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Princess Louise, Duchess of Argyll: Queen Victoria’s Artistic Daughter

Princess Louise, Duchess of Argyll. Image: Wikimedia

If there was one princess who was avant-garde enough to be ahead of her generation, then that would be Princess Louise. Artistic, unconventional and free spirited, the princess was both admired and criticized, but in the end, all that we can is be awed at the life she’d lived. Louise Caroline Alberta was born on March 18, 1848, at Buckingham Palace. She was Queen Victoria and Prince Albert's fourth daughter and sixth child.

At a young age, Louise' wit and intelligence was already noted by her father, Prince Albert, which is why she became his favorite. Her inquisitive nature, thus, earned her the nickname "Little Miss Why" from other members of the royal family.

In December 1861, Prince Albert died, leaving Queen Victoria in an utter state of shock. The Court was placed in indefinite mourning, which made Louise dissatisfied. In 1862, when her older sister, Princess Alice, married the Grand Duke of Hesse, Louise was left as the oldest unmarried daughter of Queen Victoria. She took up the role as the Queen's unofficial secretary, a responsibility which she did quite well. In fact, the mourning Queen praised her: "She is (and who would some years ago have thought it?) a clever dear girl with a fine strong character, unselfish and affectionate." However, a minor scandal erupted when Louise fell in love with Reverend Robinson Duckworth, Prince Leopold's tutor. When Queen Victoria learned of the illicit affair, he banished Duckworth, who later served as Canon of Westminster Abbey.

Princess Louise was considered as the Queen's most beautiful daughter and she was sought by European princes for marriage. However, the princess shunned the idea of marrying a royal. When it was announced that he wished to marry John Campbell, Marquess of Lorne and heir to the Dukedom of Argyll, some members of the Royal Family were outraged. The idea of marrying someone lower than her station (even if Lorne was a member of the upper crust and a scion of one of Scotland's richest landowning clans) was unheard of in  those days. However, Queen Victoria saw the wisdom in her daughter's decision and she believed Louise's marriage to Lord Lorne would inject "new blood" into the family. After all, Louise' marriage to the Scottish heir would mean her daughter would not have to leave England; keeping her daughters close to her was favored by the Queen. 

Princess Louise and Lord Lorne, late Duke of Argyll. Image: Victorian Calendar

In a letter to Queen Augusta of Prussia, she said that poor German princelings were highly unpopular in Britain. Lord Lorne, meanwhile, was the heir not just to his father's title, but also to his vast estates, making him "really no lower in rank than minor German Royalty." The Britons, too, rejoiced in the idea that one of their princesses would marry a local.

Their marriage took place on March 21, 1871 at St. George's Chapel in Windsor Castle. A huge crowd gathered outside the church that, for the first time, policemen had be around to form a barricade.

The marriage started out happy but the couple later drifted apart, partly because of their inability to have a child and then, also, because of Queen Victoria's frequent meddling over their affairs.

In 1878, Lord Lorne was appointed Governor General of Canada and so Princess Louise joined him on the long trip. She left her stamp at the viceregal residence, Riddeau Hall, by refurbishing and decorating it with her own watercolour and oil paintings. Although quite unhappy to be far from home, she enjoyed sleighing, skating, and fishing. She also busied herself as patroness of various organizations that promoted arts and humanities. An accomplished sculptor, the statue of Queen Victoria, which she made now stands in front of the Royal Victoria College,(today the Strathcona Music Building of McGill University).  She also played a major role boosting the tourism industry of the colony of Bermuda,  which she frequented to escape the harsh Canadian winter .  The accident endured by the viceregal couple in February 1880 during a sleigh ride was a rather unfortunate event, but they eventually recovered.

When the Marquess and Marchioness of Lorne returned to Great Britain in 1883, Louise resumed performing a wide range of public duties. She was often seen in the inauguration of public buildings, laying of foundation stones, and officiating at special programs. Ever the progressive-minded, the princess supported the suffragist movement and women who were taking up professions, causes that Queen Victoria was reluctant to support. 

Princess Louise was close to her brother Albert Edward, Prince of Wales, and when he became King in 1901, she was a fixture in social gatherings and court occasions. At the turn of the 20th century she became more active in physical fitness, and when she was criticized, she would retort back and say: "Never mind, I'll outlive you all." True enough, she survived all bur two of her siblings. 

In 1900, Lord Lorne succeeded as the 9th Duke of Argyll and Princess Louise became known as the Duchess of Lorne. From the time his health deteriorated in 1911 until he died in 1914,  the couple became closer than ever and Princess Louise nursed his husband when his health declined. After his death, Princess Louise remained active in public engagements until she became too frail to move around. She died at Kensington Palace in the morning of December 3, 1939. Her legacy as an artist remains with the statue of Queen Victoria at Kensington Palace.

Revised June 25, 2018


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