It is that time of year when we all seem to be running around and getting nothing done and Random has certainly taken a back seat at the mo and am feeling a bit guilty about it. So back to a book review and a great book too.
This biography of Princess Louise by Lucinda Hawksley is immensely readable and totally engrossing. About this time last year I was raving about Magnificent Obsession by Helen Rappaport and, despite everything, feeling sorry for Queen Victoria. Since then I have read Jane Ridley's biography of Edward VII and now this and I am really struggling to maintain my sympathy for the Queen. Yes a traumatic and appalling loss when your husband dies and you are left bereft at 42 with no idea how you are to carry on, but so sad that her children were no comfort to her and that she seemed to actively dislike most of them most of the time. She resented Albert spending time with them when he could have been with her and once they started to lead their own lives she tried her best to make them as miserable as she by her rules and restrictions. Seems to me plain jealousy that they were young and had their lives to make and she resented that deeply. Why should they be happy when she was not?
Princess Louise was one of the children in the nursery who seemed to have been overlooked as she did not stand out in anyway. Vicky was the clever one, Bertie the poor beleagured dunce, Arthur a favourite and Louise came nowhere. She formed a close relationship with Leopold, her haemophiliac brother, whose life was even more restricted than hers and this closeness continued as they grew into adulthood, another thing for Victoria to spoil. When Leopold was seriously ill when he was older he wished for his favourite sister to visit him, but even though the doctors said it would do him good, the Queen would not allow it. Unbelievable cruelty.
Louise was also close to Bertie and his wife Alexandra and, as the Princess of Wales found herself unable to carry out royal duties because of her increasing ill health and deafness, the brother and sister found themselves stepping into the limelight and keeping the royal show on the road in the absence of their mother. Princess Louise was pretty, graceful and charming with an easy going manner that endeared her to all she met and she was regarded as one of the most popular members of the Royal Family.
The author found it difficult to obtain access to certain archives and documents relating to the Princess because it seemed she might have had a colourful past. Beggars belief that this is still being concealed when one looks at the junketing and behaviour of some of the Windsors over the last 60 years or so.
Louise was a sculptor and a painter and mixed with the pre-Raphaelites and was a keen member of the Aesthetic movement. She had an affair with her sculpting tutor Joseph Edgar Boehm and there has also been a hint that she might or might not have had an affair with Princess Beatrice's handsome husband, Liko. As he and his wife had to live with the Queen as she would not part with Beatrice, it would hardly be suprising if he was not attracted to his lovely sister-in-law to add a bit of excitement in his life.
The matter of a husband for her seemed to be of paramount importance and the Queen was most anxious to see her settled. Bertie seemed to agree and a comment from him that Louise should be married and needs to be was rather pointed. Bertie's robust sexual appetite has been well documented and it seems he recognised that Louise had a similar temperament. What made the marriage imperative was the rumour that Louise had given birth to a son.
In 1866 a young army officer was appointed as Leopold's new tutor. He was handsome and charming and, as Louise was frequently with her brother, she spent a great deal of time with George Stirling. The Queen approved of him and declared herself 'much pleased' and so it was a shock when he was dismissed just four months after being appointed. The reason given was that Leopold needed somebody more used to dealing with persons of 'delicate health'. The rest of this year Louise travelled abroad with her mother and kept out of the public eye. The archives on this period are hidden away so no proof of this is available but it is odd, that despite being dismissed, Stirling continued to receive a salary from the royal purse and a generous annuity for years to come. In return, he was silent.
Louise married Lorne, the son of the Duke of Argyll and the British public were delighted that their most popular princess was not being married off to yet another German princeling. It was portrayed as a love match which is certainly as far from the truth as it is possible to be. Lorne was handsome and charming but there had been rumours about his sexuality for some time and it was clear that he was not really interested in women, but marrying a daughter of Queen Victoria was a feather in the family's cap and she had to marry somebody, on this the Queen was adamant.
Poor Louise. Not many of the Queen's children had happy marriages and she was no exception. She spent as much time as possible away from her husband becoming very proactive in her campaign for women's education and was supportive of rights for women. She painted and sculpted and scandalised her mother by visiting George Eliot, who was barred from society. She had a constant battle with the Queen to lead her life the way she wanted and refused to toe the line.
And then there was the death of her long term lover, Boehm and the circumstances surrounding it. Found dead in his studio by the Princess, there are many reports that he was, in fact, in bed with Louise when he had his fatal attack and had to be smuggled back into his studio to be 'discovered' by a close friend.
Unputdownable and despite the restrictions placed on the author, well researched with a general lack of my most unfavourite words in a biography, to wit 'it seems probable that' or 'it seems likely' which sometimes haunt a second rate book.
This is far from that and gives us yet another aspect of the fascinating life of Queen Victoria and another viewpoint on how she influenced, or blighted, the lives of her children . Marvellous stuff.
The Windsors are often referred to as a 'dysfunctional family'. After reading this all I can say it that it is obviously in their genes....