John Campbell, 9th Duke of Argyll (1845-1914), has the distinction of being the first subject to marry a British royal princess since 1515 when King Henry VIII’s sister Mary wed the Duke of Suffolk without the king’s permission. The lady in question was Princess Louise the artistic, unconventional fourth daughter of Queen Victoria. The marriage was expedient because the princess had grown rather fond of her brother Prince Leopold’s tutor and Campbell was rumoured to be homosexual.
The Marquess of Lorne, as Campbell was titled between 1847 and 1900, was educate at Eton, St Andrews and Trinity College, Cambridge. After university, he travelled to Jamaica, North America and Canada and, on his return, was returned as a Liberal MP. Unkinder London newspaper correspondents dismissed him as ‘a nonentity in the House of Commons and a nonentity without’. They would be proved entirely wrong when, aged thirty-three, Lorne was appointed the youngest Governor-General in Canada’s history.
The minor Scottish aristocrat was a surprisingly popular choice for Princess Louise because church, state and subjects had rather tired of Queen Victoria’s predilection for marrying her children to Prussian and Russian royalty. Only half in jest, The Queen called the 1871 marriage ‘the most popular act of my reign’. But in a letter to her sister the Empress Dagmar of Russia, Princess Alexandra wrote ‘she (Louise) resents him (Lorne) like the devil, poor man. I am sorry for both of them and he is going to suffer for that’.
Lorne believed he had the gift of clairvoyance and foresaw his posting overseas. In 1878 he was invited to become Governor-General of Canada much to the chagrin of Queen Victoria who disliked any of her children living on foreign shores. Lorne and Princess Louise proved to be a success and did much to improve relations between Canada and the United Kingdom. A year before the posting, fire broke out at Inverary Castle, the Argyll family seat, and it was reported that Princess Louise organised a human chain to pass water buckets that limited the damage while Lorne went back into the castle several times to rescue humans rather than art and antiquities. This was the mark of the man and his unconventional yet admirable royal wife.
The new Governor-General and his wife fascinated Canadians who were expecting protocols observed in Windsor Castle t0 be imposed at Rideau Hall, the Governor-General’s mansion in Ottowa. But Lorne and Princess Louise opened their home to ordinary citizens rather than grandees and she shook hands without wearing gloves. Princess Louise famously made oyster pate for her dinner parties, shopped locally without fuss and nursed her staff through an outbreak of scarlet fever. As New York society journal wrote, ‘Princess Louise is a lady of much good taste, with a large fund of common sense. The supervision of her household affairs is upon the model characteristic of all well-appointed English households’.
Both Lorne and Princess Louise had the ‘common touch’ and were unflappable when, for example, they were faced with guests such as Chief Waubuono of the Six Nation Indians wearing full Native American rig. When sheltering from a storm in a humble cottage, it was reported that Princess Louise peeled potatoes with the cottager’s wife. She and Lorne both spoke fluent French and, to her credit, Princess Louise invariably gave her husband precedence as was fitting for a Governor-General. Lorne and Princess Louise travelled extensively in Canada and North America and popularised ice-skating parties, tobogganing, fishing and trekking. Princess Louise designed a portable shed within which she could sketch on inclement days and a mosquito helmet to protect her when drawing outdoors.
The Marquess of Lorne supported the arts as much as his gifted wife and it was under their patronage that the Ottowa School of Art, the Canadian Academy of the Arts and the National Gallery of Canada were founded. They both chose the works that formed the nucleus of the latter’s collection. Living in the relative wilds of Canada did bring the couple close to death on two occasions. In 1880, Lorne and Princess Louise were travelling in a horse drawn sleigh when the driver lost control and crashed. The princess was knocked unconscious and suffered from migraines, deafness and neuralgia ever afterwards. She began to spend increasing amounts of time back in England leaving Lorne at Rideau Hall. In 1882 they were sailing and their yacht collided with a schooner. Fortunately, both Lorne and Princess Louise could swim.
Of Princess Louise’s departure from Canada, the Portsmouth Evening News (1882) wrote ‘she has seen the Continent pretty well. She knows Canada better than most wives of Governors-General, for she is an artist and strays into its forests’. Lorne returned from Canada in 1883 and took apartments in Kensington Palace with Princess Louise. He published his memoir Memories of Canada and Scotland in the same year. Lorne’s political career as MP for Manchester South was cut short in 1900 when he was elevated to the House of Lords as 9th Duke of Argyll. He served as Governor and Constable of Windsor Castle from 1892 until his death in 1914 but the Duke’s last years were dogged by ill-health and the onset of senility.
For all the rumours that continued – and continue – to swirl around the Duke and Duchess of Argyll, Princess Louise devoted herself entirely to nursing her husband in his final years. When the duke died, Princess Louise suffered a nervous collapse and wrote ‘my loneliness without the duke is quite terrible. I wonder what he does now!’