Friday, July 1, 2016

Princess Louise of Battenberg, Queen of Sweden

Princess Louise of Battenberg, born “Louise Alexandra Marie Irene”, was the second child and daughter of Princess Victoria of Hesse and by Rhine, the daughter of Princess Alice of the U.K. (herself a daughter of Queen Victoria), and Prince Louis of Battenberg. Louise was born on July 13, 1889 at Heiligenberg Castle in Seeheim-Jugenheim, located in the Grand Duchy of Hesse. Her middle names were all the first names of a few of her close relatives: “Alexandra” was for her maternal aunt, Empress Alexandra Feodorovna of Russia, “Marie” was for her paternal aunt, Princess Marie of Battenberg, and “Irene” was for another one of her maternal aunts, Princess Irene of Hesse and by Rhine. Louise had one older sister, Princess Alice of Greece and Denmark, and two younger brothers, George, 2nd Marquess of Milford Haven, and Louis, Earl Mountbatten of Burma.

Louise as an infant with her parents and older
sister, Princess Alice
Since her father was an Admiral of the Fleet in the Royal Navy, Louise and her family were constantly moving around to follow Prince Louis on his various escapades. Though their main residence was in London, they also had homes in Darmstadt, Jugenheim, and Malta (a British territory Louise’s father was often stationed in). Louise grew up in a happy and loving family, as her parents had married for love and thus maintained a devoted relationship to one another and their children. Louise was particularly close with her younger brother, Louis, and even when the two married and had lives of their own in separate countries, they continuously wrote to each other until Louise’s death. As Louise spent most of her childhood in England, she was able to mingle with her many British relatives residing around London, including her royal great-grandmother, Queen Victoria, who she would visit on the Isle of Wight with her mother. Louise also spent much of her time with her older and only sister, Alice, as the two were both educated together by their mother and governesses.

The first few years of the twentieth century were quite eventful for Louise’s family. Queen Victoria died in 1901 and Louise’s great-uncle, Edward VII, ascended to the throne. In 1903, Alice married Prince Andrew of Greece and Denmark and although their marriage would be an unhappy one, Alice would have five children with her husband, including the current Duke of Edinburgh, Prince Philip. In 1914, a twenty-five year old Louise went with her mother to Russia on a visit to her maternal aunts that lived there, Grand Duchess Elizabeth Feodorovna (who her mother was particularly close to), and Empress Alexandra Feodorovna. During their visit, both mother and daughter became wary of Alexandra’s close confidant and advisor, Rasputin, and warned Alexandra of his dangerous influence with no success. During their visit, World War I broke out so suddenly that Prince Louis quickly sent a telegraph to his wife demanding that she and Louise come home right away. On their way out of Russia, they unknowingly passed the house that Alexandra and her family would be murdered in four years later. Louise and her mother left Russia by boat and stayed in neutral Sweden for one night before returning home to England. During their short stay in Sweden, they were guests of the Crown Prince Gustaf Adolf and his wife, Princess Margaret of Connaught, a first cousin of Louise’s mother. Unbeknownst to Louise, her host and father of four at the time would be her husband in nine years.

Princess Louise during her time
as a nurse in France
During the start of the Great War, Louise worked for the Soldiers and Sailors Families Association as well as the Smokes for Soldiers and Sailors but she eventually dropped these jobs to serve as a nurse in the Red Cross. She went to Nevers in France to provide aid at a military hospital and later to a war hospital outside of Montepellier. Her time in France as a nurse lasted from March of 1915 until July of 1917. The war affected her family as a whole quite personally. Her father had to resign his position in the Royal Navy because of strong anti-German sentiment and the royal family, as well as Louise’s family, changed their German surname of “Battenberg” to the Anglicized version of “Mountbatten”. They also had to give up their German titles but Louise’s first cousin once removed, George V, compensated her parents by naming Prince Louis the Marquis of Milford Haven. By the end of the war, Louise’s aunts in Russia had been murdered and her maternal uncle, Ernest Louis, lost his title of the Grand Duke of Hesse after the fall of the German Empire in 1918. Since Louise’s family had invested most of their wealth in Russian securities and assets, they lost a good portion of their fortune after the Russian Revolution and had to relocate to a smaller house in Southampton. Louise continued to work after the war’s conclusion by volunteering at a charity that helped children who lived in the slums of Battersea, London.

Princess Louise of Battenberg
(Philip de László, 1907)
By the time the war ended, Louise was twenty-nine and still unmarried. Her brother, George, had married a Russian countess during the war and her youngest brother, Louis, would marry in 1922 to the daughter of a British baron. Back in 1909, Louise had received a marriage proposal from King Manuel II of Portugal and although her great-uncle, Edward VII, wanted her to marry the Portuguese king, she refused because she wanted to marry for love as her parents had. The rejected Manuel II married Princess Augusta Victoria of Hohenzollern (the granddaughter of Duchess Mathilde Ludovika in Bavaria, Countess of Trani) in 1913 instead, three years after being deposed. Louise turned Manuel down because at the time, she was secretly engaged to Prince Christopher of Greece, the brother-in-law of her older sister, Princess Alice. But since both Louise and her fiancée had no money to support their marriage or future together, they unfortunately had to break off their engagement. Before the war broke out, Louise fell in love with a man who her parents approved of but their romance didn’t last for long, as he was killed in the beginning of the war. Louise did find love during her time as a nurse in Nevers when she fell in love with a Scottish artist living in Paris named Alexander Stuart-Hill. When the two became engaged, Louise thought that her parents would never approve of her relationship with a lowly commoner, so she kept her relationship with Stuart-Hill a secret. Eventually, she did reveal her engagement to her parents and, surprisingly enough, they were understanding and invited Stuart-Hill to their home on two occasions. However, her family did find him to be somewhat odd looking and rather “eccentric” and “affected”. Since the couple didn’t have enough money between the two of them to marry, they decided to postpone the wedding until after the war. But once the war ended in 1918, Louise’s father told her that he suspected Stuart-Hill was homosexual, so Louise called off the engagement.

Princess Louise with her husband, Crown Prince
Gustaf Adolf of Sweden
In 1923, Crown Prince Gustaf Adolf of Sweden visited London and to Louise’s shock, he began courting her after they met at a party. Gustaf Adolf had been widowed for three years after his wife, Margaret of Connaught (Louise’s first cousin once removed), died in 1920 at the age of thirty-eight from an infection following a mastoid operation. At the time of her death, she was eight months pregnant with her sixth child, who did not survive. Margaret was the daughter of Prince Arthur, Duke of Connaught and Strathearn, a younger son of Queen Victoria, and Princess Louise Margaret of Prussia, herself a great-granddaughter of Frederick William III of Prussia and his famous wife, Louise of Mecklenburg-Strelitz. The beautiful Margaret fell head over heels for Gustaf Adolf, the son of Gustaf V of Sweden and Princess Victoria of Baden, and the two married in 1905. They had five children together, four sons and one daughter, including: Prince Gustaf Adolf, Duke of Västerbotten (the father of the current King of Sweden, Carl XVI Gustaf) and Princess Ingrid, the wife of King Frederick IX of Denmark.

Princess Louise on her wedding day to Crown
Prince Gustaf Adolf of Sweden
When she was a young woman, Louise had vowed that she would never marry a king or a widower but she went against her own promise when her engagement to the Crown Prince was made public on July 1, 1923. There was some controversy over whether Louise could become Queen since the Swedish succession law said that a Swedish prince would forfeit his place in the succession if he, “with or without the King’s knowledge or and consent, married a private Swedish or foreign man’s daughter.” After the engagement was announced, the Swedish government clarified the succession law by saying that “a private Swedish or foreign man’s daughter” meant “he who did not belong to a sovereign family or to a family which, according to international practice, would not be equal thereto”. On November 3, 1923, the thirty-four year old Louise married Crown Prince Gustaf Adolf, himself just days away from his forty-first birthday, at St. James’s Palace in a ceremony attended by the British and Swedish royal families, including George V.

Crown Princess Louise of Sweden
Louise and Gustaf Adolf had a very happy and successful marriage together and they genuinely loved each other. Louise got along well with her husband’s family, especially her friendly mother-in-law, Queen Victoria. But since Victoria spent most of her time in Italy instead of Sweden, Louise had to take on the royal duties of the Queen in her absence. Initially, it was hard for the shy and humble Louise to act like a regal queen in a strange and foreign court but eventually, she became quite adept at her role. When Queen Victoria died in 1930, Louise officially became the first lady of the nation and she took over the protection of the various organizations and associations customarily given to the queen. She focused especially on furthering the working conditions for nurses because of her own previous experience in nursing. Though she had five stepchildren from her husband’s previous marriage, she never had any children of her own with Gustaf Adolf. Her only pregnancy resulted in the birth of a stillborn daughter on May 30, 1925. Louise and her husband were quite popular not only with their subjects but also the rest of the world. Louise was a strong supporter of gender equality and once stated in an interview: "Women are completely intellectually equal to men and, provided they are given sufficient education, are just as capable to deserve respect and admiration as men in this field.” Although Sweden was neutral during World War II, Louise remained active in the Red Cross and set up her own charity, the Crown Princess Gift Association For the Neutral Defense Forces, that sent knitted socks, scarves, and hats from people all over the nation to the soldiers guarding the country’s border. Louise also served as a messenger for people who wanted to communicate with relatives and friends in other countries embroiled in the war. She even used her position as a citizen of a neutral country to send supplies to private citizens throughout Europe.

Crown Princess Louise with her husband,
Crown Prince Gustaf Adolf
On October 29, 1950, Gustaf Adolf’s father died and he was crowned the King of Sweden as Gustaf VI Adolf. Louise, now sixty-one years old, was finally the Queen of Sweden after almost thirty years of being the Crown Princess. Since Louise was very democratic, she was somewhat bothered by her new title and position. Although she was eccentric for a royal and possessed a furious temper, she had a kind heart, a witty sense of humor, and the ability to make fun of herself. She wore her heart on her sleeve and could be both a normal woman and a regal queen in the public eye. She loved Sweden and its people loved her. She reformed the court protocol, making it much less strict and formal and had “democratic ladies lunches” with professional women. She traveled quite often, usually under an alias to hide her identity, and consistently visited her family in England. After she was almost hit by a bus in London (since she frequently jay-walked), she started carrying a small card with her that said, “I am the Queen of Sweden”, in case she needed to be identified if she was hit by a car or bus.

Louise of Battenberg, Queen of Sweden
Shortly after becoming Queen, Louise’s health began to decline and she developed cardiac issues. She hid her illness and continued to perform her royal duties while also attending public ceremonies and events until March 4, 1964 when she was rushed to St. Göran Hospital in Stockholm to have a major surgery that would fix a serious circulatory disorder in her right leg (which had resulted from problems with her aorta). Although the surgery went well, complications soon arose and on March 7, 1965, Princess Louise of Battenberg, Queen of Sweden died at the age of seventy-five with her husband, three of her stepchildren, her stepdaughter-in-law, Princess Sibylla, and her sister, Princess Alice, by her side. She was buried near her husband’s first wife at the Royal Cemetery at Haga Park in Solna. Her husband survived her by eight years until his own death at the age of ninety on September 15, 1973 from pneumonia. He was buried with his two wives at the Royal Cemetery. 

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