Once I made my way through Caitlin Moran’s How To Be A Woman, I thought it was probably a good idea to remind myself how far women have actually come.
Perusing my shelves, I decided to read Lucinda Hawskley’s The Mystery of Princess Louise: Queen Victoria’s Rebellious Daughter.
Promising title right?
If you watched The Young Victoria with Emily Blunt (I did. Loved it) you’d be forgiven for thinking that Queen Victoria was a loving, open-hearted woman who adored her family because you would be wrong. Queen Victoria adored her husband and resented anything (her children) that took her time away from him. She detested the business of actually having children and begrudged those of her children who wished to have their own lives (the nerve!).
Princess Louise was the 6th of her children, after Victoria, Albert (Edward VII), Alice, Alfred and Helena, before Arthur, Leopold and Beatrice (when you win Trivial Pursuit because you read this, you can thank me). I will admit to being personally delighted with this book right away – Princess Louise and I share a birthday and that has never happened with any biography I’ve read before. Her mother thought she was stubborn and rebellious, although she would admit that she was quite good looking. Louise was close to her brothers Albert, Arthur and Leopold but would spend a lifetime at loggerheads with one sister or another, usually coddled baby Beatrice.
Lucinda Hawksley (a great-great-great-great granddaughter of Charles Dickens) became interested in Princess Louise after researching biographies of notable Victorian artists (like Kate Perugini, a daughter of Dickens’) and seeing her name everywhere. When she went to look into her life further, she found that a lot of the documents relating to her were locked up in the Royal Archives without access.
Bucking trends would become a lifelong habit of Princess Louise’s. She became the first royal daughter to be educated at a public school. She became a sculptor of some talent, even getting her mother to agree to setting aside studio space for her. She was very active in the artistic community of the day and was a supporter of the suffrage movement as well. These activities, especially any to do with Women’s Rights, became complicated by her mother’s total disagreement with the cause – for Queen Victoria, a woman’s place was in the home.
It would appear that before Louise married she became involved with a tutor of her brother’s and may have had an illegitimate child. According to Hawksley, this child grew up aware that she was his mother and the ties between the adoptive family and the Royal family were inexplicable otherwise.
Louise refused to marry a foreign prince, making her the first British princess to marry a “commoner” (he was a Duke) since the 1500s. She endeared herself to the British people but her family thought she was marrying down, bringing common blood into the royal family. She travelled all over the world with her husband, especially North America after he (the Marquess of Lorne, later Duke of Argyll) was appointed the Governor-General of Canada. Rumours of his homosexuality have plagued the couple for generations.
Living in Canada, I was delighted with the Canadian connections to Louise. Canadians wanted to name a Western territory after her, so she suggested they use her middle name, Alberta. After she had left, Lake Louise was also named in her honour.
Princess Louise lived a good long time – she died in 1939 at the age of 91.
Hawksley’s biography of Princess Louise is a thoughtful well researched (especially considering all of the roadblocks she encountered) account of one of the most interesting princesses of her day. Because of the secrecy surrounding so much of her life, Princess Louise has dropped off as a notable person of her day but Hawksley’s work should go a long way to bringing her back to the fore where she belongs.