Biography & Memoir The Mystery of Princess Louise by Lucinda Hawksley | Review Roundup | The Omnivore

Published on December 17th, 2013


The Mystery of Princess Louise: Queen Victoria’s Rebellious Daughter by Lucinda Hawksley

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Blurb: 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.

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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.

(Chatto & Windus, 2013)

Miranda Seymour, The Sunday Times 

“As a subject, the princess — mostly admirable and entirely indomitable — is terrific. The problem is that, lacking original material, Hawksley feels obliged to pad out her tale with a mass of superfluous information. We don’t need to know that Louise opened 66 bazaars, or that she once bestowed a watercolour upon her godchild. It was unnecessary to devote an entire chapter to an uneventful visit to Bermuda, or to remind us, twice, that the princess could iron a shirt. The sheer vivacity of her subject, though, saves the day. Lively, engaging and buoyantly enthusiastic, Hawksley’s gallant but necessarily speculative book should encourage the royal archivists to stop being so protective. Admirers of Louise require more information. The archivists have the power to provide it.”

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Christopher Hirst, The Independent 

“…spicy episodes enliven a life that would otherwise only be of moderate interest. Royal apologists may dismiss the book as wild speculation but they would have no grounds for complaint if Buckingham Palace had not drawn a shroud of secrecy over Princess Louise and those associated with her. How very peculiar, creepy and revealing that royal muscle should still be exercised about long-dead figures in the 21st century.”

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