I’m looking at topics in medieval history this A-Z that might be of use to writers. Today, I’m looking at those heirs to the throne who keep showing up in so much fantasy. Princesses show up either as objects to be rescued in the more depressingly blinkered traditional sort of fantasy, or as the MCs of large portions of more modern stuff. Princes are often handsome or devious. Both seem to be there as love interests quite often.
Of course, in the Middle Ages, being the love interest was more or less their lot in life. Both princes and princesses were mostly valuable to their parents and the barons around them for their potential, rather than who they were. Barons typically out ranked princes. Their usefulness came in their potential to carry on the line, and to make useful alliances. Many of them found themselves betrothed far younger than those around them, although the marriages weren’t completed until they came of age.
In the meantime though, their main role seemed to be to get into trouble. Henry the Younger spent his time following the tournament, before dying on the White Ship and drastically changing the succession. Several rebelled against their parents (the classic way of getting your inheritance a bit early being to conquer the kingdom from under them) and found themselves exiled for a while. Even when the time came to do their job and become a ruler, things didn’t always go to plan. The Empress Matilda, for example, was told by Henry I that she would succeed him, but the barons’ refusal to accept that and the Anarchy that followed meant she never truly ruled England.