A review of The Mystery of Princess Louise: Queen Victoria's Rebellious Daughter by Lucinda Hawksley

The secrets of Queen Victoria's sixth child, Princess Louise, may be destined to remain hidden forever. What was so dangerous about this artistic, tempestuous royal that her life has been documented more by rumour and gossip than hard facts? When Lucinda Hawksley started to investigate, often thwarted by inexplicable secrecy, she discovered a fascinating woman, modern before her time, whose story has been shielded for years from public view.

Louise was a sculptor and painter, friend to the Pre-Raphaelites and a keen member of the Aesthetic movement. The most feisty of the Victorian princesses, she kicked against her mother's controlling nature and remained fiercely loyal to her brothers - especially the sickly Leopold and the much-maligned Bertie. She sought out other unconventional women, including Josephine Butler and George Eliot, and campaigned for education and health reform and for the rights of women. She battled with her indomitable mother for permission to practice the 'masculine' art of sculpture and go to art college - and in doing so became the first British princess to attend a public school.

The rumours of Louise's colourful love life persist even today, with hints of love affairs dating as far back as her teenage years, and notable scandals included entanglements with her sculpting tutor Joseph Edgar Boehm and possibly even her sister Princess Beatrice's handsome husband, Liko. True to rebellious form, she refused all royal suitors and became the first member of the royal family to marry a commoner since the sixteenth century.

Spirited and lively, The Mystery of Princess Louise is richly packed with arguments, intrigues, scandals and secrets, and is a vivid portrait of a princess desperate to escape her inheritance.
  • Hardcover: 400 pages
  • Publisher: Chatto & Windus (21 Nov 2013)

Princess Louise, Marchioness of Lorne; Duchess of Argyll by Frederick Hollyer, 1890. Housed at V&A

"Princess Louise would always identify with and want to associate with women who did unusual or brave things. As she grew older, she made an effort to meet those whom society had shunned or who challenged the status quo. She wanted to become one of those celebrated and controversial women herself." author, Lucinda Hawksley describing Princess Louise, The Mystery of Princess Louise

Lucinda Hawksley has made a brave attempt to write a complete biography of one of the most controversial and 'rebellious' royal women of the nineteenth century. The word Rebellious is on the cover and used throughout this biography.  However, I knew nothing about Princess Louise's life before reading, The Mystery of Princess Louise and I was left with more questions than answers. Admittedly, due to the fact that as stated in this biography numerous times over, archives covering certain aspects of Louise's life are closed to researchers. Speculation as to why it is assumed because of Princess Louise's supposed martial affairs with numerous men she met during her marriage. For instance, Sir Edgar Boehm, Bart., R.A. a famous sculptor who apparently died while having sex with Louise leaving her understandably devastated. She had a very close 'friendship/relationship' with Alfred Gilbert as well.

I kept asking myself, 'What made her so rebellious?' Was it her nature, was it her choice to go against her mother, Queen Victoria's cold hearted, heavy handed, stern and loveless relationship? One would think being of royal birth that your life is an easy one!  One of ease and comfort where your duty is to live up to your family's expectations. Ha! Sounds like a punishment to me!  Louise wanted a life of autonomy and independence outside of her Royal bloodline. How does a woman living during the nineteenth century accomplish this? In Louise's case by vocally fighting tooth and nail with your mother through correspondence to request every endeavor you'd like to achieve. For instance, from the age of six, in 1854, Louise knew she wanted to be an artist. Can you imagine how the Queen took the news? Royal children were expected to have the best education, fulfill their parental role as dictated to them without fail or argument. There is a charming story Lucinda Hawksley tells of a stay at Osbourne House on the Isle of Wight and a birthday gift to six year old Louise of having one of the room's turned into an artist's studio for her to draw when they visited and stayed there. Hawksley describes visiting Osbourne House while researching The Mystery of Princess Louise and expecting to find  a large sunny room filled with large windows. Instead, little Princess Louise's gift of her childhood studio was just a small room with one tiny window hardly bringing any light in. Princess Louise would indeed in adulthood fight with her mother again to attend art school; something grown royal children did not do. Eventually, 'rebellious' Louise attended and became an artist and sculptor. Even going so far as to sculpt her mother's likeness twice: once at Kensington Palace and in Montreal, Canada.

 Queen Victoria statue outside Kensington Palace by Princess Louise
Montreal, Canada. Queen Victoria statue by Princess Louise


Perhaps in an act of rebellion or an escape away from her mother, Princess Louise married John Campbell, Duke of Argyll (Marquess of Lorne)  in 1871. Eventually moving to Canada after he was appointed Governor General of Canada in 1878. Amongst rumors of his homosexuality and her 'supposed' affairs, they eventually drifted apart. Louise made no secret of how much she disliked living in Canada; missing England and wanting to come home to Kensington Palace. They remained married and childless until his death in 1914. However, there was a rumor of a pregnancy and birth of a son named Henry Locock from a previous relationship before she was married. The truth will never be known unless the answer lies in those closed archives.
John George Edward Henry Douglas Sutherland Campbell, 9th Duke of Argyll probably after W. & D. Downey albumen carte-de-visite, circa 1870 @NPG. (This photograph included in The Mystery of Princess Louise).

Upon the death of her mother, Queen Victoria on 22 January, 1901 Louise experienced a different kind of freedom. One that would trigger her rebellious nature and need to become more of an activist. She lived to the ripe old age of ninety-one years old upon her death at her home in Kensington Palace in 1939. Her later years were spent supporting fundraising events for Royal Hospital and School of Medicine for Women donating £500,000 in 1920. She lived long enough to witness the invention of the 'radio' which she called a 'miracle' one evening while attending an opening of a new hospital radio system in 1926. She kept her focus on women's and children's rights and related champion causes; believing in better run hospitals and schools before National Health Service existed. She was a fascinating woman who was ahead of her time in many ways rebelling against her familial and cultural expectations all for her own sense of freedom to be the woman she wanted to become. 

Until the archives are open to researchers and those alike the life of Princess Louise will never be truly known or understood. However, Lucinda Hawksley paints the truest portrait of this enigma of a woman we have today. I highly recommend it to anyone who strives to understand this complicated woman who achieved much and made the most of her ninety-one years. 

The Mystery of Princess Louise by Lucinda Hawksley was provided to me by the UK publishing company Chatto & WIndus in exchange for a review. 21 November 2013 is the UK publication date and it is available for purchase at,  Amazon UK


Maggie Peters said…
Enjoyable review and I love the photos!
Kimberly Eve said…
Hi Maggie, I am so glad you enjoyed it. Thanks for stopping by!