Delicate and dainty as a dragonfly's wing.
You can recognize a lady by her elegant air,
But a genuine princess is exceedingly rare!"
You've turned on the latest kids' TV program, and look, there's a girl in a pink, floofy dress with a wand — and she's got a tiara and sometimes a pretty cape trimmed with ermine. Whether she's The Cutie, an Action Girl, a Magical Girl, The Leader of La Résistance, or whatever you can think of, there's one very strong possibility: she's royalty; specifically, a princess.
After years of exposure to the classical princess we have this interpretation that princesses have it easy. They don't have to work (that's their parents' job!), they get everything they want (money and power go a long way) and, in girls' series, they have very marketable wardrobes (blame the Ermine Cape Effect). Being a "princess" may not even affect the plot in any meaningful way, and the audience may get the sense that princessdom is just a quick way to give a female character a sense of specialness, with no pesky obligations to a family or kingdom that might get in the way of having adventures.
Usually, if she's got powers, she's The Chosen One, and it's all because of her lineage. Her sheltered life has left her ill-prepared to cope with real adversity. This is usually true even if she grew up in a commoner family to hide from her enemies — perhaps frailty is in the blood.
She'll likely be the White Magician Girl to showcase her gentleness and purity, while also keeping her away from the front lines and unsightly bruises. On the other hand, if she's surprisingly good in a fight despite her sheltered upbringing, it might be because Authority Equals Asskicking. Her weapon of choice will likely be a Regal Rapier.
Any kingdom worth the name has a princess. If that's the case, expect a violent conflict with her Aloof Big Brother, The Evil Prince, and/or the Evil Chancellor. She will likely have a personal knight to assist her in such conflicts, be her Love Interest, etc.
By the way, do not expect princes to be given anything like the same sympathy as their sisters (more so in modern works). They are very often either outright bad or well meaning but stupid. The exception is The Wise Prince, who is likely to have more royal duties because of certain historical perspectives. If this princess has sisters, odds are good to see The Glorious War of Sisterly Rivalry.
Note that you rarely see any minor nobles as lead female characters, nor any young queens. If she's a royal, she's the princess. Her sketchy genetic makeup will be avoided altogether, and you won't see a single Habsburg chin around. Though in real life, princesses can be any age, princesses in fiction are usually children or teenagers, and are almost never older than 25, let alone middle-aged or elderly. The perfect age for an Arranged Marriage plot to kick in!
It is something of a Dead Horse Trope due to literally centuries of overuse, and having become firmly recognised as a Common Mary Sue Trait. Despite this, due to the Grandfather Clause, teenage girls, and how easy it is to parody, plenty of princesses will appear in the pages yet to come.
This is also why many tropes have "princess" in the name, even though a princess isn't required (just a common example).
A Super Trope to Princess Classic, Princesses Rule, Pretty Princess Powerhouse, Princess Phase, Politically Active Princess, Tomboy Princess, Rebellious Princess. If your princess doesn't hail from a well-organized kingdom but from a faraway village, she's The Chief's Daughter.
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- Western Animation
- Shogi, commonly known as Japanese chess, is notably lacking in the queen piece that western chess features. However, one variant of the game features a piece called "the princess", which basically acts like a queen. This variant is called Okisaki — which means princess.
- Princess Lolly from Candy Land. Due to this trope, her mother Queen Frostina was demoted to princess, even though she is a wife, mother, and presumably Regent of Candy Land in the absence of King Candy.
- The game "Pretty Pretty Princess" was all about this trope, as players had to collect the Requisite Royal Regalia that would allow them to be crowned princess before their opponents.
- Princess Camille, who is Little Nemo's dream playmate.
- Aleta, wife of Prince Valiant, tends to be more of The High Queen type, despite being married to a prince. However, their daughters Karen and Valeta count as princesses, as would their daughter-in-law Maeve and granddaughter Ingrid.
- Princess Gwen from The Wizard of Id, who is often courted by Sir Rodney.
- A staple of many fairy tales, especially those by the Brothers Grimm, Charles Perrault, and Madame d'Aulnoy.
- In The White Dove, the dove is really a kidnapped and transformed princess.
- In The King Who Would Be Stronger Than Fate, the beautiful daughter of the king is fated to marry the young man, a slave's son. She is so taken with him that when she realizes that he carries an order for his own execution, she changes it to one for their marriage.
- In Boots Who Made the Princess Say 'That's a Story!', the princess continually lies, and never declares that anyone else's story is a lie.
- In Soria Moria Castle, Halvor rescue three princesses, all beautiful.
- In The Fire-Bird, the Horse of Power, and the Princess Vasilissa, the Tsar will marry only the princess, though he's never met her.
- Averted in The Little Soldier, where the princess, Ludovine, is the main antagonist. She takes advantage of the protagonist, John, by breaking promises, using sleep-inducing gifts, and stealing money from him. John eventually rejects her and settles for an honest commoner.
- In Sleeping Beauty, part of the premise is that the king and queen had fertility issues, so they are very grateful to have any princess at all to take up the throne after them.
- Averted with Princess Jody, the Big Bad of Super Milestone Wars.
- Princess Marissa Amber Flores Picard Gordon, heir to the Throne of Essex.
- Several princesses can be found in That Damn Mpreg, ranging from Rebecca Altman-Kaplan, who eventually abdicates her position in favor of her younger brother to Princess Surdani of the Inhuman Royal Family, who eventually becomes Queen due to one brother being insane and the other brother refusing to be exposed to the Terrigen Mists.
- Marina and Magalie, princesses of the Aequori mermaids and Sierra, the Princess of Nadir in Keepers of the Elements. Why must they be princesses? Because one doesn't find many constitutional republics in high fantasy.
- Averted in Legionnaire, where the Khans have a literally religious hatred for Equestrian princess.
- In Lost Boys, this trope pulls double duty. Kairi is not only a Princess of Heart, like in canon, but adopted princess of Disney Castle. Since the Destiny Islands were destroyed before Radiant Garden fell, the charm Aqua gave her ended up taking her to King Mickey and Queen Minnie, and things went from there.
- In Equestria: A History Revealed, Celestia supposedly argues with Chrysalis on the virtues of being called a princess rather than a queen. Chrysalis quickly disagrees with this on a logical standpoint which leads to an argument.
- As a My Little Pony fic, covering the history of Equestria, many princesses also appear in the fic as well.
- The Vow (a Kung Fu Panda fanfic) includes as one of the main characters Lady Lianne, a gentle swan noble, who's based on the below mentioned Odette. She becomes Gongmen City's ruler for twenty years, and she's called "The Swan Princess" by the admiring people.
- The Bug Princess, the sequel to Cinderjuice, continues the vague fairy tale theme of the first story, although it's not until close to the end that the reader finds out who is being referenced in the title.
- The Coup "Wear Clean Draws", the rapper Boots Riley gives advice to his daughter:
"Tell your teacher princesses are evil/how they got all the money is they kill people"
- Inverted in "The Story of Evil", in which the "Daughter of Evil" Riliane, though technically a ruling queen, prefers to retain the title of Princess. She is a spoiled Royal Brat, a tyrant and a Green-Eyed Monster. Of course, she gets better after she loses her brother and kingdom, but since she's no longer a princess, she never gets a chance to be the trope.
- Christina Von Eerie, seen working with AAA, SHIMMER, WSU and other promotions, uses the Red Baroness, "The Punk Princess."
- In the Wrestlicious promotion, there were two characters - Maui the Hawaiian Island Princess and Autumn Frost the Ice Princess - presumably because their characters wouldn't be complete without the title.
- Misaki Ohata, seen in Pro Wrestling Zero 1, Michinoku Pro Wrestling and SHIMMER, among many others, is the Princess of Submissions.
- Jessie Kay is one of pro wrestling's purest examples. Despite claiming to hate all things girly she's convinced she's the princess of Vorhees Township and should therefore be waited on accordingly.
- In Rocket Age Martian city states are usually principalities and the setting is full of deposed royalty seeking to retake the thrown and courtly rulers holding onto power against the invading hordes of Nazis and their own families, all while looking fabulous as they do it. About half of them are female.
- Aida features one secret princess as the slave of another princess.
- Princess Winifred the Woebegone from Once Upon a Mattress (see the page quote) can swim the moat, scale the castle walls, lift weights, arm wrestle, drink you under the table, sing like a sousaphone, and dance everyone in the palace to exhaustion ... but just one little pea can ruin her evening.
- In the Broadway adaptation of The Little Mermaid, Eric decides to hold a singing contest in an attempt to find the woman whose voice he fell in love with, which is doomed to failure because that woman is Ariel, who sold her voice. The contestants are, according to Grimsby, "Every princess in the kingdom" - which begs the question of, if they're princesses, why Eric isn't related to them or at least already familiar with who they are.
- Disney believes firmly in the truth of this trope, to the tune of hundreds of millions of dollars a year. They even have the "Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique", in which little girls who are visiting the theme parks can get a "princess makeover" that includes tasteful makeup, getting their hair done, and dressing up in a gown themed after their favorite Disney Princess.
Little boys who want to dress up as the heroic princes (who, if one remembers, were also a part of the action that made the Disney princesses famous) were, to coin a phrase, "shit out of luck" for many years. The stylists didn't offer any treatment for them, because (as one ten-year-old boy was overheard saying, outside of the Magic Kingdom's "Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique", "Disney doesn't care about little boys. They only like little girls.") The Boutique eventually did start trying to attract both genders by offering a knight-themed makeover for boys.
- Barbie plays a princess in some of her movies. Plus some of the dolls are named as though she is a princess, like the "Winter Princess" line.
- Ever After High has a number of princesses running around, with two official princesses in the initial lineup (Apple, successor to Snow White, and Briar, successor to Sleeping Beauty). Raven and Ashlynn should technically be princesses, but are not treated as such, because of Ashlynn's Rags to Riches narrative and the nature of Raven's deposed mother. Even in-universe, the school believes that "everything's better with princesses"; only princesses (and possibly princes) can be on the Legacy Day planning committee, they staff the student council exclusively until Maddie decides she'll run for president, and they get first pick of the classes. Raven mentions that it's rare that she's allowed to take music, her favourite class, since it usually only goes to princesses (unless, presumably, your fairy tale requires you to take it).
- All the Generation 3 My Little Ponies are princesses. Something Positive isn't entirely sure how that works. The Direct-to-Video special The Princess Promenade reveals that making everyone a princess was just a way for Wysteria to get out of being the (rather arbitrarily chosen) princess herself.
- The title character of Tsukihime (literally, "Moon Princess"), Arcueid Brunstud, is the princess of the True Ancestor vampires. Though she follows hardly any of the usual tropes, her title actually makes an odd amount of sense, since she was created by the nobility and had extremely limited freedom and a particular defined purpose in life (well...to hunt down and kill fallen True Ancestors, that is). Of course, Princess is still her formal title, despite being possibly the last (and certainly the last royal) True Ancestor still alive (having killed the other ones herself). Her title of Princess (and more importantly, Brunstud) comes from the fact that she's the closest thing the True Ancestors were able to make to a clone of their progenitor, Crimson Moon Brunstead, the Type spirit of the Moon, and that her ability to summon Castle Brunstud is proof that one day Type Moon will revive in her body. Unless her pseudo little sister Altrouge Brunstud, who can also summon Castle Brunstud, does it first.
- Justified in Decades of Darkness, since the first part is in the time when royal marriages were real diplomacy.
- Emerald of the Deviantart Extended Universe certainly fits the trope with her elegance and poise. It is even possible the setting is a principality specifically because of this trope. But Emerald is actually a Politically Active Princess and has a lot of responsibility as the leader of a small country. She acknowledges in "The Wanderer" that the traditional ideas of accessories and finery are only a small part of her job.
- Though she is technically a chief or queen, Boudicca is referred to as a Warrior Princess.
- Prinsesstårta (prin-SESS-TOHR-tuh), otherwise known as Swedish Princess Cake, was originally called Grön tårta (Green Cake) when it appeared in Prinsessornas Kokbok in 1948. It is said that the three young princesses loved the cake so much it was named after them.
- Pocahontas was presented to the English as a princess - despite the Native American chieftain system not working that way. John Rolfe's parents were even alarmed at this, worrying that he had married too far above his station.
- As the Real Life section of Princesses Rule notes, "prince(ss)" was the ubiquitous term for sovereign rulers in general, regardless of whether they were a sovereign prince(ss), a duke/duchess, or the literal "child/relative of a king" as in the modern sense. People also often forget that countries weren't necessarily united under a single ruler, as one "country" (depending on the size) might be split into several or even dozens of petty-kingdoms, all with their own princesses and high-nobles—and when you bring in tribal rulers like chiefs and clan-leaders, that would mean even more "princesses" running around.