Born on the eve of Europe’s first wave of Revolutions, Queen Victoria knew that her daughter Princess Louise was bound to be special. And special she was. Princess Louise was a precocious child who matured into a controversial, mysterious revolutionary. Grab a cup of tea and prepare to learn about the scandalous woman that the British royals have tried to hide.
Princess Louise entered the world on March 18, 1848 and even from her first breaths, it was clear that she would be a troublemaker. You see, 1848 kicked off Europe's tumultuous "Age of Revolutions"—and it seemed that the year's rebelliousness would come through in little Princess Louise. When Queen Victoria gave birth to her daughter, she immediately knew that Louise would be “something peculiar.” She was right.
The revolutionary times weren’t the only strange aspect of Princess Louise's birth. After five painful labors, Queen Victoria understandably wanted some pain relief. She defied her royal advisers and tried a controversial new treatment: chloroform. As the queen said, it made labor "delightful." In plainer language, when Louise was born, prim Queen Victoria was more than a little high.
The royal family subscribed to the philosophy that children should be seen and not heard. But not Louise—she was a born rebel. From an early age, she was a firecracker who was almost too inquisitive for the royal family's tastes. Louise asked so many questions that the family nicknamed her “Little Miss Why.” As we'll see, the Princess's need to rebel only grew stronger as she matured.
When Louise was just 13 years old, tragedy struck: Her beloved father Prince Albert passed in 1861. Even though Louise and Victoria didn't have the smoothest relationship, Louise was her father's favorite child. Losing her dad was incredibly difficult for Princess Louise—and sadly, her mother wasn't around to help her through her grief.
Queen Victoria was so distraught by Albert's loss that she could barely hold herself together, never mind nurture her children through their father's passing. And so, with her father gone and her mother numb, Louise became withdrawn and dour—but even with the odds stacked against her, she was a fighter. Four years after Prince Albert's passing, Louise was finally ready to re-join public life. Unfortunately, her mother had other ideas.
In the Victorian Era, elite young women entered society with an elaborate party called a coming-out ball. As a 17-year-old, Louise was understandably excited about the party—only for Queen Victoria to cancel the whole occasion. In the queen's opinion, grieving (even three years after Albert had passed!) was more important than letting her children move on. Furious, Louise stomped around the palace instead of dancing. But she'd make her own fun soon enough.
Although Louise had a special talent for getting under her mother's skin, Queen Victoria would follow tradition if it was the last thing she did. In this case, that meant promoting her troublemaker daughter Louise to serve as her personal Secretary. Louise was good at the work, but found it boring—or she did until a certain gentleman entered her life.
While Louise worked as her mother's secretary, scandalous rumors spread throughout England. Apparently, Princess Louise had fallen in love with a highly inappropriate young man: her younger brother's tutor, the commoner Robinson Duckworth. And Duckworth's class status wasn't the only thing that counted against him. He was also a Reverend...and he was 14 years older than young Princess Louise.
Queen Victoria was no fool. She could see what was going on between her daughter and the Reverend. It didn't take long for her to "dismiss" the renowned tutor from the royal palace. With that, Victoria probably thought she'd wrested control of the situation. But Louise's love life would throw many more curveballs at the queen.
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During Louise's tumultuous teenage years, Queen Victoria began to grow weary of her daughter and soon enough, their relationship soured. The Queen often criticized Louise's disobedience, called her "indiscreet," and said that she was an imprudent child who got pleasure from arguing. It seemed like no topic was safe in the royal residencies because Louise simply refused to hold her tongue. Thankfully, a change of scenery would give the royal family some relief.
In 1863, Princess Louise became the royal family's first princess to enroll at a public institution. After enduring her father's rigid tutoring system, Louise was finally able to seek out the education she wanted for herself and blossom into the person she was meant to be. Instead of staying trapped at royal palaces, she ventured into the world...and made a scandalous impression.
Louise enrolled at the National Art Training School where she stunned England by becoming a sculptor. It was already scandalous for a woman to become an artist, so it's hard to imagine how controversial it would have been for a royal princess to enter the male-dominated world of sculpting, instead of more traditionally feminine arts like painting or singing. But even Louise's unconventional career choices didn't hold a candle to her dramatic personal life.
Louise connected with many men during her lifetime and the gossip never seemed to cease. According to sources, she also carried out affairs with one of the Queen’s later personal secretaries, along with the famed architect, Edward Lutyens. Louise was a wildly liberal woman, though she preferred to keep her affairs a secret. However, the royal family concerned themselves with concealing even greater things than affairs.
It's easy to see why men fell all over themselves for Louise. The princess was absolutely gorgeous. With her pale skin, dark hair, and slender figure, Louise was the Victorian Era's idea of a jaw-dropping beauty. To this day, she is often called Queen Victoria's most stunning daughter.
Louise was quite a handful for Queen Victoria, and she put in a lot of work to cover up her daughter's red-hot personal life in order to “protect” the royal family. But according to some sources, trysts were the least of the queen's worries. According to Louise's biographer, the royal princess didn't just have an affair with Leopold's tutor Duckworth, but with another of her brother's teachers as well. This time, the man was Walter Stirling, and his relationship with Louise would send the royal family into a tailspin.
In the 1860s, Queen Victoria's doctor adopted a little boy named Henry Locock. It sounds like a dull fact—but nothing could be further from the truth. Throughout his life, Henry claimed that he was no regular adoptee, but the illegitimate son of Princess Louise and her lover Walter Stirling. To this day, no one knows if Locock was telling the truth because the royal family has barred two of the family's attempts to get DNA tested.
In between all her romps, Princess Louise still found time to dedicate herself to philanthropy. Even as a young woman, she felt strongly that she shouldn't just serve the royal family, but work for the British people. And so, while she worked as her mother's secretary, Louise also helped open a hospital for children and became the face of royal philanthropy. But throughout her good deeds, time was ticking. Louise was approaching her twenties and it was high time for the princess to get hitched...
As Prince Louise said goodbye to her teenage years, the Queen set about finding her daughter a husband. Her sisters had all married royalty, and the Queen considered many princes from across Europe for Louise. However, Louise refused to marry a man who was a member of any royal family, finding the prospect of having to be in a marriage with another stuffy royal utterly unappealing.
Louise knew what she wanted, and she wouldn’t back down. While her family was busy soliciting her across Europe, Louise set her sights on a regular man named John Campbell. Well, he wasn’t that regular, Campbell was actually a nobleman. But to the royal family, you were a prince or you were nothing. Despite Campbell's pedigree, Louise's family strongly rejected the scandalous marriage.
Eventually, Queen Victoria saw the light and relented. She stood up for her rebellious daughter in the family dispute over Louise's marriage, and thanks to her actions, in 1871, Louise and Campbell walked down the aisle. However, at the ceremony, the Queen still forced Campbell to kiss her hand rather than permitting him a kiss on the royal cheek.
The ground-breaking marriage between Princess Louise and John Campbell was a major event. After all, a British princess had not married a non-royal for literally centuries. The affair caused quite the splash, and so many people showed up to the ceremony that the authorities implemented–for the first time in Britain–chain link barriers to protect the couple from the massive crowds.
Louise had style. She was a talented artist, after all. For her wedding, she wouldn’t have anyone else say what she would wear. She put herself to work and designed a lace wedding veil for herself to adorn during her wedding. Sadly, the marriage wouldn't be a happily-ever-after situation. Far from it...
After her marriage, Louise decided to ramp up her charitable efforts. She helped create the influential Ladies Work Supply in 1871, a foundation that designed, created, and sold embroidery to help those in poverty. The organization selected Louise as their President, and she even worked as one of their designers.
Louise didn’t want to spend her entire life in stuffy England, so it was a relief when the Queen chose Campbell to be the Governor-General of Canada. The couple moved to Ottawa in 1878, but it wasn't exactly a smooth transition. Canadians didn't love the idea of the crown butting into their territory. But Louise was special, and before long she knew she would win them over with a daring gesture.
Louise understood that Canadians were wary of her presence, so she did her best to convey that she was a friend, not a foe. During her early years in Ottawa, she became notorious for her controversial parties. At these soirees, Louise refused to follow the tradition of separating people by class. Instead, she just let everyone mingle, no matter their station. Though some high-class members of society despised it, it was a breath of fresh air for everyone else.
Louise was a hit in Canada, as not only was she the first British royal to set foot in British Columbia, she was also a staunch advocate of the arts. She helped promote the founding of the National Gallery of Canada And the Royal Canadian Academy of Arts. She was so beloved, that Canada named the province of Alberta and beautiful Lake Louise after her. But make no mistake: the princess' time in Canada was far from drama-free.
Canada wasn’t all fun and games for Princess Louise. In 1880, she suffered a traumatic experience when she got into a serious sleigh accident. The carriage overturned and Louise was dragged through the snow for 400 meters. In the end, she had a concussion and her ear lobe was torn in two. Though she was tough, this marked the beginning of a period of fragile health for Louise.
Princess Louise's delicate health wasn't helped by that fact that she had some strange eating habits. The princess was always enthusiastic about exercise and worked hard to maintain her slim build, but at one dinner party, Louise is recorded to have eaten just "four brussel sprouts." Reportedly, she didn't want to look like her mother, the stout Queen Victoria. Ouch.
Before Louise left Canada, she endured one of the country's bloodiest moments: the North-West Rebellion. Louise understood that no matter who won, these were humans putting their lives on the line. Thus, she created a medical fund and hired a doctor to provide medical attention to the men fighting on both sides, no matter their race, creed, or color.
Eventually, Louise returned to England. Her homecoming was anything but rosy, however, and she dealt with bitter conflicts throughout her family. Louise's sisters were terribly jealous of their beautiful, rebellious sibling, and their relationship suffered. Louise did, however, get along with her sister Beatrice's husband, Prince Henry of Battenberg—perhaps too well...
Louise didn’t care what people thought about her, and she didn’t care much for appearances. She did not hide her friendship with Henry, and since their bond was out in the open, rumors abounded that they were lovers. No one knows the truth about their potential love affair, but when Henry passed in 1896, Louise remarked that “he was almost the greatest friend I had—I, too, miss him more than I can say.”
Louise's disintegrating relationships with her sisters had another sad dimension. When she was in Canada, she received news that her favorite sibling, the beautiful Princess Alice, and two of Alice's daughters, had all died of diptheria. In an even more heartbreaking twist, Alice perished on the anniversary of Louise's father's death. For the rest of Louise's life, December 14 must have been a terribly dark day.
What helped the rumors about Louise and Henry was that Louise was not getting along well with her husband upon their return to England. They often lived separately for long periods, and Louise preferred the company of other men. What went wrong between Louise and the husband that she specifically chose? Strap in.
One of the most circulated rumors about Louise was that her husband was in fact gay. Louise didn’t seem to mind her husband’s sexuality, many of these royal marriages are of convenience anyway. What she did mind, however, was his night prowling. Apparently, Louise tried to stop Campbell from going cruising during the nights by closing off the windows to their apartment.
Queen Victoria wasn't shy about the fact that she hated the suffragist movement. Although she supported Louise in her artistic endeavors, Victoria expressed repulsion over the idea of women practicing medicine. Louise didn’t care about what her mother believed. She openly defied the Queen by becoming a vocal proponent for the suffragist movement and making friends with Elizabeth Garret, the first British woman to publicly practice medicine.
Louise spent a lot of time away from her husband, who was growing ever more eccentric and believed that he had second sight. This gave her space to live her life on her own terms and engage in affairs that fulfilled her. While living in Canada, she had a love affair with an Indigenous man that was modelling for her art. To say this caused a great deal of gossip would be an understatement. If you thought the Queen was harsh about women having professional jobs, just imagine what she’d think about this.
To celebrate the 50th anniversary of Queen Victoria's rule, Louise was commissioned to sculpt a magnificent statue for the occasion. However, the Queen did not hire Louise outright. Instead, Louise had to submit her work anonymously to a panel of judges. To Louise's sadness, cruel rumors claimed that the statue had actually been sculpted by her teacher/lover, Joseph Edgar Boehm.
Despite her dodgy personal life, Louise advocated for feminist movements however she could. She liked to randomly drop in on factories where women were working and make sure the owners and co-workers treated them properly. She would also involve herself in people’s personal lives, such as helping widows pay for the proper burials of their husbands.
Even though Louise did not have the greatest relationship with her husband, the two remained married for life. As the years flew by, their bond grew tighter, and their relationship really flourished in the last years of their marriage. However, John Campbell deteriorated much quicker than his wife. In 1911, he became so senile that Louise had to nurse him.
Louise lost many people around her and as she grew older, and she herself grew increasingly ill. After her husband passed in 1914, she was grief-stricken and felt profound loneliness, which led her to endure a brutal nervous breakdown. She wrote to a friend, "My loneliness without the Duke is quite terrible. I wonder what he does now!"
Although Louise and Princess Beatrice had their fair share of squabbles over the years, late in life they rekindled their relationship. This might be because they had no other choice. After all, when Queen Victoria passed, she gave them neighboring houses. If this was a ploy by the Queen, it worked. By the time Louise and Beatrice's declining health forced them to live in Kensington Palace, they chose to stay in neighboring rooms.
Some habits never quit, and there was one that Louise simply wouldn’t give up. At the time of her passing, she still owed a shop-keeper 15 shillings for cigarettes (that's about 300 dollars today!). As a sign that she knew her strict mother wouldn't approve of her bad habit, Louise hid her smoking from Queen Victoria, even when Louise was a fully grown adult.
Louise holed herself up at Kensington Palace, and as the years went by, she found herself confined to its property. Once the royal family's wild child, Louise was now the hermit of Kensington Palace. Queen Elizabeth II, then Princess Elizabeth, solidified Louise's new reputation as an old bat by dubbing her “Auntie Palace.”
Louise's obsession with exercise and health food seems to have made up for her love for cigarettes. After proclaiming that she would "outlive" everyone who made fun of her fitness regime, Louise came pretty close to keeping her word. She passed at the very old age of 91 years old on December 3, 1939.
Princess Louise had left a lasting impact on Britain and the royal family. How much so, however, we may never know. Over the years, the royal family has rescinded, locked away, or destroyed many of Louise’s papers and files. The estate has even kept prize-winning biographers in the dark and straight-up ignored their requests to research the life of Prince Louise.
You may have seen Louise's artistic work without even knowing it. The rebel princess sculpted one of Montreal’s most famous statues. Fittingly, the work is of Louise's mother Queen Victoria and it stands in front of McGill University.
Because of the rumors that Louise was secretly romancing her own sister's husband, it's not hard to believe that Princess Beatrice would get angry and lash out. According to Louise, her sister got revenge by spreading a dark rumor. Beatrice claimed that Louise was romantically involved with Queen Victoria's private secretary, Arthur Bigge. Louise struck back by spreading a rumor of her own. She said that Beatrice made the whole thing up because she was jealous. And then Louise poured salt in the wound.
After Princess Beatrice's handsome husband (and Princess Louise's rumored boy toy) Prince Henry passed, Louise claimed that she and Henry were much closer than Henry and Beatrice. She even went so far as to say that Beatrice "meant nothing" to her husband. Ouch.
Louise was a great artist. Part of her ability came from sheer talent, though another part came from her esteemed tutor, Joseph Edgar Boehm, who was one of the 19th century’s greatest sculptors. However, Louise didn’t just learn how to sculpt from Boehm—she also learned how to love. According to many sources, the two had a long-standing love affair that ended only when Boehm passed. And oh, how his passing fuelled the rumor mill...
Joseph Edgar Boehm passed in 1890. As though that wasn't bad enough, Louise took it particularly hard because she was with Boehm at the moment his heart stopped. And the two lovers weren’t just hanging out sculpting royal statues when Boehm passed. Nope. If rumors are to be believed, they were in bed making love. Louise was not only devastated but also traumatized by losing her lover while she held him in her arms.
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