I. Youth (1848-1878)
Princess Louise With Her Three Older Sisters
From the Painting by F. Winterhalter
Princess Louise was born at Buckingham Palace on March 18, 1848. She was the sixth of nine children born to Queen Victoria and Prince Albert. At the time of her birth, Britain was suffering from social unrest. When Princess Louise was only three weeks old, the Duke of Wellington ordered the royal family to evacuate Buckingham Palace for the safety of Osborne House on the Isle of Wight. Chartist riots were expected in London.2 The unsettled times caused Queen Victoria to be concerned regarding the child's welfare. She was worried that Princess Louise might become "something peculiar."
Following the royal family's return, the young Princess was baptized by the Archbishop of Canterbury in the private chapel at Buckingham Palace. During the christening, the choir sang a hymn that had been written by Prince Albert, and the Princess was named Louisa Caroline Alberta. Although christened "Louisa," she was always known as "Louise."
During the baptism, an amusing incident took place. An elderly relative, the Duchess of Gloucester, became confused concerning the nature of the gathering, rose from her seat, walked toward the Queen and knelt before her. In recounting this incident to her uncle, King Leopold, Queen Victoria exclaimed, "Imagine our horror!"
Princess Louise was a pretty baby. She was very fair, having clear skin, white satin-like hair, and large blue eyes. The Queen was pleased. Apparently, she had not always been so fortunate. At the birth of her sons Edward and Leopold, she observed that both were "quite frightful" looking. Throughout her life, Princess Louise was known for her natural beauty and flair.
As a child, the Princess was somewhat shy and aloof. One writer suggests that this may have been because she was a middle child and, consequently, had received less attention than she should. However, her great curiosity compensated for her shyness. Constant questioning resulted in her being nicknamed "Little Miss Why" by the other members of the royal family.
Although many of the more routine aspects of the royal children's education were attended to by professionals, Queen Victoria and Prince Albert took a strong personal interest in their progress. Queen Victoria was very fond of dancing, and all of the children were given lessons. When periodic "balls" were arranged to demonstrate their skill, the Queen would look on with great satisfaction, giving encouragement and personal advice when it seemed appropriate. Scottish dancing was fashionable at the time and Queen Victoria noted that Princess Louise "danced the sword dance with more verve and accuracy than any of her sisters."
Prince Albert, on the other hand, had more practical concerns. He felt that the children should be taught some of the more routine domestic skills. In this way, they might develop a deeper appreciation concerning the lot of the average British citizen. To accomplish this goal, a miniature house called the "Swiss Cottage" was constructed at Osborne on the Isle of Wight. It was equipped with a kitchen, dining room, and the usual fixtures. As well, the children were allotted individual garden plots, and each was given a set of miniature garden tools. In this setting, they laboured away learning many house-keeping and gardening skills. On occasion, Queen Victoria and Prince Albert received invitations to attend dinners at the Swiss Cottage which were prepared and served by the children.
Edward Corbould, a professional artist of some note, was employed to teach the children art. Although the others were not without talent, Princess Louise had a natural aptitude and surpassed them all. Queen Victoria and Prince Albert were pleased as they themselves were fond of drawing.
Both parents felt that good manners were essential. Justice was swift and severe for offenders. In later years, Princess Louise recalled being severely censured by the Queen for sneezing during a family gathering.
Although their environment was generally a happy one, the children's security was always a concern. Many threatening letters were received. After the children had retired for the day, Prince Albert often inspected the premises, trying the doors and ensuring that all precautions concerning the children's safety had been taken.
One of the highlights of the children's younger years was the visit of Robert Hales, the "Norfolk Giant," to Buckingham Palace in 1851. He was seven feet, six inches in height. When news of him reached the palace, the Queen requested his presence. One can imagine the children's dismay when they saw him. Princess Louise was only four years old at the time.
The children also met Florence Nightingale following her return from the Crimea. The Queen described the famous nurse as modest and retiring, and the children were delighted with her.
Unfortunately, Prince Albert died when Princess Louise was only thirteen years old. This sad event, combined with her mother's extended period of mourning, had an adverse effect on the child. Her life became a monotonous routine of travelling from one royal residence to another at set times each year. Consequently, she had little contact with other young people and was denied many of the privileges which normally would have been her right. For example, when Princess Louise was seventeen years old, Queen Victoria refused to open the ballroom at Buckingham Palace for a coming-out dance. She had had it closed four years earlier following Prince Albert's death. Queen Victoria noted that the young Princess had become "very odd, dreadfully contradictory, very indiscreet and from that making mischief frequently."
Princess Louise's eldest sister Victoria provided some relief from this situation by inviting her to holiday in Berlin. 3 Although attracted by her beauty, the young German princes were taken aback by Princess Louise's unconventional dress and manner. Unlike most young women of the time, she preferred to wear light dresses of colours that suited her. Heavy dark cloth and jet beads were the fashion. She also preferred to let her rich brown hair hang loosely around her shoulders or to pile it up softly on top of her head rather than crimp it with hair tongs. As well, her self-assured, independent manner could be disconcerting.
Even though the holiday in Berlin was beneficial, her return to the same monotonous routine soon took its toll. Consequently, her sister Victoria took the initiative once again and urged the Queen to let Princess Louise pursue her artistic interests at the National Art Training School.4 After some debate, she was finally allowed to take lessons in sculpture from Elgar Boehm. She became very good at capturing a likeness and, in later years, one of her statues of Queen Victoria was unveiled near Kensington Palace. It was the first statue executed by a woman to be erected in the city of London.5
Princess Louise's Statue of Queen Victoria In Montreal, Quebec
Photograph by Van Dyck & Meyers Studios, Montreal
By the time she was twenty, Princess Louise had become more accustomed to the routine of royal life and was generally more amiable. On her twentieth birthday, in a letter to her sister Victoria, the Queen noted: "She is (and who would some years ago have thought it?) a clever dear girl with a fine strong character, unselfish and affectionate."
As her older sisters chose husbands and moved away, Princess Louise became more and more the companion of her mother, accompanying the Queen on many official occasions. She was even able to persuade Queen Victoria to sing again. Prior to the death of Prince Albert, singing had been one of her favourite pastimes. As well, the Queen also began organizing musical concerts at Buckingham Palace. After seven years of mourning, their lives were beginning to resume a more normal course once again.
In 1868, it was rumoured that Princess Louise was going to be engaged to the Crown Prince of Denmark. This rumour was denied. William, Prince of Orange, was also considered a possibility. However, some information concerning the Prince's life style in Paris reached the Queen and she vetoed that plan. At the age of twenty-two, Princess Louise informed her mother that she wished to marry the Marquis of Lorne, the eldest son of the Duke of Argyll.6 The Queen favoured this match and gave her consent.
Engagement Photographs of Princess Louise and the Marquis of Lorne
The Gernsheim Collection
A great commotion followed the announcement of their engagement. Nothing like it had occurred in England since the days of Henry VII. Princesses didn't marry their subjects: they married other royalty. However, the Queen sustained her support for the young couple, and they were married on March 21, 1871, in St. George's Chapel at Windsor Castle.
At the wedding, Princess Louise wore white satin and a veil of Honiton lace, which she had designed herself. The veil was ornamented with flowers and was the subject of much favourable comment. The bride was accompanied to the altar by her mother, the Queen, and by her brother Edward, Prince of Wales. Following the reception, the newly wedded couple were driven away in an open carriage. As the carriage moved away, John Brown, the Queen's manservant, threw a new broom after it - an old Scottish custom. Nine hundred boys from Eton watched from nearby Castle Hill.
Princess Louise In Bridal Dress
From the Painting by G. Koberwein
The years immediately following their marriage were busy ones. Princess Louise attended many public events, often with the Queen. As well as accompanying his wife on some of these occasions, the Marquis of Lorne continued his political career as a Member of Parliament and created a mild stir in literary and theological circles by versifying the Psalms.7
In 1875, they both founded the Girls' Public Day School Company whose object was to provide education for girls at a modest fee. The concept was popular with middle-class parents who could not afford to send their daughters to the more expensive private institutions. By 1895, thirty-five of these schools had been established and the total enrollment was 7,081. The couple also sponsored meetings of leading educators at their home, 1 Grosvenor Square, London. Education and the arts were life-long interests of Princess Louise and the Marquis of Lorne.
The Chartists were members of a working class movement which advocated