12 March 2015

Today's Princess: Louise of Battenberg

By Philip de Lazslo via Wikimedia Commons

In the waning decades of the nineteenth century, yet another great granddaughter of Queen Victoria was born. The second child of the former Princess Victoria of Hesse, Louise of Battenberg (1889-1965) grew up thinking of herself as a British girl. Even though both of her parents were born German, her father Prince Louis of Battenberg was in the British royal navy. Louise spent her childhood bouncing between his military postings around various British outposts, staying with Queen Victoria at Osborne House, living in a family home in Germany, and visiting her illustrious relatives, like her aunt, Empress Alexandra Feodorovna of Russia.

Born prematurely, Louise was always challenged by a weaker constitution. She also was a bit shy. However, neither of these conditions stopped her from mucking in. She sponsored various charitable programs to support soldiers and sailors during World War I. She even qualified as a nurse and served in France.

As with many princesses of her generation, the international politics and the lingering class prejudices of the day made her marriage options complicated. Add to that Louise's decision to marry only for love (and to avoid becoming a queen), and you have a recipe for spinsterhood. Early on, she rejected a proposal from the King of Portugal. Her secret engagement to her sister's brother-in-law Princess Christopher of Greece came to nothing because the couple was too poor and their parents did not wish to support them. Her next proposed engagement, to a Scottish artist she met in France during the war, was called off not because of their class difference but because her parents had realized that he was gay.

Class was still major issue after the war, but Louise's status had changed because of the war. Her father had been forced to resign as Britain's First Sea Lord because he was perceived as German.
Nevertheless, when King George V asked his relatives to change their German names and drop their German titles, she became plain Miss Louise Mountbatten for a few months until her father was made Marquess of Milford Haven and she became the slightly less plain Lady Louise Mountbatten.

Her status had already been a bit iffy in the royal world: the Battenbergs were descendants of a morganatic line of a minor German house. Thus, when her cousin's widower, Crown Prince Gustav Adolf of Sweden proposed and she accepted, there was some serious debate over whether he could marry her under Sweden's royal marriage laws.

Once it was finally determined that she was of equal enough rank, the couple married and she became the stepmother of five children at the age of 34. A little over a year later, her only pregnancy ended in a stillbirth.

From Bundesarchiv via Wikimedia Commons
With her democratic personality, Louise became popular in Sweden and abroad. She disliked the stiff protocols and was uncomfortable being addressed by her royal titles, especially after she became Queen of Sweden. She was also an early advocate of women's rights, asserting that women were intellectual equals to men and transforming the courtly presentation of young ladies into lunches for businesswomen. She also went out of her way to help people, through projects like providing candles for poor people who had no light during the war and knitting gloves for soldiers at the front. Using her position in a neutral country, she even acted as a go-between messenger for loved ones who found themselves on opposite sides of the war.

Her weak health finally caught up with her in 1965, when surgery for a blocked artery did not go well. On her deathbed, she was surrounded by her husband, by her sister (who was by then the mother-in-law of Queen Elizabeth II of Britain), and several of her stepchildren. She was buried next to her cousin, Gustav Adolf's first wife, Princess Margaret of Connaught. Gustav joined them eight years later.

For more about Louise:
Royal Profile: Queen Louise of Sweden on Marilyn's Royal Blog
Queen Louise of Sweden on Unofficial Royalty

Books about Louise:

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