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Taking a second look: The ‘rebellious’ Princess Louise

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When Princess Louise (1848-1939), the sixth child of Queen Victoria and wife of the then-Governor-General of Canada, wintered in Bermuda in 1883 she played a major role in the development of the Island's tourism industry, her name remaining synonymous with the hospitality sector to the present day.

When asked why she had chosen Bermuda as her winter retreat, the most beautiful and accomplished of the Queen's daughters replied: “Because it is a place of eternal spring.”

By providing the Island with the royal imprimatur, she helped to popularise Bermuda as the preferred location for wealthy North Americans to escape the rigours of the winter months and the Princess Hotel, opened in 1885, was named in her honour.

During her Bermuda sojourn, the independent-minded and artistically inclined Princess Louise went on a sketching expedition along the St George's shore line (Bermuda was to hold the first ever exhibition of her watercolours in 1998).

Growing thirsty, she stopped at the home of an East End fisherman and asked for a glass of water.

The fisherman's wife, a Mrs McCarthy, apologised and said she was too busy ironing a shirt her husband was to wear at a reception he was attending for the Queen's daughter.

“You'll have to wait until I finish,” she told her visitor.

Princess Louise replied, “You get the water while I finish the shirt.”

The offer was accepted. Mrs McCarthy fetched the water and Princess Louise finished off the shirt before revealing her identity.

When she recovered from her surprise, Mrs McCarthy said no one — not her husband nor anyone else — would ever wear that shirt again.

At the time of Princess Louise's death in 1939, the McCarthy family still retained the old shirt as a souvenir of that amusing incident.

Next month British publisher Chatto & Windus is releasing The Mystery of Princess Louise, a highly anticipated new biography of Queen Victoria's rebellious daughter by noted writer and lecturer on art history and 19th century history Lucinda Hawksley.

“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,” a spokesman for Chatto & Windus said about the forthcoming book.

“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.

“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 publishing house spokesman said 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 16th century,” he said.

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 legacy.

A great, great, great granddaughter of Victorian writer Charles Dickens, Lucinda Hawksley's other books include “The Essential History of Art” (2000), “An Encyclopedia of British History” (2001) and the best-selling “Essential Pre-Raphaelites”.

The Mystery of Princess Louise can be pre-ordered from various online vendors or Bermuda book stores.

Princess Louise, the sixth child of Queen Victoria and wife of the then-Governor-General of Canada, wintered in Bermuda in 1883- the first royal to visit the Island.
The cover of 'The Mystery of Princess Louise: Queen Victoria's Rebellious Daughter' Lucinda Hawksley.

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Published October 28, 2013 at 9:00 am (Updated October 27, 2013 at 6:43 pm)

Taking a second look: The ‘rebellious’ Princess Louise

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