The Princess Louise (Louise Caroline Alberta; Marchioness of Lorne and Duchess of Argyll by marriage; 18 March 1848 – 3 December 1939) was a member of the British Royal Family, the sixth child and fourth daughter of Queen Victoria and her husband, Prince Albert of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha.
Louise's early life was spent moving between the various royal residences in the company of her family. When her father, the Prince Consort, died on 14 December 1861, the court went into a period of intense mourning, to which Louise was unsympathetic. Louise was an able sculptor and artist, and several of her sculptures remain today. She was also a supporter of the feminist movement, and corresponded with Josephine Butler and visited Elizabeth Garrett.
As an unmarried daughter of Victoria, Louise served as an unofficial secretary to her mother between 1866 and 1871. The question of Louise's marriage was discussed in the late 1860s. Suitors from the royal houses of Prussia and Denmark were suggested, but Victoria wanted new blood in the family, and therefore suggested a high-ranking member of the aristocracy. Despite opposition from members of the royal family, Louise fell in love with John, Marquess of Lorne, the heir to the Duke of Argyll, and Victoria consented to the marriage, which took place on 21 March 1871. Despite a happy beginning, the two drifted apart, possibly because of their childlessness and the Queen's constraints on their activities.
In 1878, Lorne was appointed Governor General of Canada. Louise thus became viceregal consort, but her stay was unhappy as a result of homesickness and dislike of Ottawa. Following Victoria's death on 22 January 1901, she entered the social circle established by her brother, the new King, Edward VII. Louise's marriage survived thanks to long periods of separation, but the couple reconciled in 1911, and she was devastated by her husband's death in 1914. After the end of the First World War in 1918, she became a gradual recluse, undertaking few public duties outside of Kensington Palace. She died at Kensington on 3 December 1939 at the age of 91.
Louise was born on 18 March 1848 at Buckingham Palace, London. She was the fourth daughter and sixth child of the reigning British monarch, Queen Victoria, and her husband Prince Albert of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha. As the daughter of the sovereign, Louise was styled Her Royal Highness The Princess Louise from birth. Her birth coincided with revolutions which swept across Europe, prompting the Queen to remark that Louise would turn out to be “something peculiar”. The Queen's labour with Louise was the first to be aided with chloroform. Albert and Victoria chose the names Louisa Caroline Alberta. Louise was chosen to honour Albert's mother. Though christened Louisa in Buckingham Palace's private chapel by John Bird Sumner, the Archbishop of Canterbury, on 13 May 1848, she was invariably known as Louise throughout her life. Her godparents were Duke Gustav of Mecklenburg-Schwerin (her paternal great-great-uncle, for whom Prince Albert stood proxy); The Duchess of Saxe-Meiningen (for whom her sister-in-law Queen Adelaide stood proxy); and The Hereditary Grand Duchess of Mecklenburg-Strelitz (her first cousin once-removed, for whom her mother The Duchess of Cambridge stood proxy). During the ceremony, The Duchess of Gloucester, one of the few children of George III who were still alive, forgot where she was, and suddenly got up in the middle of the service and knelt at the Queen's feet, much to the Queen's horror.
Like her other siblings, Louise was brought up with the strict programme of education devised by her father, Prince Albert, and his friend and confidant, Baron Stockmar. The young children were taught practical tasks, such as cooking, farming, household tasks and carpentry.
From her early years, Louise was a talented and intelligent child, and her artistic talents were quickly recognised. On his visit to Osborne House in 1863, Hallam Tennyson, the son of the poet Alfred, Lord Tennyson, remarked that Louise could “draw beautifully”. Because of her royal rank, an artistic career was not considered. However, the Queen allowed her to attend art school under the tuition of the sculptress Mary Thornycroft, and she later, in 1863, enrolled at the National Art Training School, South Kensington. Louise also became an able dancer, and Victoria wrote, after a dance, that Louise “danced the sword dance with more verve and accuracy than any of her sisters”. Her wit and intelligence made her a favourite with her father, with her inquisitive nature earning her the nickname “Little Miss Why” from other members of the royal family.
Louise's father, Prince Albert, died at Windsor on 14 December 1861. The Queen was devastated, and ordered her household to move from Windsor to Osborne House on the Isle of Wight. The atmosphere of the royal court became gloomy and morbid in the wake of the Prince's death, and entertainments became dry and dull. Louise quickly became dissatisfied with her mother's prolonged mourning. For her seventeenth birthday, Louise requested the ballroom to be opened for a debutante dance, the like of which had not been performed since Prince Albert's death. Her request was refused, and her boredom with the mundane routine of travelling between the different royal residences at set times irritated her mother, who considered Louise to be indiscreet and argumentative.
The Queen comforted herself by rigidly continuing with Prince Albert's plans for their children. Princess Alice was married to Prince Louis, the future Grand Duke of Hesse, at Osborne on 1 June 1862. In 1863, Edward, the Prince of Wales, married Princess Alexandra of Denmark. The Queen made it a tradition that the eldest unmarried daughter would become her unofficial secretary, a position which Louise filled in 1866, despite the Queen's concern that she was indiscreet. Louise, however, proved to be good at the job: Victoria wrote shortly afterwards: “She is (and who would some years ago have thought it?) a clever dear girl with a fine strong character, unselfish and affectionate.” However, when Louise fell in love with her brother Leopold's tutor, the Reverend Robinson Duckworth, between 1866 and 1870, the Queen reacted by dismissing Duckworth in 1870. He later became Canon of Westminster Abbey.
Louise was bored by the court. By fulfilling her duties, which were little more than minor secretarial tasks, such as writing letters on the Queen's behalf; dealing with political correspondence; and providing the Queen with company, she had more responsibility than she had before.
Louise viewed marriage to any prince as undesirable, and announced that she wished to marry John Campbell, the Marquess of Lorne, heir to the Duke of Argyll. No such marriage, between a daughter of a Sovereign and a British subject, had been given official recognition since 1515, when Charles Brandon, the first Duke of Suffolk, married Mary Tudor. Louise's brother, the Prince of Wales, was strongly opposed to a marriage with a non-mediatized noble. Furthermore, Lorne's father, George Campbell, the eighth Duke of Argyll, was an ardent supporter of William Gladstone, and the Prince of Wales was worried that he would drag the royal family into political disputes. Nevertheless, the opposition was crushed by the Queen, who wrote to the Prince of Wales in 1869:
That which you object to [that Louise should marry a subject] I feel certain will be for Louise's happiness and for the peace and quiet of the family… Times have changed; great foreign alliances are looked on as causes of trouble and anxiety, and are of no good. What could be more painful than the position in which our family were placed during the wars with Denmark, and between Prussia and Austria?… You may not be aware, as I am, with what dislike the marriages of Princesses of the Royal Family with small German Princes (German beggars as they most insultingly were called)… As to position, I see no difficulty whatever; Louise remains what she is, and her husband keeps his rank… only being treated in the family as a relation when we are together…
The Queen also stated that Louise's marriage to a subject would bring “new blood” into the family, while all European princes were related to each other. She was convinced that this would strengthen the royal family morally and physically.
Louise became engaged to the Marquess of Lorne on 3 October 1870. Lorne was invited to Balmoral Castle in Scotland, and accompanied Louise, the Lord Chancellor, Lord Hatherley and Queen Victoria's lady-in-waiting, Jane, Marchioness of Ely on a drive. Later that day, Louise returned and announced to the Queen that Lorne had “spoken of his devotion” to Louise, and she accepted his proposal in the knowledge of the Queen's approval. The Queen found it difficult to let go of her daughter, confiding in her journal that she “felt painfully the thought of losing her”. The new breach in royal tradition caused surprise, especially in Germany, and Queen Victoria wrote to the Queen of Prussia that princes of small impoverished German houses were “very unpopular” in Britain and that Lord Lorne, a “person of distinction at home” with “an independent fortune” was “really no lower in rank than minor German Royalty”.
Victoria settled an annuity on Louise shortly before her marriage. The ceremony was conducted at St George's Chapel at Windsor Castle on 21 March 1871, and the crowd outside was so large that, for the first time, policemen had to form chain barriers to keep control. Louise wore a wedding veil of Honiton lace that she designed herself, and was escorted into the Chapel by her mother, and her two eldest brothers, the Prince of Wales and the Duke of Edinburgh. On this occasion, the usually severe black of the Queen's mourning dress was relieved by the crimson rubies and blues of the Garter star. Following the ceremony, the Queen kissed Louise, and Lorne – now a member of the royal family, but still a subject – kissed the Queen's hand. The couple then journeyed to Claremont in Surrey for the honeymoon, but the presence of attendants on the journey, and at meal times, made it impossible for them to talk privately. The short four-day visit did not pass without an interruption from the Queen, who was curious about her daughter's thoughts on married life.
In 1878, British Prime Minister, Benjamin Disraeli, chose Lorne to be Canada's new Governor General, and he was duly appointed by Queen Victoria. Louise thus became his Viceregal Consort. On 15 November 1878, the couple left Liverpool and arrived to be sworn in at Halifax on 25 November.
Louise became the first royal to take up residence in Rideau Hall, officially the Queen's royal residence in Ottawa. However, the hall was far from the splendour of British royal residences, and, as each viceregal couple decorated the hall with their own furnishings, and thus took them when they departed, the Lornes found the palace sparse in décor upon their arrival. Louise put her artistic talents to work and hung many of her watercolour and oil paintings around the hall also installing her sculpted works. The arrival of the new Governor General was not welcomed by the Canadian press, which complained about the imposition of royalty on the country's hitherto un-regal society. Relations with the press further deteriorated when Lorne's private secretary, Francis de Winton, threw four journalists off the royal train. Although the Lornes had no knowledge of de Winton's action, it was assumed by the press that they did, and they earned an early reputation for haughtiness. Louise was horrified by the negative press, and when she heard about reports of "a nation of flunkies" at the viceregal court, taking lessons in the "the backward walk," Louise declared that she "wouldn't care if they came in blanket coats! Eventually the worries of a rigid court at Rideau Hall and the "feeble undercurrent of criticism" turned out to be unfounded as the royal couple proved to be more relaxed than their predecessors.
Louise and Lorne founded the Royal Canadian Academy of Arts, and enjoyed visiting Quebec, which they made their summer home, and Toronto. Lorne's father, the Duke of Argyll, arrived with two of his daughters in June, and in the presence of the family, Louise caught a salmon. The women's success at fishing prompted the Duke to remark that fishing in Canada required no skill.
The doctors who attended Louise reported that she was severely concussed and in shock, and that “it was a wonder her skull was not fractured”. Louise's ear had been injured when her earring caught on the side of the sleigh, tearing her ear lobe in two. The press played down the story on instructions from Lorne's private secretary, an act that was described by contemporaries as “stupid and ill advised”. Knowledge of Louise's true condition might have elicited sympathy from the Canadian people. As it was, one MP wrote: “Except the cut in the lower part of the ear I think there was no injury done worth mentioning.” Therefore, when Louise cancelled her immediate engagements, people thought she was malingering. News of the accident was also played down in Britain, and in letters home to the anxious Queen Victoria.
Louise returned to Britain, from Quebec, with her husband on 27 October 1883, and landed at Liverpool. Queen Victoria had prepared apartments at Kensington Palace, and the couple took up official residence there. Louise retained those apartments until her death there 56 years later. Lorne resumed his political career, campaigning unsuccessfully for the Hampstead seat in 1885. In 1896, he won the South Manchester seat, entering parliament as a Liberal. Louise, unlike Lorne and his father, was in favour of Irish Home Rule, and was disappointed when he defected from Gladstonian Liberalism to the Liberal Unionists. Relations between Louise and Lorne were strained, and, despite the Queen's attempts to keep them under one roof, they often went their separate ways. Even when he accompanied Louise, he was not always received with favour at court, and the Prince of Wales did not take to him. Out of all the royal family, Lorne was the only one to be identified closely with a political party, having been a Gladstonian liberal in the House of Commons. Louise's relationship with the two sisters closest to the Queen, Beatrice and Helena, was strained at best. Beatrice had married the tall and handsome Prince Henry of Battenberg in a love match in 1885, and they had four children. Louise, who had a jealous nature, had grown accustomed to treating Beatrice with pity on account of the Queen's constant need for her. Beatrice's biographer, Matthew Dennison, claims that in contrast to Beatrice, Louise remained strikingly good looking throughout her forties. Louise and her husband were no longer close, and rumours spread about Lorne's alleged homosexuality. Thus, Beatrice was enjoying a satisfying sexual relationship with her popular husband, which Louise was not. Louise may have considered Prince Henry a more appropriate husband for herself. Certainly, following Prince Henry's death in 1896, Louise wrote that: “he [Henry] was almost the greatest friend I had—I, too, miss him more than I can say”. In addition, Louise attempted to champion her late brother-in-law by announcing that she was his confidante and that Beatrice, a mere cipher, meant nothing to him.
Further rumours spread that Louise was having an affair with Arthur Bigge, later Lord Stamfordham, the Queen's assistant private secretary. Beatrice mentioned the rumours to the Queen's physician, calling it a “scandal”, and Prince Henry claimed to have seen Bigge drinking to Louise's health at dinner. Louise denied the rumour, claiming that it was started by Beatrice and Helena to undermine her position at court. However, on Henry's death, relations between the sisters sporadically improved, and it was Louise, rather than the Queen, who was the first to arrive at Cimiez to be with the widowed Beatrice. Nevertheless, Louise's jealousy did not evaporate completely. James Reid, the Queen's physician, wrote to his wife a few years later: “Louise is as usual much down on her sisters. Hope she won't stay long or she will do mischief!”
Rumours of affairs did not surround only Bigge. In 1890, the sculptor Joseph Edgar Boehm died in Louise's presence at his studio in London, leading to rumours that the two were having an affair. Boehm's assistant, Alfred Gilbert, who played a central role in comforting Louise after Boehm's death, and supervised the destruction of Boehm's private papers, was rapidly promoted as a royal sculptor. Louise was also romantically linked to fellow artist Edwin Lutyens; her equerry, Colonel William Probert; and an unnamed music master. However, Jehanne Wake, Louise's biographer, argues that there is no substantial evidence to suggest that Louise had sexual relationships with anyone other than her husband.
During Victoria's last years, Louise carried out a range of public duties, such as opening public buildings, laying foundation stones, and officiating at special programs. Louise, like her eldest sister Victoria, was more liberally minded, and supported the suffragist movement, completely contrary to the Queen's views. Louise privately visited Britain's first female doctor, Elizabeth Garrett. Queen Victoria deplored the idea of women joining professions, especially the medical profession, and described the training of female doctors as a “repulsive subject”.
Louise and her sisters had another disagreement after the death of the Queen's close friend, Jane Spencer, Baroness Churchill. Determined not to put her mother through more misery, Louise wanted the news to be broken to the Queen gradually. When this was not done, Louise voiced her sharp criticism of Helena and Beatrice. One month later, on 22 January 1901, Queen Victoria died at Osborne House on the Isle of Wight. In her will, the Queen bequeathed Kent House, on the Osborne Estate, to Louise as a country residence, and gave Osborne Cottage to Louise's youngest sister, Beatrice. Louise and Beatrice were now neighbours both at Kensington Palace and Osborne.
Upon Queen Victoria's death, Louise entered the social circle of her brother, the new King Edward VII, with whom she had much in common, including smoking. She had an obsession with physical fitness, and if she was sneered at for this, she would retort by saying: “Never mind, I'll outlive you all.” Meanwhile, Louise's husband, 9th Duke of Argyll since 1900, took his seat in the House of Lords. The Colonial Secretary, Joseph Chamberlain, offered him the office of Governor General of Australia that year, but the offer was declined. Louise continued her sculpture, and in 1902, designed a memorial to the colonial soldiers who died in the Boer War. In the same year, she began a nude study on a married woman suggested by the English painter Sir William Blake Richmond.
Louise spent much of her time at Kent House, and she frequently visited Scotland with her husband. Financial pressures did not disappear when Lorne became Duke, and Louise avoided inviting the King to Inveraray, Argyll's ancestral home, because the couple were economising. When Queen Victoria had visited the house before Lorne became Duke of Argyll, there were seventy servants and seventy-four dogs. By the time of Edward VII's accession, there were four servants and two dogs.
The Duke of Argyll's health continued to deteriorate. He became increasingly senile, and Louise nursed him devotedly from 1911. In these years Louise and her husband were closer than they had been before. In spring 1914 Louise stayed at Kensington Palace while her husband remained on the Isle of Wight. He developed bronchial problems followed by double pneumonia. Louise was sent for on 28 April 1914, and he died on 2 May. Following his death, Louise had a nervous breakdown and suffered from intense loneliness, writing to a friend shortly afterwards: “My loneliness without the Duke is quite terrible. I wonder what he does now!”
In December 1936, Louise wrote to the Prime Minister, Stanley Baldwin, sympathising with him about the crisis. Following the accession of Edward's brother King George VI, she became too ill to move around, and was confined to Kensington Palace, affectionately called the “Auntie Palace” by Princess Elizabeth and Princess Margaret. She developed neuritis in her arm; inflammation of the nerves between the ribs; fainting fits; and sciatica. Louise occupied herself by drafting prayers, one of which was sent to Neville Chamberlain reading “Guide our Ministers of State and all who are in authority over us…”
Louise died at Kensington Palace on the morning of 3 December 1939 at the age of 91, wearing the wedding veil she wore 68 years previously. Unusually for a member of the royal family, she was cremated at Golders Green Crematorium on 8 December. Following a simple funeral owing to the war, she was buried quietly on 12 December, with many members of the Royal and Argyll families present. Although originally interred at St. George's Chapel, her ashes were later moved to the Royal Burial Ground at Frogmore, near Windsor, on 13 March 1940.
Louise's will stated that if she died in Scotland she should be buried at Kilmun next to her husband; if in England, at Frogmore near her parents. She was buried at Windsor wherever she died. Her coffin was borne by her own regiment, The Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders of Canada, whose current Colonel-in-Chief, her great-great-niece Princess Elizabeth, later Queen Elizabeth II, was among those at her funeral on 12 December 1939. Queen Elizabeth II later recalled that Louise and her sister Beatrice would talk until they stunned their audience with their output of words.
Louise was the most artistically talented of Queen Victoria's daughters. As well as being an able actress, pianist and dancer, she was a prolific artist and sculptress. When Louise sculpted a statue of the Queen, portraying her in Coronation robes, the press claimed that her tutor, Sir Edgar Boehm, was the true creator of the work. The claim was denied by Louise's friends, who asserted her effort and independence. A memorial to her brother-in-law, Prince Henry of Battenberg, and a memorial to the Colonial soldiers who fell during the Boer War, reside at Whippingham Church on the Isle of Wight, and another statue of Queen Victoria remains at McGill University in Montreal.
The province of Alberta in Canada is named after her. Although the name “Louise” was originally planned, the Princess wished to honour her dead father, so her last name was chosen. Lake Louise in Alberta is also named after her. Although her time in Canada was not always happy, she liked the Canadian people and retained close links with her Canadian regiment. Back at home, she gained a reputation for paying unscheduled visits to hospitals, especially during her later years.
Her relationship with her family was generally close. Although at times she bickered with the Queen, and her sisters Helena and Beatrice, the relations did not remain strained for long. She retained a lifelong correspondence with her brother, Prince Arthur, and was one of King Edward VII's favourite sisters. Of all her siblings, she was closest to Prince Leopold, later Duke of Albany, and she was devastated by his death in 1884. In the younger generations of the family, Louise's favourite relatives were the Duke and Duchess of Kent. At the coronation of King George VI in 1937, Louise lent the Duchess the train that she designed and wore for the Coronation of Edward VII in 1902.
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