I recently purchased [as is my wont, for a couple of quid at an Oxfam charity shop, no less!] a copy of the memoirs of today's birthday girl, Queen Victoria's granddaughter Princess Marie Louise of Schleswig-Holstein. With its simply descriptive title My Memories of Six Reigns ["Cousin Louie", as she was known in Royal circles, was born in Victorian times, lived till she was 84, and saw the ascendancy of Edward VII, George V, Edward VIII (briefly), George VI and Elizabeth, our present Queen], from what I have read so far it is a deeply personal account of her myriad encounters with Emperors and Empresses, Kings, Queens, Dukes, Margraves and the rest, her travels around the world in an age when international transportation and communication was somewhat rudimentary, and her charitable work, as well as the effects of two World Wars and the social changes they brought to Great Britain.
Some of the vignettes are quite amusing, including this one about Queen Victoria:
One afternoon, I was sitting in my room when I received an SOS from Her Majesty's page telling me that the Queen wished me to go to her at once. I leapt out to the corridor and found her half sitting and half lying in a little passage. "My dear, I have had a terrible accident."Close your eyes and just imagine Dame Maggie Smith saying those lines.
"Good heavens, what?" I said.
Apparently the horses had shied and nearly upset the carriage and, in Grandmama's words, [the gillie] "lifted me out of the carriage and, would you believe it, all my petticoats came undone!"
I have, of course, featured Her Highness - and that renowned Beaton portrait - before, and recounted her disastrous arranged marriage to Prince Aribert of Anhalt (who was caught with his pants down with one of the manservants!). Of that particular episode in Marie Louise's life, and the fact that she refused to ever accept that the marriage had legally ended despite it never really having begun, her uncle, Albert Edward, Prince of Wales (later King Edward VII) apparently said: “Ach, poor Louise, she has returned as she went - a virgin.”
And thus she stayed. It's no wonder she had so much time for collecting the details that made up her memoir, such as this one:
The dignity and really overwhelming beauty and solemnity of a Coronation ceremony cannot be conveyed in words, and only those who have had the privilege of being present can fully realise what it is like.
One little incident at Edward VII’s Coronation I think might be mentioned. My seat was just behind that of my dear Aunt Beatrice, and under the Royal Box was displayed all the priceless Church plate belonging to the Abbey.
Aunt Beatrice was very proud of her bound and specially-embroidered copy of the Coronation Service, presented to her by the Ladies’ Needlework Guild. Although I whispered a warning that, if she continued to fidget, it might go overboard, there soon came an agonized murmur: "Louie, it’s going – oh dear, it’s gone!" And gone it had with a terrible clatter among all that Church plate.
She meticulously detailed all the finery of the robes, gowns and various attire worn at different social events and at different times of day, but bemoaned the (inevitable) decline of formality into the 20th century. At one theatrical event she was pained to see: "the audience in ordinary day clothes in the theatre, even tweed coats and skirts, and showing the same 'laisser aller' in their mode of dressing..." She went on to remark: "I was dining the other day with a young foreign relative of mine at a very fashionable and well-known hotel, and he said to me, 'I think that I and the waiters are the only men in evening dress.'" I'm with Louie!
Facts about "Cousin Louie":
- Despite her German title [which itself was eradicated by the King when WW1 began] she was born and brought up in England.
- Her beautiful Cartier Indian Tiara was bestowed upon her godson Richard and is now worn by his wife Birgitte, as the Duchess of Gloucester.
- At the coronation of George VI, she and her sister Helena Victoria walked in the procession of Princes and Princesses of Blood Royal, even though they were not actually so titled; they were also the last members of the Royal family to use the simple title "Highness".
- Her father Prince Christian, who had lost an eye in a shooting accident, had a favourite party trick - he would open his prized collection of different-coloured glass eyes at the dinner table and proceed to pop out and pop back in again a selection of his choosing, to "amuse" his guests.
- She instigated and oversaw the creation of the famous "Queen Mary's Dolls' House".
- She also established the ‘Princess Club’ for the workers of Rotherhithe and Bermondsey, providing ante-natal care for expectant mothers, organising home visits from district nurses.
Princess Marie Louise of Schleswig-Holstein (born Franziska Josepha Louise Augusta Marie Christina Helena, 12th August 1872 – 8th December 1956)