Lady Louise’s Riding Accident and Popular Perceptions of Royal Parenting

Lady Louise Mountbatten-Windsor as a bridesmaid in her cousin Prince William's wedding in 2011. She traveled in the procession with another cousin, the best man, Prince Harry.

Queen Elizabeth II’s granddaughter HRH Princess Louise of Wessex (styled Lady Louise Windsor at the request of her parents, the Earl and Countess of Wessex) broke her arm in a riding accident yesterday morning. Like her grandmother, the Queen, eight year old Louise is a riding enthusiast and the accident occurred when she fell from her pony on the grounds of Windsor Castle. Although the Queen does not wear a helmet while riding so that her hair will not have to be restyled for subsequent royal engagements, Louise was wearing full safety gear and is expected to make a smooth recovery.

The Earl and Countess of Wessex attending the wedding of Crown Princess Victoria of Sweden and Daniel Westling in 2010.

There has been an intense popular interest in the upbringing of royal children for centuries. When young Princes and Princesses experience illnesses or accidents, observers often critiqued the decisions of their parents according to the domestic ideals of the time. So far the media accounts of the Earl and Countess of Wessex’s response to their daughter’s accident have been measured and reasonable, accepting the official statement from Buckingham Palace, “The Countess of Wessex was supposed to go to Manchester today with the Earl but understandably stayed with her daughter.” Both the Countess’s choice to stay with her daughter and Earl’s decision to continue with his engagements, once he determined that his daughter was on the mend, have been accepted by the popular press.

The Prince and Princess of Wales at the wedding of the Duke and Duchess of York in 1986.

In contrast, when Prince William was injured by a classmate’s golf club in 1991, the press was quick to pass judgement on his father. Both Charles and Diana immediately rushed to the hospital to be with their son. Diana stayed with William during a seventy minute operation to treat a depressed fracture of the skull, however, while Charles left for a planned royal engagement at the Royal Opera House.

Both the British and International Press were quick to judge who they believed to be the more responsible parent. Jean Rook of the UK Daily Express wrote, “What sort of father of an eight-year-old boy, nearly brained by a golf club, leaves the hospital before knowing the outcome for a night at the opera?” People Magazine in the United States quoted a parenting expert who stated that “when [the sons of absentee fathers] grow up, they have trouble forming intimate relationships with their wives and children, and will repeat the experience with their own children, whether they like it or not.” In contrast, Diana was praised for her loving attention to her injured son.

Princess Charlotte, the only child of King George IV and Queen Caroline. The King and Queen had one of the most acrimonious marriages in royal history and Charlotte had a strained relationship with both her parents.

The close relationship that Prince William currently has with Prince Charles, and the success of his recent marriage demonstrates that the Prince of Wales was not an absentee father. Prince Charles was one of the first British royal fathers since Queen Victoria’s consort, Prince Albert, to be present in the delivery room when his children were born and he has been closely involved in their upbringing. The current harmony between multiple adult generations of the royal family is almost unprecedented in British history.

The future Queen Mary I became estranged from Henry VIII when he sought to annul his marriage to her mother, Catherine of Aragon. George II’s dislike of his father George I was rooted in the divorce and imprisonment of his mother, Sophia Dorothea of Celle. George IV and Queen Caroline’s only daughter Princess Charlotte summarized her attitude toward her feuding parents in the famous quote, “My mother was bad, but she would not have become as bad as she was if my father had not been infinitely worse.” In a departure from these unfortunate precedents, Prince William and Prince Harry maintained a close relationship with both their parents following the collapse of their marriage.

The coverage of Lady Louise Mountbatten-Windsor’s recent riding accident has been devoid of the popular judgment of royal parents that often occurs when a young Prince or Princess experiences an illness or injury. Hopefully, this fair minded approach will continue because the portrayal of Prince Charles following Prince William’s golfing injury did not accurately reflect his close relationship with his sons.

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7 thoughts on “Lady Louise’s Riding Accident and Popular Perceptions of Royal Parenting”

  1. Very interesting! I’d love to read more about royal parenting – I just finished God’s Secretaries (soon to be reviewed on my blog!) and of course, James I’s childhood has to be one of the more bizarre in royal history.

    1. James VI and I’s childhood had a profound effect on how he treated his own children. He couldn’t understand why his wife, Anne of Denmark, wanted to be involved in their upbringing when he had been raised exclusively by Scottish nobles.

  2. Carolyn

    I was in the UK at the time of the accident. Charles went to the opera with the reassurance from his son’s doctors that William was all right. Moreover, his staff kept in touch with the hospital, and if there had been any change, Charles would have left the Opera House, as his car remained outside ready to go.

    Of course, most of the media did not report this. Moreover, on another occasion, he had planned to take William with him on an official engagement to a toy company in Yorkshire. This had been announced in advance, but when he got up and got ready to get William, Diana decided to take William somewhere else. She knew William was scheduled to go with dad. It had been reported that he would be accompanying his father, and plans changed because of Diana’s bad mood that day. After the divorce, Charles and Diana each saw their kids 40 days a year, and neither had official custody. In fact, custody was not mentioned in the divorce because the Queen is the official guardian of minor royal grandchildren. This goes back to a law passed during the reign of George I.

    1. Thanks for your insightful and informative comment Marlene! Is there anywhere I can access the complete text of the custody laws passed during George I’s reign?

      1. It was called the Grand Opinion and promulgated in 1717. I do not think there is a digitized version of Parliamentary legislation (Hansards) for the 18th century. Some years ago, there was an article in one the broadsheets, discussing how Diana threatened to take the kids to Australia, and someone reminded her of George I’s legislation. Her Will included a reference to a guardian for her children (her mother), but this would have been ruled illegal.

  3. I should add that Louise is styled as The Lady Louise Windsor, not Mountbatten-Windsor, which is the surname she uses. This was announced a few years ago that she would be styled as The Lady Louise Windsor. The original announcement stayed M-W, but the Queen apparently changed this.

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