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

Princess Louise, Duchess of Argyll. Image: Wikimedia

If there was one princess that could be avant-garde and way ahead of her generation, 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, Princess Louise' wit and intelligence was evident,something Prince Albert had notice. This made her her father's favourite, with her inquisitive nature earning 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 then placed under mourning indefinitely, which made Louise dissatisfied. In 1862, her elder sister, Princess Alice, married the Grand Duke of Hesse, leaving Louise as the eldest unmarried daughter. That made her Queen Victoria's unofficial secretary, which she did well. Victoria wrote shortly afterwards: "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 Duckowrth, who later served as Canon of Westminster Abbey.

Princess Louise, considered as the Queen's most beautiful daughter, was much sought by European princes. However, Louise 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, the Royal Family was outraged. The idea of marrying someone lower than her station (even if Lorne was a member of the nobility and a scion of one of Scotland's richest landowning clans) was unheard of 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.

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

In a letter to her in-law, Queen Augusta of Prussia, she said that poor German princelings were highly unpopular in Britain. Lord Lorne, meanwhile, is 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, rejoice 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.
While the marriage started out a happy, the couple eventually drifted apart, partly because of their inability to have a childlessness and Queen Victoria's frequent meddling over their affairs.
In 1878, Lord Lorne was appointed Governor General of Canada. She left her stamp at the viceregal residence, Riddeau Hall by refurbishing and decorating it with her own watercolour and oil paintings. While she was unhappy and homesick most of the time, she enjoyed Sleighing, skating, and fishing. She also busied herself as patroness of various organizations aimed at promoting arts. As an accomplished sculptor, she made a statue of Queen Victoria, which now stands in front of the Royal Victoria College, now the Strathcona Music Building of McGill University.  She also played a major role in the development of the tourism industry of the colony of Bermuda,  where she would escape every winter time.  In February 1880, Louise and Lord Lorne meet an accident while riding a sleigh, but the two survived.

After the couple returned to Great Britain in 1883, Louise carried out a range of public duties. She would often be seen in opening of public buildings, laying foundation stones, and officiating at special program. Ever the progressive-minded, Louise supported the suffragist movement and women who were taking up professions, things Queen Victoria abhorred the most. 

Princess Louise was a popular fixture in the social circle at the reign of King Edward VII. She also became fond of physical fitness, and when she was criticized, she would retort back and say: "Never mind, I'll outlive you all."

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. After his death, Princess Louise remain active in public engagements until she became too frail to move around. She died at Kensington Palace on the morning of 3 December 1939. Her legacy as an artist remains evident to this day with the statue of Queen Victoria at Kensington Palace.


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