Read The Last Princess Online

Authors: Matthew Dennison

Tags: #History, #Europe, #Great Britain, #Biography & Autobiography, #Royalty

The Last Princess (33 page)

BOOK: The Last Princess

On 18 March the Bishop of Ripon, one of her more attentive correspondents, wrote to the Queen, ‘I am sure that the quiet and restfulness of Cimiez will prove beneficial to Your Majesty;
and I hope and pray that the light which fringes all clouds may shine round about Your Majesty and the Princess… I hope Your Majesty found the Princess well and as cheerful as can be expected.’
The Queen found Beatrice anything but cheerful, but was impressed by the degree of control her daughter was able to exercise over her shattered emotions; the doctor who accompanied Beatrice to Cannes had noted that she learnt to seem ‘quite well’ in public but broke down alone.
This control was not achieved without considerable effort on Beatrice's part. To her brother Arthur–to whom she admitted, ‘The aching void gets worse and worse and I often feel very weary and worn out’
– Beatrice confided her terror at returning from France to the scenes of her vanished life with Liko: ‘I dread the first return to Windsor, where the memories are still so fresh of my darling Liko's preparations for Ashanti, when he was so full of life and eagerness – I feel the strain and wearing of this constant grief is telling upon my nerves now, and I often have hardly the courage to look forward to the future.’
When the time came, however, Beatrice bore the trial bravely, her manner, as the Queen herself acknowledged, very different from her own thirty-five years earlier: ‘But oh! the return [and] the missing our beloved Liko at every turn. His empty room and all his things
overwhelmed darling Auntie, who is so good, so brave and unmurmuring and resigned – that one can but admire her and wish to do everything in the world to save her every additional trouble and worry and lessen her bitter anguish.’
To the Crown Princess, after Fritz's ninety-nine-day reign as emperor herself also a widow and known as the Empress Frederick, she wrote with her customary tact, ‘Darling Beatrice is quite admirable, so patient, so resigned, so courageous and calm but broken-hearted. She adored him; never were two people ever happier… It wrings my heart to see my darling child's grief. Though she is very calm [and] she can cry quite naturally.’

Beatrice chose her favourite of her mother's maids of honour, Marie Mallet, to confide the extent of her unhappiness to and relate something of what had happened, including the part played by Canon Taylor Smith.

I went to Princess Beatrice and we both sat and sobbed for half an hour while she told me the whole tragic story. Prince Henry knew he was dying and sent long messages to her and all his friends by the Doctor and a chaplain with whom he had made great friends. He felt the fact of dying so far away and alone very much and this makes the poor Princess very miserable, but her grief is perfectly natural and she is extraordinarily brave and unselfish.

‘How terrible for you to be fetched in that way,’ Beatrice wrote in the summer of 1896 to Walpurga Paget, unexpectedly summoned to the deathbed of her husband Sir Augustus Paget, ‘and yet I envy you having been with your beloved husband at the last moment.’
She told Lady Lytton that ‘she had known nothing of the Prince being worse and then all was over’.

For Beatrice there was no respite from her agony. She told Canon Taylor Smith that her children helped to cheer her, but they were too young to offer her real consolation, and she was determined not to overwhelm them with her grief, as the Queen had overwhelmed her childhood: ‘I try to be bright and cheerful for the dear Children's sake and not let my sorrow weigh upon their young lives, but the heart is very sore at times.’
As she had written to Arthur, she was tortured by the memory of Liko's last days at home with her, his cheerful preparations for what quickly became so wretched an undertaking; and additionally by the loneliness of his death.

These are very sad days for me, so full of memories of the busy preparations of last year, when my husband was so keen and full of life, and always trying to comfort me with the thought that it would not be a very long separation, and that if God permitted it, he would come back to me in three months. But His inscrutable will decreed it otherwise, and I must seek to bow in submission, and to fulfil the work left me to do, though the present seems so dark and desolate, and the joy to have gone out of my life.

Alfred's wife Marie, encountering Beatrice in November, considered her almost deranged by her sorrow: ‘Poor Beatrice is very
sad.’ Her moods swung alarmingly, her behaviour was illogical and unpredictable: moments of tears were succeeded by raging at Liko's photograph; she immersed herself in books of piety or talked at length about the domestic economies she was making on candles; restlessly she rode her bicycle, a funereal figure in her full-length black weeds. Marie described Beatrice's mourning as not only ‘bizarre’ but ‘incomprehensible’.
Christmas inevitably gave rise to further lamentations. ‘Christmas could not fail to be very trying,’ Beatrice wrote to Lady Martin, ‘the terrible blank my beloved husband has left in the home circle seems to make itself more keenly felt. It seems so hard to begin a new year without him or at least the cheering hope of a happy meeting before very long…’

In her sitting room at Osborne, Beatrice created a secular shrine to Liko, draping a stand of three shelves with a Union Jack and placing on it four rows of photographs, crowned by a large photograph of Liko in uniform with, on the table below, his sword and helmets. If, over time, Beatrice's grief lessened, it did not disappear. He ‘was the joy of my life’, she wrote on 29 December 1926, ‘whom I never cease to miss, however many years have passed by, since he was taken from me’.
From the age of four Beatrice's life had been hostage to her mother's widowhood. Her own long widow's vigil, begun so young, would exceed that of the Queen by eight years.


‘I have taken up my life again’

Twenty-five committee meetings and two and a half years elapsed before the County Council of the Isle of Wight was able to invite Beatrice to unveil its memorial to Liko – the restored Memorial Rooms in the Gate House of Carisbrooke Castle, official residence of the island's governor. Beatrice's own memorial offering, a splendid sarcophagus for the side chapel of St Mildred's, was scarcely quicker. It was commissioned in white Derbyshire limestone – Hopton Wood stone – from the Hopton Wood Stone Company, which was currently enjoying a monopoly of fashionable commissions: it had supplied artefacts to the Prince of Wales and the Dukes of Devonshire, Rutland and Westminster. But the stone delivered to Alfred Gilbert for Liko's tomb turned out to be flawed, and Beatrice reported that all the work had to be redone, with the result that the chapel was not completed by the time of the first anniversary service on 20 January 1897.

The Queen acted more successfully and with greater alacrity. On 21 April 1896 she instituted the Royal Victorian Order ‘as a reward for personal services to the Queen and her successors’ to commemorate Liko's death.
She commissioned a memoir of the Prince from Rowland Prothero, son of the rector of Whippingham, and received the privately printed copies on the first anniversary of Liko's death. She also, in her customary fashion, sought to express her grief tangibly. She chose red Stirlingshire granite for the monolith thirteen and a half feet high and four feet wide she erected in Liko's memory at Craig Dyne, in the royal forest of Ballochbuie near Balmoral. Previous deaths had been commemorated by statues, granite seats and even, in the case of Sir Thomas Biddulph, a drinking fountain, but the
Queen was pleased with this latest innovation and would repeat it when, four years later, her second son Alfred predeceased her. Liko's monument was engraved with a Celtic cross and a short verse in which the Scots winds lament his passing, and liberally covered with Celtic-inspired motifs, knots for the most part. Its tangled decoration provided an unintentional metaphor for the family intrigue that had unfolded in the dark days immediately following Liko's death.

To Lady Minto, four days after the news reached Osborne, Louise wrote of Liko, ‘He was almost the greatest friend I had – I, too, miss him more than I can say.’
The temperamental princess, at sea in her own increasingly unsuccessful marriage to the probably homosexual Lome, was ardent in championing her deceased brother-in-law. ‘How soon his efforts to prove himself useful were ended and he was brave up to the last fighting the fever!’ she told Gladstone's wife.
Beatrice and the Queen approved the sentiment. What they did not approve – and were determined to ignore and disbelieve–was Louise's assertion that, in addition to Liko being Louise's greatest friend, she filled the same role for him, with Beatrice a mere cipher. The Duchess of Teck wrote on 9 February, ‘Louise has alas!
[Beatrice] terribly by calmly announcing, that she was Liko's
and Beatrice nothing to him, indicated by a
of the

Louise's was a jealous nature. Like that of her mother the Queen, it was also probably a passionate one. Mother and daughter shared a weakness for handsome faces. But whereas the Queen had enjoyed full and satisfying sexual relations with the Prince Consort, Louise's conjugal life with Lome was less satisfactory and may even at this stage have ceased altogether. Liko was handsome, charming, amusing; in court circles he was admired and held in affection. Louise had grown accustomed to regarding Beatrice with mingled pity and jealousy, chiefly on account of her relationship with the Queen. She did not lament Beatrice's protracted spinsterhood and, when the time came, may have regarded Liko as a more appropriate husband for herself than for her unprepossessing younger sister. Her statement that she was Liko's confidante and Beatrice nothing to him was
untrue, perhaps a considered fabrication, possibly a mischief of the moment. But, in its desire to wound, it expressed truthfully Louise's jealousy of Beatrice.

It should not surprise us if Liko were physically attracted to Louise, as she was to him. Louise was the most attractive woman at court, Liko the handsomest man – in an environment in which young men were at a premium. Heinrich von Angeli's second portrait of Beatrice, undertaken in 1893, eighteen years after he first painted her, traced the passage of time and the alteration in her appearance wrought by motherhood. Middle age settled early over the plump princess, and in von Angeli's inelegant but cosy image her youthful bloom has entirely departed. Only the trace of a smile lingers to animate coarsening features. Louise by contrast remained strikingly good-looking and surprisingly youthful in appearance throughout her forties. Nevertheless, we have only Louise's word for the attraction. Statements made by the chief protagonists in this unhappy drama inevitably conflict. In June 1898, by which time the confidence could no longer wound anyone save Beatrice, Louise told Dr Reid of ‘Prince Henry's attempted relations with her, which she had declined’.
If this is the case, Liko's criticism of Louise's clothes, when they met in Rome in 1887 – reported to George of Wales – otherwise an uncharacteristic action on his part, may be construed as a form of flirting, which Louise deliberately misrepresented to her nephew. Louise was herself a flirt and would not have been averse to stimulating such a response in others.

An awareness of an attraction between her husband and her sister is one explanation for Beatrice's determined exposure of Louise's relationship with the Queen's assistant private secretary Arthur Bigge, which had taken place shortly before Liko's departure for Africa. Beatrice described the relationship as ‘a scandal’
and Liko – possibly exacting belated revenge on Louise for resisting his advances – claimed to have seen Bigge drinking Louise's health at dinner. Louise denied any truth in the claims, rebutting the whole affair as a concoction of Beatrice's and Helena's to undermine her position at court. The assertion should be treated cautiously: Louise not only suffered from a persecution
complex, she habitually sought out grievances with the two sisters who were closest to the Queen. ‘Louise is as usual much down on her sisters. Hope she won't stay long or she will do mischief!’ Dr Reid wrote to his wife on a similar occasion several years later.
Shortly after the Louise-Bigge affair, Liko left for the Ashanti. It is unlikely that knowledge of any flirtation between Liko and Louise lay behind Beatrice's seconding of Liko's desire to fight, contrary to the Queen's wishes: her love for her husband was stronger than her jealousy of her sister. But she may have hoped that a temporary withdrawal from the hothouse atmosphere of the court, with its essentially unvarying personnel and limited number of likely candidates to divert Louise's attentions, would bring about a permanent cooling of relations between the two. In this her hope was apparently shared by Liko himself: Drino would later claim that his father had told him he went to Africa to escape the attentions of a ‘lady’, an unlikely confidence for a father to share with a nine-year-old son.

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