For a princess who claimed a bit of a royal first at the baptismal font, it’s perhaps not surprising that Patricia of Connaught – known for most of her adult life as Lady Patricia Ramsey – ended up changing plenty of regal rules on her way. The little girl who was born in Buckingham Palace on March 17th 1886 grew up to be one of the most eligible women in Europe, and when she did finally marry, she started a royal trend that we now consider set in stone. During her lifetime, she was one of Queen Victoria’s best known grandchildren, and made more of a mark on modern history than many of her cousins. But who was the princess born on St Patrick’s Day who took the saint’s name as her own?
Princess Pat, as she was sometimes called in her youth, was the first royal in generations to be named after a saint. While medieval monarchs often used saints’ names for their children, the Protestant House of Hanover was more likely to remember relatives at the baptismal font. But the birth of a princess on St Patrick’s Day 1886 meant a change in tradition. When the little royal was christened at Bagshot Park in Surrey on May 1st 1886, she received the names Victoria Patricia Helena Elizabeth with her second name a deliberate nod to the saint on whose feast day she had been born. And that was the name by which her parents always intended her to be known.
But it was an unusual name for a royal. Princess Patricia was never close enough to the throne to have any chance of inheriting it – her father was Queen Victoria’s third son, Arthur, and she was his third child and second daughter – but the royals at the time were very traditional in their naming policy. The name Patricia was rare in England in the 1880s, and mostly used by families with Irish roots. The new princess really stood out among the throng of royal cousins who had received more traditional names like Victoria or Charlotte.
The decision to name the newest grandchild of Queen Victoria after St Patrick came in an important year in Irish politics. In 1886, just weeks after the birth of Princess Patricia, the British Prime Minister William Gladstone brought the First Home Rule Bill before the House of Commons. This proposed the formation of a devolved assembly for Ireland – it was rejected after several months of debate on June 8th 1886, and Parliament was dissolved soon afterwards for a general election.
Princess Patricia’s young life was dominated by talk of marriage, and one of her first major public appearances was as a bridesmaid at the wedding of her cousin, the future George V, and his bride, Princess Mary of Teck. But as one of the most eligible women in Europe, talk of Patricia’s own possible marriage prospects started early on in her life. As she approached her eighteenth birthday, she was linked to just about every available royal husband on the continent. In 1905 alone, she was talked about as a future wife for the king of Spain as well as for the heirs to the Portuguese and Swedish thrones. Patricia didn’t take a fancy to any of them. The following year, the Spanish king married her cousin, Victoria Eugenie, while Prince Luis of Portugal died less than three years after talk of a possible engagement – assassinated alongside his father, King Carlos. And by then, Prince Gustaf Adolf of Sweden was also married – to Patricia’s sister, Margaret, with whom he had fallen in love when he met the two princesses.
Patricia went to Canada in 1911 when her father was made Governor General, and it was there that her fame and popularity really soared. She was known for her love of sports and her charity work, but it was an event at the start of World War One that really showed how much she had captured the public imagination. As the conflict gathered pace, in August 1914, Captain Andrew Hamilton-Gaunt offered $100,000 to finance a new regiment as part of Canada’s overseas war effort, and asked Princess Patricia if she would lend the new troops her name. She did and went on to design and make the first colours for the Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry. The regiment is well known now around the world.
And when Patricia finally did marry, her regiment was there and its band played at the wedding. The Princess had spent much of her adult life being talked about as a bride, and her marriage provided plenty more royal history. Because despite being linked to crowned heads and kings in waiting, Patricia married a commoner. She fell in love and followed her heart, and on February 27th 1919, she married The Honourable Alexander Ramsey. But marrying a man without a title wasn’t the only striking thing about this royal romance.
Princess Patricia chose to marry at Westminster Abbey. While today we expect royal marriages to take place at the Abbey, Pat’s wedding was the first there in almost 600 years. This strong willed and determined princess set a royal trend that has dominated royal nuptials ever since. She had also waited far longer than any of Victoria’s other granddaughters to get married – aged 32, she was considerably older than the average bride of the time. But even more surprising, Princess Patricia decided that to keep things equal with her new husband, she would renounce all her royal titles. And so, on her wedding day, she became Lady Patricia Ramsey.
Lady Patricia had one son, Alexander, and remained close to the Royal Family. She died in 1974 having outlived all but one of her Victorian cousins. Princess Patricia’s life was as unusual as her name, and her choices as bold as the one made by her parents when they decided to name her after Ireland’s patron saint. St Patrick’s name is usually translated as ‘nobleman’ or ‘noblewoman’ in the female version. And there’s little doubt that the only royal to carry it, despite her insistence on giving up all her regal titles, lived a very noble life indeed.