Born the sixth child and fourth daughter to the famously moral Queen Victoria and her consort Prince Albert, Louisa Caroline Alberta had a lot to live up to. She consistently bucked the traditions of the day and the feisty princess was popular with the public. Her mother not so much. Victoria wrote to her older daughter Vicky in 1864, “God bless the dear child – who is so affectionate and has so many difficulties to contend with, I hope and trust she will get over them… and still become a most useful member of the human family.”
“Loosy”, as she was called by relatives, was born on March 18, 1848, a year marked with revolution. Her mother often remarked that was probably why the young princess was so tempestuous. Her education was overseen by her father, Prince Albert, and his friend and confidant, Baron Stockmar. It was acknowledged from an early age that Louise was artistically talented. Even though an artistic career was considered out of the question, she was allowed to attend the National Art Training School and excelled at sculpture. Then the world turned upside down.
In December 1861, her father, Prince Albert, died after an illness. Her mother, Queen Victoria, went into deep mourning. This prolonged mourning was irksome to the lively princess, and she held a debutante ball for her seventeenth birthday in 1865, which scandalized her mother. As the oldest unmarried daughter, she became her mother’s unofficial secretary. As such, Louise was responsible for her mother’s correspondence, minor secretarial tasks, such as writing letters on the Queen’s behalf; and providing the Queen with company. Despite performing her duties well, Louise was bored out of her mind.
She became close with her brother, Leopold’s, tutor, William Stirling. A leading biography by Lucinda Hawksley maintains that the two had a sexual affair, and an illegitimate child was born to Louise sometime in 1866 or 1867. The child supposedly named Henry, adopted by Queen Victoria’s doctor and bore an uncanny resemblance to the Royal Family. However, this is conjecture. Also, in the realm of conjecture is that Louise had an affair with Arthur Bigge, the Queen’s assistant physician, as well as sculptor, Joseph Boem . Louise was at his studio the night of his death and rumors flew that he had a heart attack while the two were in flagrante delicto. She has also been romantically linked to Colonel William Probert and Sir Edwin Landseer Lutyens.
What is known is Louise rejected the European suitors suggested for her hand, and ended up marrying John Campbell, 9th Duke of Argyll, in 1871. Queen Victoria was thrilled as she felt this brought “new blood” to the royal family. The Duke was not exactly a catch. He was described as washing rarely. His clothes were eccentric, he was convinced he had second sight, and he refused to let his wife use his billiard table. Lucinda Hawksley suggests in her biography that the marriage was one of convenience as the Duke was a homosexual. She tells a story that the Duke went on nightly prowls to the red light district and Louise attempted to stop by bricking up the windows of her home. If she had affairs, hardly anyone could blame her.
The two moved to Canada when the Duke was made the Governor General. The province of Alberta is named after her as well as Lake Louise. She also popularized tourism to Bermuda, as Louise traveled there to escape the Canadian winters. While in Canada, Louise was severely injured in a sleighing accident, but it was hushed up to spare the feelings of her anxious mother.
The couple returned to England in 1883 and took up residence in Kensington Palace. The marriage between the Duke and Louise was strained, and the two often went their separate ways. Louise was a supporter of the suffragette movement, and was a patient of Elizabeth Garrett, the first female doctor in England. Queen Victoria was abhorred at the of females in the medical profession. She ran with a fashionable crowd of Rossetti, Millais, Whistler and, more controversially, George Eliot. Louise did not give up her art, making a sculpture of her mother for her Golden Jubilee, which stands outside Kensington Palace.
After nursing her husband through his final illness in 1914, Louise’s own health began to deteriorate despite her boast “Never mind, I’ll outlive you all.” when sneered at for her obsession with physical fitness. She had a nervous breakdown from loneliness after her husband’s death despite their separate lives. Her last public appearance was in 1937, at the Home Arts and Industries Exhibition. Louise died at Kensington Palace on December 3, 1939 at the age of 91 years, 8 months and 15 days, the same age to the day as her younger brother Prince Arthur. Her ashes are at the Royal Burial Ground at Frogmore.
Sources available on request