30 December 2022

The Lady Formerly Known As Princess


Princess Patricia of Connaught, 1912
Illustrated London News via Wikimedia Commons

"It's not a good idea to give up being a princess." Thirty-plus years of a happy marriage had not made it easier for Lady Patricia Ramsay to forget that she had been born a princess. As she watched her cousin's granddaughter struggle with the decision to surrender her rank in order to marry for love. Patsy, as she was known in the family, spoke to the young Princess Margaret from what she called "bitter experience." (For Margaret's story, see my post, An Affair to Remember.)

Born on St. Patrick's Day in 1886, Princess Victoria Patricia Helena Elizabeth of Connaught was one of the youngest of grandchildren of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert. Her father Prince Arthur Duke of Connaught was the seventh of Victoria's nine children while her mother Princess Louise Margaret was the granddaughter of a Prussian king. While other princesses of her generation tended to marry quite young, Patricia remained a spinster into her 30s. Her older sister Princess Margaret of Connaught made a love match with the imminently suitable Crown Prince Gustav Adolf of Sweden in her early 20s. Within weeks, Margaret was already pregnant with the first of six pregnancies. 

As the niece of Europe's most respected bon vivant, King Edward VII, Patricia was also expected to marry a future king. Her parents traipsed the teenager around Europe. A Portuguese prince? No, thank you. The King of Spain, perhaps? No, he went to her first cousin, Princess Victoria Eugenie of Battenberg. If not a German Grand Duke, how about Tsar Nicholas II of Russia's younger brother? Whether real opportunities or imagined by well-meaning aunties, Patricia passed them all up. Instead, she spent her early adulthood traveling the globe with her parents. She followed her father, an Army officer, to a posting in India and then to Canada when he was appointed Governor General. The lively princess was a popular figure there, often accompanying her father on official duties due to her mother's illness. She criss-crossed Canada traveling thousands of miles during their time there. Her portrait appeared on a one dollar note, she was made Colonel-in-Chief of a light infantry brigade named in her honor, and a lake in the Province of Alberta was named for her. When her mother died in 1916, Patricia inherited a fortune, making her financially independent and perhaps enabling her to follow her own heart. Her mother is said to have given her daughter's romance her blessing on her deathbed.

It is perhaps not surprising that this Army officer's daughter found her true love in the arms of another military officer, Alexander Ramsay, who served as one of her father's aides-de-camp. Ramsay, who rose to the rank of Admiral and was knighted, had been nobly born. His father was the 13th Earl of Dalhousie, but he had no crowns or coronets of his own to offer the Princess when they married in February 1919, barely three months after the Great War had ended. She was not the first princess to marry outside of royal house, but she was the first modern princess to do so and her cousin, who had become King George V in 1910, was in a bit of a downsizing mood. At the height of the war, he had Anglicized the entire extended family, changing the royal house to Windsor and requiring aunts, uncles, and cousins galore to surrender any Germanic names and titles. The Battenberg princes became Mountbatten marquesses and the Tecks became Cambridges. Not only was he hoping to tamp down any hints of their Teutonic heritage, he generally wanted to present a smaller, easier to manage royal family to the British public, in hopes of hanging on to his throne as other crowns were toppled and his cousins in Russia were slaughtered.

Bain News Service via Wikimedia Commons

So, when Princess Patricia chose to marry "beneath" her, Cousin Georgie approved her decision to surrender her royal rank. While her sister remained Crown Princess Margaret of Sweden, she became merely Lady Patricia Ramsay at the age of 32. Despite this downgrade, Patricia kept her rank above marchionesses and she remained a beloved member of the British Royal Family. She even participated in the procession of Princes at the Coronations of King George VI in 1936 and Queen Elizabeth II in 1952.

The couple had known each other for over a decade and had eyes only for each other for nearly that long. The war and his lowly birth had postponed their nuptials. The two were separated as he served with distinction in the Mediterranean. Ramsay returned to Canada to propose to Patricia in Nova Scotia but they were married in the bosom of the royal family at Westminster Abbey in London. Theirs was the first royal wedding to be held there since the 14th Century, but it was certainly not the last. Much like the future Queen Elizabeth II's wedding at the Abbey in the dark days after World War II, Patricia's wedding was a welcome bright spot for the war-weary populace.

Patricia was beloved by the public at home and especially in Canada. Like many of her relatives, including the current King Charles III, she was a talented artist as well as an athlete. She was known to enjoy riding, field hockey, golf, and ice skating. After her marriage, she withdrew from royal duties, with one major exception: she remained Colonel-in-Chief of Princess Patricia's Canadian Light Infantry, visiting with them and keeping track of them over the decades until her death in 1974, just 14 months after her husband's passing.

Lady Patricia and her son,
Alexander Ramsay of Mar
Bain News Service via Wikimedia Commons

Ramsay had continued his naval career after the wedding, commanding one of the early aircraft carriers and eventually commanding all of the carriers in the fleet in the 1920s. In the 1930s, he served as Commander-in-Chief of the East Indies Station and then Fifth Sea Lord and Chief of Naval Air Services. He finally retired in 1942 at the age of 61.

While her more royal illustrious cousins were removed from their thrones in Greece, Germany, Romania, Yugoslavia, and Spain, the Ramsays lived a relatively quiet life in Surrey with their only child Alexander Ramsay of Mar, whose wife Flora Fraser, the 21st Lady Saltoun remains close to the British royals today. As beloved members of the extended royal family, Patricia and her husband are buried in the Royal Burial Grounds at Frogmore in Windsor. 

More about Princess Patricia, Lady Ramsay:
In a Princess, Out a Lady on Royal Musings
Princess Patricia of Connaught on Royal Musings
Princess Patricia of Connaught on Westminster Abbey
Princess Patricia of Connaught, Lady Patricia Ramsay on Unofficial Royalty
Princess Patricia: The first modern royal princess on Maclean's
Princess Patricia: A royal trendsetter on Write Royalty