- - Thursday, January 14, 2016


By Lucinda Hawksley

Thomas Dunne, $28.99, 384 pages

Princess Louise was the fourth daughter of Queen Victoria and turned out to be a woman who marched to the beat of her own drummer in an era when such independence was far in the future, especially in a royal family.

It was especially unusual in the age of Victoria who had nine children and, according to Lucinda Hawksley, didn’t treat them well and frankly didn’t like them. Unenthusiastic about more progeny, the tyrannical little queen said babies reminded her of frogs and saw hers as little as possible. Fortunately, an army of nannies made that possible. As her children grew up, she often made their lives miserable and used the premature death of their father, Prince Albert, as an excuse for behavior inexcusable in a queen and unforgivable in a mother.

Princess Louise did not and would not fit the maternal demands. She was very attractive, highly intelligent and made her own name in the artistic world, sculpting and painting, none of which met with her mother’s approval. Worst of all, she was a rebel. In an era dominated by the woman who came to be known as the Widow at Windsor, Louise was a maverick. And according to her biographer, to this day, information about her life — and loves — remains locked away in the archives. Throughout Louise’s life Queen Victoria made a production of mourning her husband Albert although she was believed to have been involved in a relationship with John Brown, a Scottish ghillie who she contended possessed Albert’s soul. When he died, a lock of his hair was included with one of her husband’s in her tomb.

Ms. Hawksley presents Victoria as an incredibly selfish and often cruel woman who apparently adored Albert yet never let him forget she was queen. She never let her children forget it either. It would seem that she was jealous of the vivacious and charming Louise and with reason. The biographer describes in detail an 1848 visit by the princess to Liverpool when her popularity brought more than a million of her subjects to the streets.

Princess Louise had no children, although rumor persists (perhaps contributing to the secrecy still clouding her life) that she gave birth as a teenager to an illegitimate boy. And she had no dearth of admirers. Apparently there was little secrecy about Louise’s lovers, who ranged from a famous sculptor to her sister’s handsome husband.

Prince Albert was pleased when Louise was born, “even if it is another girl” but his wife’s enthusiasm for another baby was minimal. “The queen was sick of pregnancy and child bearing and her devotion for Albert left little room for her to look after the children as they should have been.” She admitted this in a letter sent later to her oldest daughter, Vicky, in which she admitted she begrudged the time spent with her children because it meant she had less time to be alone with their papa. It seems that Louise was genuinely fond of most of her eight siblings, especially Leopold, a frail boy who suffered from the dreaded hemophilia which killed him eventually and also made him more of a trial to his equally dreaded mother. Louise did not marry any of the suitable royalty her mother picked out and when she did wed, she became the first member of the royal family to marry a commoner — the Marquess of Lorne, who, it was suspected, proved to be a homosexual. She spent as little time with him as possible after they were married but she was so popular with the opposite sex, her biographer suggests it didn’t matter. Louise’s husband was named governor general of Canada and they were enormously popular since they proved much more easygoing and flexible than Canadians expected of Victoria’s family.

Princess Louise lived well into her eighties and was known as “the Grand Old Lady of Kensington Palace.” She remained prominent in the art world and popular with distinguished men, and she even mourned dutifully when her mother the queen died at an advanced age. It was noted that the royal palaces of England became noticeably more entertaining places after the death of Victoria.

Muriel Dobbin is a former White House and national political reporter for McClatchy newspapers and the Baltimore Sun.

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