Princess Louise, Duchess of Argyll, (March 18, 1848 – December 3, 1939) was the sixth child and fourth daughter of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert. In her public life, she was a strong proponent of the arts and higher education and of the feminist cause. Her early life was spent moving among the various royal residences in the company of her family. When her father, the prince consort, died on December 14, 1861, the court went into a long period of mourning, to which with time Louise became unsympathetic. Louise was an able sculptor and artist, and several of her sculptures remain today. She was also a supporter of the feminist movement, corresponding with Josephine Butler, and visiting Elizabeth Garrett.
Before her marriage, from 1866 to 1871, Louise served as an unofficial secretary to her mother, the Queen. The question of Louise’s marriage was discussed in the late 1860s. Suitors from the royal houses of Prussia and Denmark were suggested, but Victoria did not want her to marry a foreign prince, and therefore suggested a high-ranking member of the British aristocracy.
As a daughter of the queen, Louise was a desirable bride; more so as she is regarded as the queen’s most beautiful daughter by both contemporary and modern biographers. However, she was accused by the press, without substantiation, of romantic affairs. This, coupled with her liberalism and feminism, prompted the queen to find her a husband. The choice had to suit Victoria as well as Louise, and the queen insisted that her daughter’s husband should live near her, a promise which had also been extracted from the husband of Helena, Louise’s sister. Various suitors were proposed by the leading royal houses of Europe: Princess Alexandra proposed her brother, Crown Prince Frederik of Denmark, but the queen was strongly opposed to another Danish marriage that could antagonise Prussia at a time of diplomatic tension over the Schleswig-Holstein question.
Victoria, Louise’s eldest sister, proposed the tall and rich Prince Albert of Prussia, but Queen Victoria disapproved of another Prussian marriage that would have been unpopular in England. Prince Albert was also reluctant to settle in England as required. Willem, Prince of Orange, was also considered a suitor, but because of his extravagant lifestyle in Paris, where he lived openly with a lover, the queen quickly vetoed the idea.
Louise viewed marriage to any foreign prince as undesirable, and she fell in love with John Campbell, Marquess of Lorne, the heir of the Duke of Argyll. Louise announced that she wished to marry the Marquess of Lorne, despite opposition from members of the royal family.
No marriage between a daughter of a monarch and a British subject had been given official recognition since 1515, when Charles Brandon, 1st Duke of Suffolk, married King Henry VIII’s sister Mary. Louise’s brother, the Prince of Wales, was strongly opposed to a marriage with a non-mediatized noble.
Furthermore, Lorne’s father, George Campbell, was an ardent supporter of William Ewart Gladstone, and the Prince of Wales was worried that he would drag the royal family into political disputes. Nevertheless, the opposition was crushed by the queen, who wrote to the Prince of Wales in 1869:
That which you object to [that Louise should marry a subject] I feel certain will be for Louise’s happiness and for the peace and quiet of the family … Times have changed; great foreign alliances are looked on as causes of trouble and anxiety, and are of no good. What could be more painful than the position in which our family were placed during the wars with Denmark, and between Prussia and Austria? … You may not be aware, as I am, with what dislike the marriages of Princesses of the Royal Family with small German Princes (German beggars as they most insultingly were called) … As to position, I see no difficulty whatever; Louise remains what she is, and her husband keeps his rank … only being treated in the family as a relation when we are together …
The queen averred that Louise’s marriage to a subject would bring “new blood” into the family, while all European princes were related to each other. She was convinced that this would strengthen the royal family morally and physically.
Louise became engaged to the Marquess of Lorne on October 3, 1870 while they were visiting Balmoral. Lorne was invited to Balmoral Castle in Scotland, and accompanied Louise, the Lord Chancellor, Lord Hatherley and Queen Victoria’s lady-in-waiting Lady Ely on a drive. Later that day, Louise returned and announced to the queen that Lorne had “spoken of his devotion” to Louise, and she accepted his proposal in the knowledge of the queen’s approval. The queen later gave Lady Ely a bracelet to mark the occasion.
The Queen found it difficult to let go of her daughter, confiding in her journal that she “felt painfully the thought of losing her”. The new breach in royal tradition caused surprise, especially in Germany, and Queen Victoria wrote to the Queen of Prussia that princes of small impoverished German houses were “very unpopular” in Britain and that Lord Lorne, a “person of distinction at home” with “an independent fortune” was “really no lower in rank than minor German Royalty”.
Victoria settled an annuity on Louise shortly before her marriage. The ceremony was conducted at St George’s Chapel at Windsor Castle on March 21, 1871, and the crowd outside was so large that, for the first time, policemen had to form chain barriers to keep control. Louise wore a wedding veil of Honiton lace that she designed herself, and was escorted into the chapel by her mother, and her two eldest brothers, the Prince of Wales and the Duke of Edinburgh. On this occasion, the usually severe black of the queen’s mourning dress was relieved by the crimson rubies and blues of the Garter star. Following the ceremony, the queen kissed Louise, and Lorne – now a member of the royal family, but still a subject – kissed the queen’s hand.
The couple then journeyed to Claremont in Surrey for the honeymoon, but the presence of attendants on the journey, and at meal times, made it impossible for them to talk privately. The short four-day visit did not pass without an interruption from the queen, who was curious about her daughter’s thoughts on married life. Among their wedding gifts was a maplewood desk from Queen Victoria, now at Inveraray Castle.