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(Very) liberal Lorne

In the latest in his series about eminent Camden Victorians, Neil Titley considers the events surrounding the frisky Marquis of Lorne

20 April, 2019 — By Neil Titley

Princess Louise and the Marquis of Lorne at the time of their engagement. Surprisingly, the union was not a notable success

ONE of the more unusual of the many candidates who have aspired to become MP for Hampstead was the son-in-law of Queen Victoria, the Marquis of Lorne (1845-1914). In 1885, he stood as the Liberal candidate for the newly created seat and lost – thus initiating an unbroken 134-year run of Liberal defeats in the constituency.

Son of the Duke of Argyll, Lorne’s marriage, although prestigious and sustained, was also secretly a failure due the fact that he was gay.

Raised in a court permanently mourning her father, Princess Louise (1848-1939) reacted to her miserable upbringing by escaping into the bohemian world of art. When her mother, Queen Victoria, realised that she was probably having an affair with the sculptor Joseph Boehm (14 years her senior), Victoria immediately set about finding Louise a more suitable husband.

The Marquis of Lorne turned out to be the unfortunate solution.

After their marriage in 1871, they realised that they were incompatible and mostly went their own ways. Louise continued her liaison with Boehm, while Lorne remained a promiscuous homosexual. Louise became so alarmed at his activities that she bricked up the door that led from their apartments at Kensington Palace to Hyde Park in an effort to prevent her husband’s nightly expeditions in search of compliant guardsmen.

In 1878, Lorne was appointed as Governor-General of Canada. Their arrival in the country was not auspicious, as Lorne and Louise were delayed for several days at sea waiting for heavy storms to abate.

The prime minister, Sir John Macdonald, who had prepared a state reception for the new dignitaries, was similarly forced to wait on land. Being a devoted drinker, he whiled the time away with a lengthy binge. When the pair finally did land, Macdonald had such an appalling hangover that he had to cancel the reception, claiming “lumbago problems”.

Their journey to Ottawa was accompanied by torrential rain and Lorne and Louise arrived at their official residence at Rideau Hall thoroughly drenched. At the inaugural official reception there, Macdonald again got drunk and allegedly an incident occurred when he “took a liberty” with Louise.

Bored stiff by life in Canada, Louise was delighted when she received a minor injury during a sleigh accident. She ruthlessly used this new excuse to spend most of the next few years “recuperating” in Europe and Bermuda.

Lorne was more conscientious in his duties and carried out a difficult trip to the Canadian Far West which he described it as “a mixture of Scotland and Heaven”.

In 1883, he left Canada with two permanent reminders of his sojourn. For many years, Lorne became a favourite name for male Canadian children. Also, Sir John Macdonald accepted Lorne’s choice of the name Alberta for the new province, after rejecting Lorne’s first choice – Louiseland.

On his return to Britain, Lorne faded into the background. His interests were mostly literary and he attempted to rewrite certain parts of the Bible; later he tried poetry. One critic said of the latter “since his ghastly experiments with the Psalms, one might have supposed he would have spared the world any more of his adventures in verse”.

Lorne came to the public’s attention only once when he became something of a national joke after falling off his horse during the 1887 Golden Jubilee procession.

Princess Louise became a proficient sculptress and early feminist (her statue of Queen Victoria still stands outside Kensington Palace), and continued to mix with the artistic set and inevitably Joseph Boehm. This association had a tragic ending.

In 1890, during a bout of sex, Boehm died in Louise’s arms. Reputedly, as he was extremely fat, a small winch had to be employed to pry his corpse off Louise. She concocted a story with the doctor that Boehm had died while “moving a heavy statue”.

Queen Victoria never discovered the truth of the matter, and Boehm was commemorated with a plaque in the crypt of St Paul’s Cathedral. It reads enigmatically: Born 1844. Died 1890. At His Work.

The demise of Boehm did nothing to curb Louise’s sexual appetite. Her niece said of her that she “ran after anything in trousers”, including the Kaiser.

Rumours circulated that, among her lovers, she had an affair with Prince Henry of Battenburg, the husband of her sister Princess Beatrice, and that her demands proved so great that Henry had signed up to serve in the 1896 Ashanti Expeditionary Force simply to escape the pressure. If so, it was a fatal decision as he died of fever while in West Africa.

Louise remained the least sentimental of Queen Victoria’s daughters. After the death of their mother, the bereaved children would gather annually to pay their respects in the family mausoleum at Frogmore in Windsor. One year, during their prayers, a dove entered the room and flew overhead. One of the children whispered that it must be “dear Mama’s spirit”.

Louise sniffed and replied: “I don’t think so. Dear Mama’s spirit would never have ruined Helena’s hat.”

Adapted from Neil Titley’s book The Oscar Wilde World of Gossip. For details go to www.wildetheatre.co.uk

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