Hi, I’m Jenni
Everything you need to know about me can be summed up in this sentence: I don’t do anything the way I’m supposed to. Both my rhinestone tiaras came from eBay and cost less than $30. My favorite things are Versailles, the color pink, taxidermy, big dogs, macaroni and cheese, and Black Velvet. Yeah, I said it. Black Velvet.
For as long as I can remember, I’ve been obsessed with royalty. When I was a kid, I traced my store-bought Barbie paper doll to create my own set of paper dolls, and I named them all after famous queens in history. That’s probably your only shot at seeing Princess Nicholas of Greece in a bikini. On the other hand, there’s a really good chance that you’ll see me dressed up as a princess.
I tell stories about tiaras and the fascinating royal women who wore them. I follow these tiaras across generations and countries, through wars and revolutions and—sometimes—into darkness and disappearance and destruction.
Take, for example, the tiara on your left. It started out in Russia (the owner: murdered), went to Yugoslavia (the owner’s husband: murdered), came to America with a dethroned king (cause of death: cirrhosis), and ended up at Van Cleef & Arpel with paste stones where its Russian emeralds used to be. Aren’t you the teensiest bit curious how that happened? Yeah, me too.
Most of these stories have a central figure, but don’t expect a linear biography. There are plenty of detours and scenic routes because that’s the only way to encompass the fascinating tidbits I come across, like Grand Duchess Louise’s meatloaf recipe and Princess Stephanie’s patented chafing dish. Think of this as conversational history, like a mash-up of Drunk History and The Crown.
Think of this as conversational history, like a mash-up of Drunk History and The Crown.
Sometimes, I’ll take a detour big enough for an entire book, like I’m doing with Princess Augusta of Brunswick. Her story doesn’t have a tiara, but it has plenty of interesting elements, not least of which is a strange protector/mentor relationship with Catherine the Great. And a murder. Let’s not forget the murder. Or the fact that no one that I know of has told Augusta’s story in English, other than Wikipedia. She deserves better, and I’m furiously translating sources in three languages to make sure she gets it.
The Oscar Speech
Let’s be honest – the world isn’t always kind to women. For most of human history, men (and sometimes other women) have wanted us to be something other than what we are.
Be quiet. Be nice. Be a housewife. Be a good mom. But also be a femme fatale - don’t be passive about this, you really have to take charge of your sexuality. But wait, don’t take it too far - I mean, you don’t want to be a slut or anything.
Also, because it’s the 21st century, you need to be interested in STEM. Be a scientist or an engineer. Be an entrepreneur. Be an influencer. A CEO. Lean in, bitches!
But, like we said, it’s the 21st century. You have to do all that and still be a mom and a caregiver, or how will you know you're reaping all the fruits of being a modern woman?
You should really also have a side hustle, preferably something that looks good on Instagram. Speaking of which, you are working out at least five times a week, aren't you? And doing something about those crow’s feet? Filters can only do so much. And don’t forget to make time to be a fulfilled person on every level, be it social, sexual, political, or spiritual. Got all that? You can do that, can't you?
Are you kidding me? I'm exhausted and intimidated and mad as hell that everyone gets a say in who and what I’m supposed to be except me.
I don’t want to be any of those things.
I want to be me, and no one knows the best way to be me except…me. So suck it, world. This is what you get. A 43-year-old woman who still talks to her teddy bear and just wants to be left alone to research royal women and their tiaras.
I want to be me, and no one knows the best way to be me except...me.
So here I am, in full midlife crisis mode, starting a new website and maybe finding a new direction in life. I’m making this up as I go, fueled by passion, curiosity, stubbornness, and a deep empathy for the women I’m studying.
You may be thinking...this is nice and all, but what does your existential angst have to do with tiaras?
Tiaras are the gateway drug.
If I can get you to read about tiaras, I can also get you to learn something about the women who wore them. If I can do that, maybe I can change the way people see royal women—and, by extension, what they envision when they hear the word “princess.”
Has anything become as distorted as our conception of a princess? The Disney stereotype has erased what real-life princesses and royal women did and do, to the point where some mothers actively discourage their girls from liking princesses or even wearing pink. That breaks my heart.
The first thing I wanted to be when I grew up was a princess. When I figured out it didn’t work that way, I started reading books about them instead - problem solved. As for pink, I wore it when I ran a half-marathon, went on safari in Kenya, and visited a royal palace in South Korea. Pink is a color. It has no meaning other than what you choose to give it. For me, it means happiness.
There is nothing inherently or metaphorically harmful to girls about the concept of princesses or the color pink.
Encouraging girls to discover and pursue their own interests is great. But limiting those interests when you don’t know the full story is not great.
We don’t give girls the facts.
We don’t tell them about real princesses.
Or if we do, it’s like, “Marie Antoinette shopped so much she put her whole country in debt and they killed her for it. Don’t be like her.” That is SO NOT WHAT HAPPENED.
We don’t give girls the facts. We don’t tell them about real princesses.
And even if that was what happened, no one counters that myth with the story of Grand Duchess Elena Pavlovna, who overcame an emotionally abusive marriage to become a role model for her nephew, Tsar Alexander II. She liberated the serfs on her estate to show him it could be done; a few years later, Alexander liberated all of Russia’s serfs—two years before Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation.
And no one ever talks about Princess Therese of Bavaria, who spoke 12 languages and traveled for 30 years, writing books about a number of her trips. In 1888, she sailed 1,000 miles up the Amazon and later spent nine years writing a book about what she’d seen, carefully documenting plants, animals, and minerals.
Why don’t people tell girls about these ladies?
I’m here to make that happen.
Damn It, Jim, I’m a Writer, Not a Marketer
I never intended to create a site or books about royal history. This is possibly the dumbest thing I’ve ever said and the longest I’ve ever taken to reach a foregone conclusion. Why wouldn’t I create a site or books about the subject I’m clearly obsessed with? Why am I only getting started at age 41?
Because I wanted to write fiction instead.
In second grade, I wrote a short story set in medieval times. That’s all I remember about it, except for the craptastic punchline I gave a knight errant who asked the king, “Yeah, it’s me – who did you expect? A super deluxe cheeseburger?” My sense of humor was largely informed by food and Looney Tunes. I was already perfecting my impression of Queen Victoria circa “We are not amused,” as you can see in the picture below.
The Write Stuff
I did a little better with the short story I wrote in sixth grade. I stole the title, Murder Most Royal, from a Jean Plaidy book, but my plot was original. My heroine, a Russian grand duchess, was kidnapped and held hostage beneath the ballroom of a palace. The kidnapper had cleverly rigged the place with dynamite and threatened to blow everything sky high unless she married him. In the nick of time, her royal fiancé overpowered the kidnapper and saved the day. No one mentioned cheeseburgers, so clearly my historical accuracy had greatly improved.
No one mentioned cheeseburgers, so clearly my historical accuracy had greatly improved.
During freshman year of high school, I wrote my first novel during geometry class. Doing proofs drove me up the wall, so I wrote a thriller instead. The entire thing is composed in pink ink. It’s cheesy and horrible and embarrassing, but I finished the damn thing, which meant two things were true: I never learned geometry, and I realized there might be a future in this writing thing.
College came with a new set of challenges. I majored in English and history, and pissed off everyone in my writing seminars by turning in 10,000-word historical epics on the Bloody Sunday revolt and the Russian Revolution. One time, I branched out into a thriller based on the Anna Anderson story. Clearly, I had a one-track mind. If it didn’t involve epic shit, I wasn’t interested.
After college, life got messy. Working, living on my own, traveling – none of these things left room for writing. I did, however, go to Kenya, which was awesome. But I never forgot how much I loved books, writing, and royalty.
I didn’t get serious about writing until my late 20s. When I did, the first short story I submitted to a literary journal was about Grand Duchess Elizaveta Feodorovna of Russia…and it was accepted. I felt like the universe had given me a big green light. I was on the right path, finally!
Well, except when those dipsticks edited out the historical Easter egg in my story without telling me, changing one name and making my reference both incorrect and nonsensical. Also, one page in my story was printed twice, thus destroying all continuity and flow for the whopping ten people who probably ever read it. Thanks, staff of said literary journal who shall remain nameless.
Those dipsticks edited out the historical Easter egg in my story without telling me.
A few years later, I went to grad school. I thought I’d get a teaching job with my master’s, but I’m the world’s biggest introvert so that was just stupid. I never actually wanted to teach. I just wanted to write. I thought I’d be the unicorn who wrote a book, got a fantastic book deal, and would escape the working world and magically be able to pay all my bills through writing.
Pfft. As if.
I wrote four books, all rejected by every agent and publisher who saw them. The ones who replied said I was clearly talented, but they couldn’t sell my work. All told, I got close to 1,000 rejections. If I weren’t stubborn as shit, I might have driven off a cliff and put an end to it right then and there. But I am stubborn as shit, so I kept going.
Besides, after grad school, I realized holy mother of God, I owe a lot of money. I got a real job to pay bills, and that’s where I am today. I wrote four more books, self-published everything I’d written, failed miserably at every aspect of marketing those books, and made zero money. I kid you not. My first check from Amazon was for $17 and change. My last Smashwords payment was $1.72.
If 1997 was it for the British royal family, 2017 was it for me. My confidence and happiness were both at the lowest levels they’d ever been. Some health and personal stuff went wrong, too, which felt like getting kicked in the metaphorical balls after being run over by a car. (Ironic note added later: getting hit by a car didn’t happen until 2018.)
I quit writing cold turkey.
Then I stepped back to figure out what the hell happiness even meant at age 40. Turns out, it meant researching stories about royalty and tiaras and eating mayonnaise out of the jar.
Happiness at age 40 meant researching royalty and eating mayonnaise out of the jar.
Without knowing what it would turn into, I bought a few books online. A few books turned into a buttload of books. I devoured information and, before I could stop, a plan formed in my head. I would tell the stories of these women, these amazing royal women. For them, I would try and silence the voice in my head telling me I was the shittiest marketer in the world and, good writer or not, nothing I did was ever going to amount to anything.
For these women, I would focus on telling the story and force everything else to fall away.
So I started writing Hilda’s story.
And everything else fell away.
What started out as a fun research project has become a full-blown obsession.
It sounds dramatic, but this obsession has changed the course of my life. After the non-stop soul-crushing rejection of my fiction career, I needed something to pull me out of the mire of self-loathing and depression. Hilda’s story was it.
To anyone who thinks tiaras and princes and vanished kingdoms are trivial, I understand. Maybe they are trivial in the grand scheme of things. But they gave me a reason to keep going, keep writing, keep thinking, keep dreaming, when I was hanging onto sanity with my fingernails. Maybe, just maybe, they saved my life. To me, that’s everything.
So What Happens Now?
Well, I’ll tell you. First, you look deep into my eyes.
You are getting sleepy. You are getting verrrry sleepy.
You want to read every blog post I write. You want to support the site on Patreon so I’ll be able to spend more time bringing you amazing stories about royal women and their tiaras. You want to tell your friends about this site so you can all talk about it together.
When I snap my fingers, you’ll wake up and feel refreshed...and wonder where you can sign up for my mailing list.
Want to help?
If so, get in touch. I’ll be eternally grateful for your help in bringing these women’s stories to more people, in any way we can. Or just send good vibes my way as I try to make all this happen!