In most fairy tales, the princess has historically been portrayed as a damsel in distress, waiting to be rescued by her handsome prince. Obviously, the women of the British royal family hardly fit this mold.
And even when they aren't technically ruling... they still totally rule.
This isn't only because Queen Elizabeth II, on the throne now for more than 68 years, making her the United Kingdom's longest-reigning monarch ever—is a woman. Or because it's the women who literally give life to the family, birthing the future heirs to the throne.
No, these women are powerful because they embody true leadership qualities and carry them out to promote progressive change. They connect to the masses, make every appearance that much more interesting and they pull us in whenever they speak in public.
In honor of Women's History Month and International Women's Day on March 8, here are nine reasons why the women are the ones who make the royal family go 'round.
1. Keeping Calm and Carrying On
Even before her reign, Queen Elizabeth knew the importance of serving her country. In 1940, with World War II raging in Europe, a then-14-year-old Princess Elizabeth broadcast a message to evacuees during the Children's Hour radio program about the importance of trying to remain brave and to reassure the nation's youth that England's military forces would stand strong against the enemy.
The future queen also joined the Auxiliary Territorial Services at age 19 and became a trained driver and mechanic with the rank of Second Subaltern. Just a few months later, the royal moved up to Junior Commander—a position that was the equivalent of captain.
And when the queen married Prince Phillip in 1947, she used ration coupons to pay for the material for her wedding dress--a sign of solidarity with those still struggling after the end of the war.
2. Shining the Light
Princess Diana had her issues with the royal family, but the ability of the People's Princess to connect with the public was unparalleled. She made sure to use her platform to bring global attention to causes that had previously been given short shrift. The photos of her holding children and shaking hands of patients afflicted with HIV/AIDS helped battle the misconception so prevalent at the time that the disease could be spread through simple touch. And the photos of her walking through a minefield in war-torn Angola as part of a campaign against mine proliferation are legendary.
Diana talked about wanting Prince William and Prince Harry to be in tune with life beyond the palace walls, so she took her boys to visit homeless shelters and HIV/AIDS patients in London, instilling in them the determination they have to this day to help improve the lives of others.
3. Common Cause
Kate Middleton spearheaded the Heads Together initiative, which she formed in 2016 with William and Harry to promote mental health awareness and fighting the stigmas that still cling to depression, anxiety and other common ailments.
"It's a common thread, wasn't it?" Middleton said to her husband and brother-in-law in a video for the campaign. "Mental health sort of seemed to run between all the different areas we were working in. So whether it's homelessness and the military with yourself [Harry] or addiction and bereavement with me, there was this, sort of an underlying thread, wasn't there, of mental health and this idea that I suppose all of us coming together to find a common theme."
The trio followed in the footsteps of Princess Diana, the first in the family to speak up about her battle with depression, self-harm and an eating disorder.
"By the time William arrived, it was great relief because it was all peaceful again. I was well for a time," she recalled on the BBC's Panorama in 1995. "Then I was unwell with depression, which no one ever discusses postnatal depression. You have to read about it afterwards. And that in itself was a bit of a difficult time.
Kate has spoken about the intense emotions she experienced as a new mother. In 2018 she visited the Mother and Baby Unit at the Bethlem Royal Hospital to hear from the moms themselves, as well as the Maurice Wohl Clinical Neuroscience Institute at King's College to hear about maternal mental health challenges.
4. To Each Her Own
In addition to the patronages she's been given by the queen that suit Kate's interests, such as the former field hockey player and art history major supporting young athletes with SportsAid and serving as patron of the National Portrait Gallery, the Duchess of Cambridge has embarked on an ambitious campaign to track early child-care education and development efforts all over the U.K.
"As a parent, I know how much we cherish the future health and happiness of our children," Kate told family members and employees during a visit to a daycare center in Wales last month. "I want to hear the key issues affecting families and communities so I can focus my work on where it is needed most. My ambition is to provide lasting change for generations to come."
And part of the reason Harry fell in love with Meghan Markle was her prior commitment to humanitarian causes, including women's rights, animal welfare and access to clean water. In early 2019, she was appointed patron for four organizations: the National Theatre, the Association of Commonwealth Universities, the Mayhew (a London-based animal rescue charity), and Smart Works, which empowers disadvantaged women who are returning to the work-face. Last year she collaborated on a capsule collection of professional wear for the organization with the recently meged Marks & Spencer and John Lewis, British brand Jigsaw and designer Misha Nonoo.
5. A Fresh Take
Meghan quickly became known, for better or worse, for flouting royal tradition on more than one occasion—but she didn't do so without help straight from the top.
For instance, spending Christmas with the royal family in 2017 while she and Harry were just engaged, not married, was a privilege she enjoyed thanks to an OK from the queen, who figured there were worse things in the world than a betrothed couple spending Christmas together under her roof.
Meghan and Harry's wedding was also a refreshing blend of traditional and forward-thinking, with an Africa-American bishop giving a sermon and a gospel choir singing during the ceremony, the bride giving a toast at the evening reception and the wedding itself taking place on a Saturday—not the usual day for nuptials for the British royal family.
6. Matters of the Heart
The queen set the romance standard by marrying for love—not exactly against her family's wishes, but amid their...concerns that the rugged naval officer she had been in love with since she was a teenager wasn't the right fit.
Prince Charles, on the contrary, felt pressured to make a good match and, though he loved Diana in his way, was still dotty over Camilla Parker-Bowles (now his wife of almost 15 years) throughout his first marriage.
Learning from the good and the bad that came before, both William and Harry waited until they were sure each had found his own personal Ms. Right.
7. Global Influencers
You think the Kensington Royal and Sussex Royal Instagram accounts have a collective 22.5 million followers because of the guys? No!
The world awaits what Kate and Meghan are going to do, wear and say next, and social media has become a convenient place to stay abreast of everything they're doing.
In the months before she married Harry, it was predicted that the "Meghan Markle Effect" would pump an estimated $210 million into the British economy, largely from admirers snatching up similar looks from British stores, while the wedding was expected to lead to over a billion dollars in related revenue, including upward of $300 million from tourist activity.
And of course there isn't an outfit that Kate (or her children) have been photographed in that hasn't led to a run on whatever dress, sweater or bathrobe ends up in the picture.
8. Digital Upgrade
Whether it's adjusting to a new political environment or simply learning how to better communicate with the public in the digital age, the women of the royal family know how to adapt. The queen joined Facebook in 2010 and now all of the major households, including Buckingham Palace, are on Twitter and Instagram.
William and Harry's cousin Princess Eugenie joined joined Instagram on International Women's Day in 2018, making her the only member of the family with her own personal account, though both she and her sister Princess Beatrice have Twitter.
As the queen said, "Change has become a constant, managing it has become an expanding discipline."
9. Big, Structural Change
Has anything rocked the monarchy like Harry and Meghan's decision in January to step away from full-time royalty and work toward financial independence? Though Harry dealt with the negotiations, which included the relinquishing of the word "royal" for any personal business or charitable endeavors going forward, it was widely seen as a Meghan-centric effort to leave the bullying tabloids and unreasonable expectations of impermeable stoicism in the dust.
#Megxit aside, the couple will be keeping their patronages, as well as finding new ways to support the causes that are important to them on their own time—and dime.
(Originally published March 5, 2019, at 3 a.m. PT)