Over the past 10 days, as all eyes have been on Windsor following Prince Philip’s death, a sombre little face has cropped up again and again. Always in the background, poised and respectful, quietly allowing more senior members of the family to take centre stage, Lady Louise Mountbatten-Windsor seemed to grow into a fully fledged member of the Firm in front of our eyes.
She accompanied her parents everywhere last week, standing between them as they viewed floral tributes to her grandfather outside St George’s Chapel, attending a church service, going with them to meet members of the Windsor Estate staff to share memories and condolences and, on Saturday, watching on as her father, uncles and aunts and older cousins followed her beloved grandpa’s coffin.
The Duke’s death will, of course, have been a devastating blow to the entire family, but particularly for his youngest granddaughter, to whom he is said to have been close.
On the morning he died, she was seen in Windsor Great Park giving his horses a run around in his carriage, just as he would have wanted. And, indeed, it is to 17-year-old Lady Louise that the Duke is said to have bequeathed his two fell ponies, Balmoral Nevis and Notlaw Storm, to go with the polished green carriage he designed and rode.
She may be 14 years younger than her next cousin, Princess Eugenie, but it is Lady Louise who, along with her brother, James, Viscount Severn, 13, has always enjoyed a special relationship with her grandparents, one that has been so clear to see in recent days.
Growing up just 20 minutes away from Windsor Castle at 51-acre Bagshot Park, the Wessex children have been lucky to have shared more quality time with their grandparents than their much older cousins. By the time Lady Louise was born in 2003, the Queen and Prince Philip had been grandparents for 26 years. Her arrival represented a new generation of Royal grandchildren, and a new chance for the Queen and the Duke to be truly hands-on grandparents.
One royal insider recalls a time when you had to approach the castle “through a sea of tricycles”.
“They were the grandchildren that they saw the most,” says Ingrid Seward, author of Prince Philip Revealed: a Man of his Century and editor-in-chief of Majesty magazine. “While the older ones were seen less frequently, this little girl was there every weekend.”
Watch: Lady Louise Windsor to inherit Prince Philip's carriage and horses
This little girl, it should be noted, didn’t have the faintest idea her granny was Queen for some time. Her parents strove to give their children as “normal” an upbringing as possible – so much so that when Lady Louise started school, she had no concept of her grandmother’s official status.
Her mother revealed in an interview that she came home saying: “Mummy, people keep on telling me that grandma is the Queen.”
For Louise and her brother, The Queen and Prince Philip were just Granny and Grandpa, and Windsor Castle was just the house where they played and rode ponies at weekends.
She has enjoyed about as normal a childhood as a Royal grandchild ever could, attending a prep school near home in Windsor before starting St Mary’s Ascot in 2017. She was a bridesmaid at the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge’s wedding in 2011, and accompanied her parents on an overseas engagement in 2015, but otherwise has been kept largely away from the spotlight.
Bagshot Park is, as one insider says, “vast”, but life there is cosy. Before the pandemic, weekends were spent, invariably, with the Queen and Prince Philip. “They’re always watching television together,” says one source.
“Windsor was always Edward’s favourite place, even before his marriage.” says Seward. “They live nearby and because the Queen is so fond of Sophie, they spent a lot of time at the castle.”
Lady Louise’s mother and grandmother grew close when Princess Margaret died, after which “Sophie became a real source of support for the Queen,” says one insider. “It was after then that we increasingly saw pictures of Sophie accompanying the Queen to church.”
Their bond strengthened further following Louise’s traumatic birth. She was a month premature, arriving while Edward was away on an official visit to Mauritius, and delivered by an emergency caesarian after Sophie suffered a placental abruption that caused severe blood loss. The Countess was in Frimley Park Hospital for 15 days, while Louise was transferred to a neonatal unit in St George’s. On a visit back to Frimley Park in 2014, the Countess wept as she met the midwives who had saved her and her daughter’s lives.
“Around the time of Lady Louise’s birth, the Queen took Sophie very much under her wing,” says Seward. “She is like another daughter to the Queen; they remain extremely close.”
One lasting effect of Louise’s premature birth was an eye condition called strabismus, which meant, as a child, her eyes couldn’t align simultaneously. Speaking on World Sight Day a couple of years ago, her mother explained her squint had been “quite profound” before it was fixed in an operation when she was nine.
“Premature babies can often have squints because the eyes are the last thing in the baby package to really be finalised. [Lady Louise’s squint] was quite profound when she was tiny and it takes time to correct it. You’ve got to make sure one eye doesn’t become more dominant than the other, but she’s fine now. Her eyesight is perfect.”
Now 17, Lady Louise bears a striking resemblance to a young Princess Elizabeth, and is said to share something of her character, too. She is “studious”, according to one insider, “a good girl. She’s totally conscientious and straightforward.” Not unlike, then, how her granny is said to have been as a girl – modest, sensible and mad about horses.
“There are shades of the young Elizabeth,” says Seward. “There is something about her – a capability. She’s obviously a very gentle young woman.
“Remember Princess Eugenie’s wedding, when she was a special attendant – she was very sweet and helped the little bridesmaids and her dress blew up. But she handled it really well.”
Only time will tell what sort of role Louise and her brother will occupy within the much-trailed “slimmed-down” version of the monarchy. “We try to bring them up with the understanding that they are very likely to have to work for a living,” their mother told The Sunday Times last year.
“Hence we made the decision not to use HRH titles. They have them and can decide to use them from 18, but it’s highly unlikely.”
A love of horses and the outdoors is sure to be at the centre of her close relationship with both grandparents. The Duke taught both Louise and her mother to ride carriages. He was pictured watching on proudly in 2019 when his youngest granddaughter came third in a carriage driving competition at the Royal Windsor Horse Show.
“He was really pleased that she did well,” says Seward. “He had done so much for carriage driving as a sport and was delighted he was passing on his enthusiasm to somebody of a completely different generation.”
The sight of his two fell ponies pulling their master’s polished dark green carriage on Saturday – the Duke’s cap, gloves and blanket, with a jar of sugar lumps for the horses, in place of where he would once have sat – was among the most moving moments of the day.
Even more poignant, then, to learn his granddaughter is destined to carry on this most personal legacy.
Watch: The wonderful life of Prince Philip, The Duke of Edinburgh