Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Louise, Princess Royal and Duchess of Fife

Louise, Princess Royal and Duchess of Fife, 1901
(From the Royal Collection)

The eldest daughter of Edward, Prince of Wales (later King Edward VII) and his Danish born wife, Alexandra, Princess Louise was born on February 20, 1867 in Marlborough House, the London home of her parents. She spent much of her childhood in Sandringham House, her parents' country retreat in Norfolk, and lived a rather sheltered life with her sisters. The Princess of Wales was a possessive mother who would rather let her daughters remained unmarried than marry them off to German princes, and as a result, Louise and her sisters Victoria and Maud, collectively known to their relatives as the "Wales girls" grew up to be intensely shy and reserved.

Princess Louise as a child.
(From the Royal Collection)
As the eldest daughter of the future King of the United Kingdom, Louise certainly occupies a very stirling position, however, she could hardly be regarded as a great catch. She sadly did not inherit her mother's glamorous looks and she was considered to be the plainest-looking among her sisters. She was retiring by nature, and so excessively shy and tongue-tied that strangers who attempted conversations with her considered it to be a taxing experience. Despite their mother's possessiveness with her children, she allowed Louise to marry Alexander William George Duff, 6th Earl of Fife. Queen Victoria also approved of the match, despite that he was considered by many as ill-mannered and selfish. Nevertheless, Alexander was immensely rich. He had a strong business acumen and he was very successful in banking and other financial enterprises. On her side, Louise was tired of her mother's overprotectiveness and Fife gave her the sort of 'escape' she has been longing for but without making a grand marriage to a European prince. Of course, not all people view this marriage in a positive way. Princess Mary of Teck, Louise's future sister-in-law expressed her reservations to her aunt about Louise's marriage: “for a future Princess Royal to marry a subject seems rather strange.”

Louise with her husband, Alexander,
Duke of Fife
After their marriage, Queen Victoria created Alexander as Duke of Fife and Marquess of MacDuff, thus making Louise as Duchess of Fife. The couple lived in enviable homes all over England and Scotland but their favorite home and also their English base would always be East Sheen Lodge, a large ivy-covered mansion to the north of Richmond Park. They also have a number of homes in Scotland and London. They were happy and contented to stay in these magnificent homes that they rarely travel abroad except for visits with relatives in other countries.

Fortunately, married life for Louise gave a very remarkable effect on her. It gave her confidence and a whole new meaning to her life. She was perfectly contented and happy with her husband that her aunt and namesake, Princess Louise, Duchess of Argyll, who also married a 'subject' became quite envious of her niece's 'luck' in marriage that she wrote to a friend: "I should be dancing over the hilltops had I at least ¼ of her luck! Fancy marrying a man you love and living in that beautiful property! ...She was the little mistress of all around her. It was what one reads of in books but never comes true as a rule!" Friends and relatives who visited her were amazed by her vivacity that the Duchess of Teck commented "that it does one’s heart good to see them." A lady-in-waiting to the Duchess of Cambridge wrote a letter to her sister describing a chance meeting with Princess Louise who was newly-married at that time: "Coming home near the house, we saw a little pony carriage, in the shape of a low dog cart coming along, a lady driving herself, a little groom behind. The lady stopped and it was Princess Louise, Duchess of Fife. She looked so pretty, almost as pretty as her mother, with a bright color, pretty blue eyes, lovely teeth, looking so full of mischief & happy. She shook hands with me & then asked Princess May (future Queen Mary) to take a turn with her in the park, so the two young things drove off in great glee. The Fifes were spending Saturday to Monday at Sheen. Pss May says Pss Louise is so happy!"

Princess Louise in 1880s.
After her marriage, Louise also discovered her talent for painting and interior design which she put into good use by designing and decorating their family homes. She also fell in love with fishing and other outdoor activities on her visits to the beautiful scenery of Scotland.

On June 16, 1890, Louise gave birth to her first child, a stillborn baby boy. She had another baby a year later, a daughter, Lady Alexandra Duff. Two year later, Louise gave birth to another daughter, Lady Maud Duff. Once it became apparent that the couple would not be having a son, Queen Victoria created a new patent that the Dukedom of Fife would pass to their daughters. Family life for Louise was an idyllic one, and they would often avoid court life as much as possible.

On December 13, 1911, Louise and her family were shipwrecked off the coast of Morocco. They were supposed to spend the winter in Egypt, however, they encountered a violent storm on the sea. The family was unharmed and they were able to continue their journey to Cairo, but the Duke caught a chill which quickly turn into pleurisy. He died on the early morning of January 29, 1912 in Aswan. Alexander's death plunged Louise in a state of shock. She later unburdened her feelings to a friend in a letter. She also wrote to Queen Mary: "My children and I have been through great trials! But God is giving us this strength, to bear our great sorrow! My beloved Macduff had a beautiful and peaceful end, in this silent land. I am thankful to think of his peace, no more pain nor anxiety now, but my heart is aching for his dear presence as we were always together!"

Louise and her daughters,
Princesses Alexandra and Maud.
Louise and her daughters arrived in England with Alexander's coffin at the end of February. Queen Mary described it to be an 'awfully' meeting between them and Queen Alexandra was amazed at her daughter's fortitude. For her, Louise has become a 'saintly heroine' and a completely changed person 'who can bear every cross'.

In the autumn of 1929, Princess Louise, now the Dowager Duchess of Fife, became ill with gastric hemorrhage. Despite the best medical attention given to her, her health continued to decline. She lingered for the next fifteen months until she died on January 4, 1931. Her sister, Princess Victoria, who was especially close to Louise, wrote to Queen Mary: "Louise suffered so terribly these last few months that one can but thank God. She is at peace with her dear ones. But it’s sad for us and the loss of a sister comes very near one’s heart."

Princess Louise had come along way from being a shy and reserved young princess to being a vivacious, strong-willed and resilient woman who was widely admired and loved by all those who meet her.

Edward VII's Children by John Van Der Kiste (1989).


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