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Baroness Louise Lehzen (c.1784-1870)

This article was written by HG Pitt and was published in 1993

Baroness LehzenBaroness Louise Lehzen, royal governess, was born c.1784 in Hanover, a younger child among the two sons and seven daughters of a Lutheran pastor and his wife, Melusine Palm, herself the child of a clergyman. Lehzen came to England, after service in the aristocratic family of von Marenholtz, in December 1819 as governess to Princess Féodore, daughter (by her first marriage) of Princess Victoria of Leiningen, since 1818 Duchess of Kent, to whom was born, shortly before Lehzen’s arrival, the future Queen Victoria. In 1824 Lehzen was appointed governess to the young princess. When in 1830 the Duchess of Northumberland was appointed official governess, Lehzen stayed as lady in attendance and Victoria’s constant attendant, without an official appointment, until 1842, acting latterly as her secretary in private matters.

Lehzen made it a condition of her appointment that the princess should never see strangers except in her presence. She herself was never to receive her own acquaintances in her quarters. Though she encouraged the princess to keep a journal, she never kept one herself, thinking it inappropriate to her position.

The accession of William IV in 1827 brought serious friction between the Duchess of Kent and the new king. William resented the mother’s influence over the heir presumptive, while the duchess asserted, not always successfully, her own and the princess’s position. In the quarrels arising from the ‘Kensington system’ established by Sir John Conroy, comptroller of the duchess’s household, the princess was an unhappy pawn. Until her accession her only true, constant, and ever-present friend and champion was Lehzen. When, ill with typhoid in October 1835, Victoria was pressed hard by Conroy to nominate him as her personal secretary on her accession, she persistently and successfully resisted, with Lehzen’s support. By this time Lehzen ‘occupied the first place in her pupil’s thoughts and affections’.

After Victoria’s accession Lehzen, never skilled in personal relationships, failed to adjust to changed circumstances and her charge’s coming of age. Jealousy, first of William Lamb, second Viscount Melbourne, and then, more seriously, of Prince Albert, whom the queen married in 1840, led to serious tensions in the royal household. Lehzen was blamed, probably wrongly, for the queen’s ineptness in the Lady Flora Hastings affair, and fear of losing Lehzen was a major contribution to the queen’s stubbornness in the ‘bedchamber crisis’ of 1839.

In September 1842, after quarrels about the management of the royal nursery, Lehzen left the royal service on Albert’s insistence, with the gift of a carriage from the queen and a pension of £800 p.a. She lived out her life unmarried in Bückeburg in Hanover, first with her remaining sister, who died within the year, and then alone. She saw the queen occasionally on royal visits to Germany. ‘My dearest, kindest Lehzen’ died 9 September 1870 in Bückeburg.

Though not lettered, Lehzen read (and read aloud to the princess) and imparted to the child a love of history. She provided the affection and discipline which the princess never received from her mother. The princess was taught to curb her natural impetuous temper and to own her mistakes to all she had wronged, regardless of rank. ‘She was very strict’, the queen remembered, ‘and the Princess had great respect and even awe of her, but with that the greatest affection.’ Lehzen was the greatest single influence, and that for good, in the formative period of the character of the lonely, little-loved princess. ‘That Lehzen handed over to the nation a potentially great queen must be to her credit.

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Last modified 12 January, 2016

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