Princess Louise was born at Marlborough House on 20 February 1867 as the eldest daughter of the then Prince and Princess of Wales, later King Edward VII and Queen Alexandra. She had two elder siblings, Prince Albert Victor and the future King George V, and three younger siblings, Princess Victoria, Princess Maud (later Queen of Norway) and Prince Alexander John (who died young).
Her mother had been unwell since Christmas 1866, and she was eventually diagnosed with rheumatic fever. It took several urgent telegrams for her husband to return to Marlborough House. Alexandra suffered acute pains in her leg and hip and these continued even after the birth of Louise. It wasn’t until April that she was able to look out the window from a wheelchair. She would always have a limp from now on. Louise was christened on 10 May 1867, and she was known to be a sickly child. Louise accompanied her elder siblings and her mother to Egypt, stopping en route in Denmark, Germany and Austria. Louise had been named for her grandmother, Louise of Hesse-Kassel, Queen of Denmark and the family spent six weeks with Alexandra’s parents.
Louise grew up relatively care-free on the Sandringham estate. She also often visited Queen Victoria who once wrote Louise and her siblings were, “such ill-bred, ill-trained children. I can’t fancy them all.” Louise often wrote to her grandmother, such as this letter from 1 September 1887 when she was staying in St Moritz. “This is a charming place, the weather has been beautiful, and I am feeling better. We have been for several amusing expeditions, and the country is lovely. One day we climbed up a mountain, and all found some Edelweiss of which we were very proud, and I am sending you a little piece for luck, which I picked myself, and we have to go up a great height to get it. I trust that you are well and enjoying yourself in Scotland, and are having as fine weather as we are.”1
Louise and her sisters received a very indifferent education and were known to be frequently ill. They were often boisterous and held pillow fights and “unladylike pastimes.” Their mother was quite possessive of them and had once declared that none of them would marry a German Prince. She would rather that they did not marry at all.
Nevertheless, Louise became engaged when she was 22 to Alexander Duff, Earl Fife – who was a great-grandson of King William IV and his mistress Dorothea Jordan. He was a friend of the Prince of Wales and one of the few friends that Queen Victoria liked. Louise had first met him at the wedding of Princess Beatrice.
Their engagement was announced in June 1889, and it was met with some concern. Mary of Teck, a friend of Louise, wrote, “For a future Princess Royal to marry a subject seems rather strange.” Also, he was known to have a disagreeable character, and he was ill-mannered. However, Louise was perfectly happy with her future husband. For her, it was a way out, and she would not have to leave England. With both her brothers in the navy – should the worst happen – would he also make a suitable Prince Consort? The Prince of Wales waved the concerns away. Queen Victoria recorded in her journal, “Bertie, Alix and the girls came to luncheon, but they asked specially to speak to me before, and I was still on the sofa. He said he had something very important to communicate, viz. to ask my consent to his Louise’s marriage with Lord Fife! I was much pleased and readily gave my consent, and kissed her and wished her all possible happiness.”
Their wedding took place on 27 July 1889 in the private chapel at Buckingham Palace. At the wedding breakfast, Queen Victoria announced that the groom would be raised from the Earldom to a Dukedom. The honeymoon was spent at Mar Lodge and other estates in Scotland. They would eventually divide their time between Sheen Lodge – which was their favourite home – and several homes in Scotland. Marriage brought Louise out of her shell, and her family found her looking “so mischievous and happy.” She discovered a love of painting and interior design. In early 1890 Louise wrote to Queen Victoria, “I daresay you know dear Grandmama, that I do not often gush, but I cannot tell you how happy I am with Macduff. Happier than I ever thought I would be.”2
By then Louise was pregnant with her first child, but tragically their son Alastair was stillborn on 16 June 1890. A healthy daughter named Alexandra was born on 17 May 1891, and at the end of 1892, she found herself pregnant for the third time. On 3 April 1893, Lady Maud was born to them. They would have no more children, and there would be no male heir to the Dukedom.