Princess Louise Victoria Alexandra Dagmar was the third child and eldest daughter of King Edward VII of the U.K. and Alexandra of Denmark. At the time of her birth, she was simply styled as “Princess Louise of Wales”, as her parents were then just the Prince and Princess of Wales. Louise, who was named after her maternal grandmother, Princess Louise of Hesse-Kassel, was born on February 20, 1867 at her parents’ home in London – Marlborough House. Her middle names were an attribute to her relatives; “Victoria” was for her paternal grandmother, Queen Victoria, “Alexandra” was for her mother, and “Dagmar” was for her mother’s favorite sister, Princess Dagmar of Denmark (who changed her name to Maria Feodorovna upon her marriage to Emperor Alexander III of Russia). Through her mother, Louise was also a grandchild of King Christian IX of Denmark, making her a princess of both British and Danish royalty. She had two older brothers – Prince Albert Victor, Duke of Clarence and Avondale, and the future King George V – and two surviving younger sisters – Princess Victoria and Princess Maud, Queen of Norway.
|Louise with her mother and sisters (left to right):|
Maud, Victoria, Queen Alexandra, and Louise
Louise had a happy but sheltered childhood with her family, spending many of her younger years at her parents’ country retreat in Norfolk – Sandringham House. The family would also take the occasional vacation to Denmark to visit their relatives on their mother’s side and the country where Alexandra grew up. But though Alexandra was a caring and affectionate mother, she was quite possessive of her girls and made sure they remained close to her at all times, both physically and emotionally. She was so controlling of them, in fact, that later in life she would insist that there was no need for them to get married and leave home. Under their parents’ tutelage, the “Wales girls”, as they were collectively called, were given a rather limited education. Because of their mother’s domineering personality, Louise and her younger sisters (who were all very close with one another) became quite shy, reserved, and naïve to the world around them. Louise was actually so quiet and timid that she earned the nickname of “Her Royal Shyness.” The red-haired and blue-eyed Louise was also considered to be the plainest of her sisters, as she did not inherit her mother’s famous beauty. Her meekness made it hard for her to converse with others and many remarked on just how challenging it was to make decent conversation with the bashful Princess.
|Louise, Princess Royal|
(William and Daniel Downey, 1911)
In face of her mother’s protests against marriage and her royal grandmother’s tendency to play matchmaker, Louise decided that she wanted to marry and what’s more, she wanted to marry for love. So, when she decided to wed a paternal third cousin who was relatively low in status and who was eighteen years her senior, her decision sent shockwaves through the royal family. Alexander William George Duff, the 6th Earl Fife, was the son of the Scottish James Duff, the 5th Earl Fife and his Irish-Scottish wife, Lady Agnes Georgiana Elizabeth Hay, whose father was one of the illegitimate children of William IV of the U.K. and his mistress, Dorothea Jordan. Alexander, who had previously served as an MP for Scotland, was frowned upon by many for his notorious reputation as a seemingly self-centered and discourteous nobleman. However, he was also extremely wealthy and Louise seemed to genuinely like him. He also possessed a strong shrewdness when it came to business and was very successful in the ventures of banking and finance. Either way, Louise was eager to escape her mother’s possessiveness and she preferred to marry a “subject” rather than a high-ranking European prince. Thankfully for Louise, her parents and her grandmother warmed to the match and allowed the wedding to take place.
|Louise, Princess Royal and her husband, |
Alexander Duff, Duke of Fife, on their wedding day
Louise and Alexander married on July 27, 1889 at the Private Chapel in Buckingham Palace when she was twenty-two and he was thirty-nine years old. Two days after the ceremony, Queen Victoria created her new grandson-in-law the Duke of Fife and the Marquess of Macduff. The Duke and his Duchess had multiple homes scattered around England and Scotland but their principal residence was their English base, a large ivy-covered mansion near Richmond Park named East Sheen Lodge. Louise flourished as a married woman. It seems as though her freedom and her happiness with Alexander opened up a whole new world to her, for she became much more confidant and strong. Louise’s relatives marveled at the contentment and love the young couple shared and Louise’s paternal aunt, the Princess Louise, was envious of her niece’s luck. Princess Louise had also married a British subject, John Campbell, Duke of Argyll, and although they had been in love at the start of their marriage, the childless couple drifted apart in their later years. The Princess Louise wrote of her niece’s marriage: "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!” The mother of Louise’s sister-in-law, Mary of Teck once said of Louise and Alexander: “…it does one’s heart good to see them.”
|Louise, Princess Royal and Duchess of Fife|
with her two daughters
Her newfound liberty allowed Louise to discover a passion for painting and interior design, skills that she used to decorate and furnish her homes. She was fond of Scotland and the outdoor activities she could engage in whilst there, such as fishing. However, the couple’s happiness didn’t remain constant for long. They experienced their first tragedy on June 16, 1890 when Louise gave birth to a stillborn boy named Alastair Duff. After this shocking loss, Louise had two more children – both daughters – who were born healthy and happy:
- Alastair Duff, Marquess of Macduff (1890) stillborn
- Princess Alexandra, 2nd Duchess of Fife (1891-1959) married: Prince Arthur of Connaught – had issue
- Princess Maud of Fife (1893-1945) married: Charles Carnegie, 11th Earl of Southesk – had issue
|Louise, Princess Royal and Duchess of Fife with her two daughters,|
Maud (left) and Alexandra (right)
When it became apparent that Louise and Alexander would have no living sons, Queen Victoria made a new patent that stated that the Dukedom of Fife could be inherited by children of both genders. Louise was a loving and caring mother to her two daughters, who were named after her mother and her sister, and the small family spent their life away from court in a quiet, peaceful existence. In January of 1901, Louise’s father succeeded to the throne as
King Edward VII when Louise was a month shy of her thirty-fourth birthday. Louise was now second in line to the throne after her older brother, Prince George, because their eldest sibling, Prince Albert Victor, had passed away from pneumonia in January of 1892 at the age of twenty-eight. However, her position in the succession was displaced once Prince George married Mary of Teck and had children. On November 9, 1905, King Edward VII made his eldest daughter the Princess Royal and also gave her two daughters the titles of “Princess”. Less than five years later in May of 1910, Louise’s father died and Prince George was crowned as King George V. It didn’t take long for Louise’s tranquil existence as a loving wife and mother to come crashing down around her, for in December of 1911, Louise and family were involved in a devastating shipwreck. The couple and their two daughters had been traveling to Egypt for health reasons but during their voyage there, the ship they were travelling on ran aground off the Moroccan coast on December 13th. Though the family was not harmed in the collision, they had to walk many miles to Cairo in terrible weather. This caused Alexander to catch a chill, which rapidly developed into pleurisy and in the early morning of January 29, 1912, the sixty-two year old Alexander died in the city of Aswan. Her beloved spouse’s death thrust Louise into a state of immense distress and anguish. Alexander’s passing had such a profound impact on Louise that she even lost some of the self-assurance she had gained upon her marriage to the Duke of Fife.
|Louise's daughters: Princess Alexandra, 2nd Duchess of Fife (left) and Princess Maud, Countess of Southesk|
At the end of February, the grief-stricken Louise and her daughters arrived back in England accompanied by Alexander’s coffin. Despite the family’s devastation, Louise’s relatives were amazed with her display of resilience and strength in her time of mourning. More than a year after Alexander’s death, his eldest daughter, Princess Alexandra (who had succeeded her father as the 2nd Duchess of Fife in her own right), married her first cousin once removed, Prince Arthur of Connaught. Prince Arthur was the eldest son of Prince Arthur, Duke of Connaught and Strathearn, the third son of Queen Victoria, and Princess Louise Margaret of Prussia, a great-granddaughter of King Frederick William III of Prussia and the great-niece of Emperor Wilhelm I of Germany. Previously, in 1910, Alexandra had been secretly engaged to her maternal first cousin once removed, Prince Christopher of Greece and Denmark, a son of King George I of Greece, but the engagement fell through when the couple’s parents found out about the betrothal and rejected it. So, the twenty-two year old Alexandra married Prince Arthur, who was eight years her senior, on October 15, 1913 in the Chapel Royal of St. James’s Palace. They had one child together, a son named Alastair Windsor, the 2nd Duke of Connaught and Strathearn in 1914. Alastair, who served in the military in Canada, died in 1943 at the age of twenty-eight when he fell out a window in a drunken haze and developed hypothermia after being spurned by his fellow regiment men as “incompetent”.
|Louise, Princess Royal and Duchess of Fife|
On November 23, 1923, Louise’s younger daughter, Princess Maud, married Charles, Lord Carnegie at the Royal Military Chapel in Wellington Barracks, London. Charles was the eldest son of Charles Noel Carnegie, 10th Earl of Southesk and both Maud and Charles were thirty-three years old when they married. After Charles’s father died in November of 1941, he became the 11th Earl of Southesk, making Maud the Countess of Southesk. She had one child with her husband, a son named James Carnegie, who became the 3rd Duke of Fife when his aunt, Princess Alexandra, died in February of 1959 at the age of sixty-seven. She outlived her sister, Maud, who died in December of 1945 at the age of fifty-two from acute bronchitis. In the fall of 1929, Louise fell ill with gastric hemorrhage and suffered for fifteen more months in a severe state of health until her death on January 4, 1931 at the age of sixty-three at her home in Portman Square, London. She was first buried at St. George’s Chapel in Windsor Castle but later, her remains and those of her husband’s were moved to St Ninian’s Chapel in Braemar, a private chapel of the Duff family in Aberdeenshire, Scotland.