, she only sat a few years on the throne before realizing that being queen was a lot less fun than she’d thought. In 1654, she abdicated the throne to her cousin and cleared out of town before the banquet dishes were even cleared. Christina took off for the Continent dressed as a man, with newly shorn hair; perhaps more galling to her Lutheran former kingdom, she also went as a newly converted Catholic.

Catholic or not, queen or not, her behavior was, for the time, shocking. She cursed like a sailor, dressed like a man, and, when she did dress in skirts, didn’t let the underwear-less fashions of the day stop her from putting her legs up wherever she could. She made rude, sexual jokes and gleefully fueled speculation that if she wasn’t a hermaphrodite, she was at least a lesbian—she once embarrassed an ambassador at court by declaring that her favorite lady-in-waiting, a beautiful woman with whom she shared a bed, was just as beautiful on the inside. And she didn’t mean her personality. (Notably, Christina’s naughty talk probably was all talk—there’s really no evidence that she had sex with anyone, much less her lady-in-waiting.) She had a habit of talking in church and a somewhat irreligious affection for nude paintings and sculptures. She spent buckets of money on everything from fine art to hiring a troupe of actors to perform just for her every night for a month; by the time she reached Rome, her servants had taken to stealing the silver in lieu of a salary. You can’t necessarily blame them: She had a tendency to smack them around, a violent habit that proved fatal for one man in her employ—though she was a queen without a kingdom, she had him executed after believing him to be betraying her confidences.

But Christina found that life as a kingdom-less queen also wasn’t nearly as fun as she thought it was going to be, and she involved herself in several plots to either take back her throne or find another to occupy for a while; these all came to nothing. By the end of her life, she was still wearing her men's clothes, but the zeal with which she’d pursued bold, shocking behavior had certainly diminished.

4. Srirasmi of Thailand: The birthday party in her birthday suit princess

Wikimedia Commons

Nothing about this story makes any kind of sense whatsoever. Princess Srirasmi is the wife of Thailand’s Crown Prince Vajiralongkorn and, as evidenced by one of the weirder videos to ever surface on the Internets, has lovely breasts. In 2009, a lucky Australian TV station got a hold of footage from a lavish poolside birthday party the crown couple hosted for their dog, Foo Foo. Princess Srirasmi is clad in naught but a G-string and a hat; everyone else, including the dog, is clothed. Meanwhile, strains of George Michael’s “Careless Whisper” are audible in the background. Another thing to note: Foo Foo evidently holds the rank of Air Marshal in Thailand.

5. Gloria von Thurn und Taxis: The original punk princess

Getty Images

In the 1980s, Gloria von Thurn und Taxis was a hard-partying German princess with a pronounced flair for making it onto the pages of glossy entertainment rags. She was all about excess, partying with princes and Prince, barking like a dog on David Letterman, and dyeing her hair every shade in the Manic Panic catalogue. She threw her husband, the Prince Johannes von Thurn und Taxis, a million-dollar, three-day, lobster-laden birthday party that saw celebs like Mick Jagger and Jerry Hall dressed as the doomed aristocracy of 18th century France and drinking from champagne fountains in rooms decorated with links of German sausage (really). Gloria, of course, dressed as Marie Antoinette, complete with a pearl tiara once owned by the doomed French queen herself, without so much as a whiff of irony.

But while the comedown from the greed-is-good decade wasn’t nearly so devastating for the likes of Gloria as it had been for the French nobles, it wasn’t easy. Gloria’s husband died in 1990, leaving her with an estate in debt and death taxes to pay; Gloria’s response, however, wasn’t to retreat. Instead, the punk princess quit partying, traded in her chainmail mini-dresses for Chanel suits, taught herself corporate law and economics, and dragged the centuries-old Thurn und Taxis estate into the 20th century. By the end of the decade, and after selling off millions in art, family treasures, and wine, as well as opening up the family schloss to renters and the public, the estate was finally in the black.

For more princess stories, order Linda's new book, Princesses Behaving Badly: Real Stories from History Without the Fairy-Tale Endings.

Original image
iStock
arrow
Space
This Newspaper Article Was Hyping the 2017 Eclipse All the Way Back in 1932
Original image
iStock

If you’ve turned on a news station or browsed the internet recently, you’ve likely learned of the total solar eclipse set to pass over the U.S. on Monday, August 21. Many outlets (Mental Floss included) have been talking up the event for months, but the earliest instance of hype surrounding the 2017 eclipse may have come from The New York Times.

Meteorologist Joe Rao presented this news clip at a recent panel on the solar eclipse at the American Museum of Natural History, and fuel analyst Patrick DeHaan shared the image on Twitter earlier this year. It shows a New York Times article from August 1932, selling that year’s eclipse by saying it will be the "best until Aug. 21, 2017."

The total solar eclipse on August 21 won’t be the first to fall over U.S. soil in 85 years. The next one to follow the 1932 eclipse came in 1970, but an author at the time apparently predicted that "poor skies" would be likely for that date. That early forecast turned out to be correct: There were clouds over much of the path of totality in the southeastern U.S. The next total eclipse visible from America, which the article doesn’t mention, happened in 1979. Overcast skies were a problem for at least some of the people trying to view it that time around as well.

The upcoming total eclipse will hopefully be worth the decades of hype. Unlike the previous three, which only skimmed small sections of the lower 48 states, this next eclipse will be visible throughout day as it travels from coast to coast. Check out our field guide for preparing for the once-in-a-lifetime phenomenon.

Original image
Getty Images/Hulton Archive
arrow
Lists
10 of the Worst Jobs in the Victorian Era
Original image
Getty Images/Hulton Archive

Next time you complain about your boring desk job, think back to Victorian times—an era before the concept of occupational health and safety rules—and count yourself lucky. Back then, people were forced to think of some imaginative ways to earn a living, from seeking out treasure in the sewers to literally selling excrement.

1. LEECH COLLECTOR

Leeches were once a useful commodity, with both doctors and quacks using the blood-sucking creatures to treat a number of ailments, ranging from headaches to "hysteria." But pity the poor leech collector who had to use themselves as a human trap. The job usually fell to poor country women, who would wade into dirty ponds in the hope of attracting a host of leeches. Once the critters attached to the leech collectors’ legs, the individual would prise them off and collect them in a box or pot. Leeches can survive for up to a year with no food, so they could be stored at the pharmacy to be dished out as required. Unsurprisingly, leech collectors were in danger of suffering from excess blood loss and infectious diseases.

2. PURE FINDER

Despite the clean-sounding name, this job actually involved collecting dog feces from the streets of London to sell to tanners, who used it in the leather-making process. Dog poop was known as "pure" because it was used to purify the leather and make it more flexible [PDF]. Leather was in great demand in Victorian times, as it was used not only as tack for horses but for shoes, boots, bags, and in bookbinding. Pure collectors haunted the streets where stray dogs amassed, scooping up the poop and keeping it in a covered bucket before selling it on to the tanners. Some collectors wore a black glove to protect their scooping hand, but others considered it harder to keep a glove clean than a hand and eschewed the protection altogether.

3. TOSHER

A Victorian illustration of a tosher, or sewer collector
An 1851 illustration of a sewer-hunter or "tosher."
Wikimedia // Public Domain

Victorian London had a huge network of over-worked sewers under the city, washing away the effluence of the crowded metropolis. Toshers made their living down in the dark sewers, sifting through raw sewage to find any valuables that had fallen down the drain. It was extremely dangerous work: noxious fumes formed deadly pockets, the tunnels frequently crumbled, there were swarms of rats, and at any moment the sluices might be opened and a tide of filthy water might wash the toshers away. As a result of these dangers, toshers generally worked in groups, instantly recognizable in their canvas trousers, aprons with many large pockets (in which to stash their booty), and lanterns strapped to their chests. Most toshers also carried a long pole with a hoe at the end to investigate piles of human waste for dropped treasures, or with which to steady themselves if they stumbled in the gloom. After 1840 it became illegal to enter the sewers without permission and so toshers began working late at night or early in the morning to avoid detection. Despite the stinking and dangerous conditions, it was a lucrative business for the working classes, with many a coin or silver spoon sloshing about in the quagmire.

4. MATCHSTICK MAKERS

Matchsticks are made by cutting wood into thin sticks and then dipping the ends into white phosphorus—a highly toxic chemical. In the Victorian era, this work was mainly performed by teenage girls who worked in terrible conditions, often for between 12 and 16 hours a day with few breaks. The girls were forced to eat at their work stations, meaning the toxic phosphorus got into their food, leading to some developing the dreadful condition known as “phossy jaw”—whereby the jawbone becomes infected, leading to severe disfigurement.

5. MUDLARK

Like the toshers, these workers made their meagre money from dredging through the gloop looking for items of value to sell, although in this case they were plying their messy trade on the shores of the Thames instead of mostly in the sewers. Seen as a step down from a tosher, the mudlarks were usually children, who collected anything that could be sold, including rags (for making paper), driftwood (dried out for firewood) and any coins or treasure that might find its way into the river. Not only was it a filthy job, but it was also very dangerous, since the tidal nature of the Thames meant it was easy for children to be washed away or become stuck in the soft mud.

6. CHIMNEY SWEEP

A photograph of a very happy chimney sweep
iStock

Tiny children as young as four years old were employed as chimney sweeps, their small stature making them the perfect size to scale up the brick chimneys. All the climbing in the claustrophobic space of a chimney meant many sweeps’ elbows and knees were scraped raw, until repeated climbing covered them with calluses. Inhaling the dust and smoke from chimneys meant many chimney sweeps suffered irreversible lung damage. Smaller sweeps were the most sought-after, so many were deliberately underfed to stunt their growth and most had outgrown the profession by the age of 10. Some poor children became stuck in the chimneys or were unwilling to make the climb, and anecdotal evidence suggests their bosses might light a fire underneath to inspire the poor mite to find their way out at the top of the chimney. Fortunately, an 1840 law made it illegal for anyone under the age of 21 to climb and clean a chimney, though some unscrupulous fellows still continued the practice.

7. FUNERAL MUTE

Anyone familiar with Charles Dickens’s Oliver Twist will remember that one of the orphan’s hated early jobs was as a mute for undertaker Mr. Sowerberry. A component of the extremely complex (and lucrative) Victorian funeral practices, mutes were required to dress all in black with a sash (usually also black, but white for children), while carrying a long cloth-covered stick and standing mournfully and silently at the door of the deceased’s house before leading the coffin on its processional route to the graveyard.

8. RAT CATCHER

An illustration of a group of Victorian men watching rat-baiting.
Getty Images/Rischgitz

Rat catchers usually employed a small dog or ferret to search out the rats that infested the streets and houses of Victorian Britain. They frequently caught the rats alive, as they could sell the animal to “ratters,” who put the rats into a pit and set a terrier loose upon them while onlookers made bets about how long it would take for the dog to kill them all. Catching rats was a dangerous business—not only did the vermin harbor disease, but their bites could cause terrible infections. One of the most famous Victorian rat catchers was Jack Black, who worked for Queen Victoria herself. Black was interviewed for Henry Mayhew’s seminal tome on Britain’s working classes, London Labour and the London Poor (1851) in which he revealed that he used a cage which could store up to 1000 live rats at a time. The rats could be stored like this for days as long as Black fed them—if he forgot the rats would begin fighting and eating each other, ruining his spoils.

9. CROSSING SWEEPER

The “job” of crossing sweeper reveals the entrepreneurial spirit of the Victorian poor. These children would claim an area of the street as their patch, and when a rich man or woman wished to exit their carriage and walk across the filth-strewn street, the sweeper would walk before them clearing the detritus from their path, ensuring their patron’s clothes and shoes stayed clean. Crossing sweepers were regarded as just a step up from beggars, and worked in the hopes of receiving a tip. Their services were no doubt sometimes appreciated: The streets during this period were mud-soaked and piled with horse manure. The poor sweepers not only had to endure the dismal conditions whatever the weather, but were also constantly dodging speeding horse-drawn cabs and omnibuses.

10. RESURRECTIONISTS

An 1840 drawing of a group of resurrectionists at work
Getty Images/Hulton Archive

In the early 19th century the only cadavers available to medical schools and anatomists were those of criminals who had been sentenced to death, leading to a severe shortage of bodies to dissect. Medical schools paid a handsome fee to those delivering a body in good condition, and as a result many wily Victorians saw an opportunity to make some money by robbing recently dug graves. The problem became so severe that family members took to guarding the graves of the recently deceased to prevent the resurrectionists sneaking in and unearthing their dearly departed.

The "profession" was taken to an extreme by William Burke and William Hare who were thought to have murdered 16 unfortunates between 1827 and 1828. The pair enticed victims to their boarding house, plied them with alcohol and then suffocated them, ensuring the body stayed in good enough condition to earn the fee paid by Edinburgh University medical school for corpses. After the crimes of Burke and Hare were discovered, the Anatomy Act of 1832 finally helped bring an end to the grisly resurrectionist trade by giving doctors and anatomists greater access to cadavers and allowing people to leave their body to medical science.

SECTIONS

arrow
LIVE SMARTER
More from mental floss studios