When we think of a Princess, the most common association is the archetypical princess, the perfectly good, innocent, and beautiful princess, who is practically a saint with a royal title. These are largely associated with Fairy Tales, and are considered to be as old as those types of stories.
Actually, this character started in the Victorian Era. In that time when stories were being shaped by Disneyfication and Bowdlerization, the concept of Courtly Love was warped to take all the sexual Subtext out, and turn the noble lady into an ideal of the times. All to provide only the most positive and uncomplicated image to children, and even adults as well.
Princess Classic has many general traits (the first two points are required):
- Being actual royalty, by birth or marriage, with little exception.
- She is innocence personified. All virtue, no vice. This especially means she's a virgin, if that even comes up. She's good and kind, no matter what, and would border on The Messiah. This includes being a Friend to All Living Things.
- She is always beautiful, whether or not she is the World's Most Beautiful Woman. In animation, her beauty can attract Sparkles, flowers, or birds and small woodland creatures around her.
- Her clothes are always elegant, whether simple or opulent. If she ends up in rags, she still makes the rags beautiful on her.
- When she wears her Requisite Royal Regalia, it can be grand, but dainty, to represent her demure, delicate nature. Such as her Cool Crown will always be a tiara or small crown.
- Even though she doesn't always wear extremely fancy dresses, she has no problem wearing even moderately fancy ones (often pink or blue).
- If it's a musical, her singing voice is gorgeous.
- She is shy and demure, and so delicate that she will not lift a finger to defend herself. That's what the brave knight is for.
- She lives Happily Ever After with her prince, whom she always falls in love with, even if it's an Arranged Marriage.
- If the story is for children, she doesn't die at the end—she lives Happily Ever After with her love, even if it's an Arranged Marriage. If the story is for older audiences, she may die—but she will definitely be Too Good for This Sinful Earth.
Now changing values have eroded the idealism that this character represented. So even though this character has only slightly more credibility than the geocentric universe theory, she's not a Dead Horse Trope yet. She's still around in some fiction for really young children due to the Grandfather Clause. And even in everywhere else, there is still the belief that Everything's Better with Princesses.
Also, some girls who grew up on this trope apply some of the above traits to their Fan Fiction, meaning a lot of the traits of this character match the traits of a Purity Sue. Heck, mix and match this trope with being better than everyone else at their skills, and with suddenly being the Spotlight-Stealing Squad, and there you have the archetypal Mary Sue.
These days, if she's played straight in a story, it's highly unlikely for that story to be taken seriously. Most writers would give her some flaws, some depth. She could be sheltered and demure, but not a Flat Character.
Compare The Ingenue, Proper Lady, (those two are also archetypes built of idealistic views), Southern Belle, The Pollyanna, The High Queen, The White Prince, Prince Charming (the latter two being her Distaff Counterparts), Idle Rich, Parasol of Prettiness, Old-Fashioned Rowboat Date.
- Rose of Versailles both Deconstructs this, through the filter of Marie Antoinette's actual history, and Invokes it when Maria Theresa orders a PR campaign to make her daughter seem like this.
- Princess Charlotte in the Berserk anime, and the origin arc of the manga, is the sheltered and demure version of this. After the Eclipse, the Kushan empire took Wyndham and Charlotte was taken prisoner by Ganishka. Griffith rescues her after being reincarnated back on earth. She's now part of his new Band of the Hawk.
- Koon Maria Zahard of Tower of God was so perfect and pure in the eyes of Koon Agero Agnis that he made sure she would become am adoptive daughter of King Zahard.
- Code Geass:
- Nunnally Lamperouge looks the part at first glance, but the moment you begin going below the surface she suddenly becomes more of a deconstruction than anything.
- Euphemia also fits in the oozing virtue and sweetness and light way until Lelouch accidentally Geasses her and sends her out on a killing spree.
- Screwed around with in Revolutionary Girl Utena.
- Borderline subversion in the various incarnations of Sailor Moon. Usagi/Serena wants to be like this and at times comes close despite herself. Being the Dojikko and a part-time Person of Mass Destruction doesn't help.
- Princess Fala of GoLion (aka Princess Allura of Voltron), even when fighting the bad guys.
- Princess Rune Venus of El Hazard is played this way most of the time, although she's considerably more savvy, politically, than the usual princess.
- Sara Crewe in the movie versions of A Little Princess is about as close as this trope gets without any actual royalty. But in the book she isn't sweetness and light. Part of why she is disliked is because of her ability to make adults uncomfortable by standing up for herself. Unfortunately, the Shirley Temple version completely destroys what made the character great, while adding in an inability to face reality. Whereas in the book she is remarkably competent and tough for her age. The 90s version seems to fix that though.
- Giselle is a spoof of this, but a loving spoof, in that Giselle is determined against all odds to make the best of her situation.
- The titular mouse in The Tale of Despereaux searches for and finds one of these in the beautiful but useless Princess Pea.
- The princess of Snow White and The Three Stooges.
- Lyssa from Krull.
- George Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire:
- Princess Classic was what Sansa Stark always aspired to be. Sansa lives in a Crapsack World. You can guess where this is headed.
- Dany is also a deconstruction; she starts out an impoverished Princess Classic, but then loses a great deal of her innocence (including her virginity) when she's sold as a wife to Khal Drogo, swaps the violet silks for painted leather, learns to ride and rule like a Mongol warlord, loses her husband, has the woman who betrayed her burnt alive, hatches some dragons, creates a new army all on her own, handles multiple assassination attempts, faces down a house full of warlocks, gains a brand new army, burns down entire cities full of slavers, and eventually sets up shop with an army of freed slaves and starts ruling a city as an imposing empress, Daenerys Stormborn, Mother of Dragons.
- Also deconstructed in Mark Twain's A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court, where Morgan realises the ladies are as rude and crude as the not-so-noble knights.
- Princess Alexandra from A Hole in the World is this. She's also a lesbian. Her Prince Charming is a girl named Bianca.
- In Xanth, Princess Irene was a Royal Brat. Her daughters, Ivy and Ida are straight examples.
- The Lady Amalthea in The Last Unicorn acts like this as she loses her memories of being the last unicorn.
- Averted in Mercedes Lackey's Valdemar books by Princess Elspeth, who starts off a Royal Brat and becomes a Tomboy after she's broken of the brattishness. Eventually she abdicates her position as heir when it becomes obvious (to her, at least) that she'll serve her country better as a Herald-Mage than as its queen.
- Belinda in The Rape of the Lock by Alexander Pope is certainly meant to reflect this trope. She's Spoiled Sweet - not any sort of royalty, but the Queen Bee of all the court she surveys, while still being friendly (and uncommitted) to everyone. That is, until a certain involuntary haircut happens...
- Poked fun at in Angry Lead Skies, when Garrett ponders Kip Prose's childish fantasies about saving beautiful princesses, and how, despite having run into everything else on his weird cases, he's never met a Princess Classic. Near the end, Garrett does catch sight of two genuine royal daughters, and they're both quite unattractive, yet are praised and fawned upon constantly by political kiss-ups.
- The Paper Bag Princess has Princess Elizabeth starts as this type of character, but becomes an Action Girl later on, especially when she finds that Prince Ronald is an Ungrateful Bastard.
- Used in the most famous Halloween episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Buffy dresses up as one of these on the Halloween when Ethan Rayne conjures up a spell that causes her and all of her friends to get turned into their costumes. So Willow, who dressed as a ghost, becomes a ghost and Xander, who dressed as an Army Guy, becomes an actual Army Guy. Ethan lucked out when she chose the Princess costume: the powerful Slayer becomes a simpering, helpless bundle of nerves and snobbery.
- Played with on Merlin with the portrayal of Princess Mithian. Characterized as the embodiment of a Princess Classic, she's genuinely lovely, as well as beautiful, royal, elegant, talented and with an extensive wardrobe of gorgeous outfits; yet it's all done in order to provide more impact to the fact that King Arthur turns her down for the sake of the blacksmith's daughter.
- Super Mario Bros.'s Peach and The Legend of Zelda's Zelda may have started out like this, but Peach is sometimes a parody (or at least heavily lampshaded version) of this (see the Paper Mario games), and Zelda got more depth to her character.
- Rozalin in Disgaea 2 is what you get when you take a Princess Classic and throw her in the boondocks without warning. Sapphire, on the other hand, gleefully decapitates this trope with a chainsaw.
- Princess Shine from Super Robot Wars often struggles to maintain the image, particularly in her language, and of course, the fact that most Princesses don't take on threats to her Kingdom head on in a (oddly cute) Humongous Mecha.
- Fire Emblem 4's Princess Yuria. Royal Blood? She's got it. Innocent? Definitely (Virgin? Well, she cannot marry without really knowing what you're doing.) Pretty? Well, extremely cute would be the line here. Elegant Clothing? Your Mileage May Vary, however she wears long white robes with a purple cape held by intricate gold shoulder wraps. Good and Sweet? Usually when she's not Brainwashed and Crazy. Shy and Demure? Check. However she's a Lady of War, of the Caster Variety. Notable that her ultimate weapon summons a dragon to do the fighting. Marries the Prince and lives happily ever after? She Can. If the player knows what to do. Note that there aren't many countries for her Prince to be from... and all the other countries' Princes are taken... Doesn't die? Ummm... Anyone Can Die in this game. Too Good for This Sinful Earth? No. If she dies, it's a tragedy that should've been avoided.
- In Girl Genius, when Zeetha tells Agatha you are in serious need of some princess lesson, Agatha's first thought is of this trope. Cured when Zeetha starts, "First lesson. Every princess needs a battle axe."
- In Sinfest, Monique, rejecting stereotypes/diners, rejects the Vapid Princess Eatery.
- Of the "core" Disney Princesses, the three earliest, Snow White, Cinderella and Aurora, fit this trope (even though Cinderella is a princess by marriage). Others like Ariel, Belle and Jasmine have stories that are a bit more complex.
- In The Care Bears Adventure in Wonderland, the princess of Heart is like this, to the point where the purity of her touch can revive withering flowers.
- One half of the soul and fiber of Shrek is about subverting this one by turning Princess Fiona into The Ladette. It is dDeconstructed further in Shrek the Third. Sleeping Beauty is narcoleptic, Cinderella is an obsessive-compulsive cleaner, Snow White summons woodland creatures with Led Zeppelin, and Rapunzel wears a wig and is also The Mole.
- Princess Clara from Drawn Together is the comical Deconstruction of this kind of princess.
- Played straight with Lady Lovely Locks.
- Princess Oriana of Felix the Cat: The Movie.
- Princess Yue from Avatar: The Last Airbender who ends up Too Good for This Sinful Earth by way of a Heroic Sacrifice.
- Debatable if there are actual examples in Real Life (that weren't this from being sheltered and not taught about the world), but Queen Victoria of England did her best to make royal ladies appear to be that way. To the point of the Urban Legend of noble women being advised to "Close your eyes and think of England".