North Bute Lit: The story of the unconventional Princess Louise

Inveraray Castle, seat of the Duke of Argyll.
Inveraray Castle, seat of the Duke of Argyll.

The members of North Bute Literary Society were ‘royally’ entertained and educated this week when Denise Thompson, a guide at Inveraray Castle, gave a short biography of Queen Victoria’s sixth child, Louise, who married John Campbell and later became the ninth Duchess of Argyll.

Denise described Louise through her interests and the people who most influenced her, helping to create this feisty and unconventional character.

In today’s terms Queen Victoria was not a supportive mother to Louise, constantly criticising and comparing her unkindly to her sisters. Prince Albert provided a fairly broad education for the children and Louise’s artistic talents were spotted and encouraged. She became an accomplished painter and sculptor, good enough to be a professional artist, a way of life totally disapproved of by the Queen.

The untimely death of her father when Louise was only 13 plunged the whole household into a never-ending mourning, and Denise explained how Queen Victoria forbade even conversation at mealtimes.

After her elder sisters were married, Louise became her mother’s unofficial secretary until it was time for her too to marry. All her siblings made suggestions but Louise herself chose John Campbell.

Surprisingly Victoria agreed as this was the first time a royal Princess would marry a commoner, albeit from the premier family of Scotland. Marriage gave Louise a degree of freedom to champion causes dear to her heart, such as universal education and women’s suffrage.

A fellow guide from Inveraray Castle, Ken Colville, took over and explained Louise’s Bute connection. She was a good friend of Augusta Bellingham, wife of the fourth Marquess of Bute, and the two influential ladies persuaded the celebrated surgeon Professor Sir William Macewen to operate in their ‘hospitals’ – for Louise at Rosneath Castle and for Augusta at Mount Stuart during he Second World War.

Denise continued by referring to two unfounded salacious stories which dogged much of Louise’s married life; firstly that her husband was homosexual, and secondly that she had numerous illicit affairs. The marriage certainly went through some rocky times, and sadly there were no children, but Louise dutifully nursed the Duke of Argyll before his death in 1914.

Louise lived as a widow for another 25 years, dying aged 91 in 1939. Denise spoke very warmly about Louise and crammed her talk with many fascinating details.

At the Lit’s final meeting of 2013, on Tuesday, November 24, the speaker will be Isabel Sharp and the topic Easter Island: the Statues that Walked.