Thursday, September 13, 2018

Princess Louise, Duchess Of Argyll

As mentioned, I'm reading the biographies of Queen Victoria's children. I highly recommend, "Princess Louise: Queen Victoria's Unconventional Daughter" by Jehanne Wake over other books about her. It is by far the best researched, delving into private letters and other primary sources to recall her life.
Prince Leopold and Princess Louise on the left. The Duchess of Kent?, Prince Arthur and Princess Alice. Queen Victoria under her umbrella, Prince Albert holding Princess Beatrice's hand and Princess Helena on the right of her father.

The better known bio by Lucinda Hawksley is entertaining, yet hugely based on gossip, falling short because it presents unsubstantiated hunches and rumors as truth. In biographies, all conclusions must be backed up with credible sources and solid evidence. 
Princesses Helena and Louise
Unfortunately after 100 years, the rumors stick to a historical figure as if they were true facts, which is certainly the case here. In my review, I feel compelled to confront a few of the rumors and misconceptions.

Indeed in a myriad of ways, Princess Louise was an unconventional and modern royal. Born on March, 18, 1848, the year of revolutions in Europe, she was Queen Victoria's 6th child and 4th daughter. When the little princess was only a few weeks old, the royal family was advised to flee London, which they did for the safety of Osborne due to the riots. 
The Queen even remarked that the volatility of the times would surely leave an imprint on the infant's character.

Princess Louise Caroline Alberta was intelligent, inquisitive and artistically gifted. Like her siblings, she received a strict academic education, becoming fluent in several languages, music, art and theater, as well as, acquiring practical skills like cooking, baking, sewing and gardening. 

However, her childhood was marred by the early death of her father, Prince Albert of Saxe-Coberg-Gotha and her mother's prolonged period of mourning. It was a traumatic period that engulfed the entire family and country for more years then it should have.

Princess Louise was the first royal offspring to enroll in a public school, the National Art Training School, at the same time as she was required to fill the role as her mother's private secretary (1866-1871). Louise was successful at both endeavors due to dedication and many hours of hard work.

The Princess was a talented sketcher, painter and sculptress and accepted commissions for her art in an era when women were only supposed to have hobbies inside the home. Her sculpture of Queen Victoria at the age of her coronation sits outside of Kensington Palace today.

Queen Victoria, who sometimes considered her daughter argumentative, had to admit the statue was a great likeness and Louise was an excellent private secretary, writing to daughter Vicky: "She is (and who would have some years ago have thought it?) a clever dear girl with a fine character, unselfish and affectionate."

Unlike the Queen, Princess Louise (like her elder sister, Vicky, i.e. Crown Princess Victoria of Prussia) supported women's rights. She secretly met with "radical" Elizabeth Garrett, the first woman medical doctor in Britain.
Photo: Royal Digest Quarterly
Traveling and at breakfast with a lady-in-wating, Queen Victoria, Leopold, Louise - standing and Beatrice
Over a lifetime, Princess Louise supported liberal and forward-thinking social causes, spearheading the education of women, lending her name to get programs and institutions up and running. Likewise the Princess initiated public works and opened wings of hospitals. Not content with merely showing up at the end, she contributed her ideas and was involved in all the phases of planning and implementation right up to the openings.
Many at court, as well as, the public thought Princess Louise was the Queen's most attractive daughter. She was the tallest and slender and as an early proponent of exercise, remained shapely and youthful throughout her life. She bicycled and walked habitually.

Princess Louise was also unconventional in choosing a spouse -- an aristocrat, John Campbell, the Marquis of Lorne, heir to the Duke of Argyll and a Liberal Member of Parliament over a foreign prince. Since he was active in politics and wasn't royal, it was controversial. In 1871, she became the 1st daughter of a Sovereign to marry a commoner since the 16th century. Queen Victoria favored the match as a way of keeping her daughter in Great Britain, and too, of introducing new blood into the family. Also, the Queen always let her children marry for love. 

Which brings us to Louise and Lorne's relationship. There's little truth to what is often written, namely: the couple was unhappy and childless because Lorne was homosexual. The marriage began happy and lasted for over 40 years. During these years, Lorne was devoted, supportive and protective of his wife, and they were very much together up until the early 1880s. He never stopped thinking she was beautiful; nor weaned in thinking of and mentioning her in conversations and letters to his family, etc.

And although Louise could be temperamental, she too was loving, thoughtful, respectful and devoted. Apparently the couple tried to have children as Louise went to Germany over the years for cures in the effort. Although she lived to be 91 years old, the Princess suffered from ill health throughout her life (including severe headaches, neuralgia, vomiting and insomnia, especially after a serious sledging accident (on February 14, 1880) in Canada that also gave her a concussion and tore her ear lope in two). Jehanne Wake's book makes a good case that probably the real reason the couple remained childless was due to illness or infertility (possibly complications from meningitis which Louise contracted at the age of 16). Moreover in Victorian England, no one thought to consider Lorne's fertility. Both spouses hoped to have children and no doubt the disappointment put a strain on their marriage. Louise became depressed.

Furthermore, the evidence that the Princess' husband was gay is very weak based mainly on the couple's close association with Lorne's homosexual uncle and friend, Lord Ronnie Gover (his mother's brother), who although innocent, was drawn into a scandal by a gay con artist.
Princess Louise, Prince Leopold, Queen Victoria, John Campbell (Lorne), and Princess Beatrice

Louise and Lorne grew apart starting in 1884 after returning from 5 years living in Canada, where Lorne served as a capable and successful Governor General (giving the couple the chance to see Canada and the USA.) The death of Louise's favorite brother, Prince Leopold, didn't help matters as it devastated her. From childhood, she had looked after Leopold.
As the author explains, "The dynamics of a marriage can change and in the Lornes' case the balance of power swung away from him to her. The long spells apart and their clashes of opinion had changed Princess Louise's perception of Lorne; she now saw the stubborn side of his character and began to be irritated by him. Although, whenever this happened, she would be sorry and try to be kind to make up for the feeling; it took its toll upon her nerves. She was very much like her sister, Princess Alice, in temperament. In Princess Alice's words, they had 'things to fight against, and to put up with, unknown to those of quiet equable dispositions, who are free from violent emotions, and have consequently no feelings of nerves -- still less of irritable nerves.' "

According to the book, Princess Louise cared for Lorne deeply, but needed to take breaks from him in mid-marriage. Queen Victoria was exceedingly understanding of her daughter's frail emotions, ''while feeling much for Lorne." Lorne, too, was patient and understanding of his wife.

As the author notes, "At the height of Princess Louise's unhappiness," husband and wife ''kept in close contact and wrote daily." Divorce was never considered as neither party desired it.

They stayed together and became close again in later years. When Lorne's father died in 1900 making him the 9th Duke of Argyll, Louise accompanied him to Scotland. Together the couple also lived in Kent House on the Isle of Wight and at Kensington Palace in London. Unfortunately, as Lorne aged, he developed dementia and lost the easygoingness of youth, but Louise was very devoted to nursing him until his death from bronchitis that developed into double pneumonia in 1914. Again, Princess Louise was devastated. She felt dreadfully lonely without the Duke still feeling as she did when becoming engaged, there was no one quite like him!

And despite the rumors, her biographer thinks it unlikely that Princess Louise ever had sexual relations with anyone other than her husband. No solid evidence suggests otherwise. The author argues Princess Louise could be chatty, friendly and flirty, and like Queen Victoria, she loved beauty in everything, especially in the form of a good looking man. But the the book states, it would have been too risky and highly unlikely that she ever crossed the line as she never forgot Her Royal Highness status, nor her sense of duty. At any rate, says the author, "It was the maternal, domesticated hausfrau which predominated in her character." In other words, yes, she flirted, but expressed it as glee and by mothering a man. And, I agree with the biographer!

In later years Princess Louise continued some public appearances, often visiting hospitals unscheduled. She lived in Scotland and Kensington Palace next to her sister, Princess Beatrice's apartment. Although the sisters had their differences, they were a close family. Louise spent summer vacations with Prince Arthur at his house on the French Riviera and sketched up until age 90. She died on December 3, 1939 and because of the war was cremated with her ashes buried at Frogmore near Windsor. Had she died in Scotland, she would have been buried next to her husband.

In Canada, the province of Alberta, Mount Alberta and Lake Louise are all named after Prince Louise.

After you finish the Wake bio, here's another recommendation: Darling Loosy: Letters to Princess Louise 1856 - 1939 by Elizabeth Longford.

So far, I love all of Queen Victoria's children. How about you?

You may also enjoy:

Queen Victoria's Family Pictures
Princess Alice Of The United Kingdom
Remembering Prince Leopold, Duke of Albany
German Empress Victoria: A Book Review And More


  1. Princess Louise sounds really lovely, and her photos are most attractive. How sad that people try to make up a scandal about Royalty, even without evidence, especially if they were saddened by their inability to have a family. I think I might read the book you recommend Debra.

    1. Oh, do Trish. You will love it. Princess Louise was a favorite aunt of many of her neices and nephews on her side, as well as, the Argyll side of the family. Loren also was very good to his neices and nephews. Before I read about her, I knew only the rumors about him. But he comes off well as a husband, liberal for a man of his day. Loren and the Argyll family knew good and well that marrying into the Royal family had many disadvantages, even stifling in what he then could do in life. After his successful time as Canada's Governor General, Loren was offered the Governorship of New South Wales (Austrialia!!!) but had to turn it down because Louise didn't want to go. Despite stresses midway in their marriage, they really were devoted and supportive of one another and when he died, Louise had a breakdown. She said there was nobody else like him.

      I find myself liking them both very much. It's easy to be kind and lovely when everything is going well ... or if in puppy love. But it's when things go wrong and there are disappointments that you find out what type of people they are (or were). I think they passed the good people and devoted couple tests with flying colors. Rumors are so terrible, diminishing and sensationalizing a good, if indeed, not a perfect marriage.

    2. Well I don't catch my type before hitting the publish button. Louise's husband was called: Lorne.

  2. Dearest Debbie,
    What an interesting read this was; thank you! Aha, that is the explanation for the name of Lake Louise, as they lived there for 5 years.
    How sad that the gossip people always try to distort the happiness of such married couples; especially royalty or other heads of state. She lived an exemplary life and was so devoted to her husband, even during his dementia - a role model to many! Both, Pieter and I have met during our lifetime several couples that 'fled' marriage when one spouse became terminally ill. So cowardly and such a non-loving act!
    Princess Louise was indeed a gracious looking woman and slender. Love the fact that she biked!
    Sending you hugs,

    1. Oh how sad. If a spouse won't look out for you in times of illness or diminished capacity, who could one trust? It isn't for better or worst then, is it?