Magazine article The Spectator

We Were Not Amused

Magazine article The Spectator

We Were Not Amused

Article excerpt

The Mystery of Princess Louise by Lucinda Hawksley Chatto, £25, pp. 374, ISBN 9780701183493 Spectator Bookshop, £19.95 Princess Louise(1848-1939), Queen Victoria's fourth daughter, was the prettiest and liveliest of the five princesses, and the only one who broke out of the royal bubble.

Artistically talented, she trained as a sculptor, and her marble statue of Queen Victoria can still be seen in Kensington Gardens.

Unlike her sisters, who all married royals, Louise became the wife of a commoner, Lord Lorne, later Duke of Argyll. The marriage was childless and unhappy, and the couple lived separate lives. Like that other rebel, Princess Margaret, Louise was clever but difficult. She could be charming and witty one moment and unexpectedly disagreeable the next. She kicked against the royal rules, but she was only too willing to pull rank when she felt like it.

She was apparently an excellent cook, she enjoyed salmon fishing and she took energetic exercise. And she was dogged by scandal.

When Lucinda Hawksley applied to the Royal Archives for access to Louise's papers she claims that she was told: 'We regret that Princess Louise's files are closed.' Hawksley wrote to the Duke of Argyll's archive at Inverary Castle and was fobbed off with tales about the papers being rehoused. Then she discovered that letters about Louise in other collections had been 'absorbed' into the Royal Archives. She became convinced that a cover-up was at work.

The scandal that was apparently being hushed up was a story that Louise had given birth to an illegitimate baby when she was 18. The rumour originated with the family of Sir Charles Locock, who was Queen Victoria's obstetrician and delivered all her nine babies. Locock had a son named Frederick, and in 1867 Frederick Locock adopted a baby boy called Henry. When Henry Locock grew up, he told all his children that his mother was Princess Louise.

In 2004 the descendants of Henry Locock applied for permission to take a sample of Henry's DNA from his coffin in order to compare it with the DNA of Louise's niece, the Tzarina Alexandra of Russia.

Permission was refused by the Court of Arches.

Hawksley claims that Henry Locock was indeed Louise's son. His father, she suggests, was a man named Walter Stirling, who was tutor to Prince Leopold, Louise's haemophiliac brother. …

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