Christina Rossetti's “A Royal Princess” sharply criticises the medieval paradigms imagined by her male contemporaries.
This article examines Rossetti's exposure of the faults that underlie the conflation of myth and history as a path to social legitimacy in both the fictionalised past and the political present.
“A Royal Princess” openly criticises the roles to which chivalry consigned medieval maidens and Victorian women. Confined in the palace, the princess narrator acknowledges, as, for example, Carlyle, Tennyson, and Disraeli do not, that the feudal system works best for those who hold the power.
The poem, submitted and published as part of a social relief fund project, outlines a world bereft of tournaments and chivalry. The princess's real desire is the self-expression that paternal feudalism has denied her. Her admitted “goal” is “once to speak before the world”.
The princess embodies the voices marginalized by authoritarian social structures. In writing the poem, Rossetti also “speaks before the world” about women's secondary status in the Victorian social ideal.
In doing so, the poem insists that the reader reconsider the prescription of present social limits endorsed by an unthinking acceptance of a quasi-fictional past.