The secrets of Queen Victoria's sixth child, Princess Louise, may be destined to remain hidden forever. What was so dangerous about this artistic, tempestuous royal that her life has been documented more by rumor and gossip than hard facts? When Lucinda Hawksley started to investigate, often thwarted by inexplicable secrecy, she discovered a fascinating woman, modern before her time, whose story has been shielded for years from public view.
Louise was a sculptor and painter, friend to the Pre-Raphaelites and a keen member of the Aesthetic movement. The most feisty of the Victorian princesses, she kicked against her mother's controlling nature and remained fiercely loyal to her brothers-especially the sickly Leopold and the much-maligned Bertie. She sought out other unconventional women, including Josephine Butler and George Eliot, and campaigned for education and health reform and for the rights of women. She battled with her indomitable mother for permission to practice the "masculine" art of sculpture and go to art college-and in doing so became the first British princess to attend a public school.
The rumors of Louise's colorful love life persist even today, with hints of love affairs dating as far back as her teenage years, and notable scandals included entanglements with her sculpting tutor Joseph Edgar Boehm and possibly even her sister Princess Beatrice's handsome husband, Liko. True to rebellious form, she refused all royal suitors and became the first member of the royal family, since the sixteenth century, to marry a commoner. She moved with him to Canada when he was appointed Governor-General.
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Queen Victoria's Mysterious Daughter
A Biography of Princess Louise
By Lucinda Hawksley
St. Martin's PressCopyright © 2013 Lucinda Hawksley
All rights reserved.
Born in the year of revolution
The poor Duchess of Gloster is again in one of her nervous states, and gave us a dreadful fright at [Princess Louise's] Christening by quite forgetting where she was, and coming and kneeling at my feet in the midst of the service. Imagine our horror!
Queen Victoria's diary, 16 May 1848
By the time of her visit to Liverpool, Princess Louise was a determined young woman with a keen political mind and a career that she had fought to be allowed to have. She was renowned by the public for her good looks, her unusual artistic dress sense and her sense of humour. Most importantly, Louise was also known for her compassion and her many 'good works'. The princess was a forceful personality, who could make herself adored, when she wanted to (and who could snub people royally if she did not like them). She was regularly described as 'captivating', 'charming' and 'clever'. People felt able to approach her, members of the public wrote letters to her, or begged for her help with charitable or political causes. Fellow artists were comfortable enough to invite her to informal studio parties and men happily flirted with her, in a way they would not have dreamt of doing with any of her regal sisters. Even people who were not keen on the idea of a royal family found Louise acceptable. She spoke openly and controversially about subjects that other people shrank from and she was not above criticising the monarch. On one memorable occasion, as she undertook, yet again, one of the queen's duties, Louise remarked loudly that her mother 'was not too unwell to open Parliament, simply too unwilling'. To understand why Louise should criticise her mother so openly, it is necessary to look both at Queen Victoria and at Princess Louise's childhood.
Despite the fact that she is one of the most famous monarchs of all time, Queen Victoria was not intended to become queen. It was almost an accident that this young princess, whose father had died before she could even recognise him, ever acceded to the throne. The first link in the chain that led Victoria to the monarchy was the death in 1817 of one of the country's most popular royals: the much-admired Princess Charlotte. She was Victoria's first cousin, and the only legitimate child of the Prince Regent (later King George IV). When the news of Charlotte's tragic death spread the country went into extended mourning. She had died giving birth to her first child, a son who was stillborn after a protracted and stressful labour. To compound the tragedy, soon after the deaths of the princess and baby prince, one of the royal doctors who had assisted with the birth, Dr Croft, committed suicide.
Instead of gaining a much-loved and happily married queen, the country was left with its continued succession of dissolute Hanoverian kings. Following the death of King George IV, the throne passed to his brother, who became King William IV. Most people were angrily aware of the new king's former relationship with the actress Mrs Jordan – and of their ten illegitimate children. Aware he might become king, William had hastily ended this 'illegal' relationship and married Princess Adelaide of Saxe-Meiningen, but her two children failed to survive infancy. The country began to despair of its royal family, and the idea of a republican revolution was beginning to take hold.
The young Princess Victoria, who was the next in line to the throne, was perceived as a welcome and refreshing change after the excesses and debauchery of the sons of George III (one of whom, the Duke of Kent, was Victoria's father). Initially, Victoria, who had lived her childhood and early adulthood so simply, stiflingly and in genteel impoverishment, was seen as almost a reincarnation of the lamented Princess Charlotte. When William IV became ill, people were deeply concerned that he might die before his young niece reached her eighteenth birthday, thus leaving the throne vulnerable. The ailing king managed to cling to life until Victoria was just eighteen. The accession of this teenaged girl to the role of monarch was believed to be the dawning of a new golden age, one often compared to the Elizabethan era.
Almost immediately after she was declared queen, Victoria became an icon of morality and 'goodness'. Poets and artists immortalised her on canvas and in print and the country rejoiced in their new monarch and the changes she seemed to promise. When she married Prince Albert of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha, her love-match wedding – to a husband she had chosen and proposed to – was the ideal of fairy tales. Yet although Albert tried vigorously to celebrate all things British, he was never quite forgiven by his wife's subjects for being a foreigner.
Princess Louise was the sixth child and the fourth daughter of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert – and her birth was both agonising and terrifying. The queen would regularly recall its horrors, and as a child the young princess was made to feel dreadfully guilty about how much her mother had suffered to bring her into the world. The new baby was born at 8a.m. on 18 March 1848 and given the names of Louise Caroline Alberta. Louise was the name of her father's mother as well as that of her mother's aunt. Caroline was after her father's recently deceased step-grandmother – to whom Albert had been devoted. Her third name was after her father himself. On 14 April, the queen wrote in her journal: 'We have decided that our little girl's sponsors should be, Albert's Gt Uncle, Duke Gustoes of Mecklenburg Schwerin[,] Augusta Strelitz and the Dss of Meiningen.'
During the pregnancy, Prince Albert had grown deeply concerned about his increasingly stressed wife, at what was a difficult time, politically. Royal families throughout Europe were being deposed, while in Britain, the working classes were agitating for higher pay, better working conditions and more legal rights. Following Princess Louise's birth, Prince Albert wrote a letter to his brother saying how relieved he was – despite the irritating fact of the baby being female: 'I have good news for you today. Victoria was safely delivered this morning and though it be a daughter, still my joy and gratitude are very great, as I was often full of misgivings because of the shocks which have crowded upon Victoria of late.'
The new princess – nicknamed 'la nouvelle' by her siblings – came into the world during a very turbulent time. The year 1848 would be remembered as one of revolution and rebellion. In Ireland, revolutionaries were calling for an end to British rule and chaos seemed to reign throughout Europe as revolutions bred one another. The royal family grew used to the sight of beleaguered foreign royals and aristocrats arriving in London. These refugees, often possessing only the clothes they were wearing, brought stories of dissension and violence. Even Buckingham Palace could not cope with the influx: the royal children's bedrooms had been taken over by desperate distant relations of the queen, and Victoria and Albert's children had to sleep in servants' bedrooms.
By the time of Louise's birth, the queen was heartily sick of pregnancy and childbearing. In addition, her devotion to Albert allowed little room for her to love her children as they should have been loved. Many years later, the queen would reveal these feelings in a letter to her eldest daughter. When Vicky had been married for just a few weeks, she wrote to her mother of her longing to be alone with her husband and how tiresome she found it always having to carry out official duties. Her mother's reply explains a great deal about Queen Victoria's attitude to her children: 'You said in your long letter that the happiest time for you – was when you were alone with Fritz; you will now understand why I often grudged you children being always there, when I longed to be alone with dearest Papa! Those are always my happiest moments!'
Victoria, the Princess Royal, was nearly eight years old when the new baby was born. Vicky had been a true honeymoon baby, born on 21 November 1840, nine and a half months after her parents' marriage. By the time of Louise's birth, Vicky was a practised older sister and was accepted as the 'brains' of the family. Despite this, Vicky, in common with her sisters, was often made to feel a disappointment to her mother. Aware of how painful her mother's censure could be, Vicky grew protective of her younger siblings.
When Vicky was less than a year old, the queen had given birth to a son and heir. The future Edward VII, known as 'Bertie' to his family, was born on 9 November 1841. Almost from birth he was a disappointment to his parents, and his mother took every opportunity of letting him know how displeased she was with him. Bertie would become very close to Princess Louise, as the two often-neglected children bonded over their shared unhappiness. They would remain close throughout their lives.
The third of Victoria and Albert's children was Princess Alice (born on 25 April 1843); she was a caring sister and dutiful daughter, who strove not to upset her mother and who, during Louise's adolescence, often grew frustrated by her younger sister's wilfulness. Alice's behaviour in childhood was not remarkable – as Vicky's was by intelligence and Louise's by artistic temperament – but she would grow up to become an indomitable woman, devoted to furthering gender equality and championing the need for more, and better trained, nurses. Alice was especially close to the always naughty Bertie, but in many ways she was her parents' model daughter (until she grew up and became far too independent for her mother's liking).
Prince Alfred was born on 6 August 1844 and known in the family as 'Affie.' Victoria and Albert made it obvious that they thought it a pity Bertie should be the heir to the throne, instead of the more promising Alfred. By the age of 12 Affie already knew what he wanted from life – he was going to be a sailor. He went on to have a distinguished career in the navy.
Princess Helena, known as 'Lenchen', was born on 25 May 1846. Her birth caused the queen to suffer 'longer and more than the other times', according to Prince Albert, and it was feared the baby would not survive. Helena was a tomboy, said not to cry when her brothers teased her, but to give as good as she got – famously punching one of her brothers back instead of bursting into tears. Helena was considered by her parents the least 'pretty' of the daughters and she grew up knowing her mother felt it would not be easy to find her a husband. Indeed, Helena spent much of her childhood feeling a failure because she was not pretty enough.
By the time of Louise's birth, Victoria had an understandable horror of the pain of childbirth. She had few maternal impulses and famously detested the messiness and inability of young babies. She found their spasmodic movements – which she called 'that terrible froglike action' – physically repulsive. Louise's birth was followed by those of two more sons, Arthur (born 1 May 1850) and Leopold (born 7 April 1853). Louise was always extremely close to her two younger brothers, who adored her. None of the other princesses compared, in Arthur and Leopold's opinion, to 'Loo', 'Loosy' or 'Looloo', as Louise was variously known.
Arthur was named after his godfather, the Duke of Wellington (whose birthday he shared). Louise made one of her first 'public' appearances at Arthur's christening, dressed all in white, like her sisters, and distinguished in her mother's journal as being 'very pretty & not at all shy, – very smart with her white gloves & little white & silver shoes' (she was two years and three months old at the time). The young Arthur showed an early interest in the military: it was claimed that even as a tiny baby he reacted with excitement when he saw a uniform. He was destined for the army.
The birth of Leopold in 1853 was remarkable as the first time the queen was given chloroform to help alleviate the agonies. Chloroform was an experimental new wonder drug and the physician who administered it had been in terror for weeks beforehand in case anything should go wrong. The new baby was named after Queen Victoria's beloved uncle and advisor, King Leopold I of the Belgians. From birth, Prince Leopold was sickly. When he was five or six, he was diagnosed with haemophilia. Unable to join in the energetic games of his brothers, he was usually expected to stay with his sisters and keep safe. He also suffered from an illness that caused him to have fits, perhaps epilepsy, something that was little understood and seen as an embarrassment. Throughout many of Leopold's 'bleeding' illnesses, which left him weakened and miserable, Louise was his childhood nurse, learning ably how to take care of him. The queen and prince consort wanted their children to be practical and useful and all their daughters grew up to be practised nurses.
As had been the case with Leopold's birth, the queen's last baby, Princess Beatrice – born on 14 April 1857 – was eased into the world under the anaesthetic effects of chloroform. During the preparations for the birth, the medical establishment was divided firmly into two sides: those who admired Dr John Snow as a medical pioneer performing exciting work and those who thought that he was playing with the health of the monarch for his own glory. One writer in The Lancet declaimed angrily, 'In no case could it be justifiable to administer chloroform in perfectly ordinary labour.' Snow suffered from the professional jealousy of his peers. When Prince Leopold had been diagnosed with haemophilia in the late 1850s, many doctors were quick to claim that his illness must have been caused by the use of chloroform. There was even a powerful lobby of medical men who insisted that God intended women to suffer in childbirth, and to die if necessary, and that any medication which alleviated the necessary pain went against the teachings of the Bible.
The queen and Prince Albert ignored the detractors; to them chloroform was a miracle. Victoria claimed that she felt 'better and stronger' after Beatrice's birth than she had after any of the others. As a result, she felt immediately more kindly disposed towards this baby than she had to any of her older children. Prince Albert described Beatrice as 'an extremely attractive, pretty, intelligent child – indeed the most amusing baby we have had'. Princess Beatrice was born a month after Louise's ninth birthday and seems seldom to have been written about in childhood without use of the phrase 'golden curls'. She was constantly favoured from the moment of her birth. The queen was delighted with how pretty her new baby was. Some years later, when Vicky (by that time married with children) censured her mother for disliking children, Queen Victoria responded: 'You are wrong in thinking that I am not fond of children, I admire pretty ones immensely.'
'Poor Louise' (as her mother usually referred to her), Arthur and Leopold were all deeply affected by the arrival of the new and adored baby. In Darling Loosy, royal biographer Elizabeth Longford noted that it was around the time of Beatrice's birth that Louise began suffering from 'night terrors', an ongoing affliction that became exacerbated in times of stress.
Although the queen could have had no idea that Albert's life would end so soon, she knew Beatrice would be her last child. She was getting older and the gap between her most recent pregnancies had been wider than those between her first few. With the arrival of Beatrice, Queen Victoria finally discovered her maternal side. She petted and spoilt her new daughter and Beatrice was the one she wrote about glowingly in letters as the brightest star in her home. None of these comments and sentiments were likely to endear Beatrice to her siblings. Her relationship with them would be troubled throughout her life: Arthur and Leopold resented her almost from birth, and Beatrice had a particularly complicated relationship with both Bertie and Louise. Despite being almost 16 at the time of Beatrice's birth, Bertie found his mother's spoiling of her youngest child unbearable. When he finally became king, in 1901, Bertie began taking back from his youngest sister almost everything Queen Victoria had bestowed on her. Even in his sixties, Bertie still burned with the resentment created by his mother during his adolescence. Prince Albert's comment is very revealing: perhaps the reason Beatrice was such an amusing and alert baby was because she received so much more stimulus and affection from her mother than any of the other royal babies.
Louise was now pushed even more firmly out of the limelight. No longer the youngest daughter, she was not the most intelligent and she was certainly not the best behaved. She was simply one of those 'difficult' middle children, an overlooked, often ignored little girl. As she grew up, Louise would strive to become unique.
Excerpted from Queen Victoria's Mysterious Daughter by Lucinda Hawksley. Copyright © 2013 Lucinda Hawksley. Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
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Table of Contents
List of Illustrations,
Introduction: How it all began,
Prologue: A celebrity comes to Liverpool,
1. Born in the year of revolution,
2. A royal education,
3. In the shadow of her siblings,
4. An Annus Horribilis,
5. The first sculpture,
6. What really happened with Walter Stirling?,
7. The Locock family secret,
8. An art student at last,
9. Falling in love with the Cult of Beauty,
10. The people's princess,
11. A controversial betrothal,
12. 'The most popular act of my reign',
13. A battle for independence,
14. Politics and Aestheticism,
15. The first year in Canada,
16. A marriage lived in different continents,
17. Escaping the Fenians in Bermuda,
18. Return to London – and tragedy,
19. Keeping up appearances,
20. Scandal amongst the Campbells,
21. Celebrating the Golden Jubilee,
22. The princess and the sculptor,
23. Trying to dull the pain,
24. Scandal in the royal household,
25. A new century and the end of an era,
26. The death of Henry Locock,
27. The king, the kaiser and the duke,
28. Widowhood and war,
29. The Grande Dame of Kensington,
30. 'This remarkable lady',
31. One last rebellious command,
About the Author,
Also by Lucinda Hawksley,