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Sex Parties, Scandal, and Booze: 5 Naughty Princesses

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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.

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(c) Field Museum, CSZ5974c, photographer Carl Akeley, used with permission.
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Animals
The Time Carl Akeley Killed a Leopard With His Bare Hands
(c) Field Museum, CSZ5974c, photographer Carl Akeley, used with permission.
(c) Field Museum, CSZ5974c, photographer Carl Akeley, used with permission.

Carl Akeley had plenty of close encounters with animals in his long career as a naturalist and taxidermist. There was the time a bull elephant had charged him on Mount Kenya, nearly crushing him; the time he was unarmed and charged by three rhinos who missed him, he said later, only because the animals had such poor vision; and the time the tumbling body of a silverback gorilla he'd just shot almost knocked him off a cliff. This dangerous tradition began on his very first trip to Africa, where, on an otherwise routine hunting trip, the naturalist became the prey.

It was 1896. Following stints at Ward’s Natural Science Establishment and the Milwaukee Public Museum, Akeley, 32, had just been appointed chief taxidermist for Chicago’s Field Museum of Natural History, and he was tasked with gathering new specimens to bolster the 3-year-old museum's fledgling collections. After more than four months of travel and numerous delays, the expedition had reached the plains of Ogaden, a region of Ethiopia, where Akeley hunted for specimens for days without success.

Then, one morning, Akeley managed to shoot a hyena shortly after he left camp. Unfortunately, “one look at his dead carcass was enough to satisfy me that he was not as desirable as I had thought, for his skin was badly diseased,” he later wrote in his autobiography, In Brightest Africa. He shot a warthog, a fine specimen, but what he really wanted was an ostrich—so he left the carcass behind, climbed a termite hill to look for the birds, then took off after a pair he saw in the tall grass.

But the ostriches eluded him at every turn, so he returned to camp and grabbed the necessary tools to cut off the head of his warthog. However, when he and a “pony boy” got to the spot where he’d left the carcass, all that remained was a bloodstain. “A crash in the bushes at one side led me in a hurry in that direction and a little later I saw my pig's head in the mouth of a hyena travelling up the slope of a ridge out of range,” Akeley wrote. “That meant that my warthog specimen was lost, and, having got no ostriches, I felt it was a pretty poor day.”

As the sun began to set, Akeley and the boy turned back to camp. “As we came near to the place where I had shot the diseased hyena in the morning, it occurred to me that perhaps there might be another hyena about the carcass, and feeling a bit ‘sore’ at the tribe for stealing my warthog, I thought I might pay off the score by getting a good specimen of a hyena for the collections,” he wrote. But that carcass was gone, too, with a drag trail in the sand leading into the bush.

Akeley heard a sound, and, irritated, “did a very foolish thing,” firing into the bush without seeing what he was shooting at. He knew, almost immediately, that he'd made a mistake: The answering snarl told him that what he’d fired at was not a hyena at all, but a leopard.

The taxidermist began thinking of all the things he knew about the big cats. A leopard, he wrote,

“... has all the qualities that gave rise to the ‘nine lives’ legend: To kill him you have got to kill him clear to the tip of his tail. Added to that, a leopard, unlike a lion, is vindictive. A wounded leopard will fight to a finish practically every time, no matter how many chances it has to escape. Once aroused, its determination is fixed on fight, and if a leopard ever gets hold, it claws and bites until its victim is in shreds. All this was in my mind, and I began looking about for the best way out of it, for I had no desire to try conclusions with a possibly wounded leopard when it was so late in the day that I could not see the sights of my rifle.”

Akeley beat a hasty retreat. He’d return the next morning, he figured, when he could see better; if he’d wounded the leopard, he could find it again then. But the leopard had other ideas. It pursued him, and Akeley fired again, even though he couldn’t see enough to aim. “I could see where the bullets struck as the sand spurted up beyond the leopard. The first two shots went above her, but the third scored. The leopard stopped and I thought she was killed.”

The leopard had not been killed. Instead, she charged—and Akeley’s magazine was empty. He reloaded the rifle, but as he spun to face the leopard, she leapt on him, knocking it out of his hands. The 80-pound cat landed on him. “Her intention was to sink her teeth into my throat and with this grip and her forepaws hang to me while with her hind claws she dug out my stomach, for this pleasant practice is the way of leopards,” Akeley wrote. “However, happily for me, she missed her aim.” The wounded cat had landed to one side; instead of Akeley’s throat in her mouth, she had his upper right arm, which had the fortuitous effect of keeping her hind legs off his stomach.

It was good luck, but the fight of Akeley’s life had just begun.

Using his left hand, he attempted to loosen the leopard’s hold. “I couldn't do it except little by little,” he wrote. “When I got grip enough on her throat to loosen her hold just a little she would catch my arm again an inch or two lower down. In this way I drew the full length of the arm through her mouth inch by inch.”

He felt no pain, he wrote, “only of the sound of the crushing of tense muscles and the choking, snarling grunts of the beast.” When his arm was nearly free, Akeley fell on the leopard. His right hand was still in her mouth, but his left hand was still on her throat. His knees were on her chest and his elbows in her armpits, “spreading her front legs apart so that the frantic clawing did nothing more than tear my shirt.”

It was a scramble. The leopard tried to twist around and gain the advantage, but couldn’t get purchase on the sand. “For the first time,” Akeley wrote, “I began to think and hope I had a chance to win this curious fight.”

He called for the boy, hoping he’d bring a knife, but received no response. So he held on to the animal and “continued to shove the hand down her throat so hard she could not close her mouth and with the other I gripped her throat in a stranglehold.” He bore down with his full weight on her chest, and felt a rib crack. He did it again—another crack. “I felt her relax, a sort of letting go, although she was still struggling. At the same time I felt myself weakening similarly, and then it became a question as to which would give up first.”

Slowly, her struggle ceased. Akeley had won. He lay there for a long time, keeping the leopard in his death grip. “After what seemed an interminable passage of time I let go and tried to stand, calling to the pony boy that it was finished.” The leopard, he later told Popular Science Monthly, had then shown signs of life; Akeley used the boy’s knife to make sure it was really, truly dead.

Akeley’s arm was shredded, and he was weak—so weak that he couldn’t carry the leopard back to camp. “And then a thought struck me that made me waste no time,” he told Popular Science. “That leopard has been eating the horrible diseased hyena I had killed. Any leopard bite is liable to give one blood poison, but this particular leopard’s mouth must have been exceptionally foul.”

He and the boy must have been quite the sight when they finally made it back to camp. His companions had heard the shots, and figured Akeley had either faced off with a lion or the natives; whatever the scenario, they figured Akeley would prevail or be defeated before they could get to him, so they kept on eating dinner. But when Akeley appeared, with “my clothes ... all ripped, my arm ... chewed into an unpleasant sight, [with] blood and dirt all over me,” he wrote in In Brightest Africa, “my appearance was quite sufficient to arrest attention.”

He demanded all the antiseptics the camp had to offer. After he'd been washed with cold water, “the antiseptic was pumped into every one of the innumerable tooth wounds until my arm was so full of the liquid that an injection in one drove it out of another,” he wrote. “During the process I nearly regretted that the leopard had not won.”

When that was done, Akeley was taken to his tent, and the dead leopard was brought in and laid out next to his cot. Her right hind leg was wounded—which, he surmised, had come from his first shot into the brush, and was what had thrown off her pounce—and she had a flesh wound in the back of her neck where his last shot had hit her, “from the shock of which she had instantly recovered.”

Not long after his close encounter with the leopard, the African expedition was cut short when its leader contracted malaria, and Akeley returned to Chicago. The whole experience, he wrote to a friend later, transported him back to a particular moment at the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition, which he’d visited after creating taxidermy mounts for the event. “As I struggled to wrest my arm from the mouth of the leopard I recalled vividly a bronze at the World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago, depicting the struggle between a man and bear, the man’s arm in the mouth of the bear,” he wrote. “I had stood in front of this bronze one afternoon with a doctor friend and we discussed the probable sensations of a man in this predicament, wondering whether or not the man would be sensible to the pain of the chewing and the rending of his flesh by the bear. I was thinking as the leopard tore at me that now I knew exactly what the sensations were, but that unfortunately I would not live to tell my doctor friend.”

In the moment, though, there had been no pain, “just the joy of a good fight,” Akeley wrote, “and I did live to tell my [doctor] friend all about it.”

Additional source: Kingdom Under Glass: A Tale of Obsession, Adventure, and One Man's Quest to Preserve the World's Great Animals

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Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons // Nigel Parry, USA Network
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crime
Meghan Markle Is Related to H.H. Holmes, America’s First Serial Killer, According to New Documentary
Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons // Nigel Parry, USA Network
Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons // Nigel Parry, USA Network

Between staging paparazzi photos and writing open letters to Prince Harry advising him to call off his wedding, Meghan Markle’s family has been keeping the media pretty busy lately. But it turns out that her bloodline's talent for grabbing headlines dates back much further than the announcement that Markle and Prince Harry were getting hitched—and for much more sinister reasons. According to Meet the Markles, a new television documentary produced for England’s Channel Four, the former Suits star has a distant relation to H.H. Holmes, America’s first serial killer.

The claim comes from Holmes’s great-great-grandson, American lawyer Jeff Mudgett, who recently discovered that he and Markle are eighth cousins. If that connection is correct, then it would mean that Markle, too, is related to Holmes.

While finding out that you’re related—however distantly—to a man believed to have murdered 27 people isn’t something you’d probably want to share with Queen Elizabeth II when asking her to pass the Yorkshire pudding over Christmas dinner, what makes the story even more interesting is that Mudgett believes that his great-great-grandpa was also Jack the Ripper!

Mudgett came to this conclusion based on Holmes’s personal diaries, which he inherited. In 2017, American Ripper—an eight-part History Channel series—investigated Mudgett’s belief that Holmes and Jack were indeed one in the same.

When asked about his connection to Markle, and their shared connection to Holmes—and, possibly, Jack the Ripper—Mudgett replied:

“We did a study with the FBI and CIA and Scotland Yard regarding handwriting analysis. It turns out [H. H. Holmes] was Jack the Ripper. This means Meghan is related to Jack the Ripper. I don’t think the Queen knows. I am not proud he is my ancestor. Meghan won’t be either.”

Shortly thereafter he clarified his comments via his personal Facebook page:

In the 130 years since Jack the Ripper terrorized London’s Whitechapel neighborhood, hundreds of names have been put forth as possible suspects, but authorities have never been able to definitively conclude who committed the infamous murders. So if Alice's Adventures in Wonderland author Lewis Carroll could have done it, why not the distant relative of the royal family's newest member?

[h/t: ID CrimeFeed]

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