I can’t quite kick the habit of reading royal biographies, but at least I’m coming to terms with the fact that English princess led boring lives, largely devoid of intellectual challenge. The bored looks on the cover photos of Princess Louise, Duchess of Argyll, and Queen Elizabeth II as a girl pretty much make the case that there lives were neither interesting nor fun. As depicted in their respective biographies, Queen Victoria’s Mysterious Daughter – a Biography of Princess Louise, by Lucinda Hawksley, and Young Elizabeth, the Making of the Queen, by Kate Williams, both Princesses Louise and Elizabeth had some intelligence and potential, but their parents pretty much squeezed it out of them.
Queen Victoria couldn’t see beyond her own excessively demanding personal needs and generally regarded her children as her slaves throughout their lives. Princess Louise apparently had some artistic talent and was provided with some opportunities to sculpt, but her personal life and interests were consistently disregarded by her mother. Queen Victoria never got over thinking that her daughter Louise was difficult and needed to be watched. Lucinda Hawksley, the author of Louise’s biography, takes some imaginative leaps and provides Louise with a scandalous love story. If true, it makes her story all the sadder, given her subsequent marriage.
Queen Victoria at least had the excuse of being a widow and having nine children, although it’s card to imagine her being a loving and caring mother under any circumstances. Queen Elizabeth’s parents, George VI and his Consort Queen Elizabeth, should have had it a bit easier. They were a loving couple, and they only had two children. There seems to have been a decent amount of love and affection to go around. It is true they were traumatized by George’s sudden ascent to the throne after his brother Edward VIII abdicated to “marry the woman he loved.” Still, Elizabeth’s parents spent time with her. Unfortunately they completely short-changed her when it came to education. They were so determined that their daughters have a carefree life, that they didn’t bother to give them an education. They seemed to think that education was a loathsome thing to be avoided. Trivial pursuits and playtime pretty much ruled the day. One will never know if Elizabeth could have become an intellectual, but it certainly seems possible that she might have expanded her interests between horses and dogs had she been given a broader education. The one lesson Elizabeth seems to have learned very well was to fulfill her responsibilities as a monarch. That she has done. She has also picked up a certain amount of political acumen and appreciation for other cultures along the way. Her life hasn’t been a tragedy, but so much of it has seemed boring and useless waste.
Both of these women suffered from being born into impossible and ridiculous lives of privilege, but their parents certainly made things worse. Victoria crushed and disdained her Louise, as she did her other children. Elizabeth’s parents just abdicated their responsibility to educate her. In a way, that seems the saddest deficit of all. If nothing else, these books made me think quite a lot about what it means to be a good parent and what we really owe our children.