Book Review: The Mystery of Princess Louise by Lucinda Hawksley

The Mystery of Princess Louise by Lucinda Hawksley
Image Description: Book Cover of The Mystery of Princess Louise by Lucinda Hawksley. Cover shows Princess Louise in profile from the waist up, leaning against a tree, with a turquoise background.


I got this book from the library and my feelings are so-so about it. It wasn’t as engaging as the Massie biography of Catherine the Great, in part because Louise, as the sixth daughter of Queen Victoria, had a lot less power and influence than Catherine the Great. It was interesting as an insight into Queen Victoria’s family and how royals lived in that era, and if you believe Hawksley Louise appears to have led what the Victorians would have considered a scandalous life. But the scandal is heavily reliant on rumour, and the rest of Louise’s life is making art (probably more interesting if there’d been pictures of said art) attending official functions, and funding charitable institutions.

Hawksley opens the book with a brief explanation that for some reason practically all historical documents relating to Louise in any way have been absorbed into Royal collections and are not accessible to anyone, even a historian wanting to write a biography of Louise. She decides to ignore this obviously GIANT hurdle, seeing in the strange situation evidence that Louise must have had a scandalous life, featuring an eccentric gay husband, an artist who was her lover, and an illegitimate child. The whole set up of the book, particularly as a history, was therefore a bit odd. It did make me think that Louise could be an interesting character to write a historical fiction book about, but rumour-reporting as history at times irritated me. I think it was the way Hawksley seems to imply that the Royal Collections are ridiculous for withholding potentially scandalous information, because nowadays no one would judge Louise for having an illegitimate child. The fact that she wants to prove that Louise had this child undermines that point a bit.

Anyway, I found this book reasonably interesting but it was never particularly exciting and I will admit to skipping some of the lists of charities and functions and whatnot. If you like the Victorians/find the Royal Family dynamics fascinating, this is for you! There were certainly bits I read out to whoever was near me at the time, sort of, ‘Wow did you know…?’ but overall my feelings about the book are lukewarm.


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