The title “Princess Royal” was introduced to England by Charles I’s wife, Henrietta Maria, in the 17th century, a spin-off of France’s “Madame Royale” title given to the monarch’s eldest unmarried daughter. The first Princess Royal was Henrietta Maria and Charles’s daughter, Princess Mary, and it has subsequently been handed out to the monarch’s eldest daughter at their discretion. A key point of distinction with the French title, however, was that the princess’s marital status was irrelevant to her holding the title.
In 1905 King Edward VII named his eldest daughter, Louise, the Princess Royal and also moved to style her two daughters as princesses despite the fact that as daughters of a duke, they would not have otherwise. This allowed Louise’s children to have precedence immediately after other members of the British Royal Family styled as “Royal Highness.” It was an interesting move that protected the prestige of Louise in comparison to the families of her brother, the future George V, and her younger sister, Maud, who became queen consort of Norway the same year.
Louise was born at Marlborough House, the London residence of her parents, Albert, Prince of Wales and Alexandra of Denmark, Princess of Wales, on February 20, 1867. She was her parents’ third child, joining Albert Victor and George in the nursery. Princesses Victoria and Maud would come in 1868 and 1869, respectively, while a final son, Prince Alexander John, would live for only 24 hours in 1871.
Louise’s mother, Alexandra, was the Diana figure of her day. Beautiful, chic and fashionable, she cut an elegant figure in late 19th century London society, however she was plagued by her husband’s philandering and increasing deafness as she grew older. The birth of her last child was also complicated by a rheumatic fever that left her with a permanent limp, which, rather hilariously, would be adopted by women trying to emulate Alexandra’s style and mannerisms across England.
Over the years she would spend more and more time at home, her attentions focused almost obsessively on her children. In return, however, she could be emotionally demanding of them, particularly her daughters, creating an almost Queen Charlotte-like dynamic from the 18th century where she discouraged them from marrying and leaving her.
Louise and her siblings spent most of their time at their parents’ country estate at Sandringham House in Norfolk, however while her older brothers would be put through the paces of a rigorous education, she and her sister received a limited formal schooling. A highlight from her teenage years was serving as a bridesmaid at the wedding of her father’s youngest sister, Princess Beatrice, in 1885 to Prince Henry of Battenberg.
Louise would be the first of her siblings to wed, marrying Alexander Duff, 6th Earl Fife on July 27, 1889. Two days later Louise’s grandmother, Queen Victoria, made them the Duke and Duchess of Fife. The couple went on to have three children: Alastair, who was stillborn 11 months after the wedding, Alexandra, born 1891, and Maud, born 1893. By 1900, when it became apparent there wouldn’t be further Duff children, Queen Victoria altered the letters patent for Alexander’s title allowing for their eldest daughter to inherit it upon her father’s death.
The following year Queen Victoria died and Louise’s father ascended the throne as King Edward VII. In 1905 he would invest Louise as Princess Royal and ensure his two granddaughters were well looked after within the BRF, particularly in relation to their royal cousins. King Edward would die on May 6, 1910 and be succeeded by his eldest surviving son, George V.
In December of the following year, Louise and her family traveled to Egypt and ended up shipwrecked off the coast of Morocco. Alexander fell ill, liking having caught pleurisy during the incident, and he died in Assuan, Egypt on January 29, 1912. Louise’s daughter, Princess Alexandra, then became the Duchess of Fife in her own right.
Louise spent her widowhood carrying out royal duties on behalf of her brother, including servinv as the colonel-in-chief of the 7th Dragoon Guards in World War I. She began suffering from poor health in the autumn of 1929 and died at her home in Portman Square, London on January 4, 1931.