Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Victoria’s Children, Part 6: Princess Louise

Victoria’s sixth child and fourth daughter was born on March 18, 1848, a year that became known as the Year of Revolutions and saw violent upheavals in many parts of Europe. Little Louise Caroline Alberta (names all chosen by Prince Albert) herself was temporarily thought to be in danger as the revolutionary Chartist movement bubbled and simmered in England, ultimately coming to nothing.

From her earliest childhood, Louise was considered the most attractive of Victoria’s daughters, with a more refined version of the family’s somewhat heavy features and enough height to be considered statuesque. She was also the most rebellious, even down to preferring French to the Queen’s beloved German. Despite her naughtiness, thought, it was recognized early on that she had a real artistic talent. She was encouraged by her drawing masters, and always seemed to have a sketchbook in hand through her childhood years. Artistic ability ran in the family: Victoria herself was no mean watercolorist, and eldest sister Vicky was quite proficient in oils…but true to her rebellious nature, Louise’s preferred artistic medium was sculpture. Sculpture was not regarded as an appropriately “feminine” art; furthermore, as a royal princess, Louise could not expect to ever be able to “do” anything with her art.

But sometimes being rebellious has its uses. When Prince Albert died, Louise was, at the tender age of twelve, expected to help bear the weight of her mother’s grief, and did her best…but Victoria realized that this daughter would never be the close confidant she sought. Perhaps that was why, when Louise was twenty, Victoria listened to her pleas and permitted her to attend the National Art Training School at Kensington. This was an almost unprecedented step: no royal princess had ever attended a school of any sort.

Still, the chief duty of a princess was to marry—the question was, whom would Louise choose? Victoria didn’t want to lose her occasional secretarial services, so like her sister Lenchen, a foreign head-of-state was out of the question. Eventually, after much backing and forthing that lasted till Louise was twenty-two, another revolutionary decision was made, and Louise married a non-royal British subject—namely, the Marquess of Lorne, heir to the Duchy of Argyll. Lorne (as he was called) was a handsome blonde, perhaps not the cleverest man but certainly a pleasant one.

Though it seemed to start well, the marriage would not be an entirely happy one. No children were ever born to the couple, and in later years they often lived apart. Louise only spent a few of the years Lorne was Viceroy of Canada at his side; a bad sleighing accident sent her abroad to recuperate (though the province of Alberta and Lake Louise were named in her honor). But in their last years Louise and Lorne seemed to rediscover their earlier fondness and became devoted to each other, with Louise nursing her husband through some years of senility and illness.

She continued her art throughout her life, producing several public monuments, including a statue of the Queen at Kensington, and became a firm supporter of women’s suffrage and right to work. A bit of a fitness nut, she would tell scoffers “I’ll outlive you yet!”…and did. She survived to the advanced age of 91, dying in December 1939. Unlike the circumscribed existence most royalty was forced to live, this rebel princess’s life was a remarkably varied one.


Alyssia said...

This family had such fascinating stories, every last one of them. Louise was definitely the most attractive--that baby picture is divine! Thanks for sharing this with us today!

Marissa Doyle said...

You're welcome, Alyssia! Queen Victoria was not always the most accommodating mother, so I think it's amazing that she let one of her daughters actually attend a public school.

Tricia Tighe said...

Interesting post! I'll have to go back and read your other posts on this family.

Good to see you have a title for the next book and a release date. Wish it was sooner!

QNPoohBear said...

wow! What a fascinating lady and a wonderful role model. I bet she paved the way for women like Louisa May Alcott's sister May who was an artist and did some sculpture. Louisa even wrote a story about a young woman who was an accomplished sculptress. Thanks for sharing her with us. I'm glad at least one of Queen Victoria's children got to do something they loved.