Something Peculiar

Louisa Caroline Alberta was born at Buckingham Palace on 18 March 1848 and was the sixth child and fourth daughter of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert.

Revolution storms were blowing across Europe when Louise was born which caused her mother to comment her new daughter was going to be “something peculiar” and she certainly was the most rebellious of the daughters. Like her siblings, Louise had a strict programme of education devised by her father, but the children were also taught more practical tasks, such as cooking, farming, household tasks and carpentry. From an early age, Louise showed a great deal of artistic talent and the Queen allowed her to attend art school where she trained under sculptress Mary Thornycroft and then the National Art Training School at South Kensington.

After the death of Prince Albert in 1861, the vivacious Louise soon became disgruntled by her mother’s long period of mourning and yearned for court entertainment to resume. At the age of seventeen, Louise begged her mother to hold a debutante ball but her request was rejected and Louise soon found herself the subject of her mother’s wrath. In 1866, as the eldest unmarried daughter, it was Louise’s turn to fulfil the role as the Queen’s companion despite her mother’s misgivings that her daughter was indiscreet. Louise surprised her mother by being very good at her duties and she was soon back in favour until she fell in love with Leopold’s tutor, Reverend Robinson Duckworth, who was promptly dismissed.

Louise was considered to be the most beautiful of the royal princesses, however she was also criticised for her liberal views, particularly in regard to women’s rights which displeased her mother. The press also accused Louise of having more than one romantic affair which prompted her mother into searching for a suitable husband. Marriages to foreign princes were proving unpopular in Britain, so Queen Victoria was forced to look closer to home with the added advantage of keeping Louise closer to her.

A Suitable Husband

Unwilling to marry a foreign prince, Louise announced she wished to marry John Campbell, Marquess of Lorne, and heir to the Dukedom of Argyll in Scotland. It was a bold move since no daughter of a sovereign had married a subject since Charles Brandon, 1st Duke of Suffolk was allowed to marry of Mary Tudor in 1515. Needless to say, there was opposition to the match but Queen Victoria maintained it was time for new blood in the family and gave her consent. Lorne was duly invited to Balmoral and the engagement was announced on 3 October 1870 much to Louise’s delight.

The marriage took place on 21 March 1871 at Windsor Castle, drawing such a large crowd, the police had to be called in to help keep control. Louise wore a Honiton lace veil she had designed herself and was escorted into the chapel by her mother, and her two eldest brothers, Albert Edward and Alfred. The newlyweds spent their honeymoon at Claremont, an 18th-century Palladian mansion in Surrey.

Life in Canada

In 1878, the British Prime Minister, Benjamin Disraeli, chose Lorne as the new Governor General to Canada, a post duly appointed by Queen Victoria. Louise and Lorne sailed for Canada on the 15 November and set up residence in Rideau Hall in Ottawa which the couple ended up having to furnish. The Canadians were initially excited about the prospect of having the daughter of Queen Victoria as their viceregal consort but opinions were soon changed by the negativity shown by the Canadian press. Although Lorne was the youngest Governor General of Canada, he and his wife made many contributions to Canadian society, especially in the arts with the establishment of the Royal Society of Canada, the Royal Canadian Academy of Arts and the National Gallery of Canada.

Louise was initially unhappy living in Canada as she was terribly homesick and was also grieving the loss of her sister, Alice, who had died of typhoid. However, Louise soon settled and enjoyed winter pursuits, such as sleighing and skating, and she attended her first state ball on 19 February 1879. Things took a more dramatic turn though when Louise and Lorne were injured in a sleighing accident on 14 February 1880 which left the princess with a severe concussion. The seriousness of the injuries were downplayed in the press which backfired when Louise had to pull out of a number of engagements and was accused of malingering.

Lorne travelled throughout the country, meeting with members of Canada’s First Nations and other Canadians from all walks of life. At Rideau Hall, he and Princess Louise hosted many social functions, including numerous ice skating and tobogganing parties as well as balls, dinners and state occasions. Louise returned to Britain in 1881 while Lorne stayed in Canada for another two years but their time in Canada was memorialised in his book, Memories of Canada and Scotland.

Return to England

The couple were given apartments in Kensington Palace but often went their separate ways and rumours about Lorne’s sexuality were prevalent. Louise kept herself busy with charitable causes, while Lorne resumed his political career with an unsuccessful campaign for the Hampstead seat in 1885. Lorne’s political views weren’t always welcome at court and his visits were often strained affairs even when accompanied by Louise.

Louise was growing increasingly unhappy with her marriage and her relationship with her sisters, Helena and Beatrice, suffered as a result. Louise was particularly jealous of her sister, Beatrice, who had married Henry of Battenberg in 1885 and was now the mother of four children. Louise seemed of the opinion she would have made Henry a better wife and after his death she claimed to have been his true confidante. Nevertheless, Louise was the first to go to France to comfort the widowed Beatrice.

Louise’s name was linked with a series of men throughout her life but none were substantiated, however she was accused of having an affair with Joseph Edgar Boehm, a sculptor, when he died in his studio in 1890 with Louise present. Boehm’s private papers were destroyed after his death, however Lucinda Hawksley, a descendant of Charles Dickens, believes the princess and Boehm had a longterm affair.

Lorne became Duke of Argyll in 1900 and was increasingly active in politics, eventually taking a seat in the House of Lords. He was offered the office of Governor of Australia but declined due to failing health. Louise kept herself busy with her royal duties until her husband’s health began to deteriorate and she nursed him devotedly until his death in 1914. Louise was severely depressed by the loss of her husband and she suffered from great loneliness.

Louise continued to live in her apartments at Kensington Palace but made few public appearances as her own health began to deteriorate. She died on 3 December 1939 and was cremated at Golders Green Crematorium in the veil she designed for her wedding. Her ashes were eventually moved to the Royal Burial Ground, Frogmore, near Windsor.