Day 6·Q&A

Princess Louise, Queen Victoria's daughter, was known for causing scandal — and strong ties to Canada: author

While many Canadians might know of the Victoria Day holiday to be named after Princess Louise's mother, Queen Victoria never came to Canada. It was Princess Louise who not only visited, but lived in Ottawa with her husband John Campbell, the Marquess of Lorne.

The princess lived in Ottawa for 5 years with her husband

Princess Louise Caroline Alberta (1848 to 1939), wife of the 9th Duke of Argyll and daughter of Queen Victoria, circa 1876. (Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

Princess Louise, the daughter of Queen Victoria, was known to have had a complicated love life, heaped in scandal.

And while parts of her life remain a mystery today, what is known is that she was the first British princess to visit Canada.

While many Canadians might know the Victoria Day holiday, and the capital of British Columbia, to be named after her mother, the Queen never came to Canada. It was Princess Louise who not only visited, but lived in Ottawa with her husband John Campbell, 9th Duke of Argyll, also known as the Marquess of Lorne, who was appointed Canada's governor general of Canada in 1878. 

The couple lived in Ottawa for five years. During that time they founded the Royal Canadian Academy of the Arts and the National Gallery of Canada in 1880.

Lucinda Hawksley, historian and author of The Mystery of Princess Louise: Queen Victoria's Rebellious Daughter, spoke with Day 6 host Brent Bambury about Princess Louise's scandalous past and her deep connection to Canada.

Here is part of that conversation. 

Was she well liked when she first arrived here, in all of her royal glory?

She was. In fact, there was a fear beforehand that she'd be a bit too regal and that she would be a bit snotty. And then almost as soon as she arrived, they realized that really wasn't the case ... she was an 'it' girl.

She was an artist, a professional sculptor. She was bohemian and fun and fun loving. She made her own jewelry, she dressed in a pre-Raphaelite style, and [was] deeply fashionable in a way that none of the other princesses were, and that went down really well in Canada. 

She wasn't somebody who thought that she should be treated differently because she was the daughter of the Queen.

Author Lucinda Hawksley says it was a challenge uncovering information about Princess Louise, recalling a letter from the Royal Archives that noted the princess's files are 'closed.' (Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

Decades before Princess Diana was even thought of, they called her [Princess Louise] the people's princess, didn't they? 

She absolutely was known as the People's Princess and she was loved in the U.K. 

She and her brother Bertie, the Prince of Wales — the future King Edward VII — were the two who would take on Queen Victoria's duties because after Prince Albert died, Queen Victoria became incredibly reclusive and people were really angry. She constantly failed to turn up for events and sent one of her children instead. So Princess Louise, often together with her brother, would turn up and they were hugely popular. 

And in fact, there was even a move, I read in newspapers at the time, to try and persuade her to become the Queen of Canada. There was a move to say that Canada should become kind of a ... breakaway monarchy with Princess Louise remaining as the queen — which could you imagine what Queen Victoria would have made of that? 

Writing this book was like being a detective.- Lucinda Hawksley, author of The Mystery of Princess Louise: Queen Victoria's Rebellious Daughter

And she spoke excellent French, so that was a big thing for her in Canada at that time. 

Yes, she was trilingual. She spoke German, English and French, and it went down incredibly well with the French Canadians, not surprisingly, because most of the time they've been completely ignored by these English governor generals. 

She was a great diplomat ... and got on well with everybody, Indigenous Canadians, French Canadians, and English settler Canadians.

She threw herself with great panache into her time in Canada. She learned to skate, and she learnt to skate along with her servants, and was reported to howl with laughter every time she fell over on her bum. 

Her personal life, her love life in particular, has been the subject of a lot of interest. She's thought to have had many lovers and to have had a child out of wedlock. Her husband, then the governor general of Canada, is thought to have been gay. What can you tell us about that? 

Her love life is totally scandalous.... She reportedly had so many lovers in Canada, I just don't believe she could possibly have slept with all of them. She wouldn't have had time for any work. But there were a lot of people whose names she was kind of coupled with, and a lot of women who were very uneasy about her being alone with their husband. 

It seems that people were aware that her husband was gay. It's talked about in the U.K. as "allegedly," "possibly." But it was such a breath of fresh air when I went to Ottawa to research and started to discover things that talk about openly about him having been gay. And in fact, there's a wonderful book on the governors general by Sandra Gwyn, a Canadian academic, and she had written a chapter about Louise and Lorne's time in Canada. And that chapter was called 'The gay governor general,' and I thought, "Oh, thank goodness. Over here it's all 'allegedly,' 'possibly.'" 

Queen Victoria, right, and Prince Albert, the Prince Consort, at pictured at Buckingham Palace. Hawksley says that the Queen often sent Princess Louise and her brother to events in her place. (Keystone/Getty Images)

How hard was it for you, Lucinda, to find out about Princess Louise's life? This is the mystery, I gather, that's in the title of your book. 

Writing this book was like being a detective, because almost as soon as I started, I contacted the Royal Archives at Windsor Castle and asked permission to research Princess Louise

Eventually I received a letter which sounded very hopeful, and it said, you are very welcome to come to the Royal Archives and this is what you need to bring with you ... and almost as an aside, the very bottom of the letter said "Princess Louise's files are closed."

I didn't go in, but it meant that I had to just start going through obscure archives, looking at other people's diaries, letters, finding all sorts of fascinating things. I managed to meet the descendants of a baby who I believe was Princess Louise's illegitimate baby that she had in her late teens before she married her husband. 

Who cares in this day and age about someone having an illegitimate baby and somebody being gay? Why does anybody care? It must be more to it than that. It has to be something that would have repercussions today.

Written and produced by Ashley Fraser. This Q&A was edited for length and clarity.

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