Louise Lehzen

Louise Lehzen bigraphy, stories - governess, adviser and companion to Queen Victoria of England

Louise Lehzen : biography

03 October 1784 – 09 September 1870

Johanna Clara Louise Lehzen (3 October 1784 – 9 September 1870), better known as Baroness Louise Lehzen, was the governess, and later adviser and companion to Queen Victoria of the United Kingdom.

Born to a Lutheran pastor in Hanover, Lehzen entered into the household of the Duchess of Kent and her husband Prince Edward Augustus, Duke of Kent and Strathearn, in 1819. Five years later, Lehzen became governess to their only child, Princess Victoria. Lehzen became strongly protective of the princess, who resided in a household dominated by the controlling Kensington System, implemented by the Duchess and her comptroller Sir John Conroy. "Dear, good Lehzen" soon came to supersede all others in Victoria’s eyes, including her own mother.

Victoria became second-in-line to the British throne in 1827; to prevent Victoria from being surrounded by mere commoners, King George IV named Lehzen a Baroness of the Kingdom of Hanover later that year. Lehzen encouraged the princess to become strong, informed, and independent from the Duchess and Conroy’s influence, causing friction between the two and Lehzen. Attempts to remove the governess, who had the support of George IV, his brother William IV, and Victoria’s uncle Leopold I of Belgium, were unsuccessful.

When Victoria became queen in 1837, Lehzen served as a sort of unofficial private secretary, enjoying apartments adjacent to Victoria. The queen’s 1840 marriage to Prince Albert of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha led to significant changes in the royal household. Albert and Lehzen detested each other, and after an illness of the Princess Royal in 1841, Lehzen was quietly dismissed. Her close relationship to the queen came to an end, though the two continued to write letters to each other. Lehzen spent her last years in Hanover on a generous pension, dying in 1870.

Victoria in power

When Victoria ascended the throne in 1837, Lehzen enjoyed a prominent position at the coronation, and remained at court. Lehzen was installed at Buckingham Palace as a sort of unofficial private secretary, served as chief liaison for the royal residences, and carried the household keys as a sign of her position; her signature was required for all payments of tradesmen’s bills, for instance. At this point, it seems that Lehzen had totally replaced Victoria’s mother both in terms of influence and affection; Lehzen’s apartments adjoined the queen’s, while the Duchess of Kent was installed in a suite of rooms far removed from Victoria’s. For the first few years of Victoria’s reign, especially before her marriage to Prince Albert of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha in 1840, Lehzen had a very strong influence on the queen’s outlook on both politics and personal matters, despite the fact that she did not overtly involve herself in state affairs. Even after the queen’s marriage, Lehzen retained the private doorway into the royal bedroom, a source of displeasure for Albert.

Supplanted by Prince Albert

The coming of Prince Albert led to significant changes in Victoria’s household. Lehzen had opposed Coburg ambitions of Victoria marrying Albert, believing the princess to be a "second Queen Elizabeth, virgin and independent of male influence." Albert was well-educated, and had just completed a tour of Europe, preceded by years at the University of Bonn. Victoria’s court dismayed his puritan German sensibilities. Lehzen and Albert soon developed a dislike for each other; she sought to thwart Albert’s will in various ways and he found her personally repugnant and unworthy of befriending the queen, referring to her as "the hag" and a "crazy stupid intriguer".

When Victoria’s first child, Victoria, Princess Royal, was born on 21 November 1840, Victoria trusted Lehzen to make the arrangements for the nursery staff. Lehzen put the nursery in the hands of a Mrs. Southey, a Mrs. Roberts, and Sir James Clark, despite Albert’s objections that Clark was wholly unsuited to the post, having already discredited himself during the affair of Lady Flora Hastings a year previously. Eventually, the Princess Royal fell ill, but the incompetent Dr. Clark declared it a minor ailment, incorrectly prescribing her with calomel. In fact, the young Princess Victoria had become seriously ill. Albert, who was devoted to his first-born, confronted Victoria on the incompetence of the staff selected by the Baroness. There was a quarrel, after which Albert declared that he would leave the affair in her queenly hands, and be it on her head if the child died. Soon after this argument, Victoria gave in to him and ultimately dismissed Lehzen, ostensibly for her health. To Albert, Lehzen was a servant who had attempted to rise above her place in life, and he wanted Victoria to rely on him alone.