Right beside the monument dedicated to King Edward IV of England and his wife Elizabeth Woodville in St. George’s Chapel hangs a plaque remembering the short life of a German Princess – Louise of Saxe-Weimar-Eisenach. How did she end up there?
Louise was born on 31 March 1817 in Ghent, Belgium as the eldest child of Princess Ida of Saxe-Meiningen and Prince Bernhard of Saxe-Weimar-Eisenach. Princess Ida was the younger sister of Adelaide, who in 1818 married the Duke of Clarence, the future King William IV of the United Kingdom. Ida spent a lot of time with her sister in the United Kingdom and at least one of her children was born there and he would go on to marry a British lady.
Louise appears to have been born with some sort of partially paralysing disability and in May 1821 (just two months after Adelaide lost her daughter Elizabeth), Louise is mentioned by her aunt in a letter to the young Princess Victoria of Kent (the future Queen Victoria – another niece of Adelaide). Adelaide wrote, “My Dear Little Heart, I hope you are well and don’t forget Aunt Adelaide, who loves you so fondly. Loulou and Wilhelm desire their love to you, and Uncle William also. God bless and preserve you is the constant prayer of your most truly affectionate Aunt, Adelaide.”1 The loving letter reveals little Louise’s nickname of Loulou.
Adelaide had a great love for children, and not having her own must have been awful for her. Thus, she cared deeply for her nieces and nephews and perhaps even more so for Louise with her delicate health. Adelaide and William became King and Queen in June 1830 and the following year, Princess Ida came to England with her six children. It was decided that Louise would stay behind in England so that she could benefit from the Brighton air and the sea baths for her illness.
On 19 September 1831, shortly after Adelaide and William’s coronation, Adelaide, Ida and Louise travelled to Brighton. Adelaide took Louise to her first bath but they were mobbed by a crowd and so it was decided that from then on, Louise would take her baths in the sea. Ida and Adelaide stayed with Louise for two nights before Ida returned home to Europe. She did not know that she would never see her daughter again. Adelaide too returned home, leaving Louise in the care of Lady Bedingfield. Adelaide received constant updates from Lady Bedingfield and she had arranged for every detail – even sending a dentist to care for Louise’s teeth.
Unfortunately, she could not save Louise from chickenpox. Louise appeared to be doing well at first and she seemed to benefit from the sea baths and the clean air. Then Louise’s health began to deteriorate, perhaps chickenpox had done more damage than expected. Adelaide and William travelled to Brighton and she nursed her niece through her final, fatal illness. Adelaide wrote to Princess Augusta that “she had been very unwell from anxiety about the Princess whose mother was not able to come to England. […] My comfort and consolation is the extreme kindness of the King. Nothing can exceed it.”2
When there was no more hope, Adelaide took Louise back to Windsor Castle where she died on 11 July 1832, at the age of 15. Miss Clitherow wrote, “Princess Augusta gave us the account of the closing scene, and, with tears in her eyes, described the feeling and resignation of the Queen, and the extreme kindness and attention of the King to all her little wishes at the time of the funeral, which, by all accounts, was the best managed and most affecting thing possible. She has very much recovered her spirits, which are naturally very cheerful, but she is still most miserably thin.”3 Adelaide herself wrote to Lady Wellesley that she “had to struggle against the impressions that her niece’s long illness and suffering” made on her.4
The Lady’s Magazine and Museum of the Belles-lettres, Fine Arts, Music, Drama, Fashions, Etc wrote of the funeral in detail:
“DEATH OF THE PRINCESS LOUISE DE SAXE WEIMAR.
It is at length our painful duty to record the death of this interesting young lady, who, after a long series of unparalleled sufferings, resigned her spirit into the hands of Him who gave it, on Wednesday, the 11th of July. Ever since her arrival in England the complaint, under which she was then labouring, an affection of the spinal cord, left no room for hope; but the patient resignation, and humble submission to the Divine Will, which the amiable sufferer unceasingly displayed, will long be remembered by that illustrious circle of which she was herself so bright a star. On the evening preceding the day of her decease, at half after nine, the medical attendant, on being suddenly sent for, perceived that a considerable change for the worse had taken place; and his opinion being communicated to her Majesty, and the Duchess of Saxe Weimar5, they both immediately repaired to the chamber of their expiring relative, where they remained until half-past four the ensuing morning. At three o ‘clock (previously to their departure), the Princess was seized with convulsions, which, however, lasted but a few minutes, and she then sunk into slumber, in which state she remained until a quarter before six, when she departed this world, for, we doubt not, the regions of a blessed immortality. Death came, indeed,
“like an untimely frost,
And nipped the fairest flow ‘r in all the field.”
On the ensuing day, a post mortem examination of the body took place by Mr. Davies, the King’s private surgeon, before Sir A. Cooper, Sir C. Clarke, and Messrs. Keate and Brodie, all of whom had been previously consulted. Nothing new, however, was elicited; the disease was a softening of the spinal marrow, from the middle of the back to its termination.
THE FUNERAL. – On Monday morning, July 16th, the regiment of fusileer guards marched into the Castle – yard, Windsor, and formed a line, from the grand entrance to St.Georges’ Chapel; at half-past eleven the procession began to move, in the following order :
Their Majesties’ Pages, two and two.
The Physicians, two and two.
The Coronet, borne on a crimson velvet cushion.
The Coffin, carried on a bier by ten men.
The Pall was supported by six Maids of Honour.
Lady Howe, Chief Mourner, dressed in deep mourning, with a long white veil, which was borne by a Lady.
Then followed Lady Sidney, Lady Fox, Lady F. Fitzclarence, Lady Falkland, Lady Erskine, and Lady Errol.
The Duke of Cumberland, Prince George of Cumberland, the Duke of Gloucester, the Earl of Errol,
Lord F. Fitzclarence, Lord Ashbrook, Sir William Freemantle, Sir C. Thornton, Sir A. Barnard, Sir H. Turner, Lord Falkland, the Dean of Hereford, Sir J. Wyatville, Sir G. Seymour, and Sir H. Wheatley. The Upper Servants of the Household closed the procession.
At the door of the church, the procession was met by the Dean and Canons of Windsor and the Gentlemen of St. George’s Choir and the Chapel Royal, and passed slowly down the western aisle, and from thence, up the middle of the cathedral, to the interior of the choir; during which time was sung Handel’s splendid anthem, “I am the resurrection,” & c. Lady Howe, as the chief mourner, took her seat at the head of the coffin, which was placed on a bier near the altar. The service immediately commenced, the Very Rev. the Dean of Windsor officiating, — the usual psalms and lessons were read, followed by Kent’s sublime anthem, “Hear my prayer, o God! and hide not thy face from my petition.” Immediately on its termination, the procession again formed and moved with slow and solemn steps from the choir to the vault, where the service again recommenced. “For as it hath pleased,” and “I heard a voice from heaven,” were then sung without accompaniment, after which followed (with the organ) Blake’s funeral anthem, “I have set God alway before me.”
The service concluded with the Blessing, and the chorus to Luther’s Hymn for the voluntary. Her Majesty and the Duchess of Saxe Weimar did not leave the Castle, but the King preceded the procession in a carriage to the Chapel, The coffin was an extremely neat one, covered with rich crimson velvet, and studded with silver nails. It bore the following inscription: “Her Serene Highness Princess Louise WILHELMINA, Duchess of SAXE WEIMAR, eldest daughter of Duke BERNARD and Duchess IDA of Saxe WEIMAR, and niece of their Majesties King WILLIAM the Fourth and Queen ADELAIDE, born at Ghent, 31st March 1817, died at Windsor Castle, 11th July 1832, in the 16th year of her age.”
On Sunday night, at 10 o ‘clock, their Majesties inspected the vault; and the Queen, whose attention to her departed niece was such as to occasion the greatest anxiety to those around her, wept bitterly. We are happy to state, however, that the gloom which for a while pervaded the Castle, is gradually disappearing; and we sincerely hope, that time, the great healer of all hearts, will shortly alleviate that distress which must naturally be experienced for the loss of so young, so amiable a relative.”6
In Adelaide’s will, she bequeathed the last piece of needlework done by Louise to her sister Ida, she had kept it with her for all these years.
- The life and times of Queen Adelaide by Mary F. Sandars p.89
- The life and times of Queen Adelaide by Mary F. Sandars p.224
- The life and times of Queen Adelaide by Mary F. Sandars p.224-225
- The life and times of Queen Adelaide by Mary F. Sandars p.225
- It is unclear to me if Ida was present at her daughter’s deathbed since other sources state that she was not.
- The Lady’s Magazine and Museum of the Belles-lettres, Fine Arts, Music, Drama, Fashions, Etc, Volume 1 p.81-82