Victorian is almost a substitute term for joylessly prudish to many people. They are wrong; Queen Victoria relished sex with her protective, affectionate husband, Prince Albert of Saxe-Coberg-Gotha. The marital romance portrayed in The Young Victoria by Emily Blunt and Rupert Friend is true to history. However, Queen Victoria disliked pregnancy, babies, and some children, including several of her own, with passion. Her criticism of the less-favored could be stinging in its candor as well as inaccurate. Her sixth child, Princess Louise, born in 1848, was among her less-favored offspring. Through much of Princess Louise’s childhood, the queen sincerely believed that her daughter was “backward.” Having inherited Prince Albert’s cheekbones and graceful bearing, though, Louise was the prettiest of the daughters. Certainly she was the most talented and daring, the one who would lead the life she desired.
Louise inherited strong artistic talents from both parents: Queen Victoria drew and painted well, and Prince Albert’s skills approached professional levels. Young Louise studied with Edward Courbauld, who recognized her abilities and encouraged her. Her enthusiasm increased with her skills; Louise’s art would be more than a genteel pastime. As a teenager, she wanted to sculpt. Queen Victoria must have wondered what to do with her; she chose the path of least resistance, which probably meant she was truly confounded. She allowed her changeling child to attend the Kensington National Art Training School, which no royal had ever done. The idea that a princess might want to apply her artistic skills professionally probably did not trouble Queen Victoria because it was so unimaginable to her. Louise studied sculpting under Joseph Edgar Boehm. Her self-portrait bust conveys both technical mastery and interpretive depth. She presents herself in conventional dress and hairstyle. Her gaze, though, is direct and detached, even skeptical—the opposite of demure.
Rumors circulated about the unconventional princess. She was known to associate with Rossetti, Millais, Whistler, and the scandal-ridden George Eliot; she supported suffrage, which must have horrified her mother. There was an even wilder rumor that Louise bore a baby boy fathered by the tutor of her brother, Prince Leopold (also among Queen Victoria’s less-favored offspring). Yet another persistent rumor concerned an ongoing love affair with her teacher, Boehm. For whatever reason, Queen Victoria wanted to marry Louise off quickly. Louise’s choice was John Douglas Sutherland Campbell, Marquess of Lorne and heir to the eighth Duke of Argyll. Lorne, as he was known, was a member of the high nobility but not a royal. Like Louise, he was a glamorous looker and shadowed by rumors—in his case, about homosexuality. He and Louise married in 1871.
Louise and Lorne shared a powerful work ethic and immersed themselves in public life. She continued to sculpt and paint. She promoted the welfare of women and children through the Ladies Work Society, which taught lucrative skills, and the Girls Public School Day Company, which supported education for girls. In 1878, the couple moved to Canada for Lorne’s new job as Governor General there. Meanwhile, he enjoyed his connection with the openly gay Lord Ronald Gower.
Lorne and Louise supposedly wanted children but never had any. Art provided her fulfillment, and her service to women would help her leverage her skills. The women of Kensington Borough commissioned her to create a statue of Queen Victoria for the park that fronts Kensington Palace in honor of her Jubilee. This statue, revealed to the public in 1893, represents Queen Victoria in her youthful bloom; Rachel Cooke wrote that it “pulls off the trick of flattering its subject even as it suggests the iceberg that stood in for the Queen’s heart.” Now an iconic image of its subject, the statue is photographed by millions of tourists. Most of them do not know that the queen’s daughter made it and have no inkling of the complicated relationship between the two.
Shortly after the statue was unveiled, Louise provided her country’s gossips and scandal sheets with fresh material. It was said that she developed an intimacy with her sister Beatrice’s husband, Prince Henry of Battenberg. Whatever actually occurred, it was sufficient to make Beatrice and Louise quarrel, but both marriages survived. Louise and Lorne managed their challenging marriage by doing what they wanted and by spending some of their time together and some apart. She survived him as Duchess of Argyll for twenty-five years and died in 1939—full of good works, producing fine art, respected by most, and doing as she saw fit.