Alexandra Victoria Alberta Edwina Louise Duff, Princess Arthur of Connaught, Duchess of Fife 1891-1959, elder daughter of the first Duke of Fife and of Princess Louise [qv.], eldest daughter of the then Prince of Wales, was born at Mar Lodge, Braemar, 17 May 1891. Her father, the sixth Earl of Fife, who bore titles in the peerages of both the United Kingdom and Ireland, had been created a duke by Queen Victoria on the occasion of his marriage with the Queen's granddaughter in 1889; but a new creation was made in 1900 whereby the succession might pass to his daughters, the second of whom, the Lady Maud, was born in 1893. In 1905 King Edward VII created his eldest daughter Princess Royal and granted her two children the style and title of Princess and Highness, with precedence after members of the royal family styled Royal Highness.
In December 1911, Princess Alexandra set out with her parents and sister for their fourth winter in Egypt. In the early hours of 13 December, their ship, the P. & O. liner Delhi, ran ashore off Cape Spartel, on the coast of Spanish Morocco. Boats from the Duke of Edinburgh put off to the rescue, but many passengers, including the Duke of Fife's party, were completely submerged and greatly buffeted by the waves before reaching shore. Wet through and in piercing cold, they struggled through a gale of wind and rain to Cape Spartel lighthouse, where they were revived; but they did not reach the British legation at Tangier until six o'clock in the evening, after a ten-mile ride on muleback. After a few days' rest the party returned to Gibraltar and thence proceeded to Egypt and the Sudan. On 19 January the Duke of Fife contracted a chill which developed into pleurisy and pneumonia; he died at Aswan, 29 January 1912, aged sixty-two. His titles, other than those of the creation of 1900, became either extinct or dormant, but Princess Alexandra succeeded him as Duchess of Fife and Countess of Macduff.
In July of the following year came the announcement of the engagement of the Duchess of Fife to her cousin Prince Arthur [qv.], the only son of the Duke of Connaught [qv.] and Princess Louise of Prussia. They were married in the Chapel Royal, St. James's, 15 October 1913, and on 9 August 1914 was born their only child, Alastair Arthur, who bore the title of Earl of Macduff.
The war of 1914-18 gave to Princess Arthur of Connaught the opportunity to embrace a vocation of nursing in which she subsequently made a highly successful career. In 1915 she joined the staff of St. Mary's Hospital, Paddington, as a full-time nurse and worked untiringly in this capacity until the armistice. After the war she continued her training at St. Mary's, becoming a state registered nurse in 1919 and being awarded a first prize for a paper on eclampsia (convulsions in late pregnancy). She also served in Queen Charlotte's Hospital where she specialized in gynaecology, receiving a certificate of merit. Throughout these years Princess Arthur increasingly impressed her superiors by her technical skill and practical efficiency.
When in 1920 Prince Arthur of Connaught was appointed governor-general of the Union of South Africa, Princess Arthur ably seconded him and shared his popularity. Her tact and friendliness made her many friends among the South Africans, who also greatly admired the interest which she displayed in hospitals, child welfare, and maternity work throughout the Union. To these subjects she brought her exceptional personal knowledge and experience, which enabled her to make many effective and valuable suggestions.
On her return to London (1923) Princess Arthur resumed her nursing career at the University College Hospital, where she was known as Nurse Marjorie, and at Charing Cross Hospital. At this time she was specializing in surgery, proving herself a competent, dependable, and imperturbable theatre sister, who was capable of performing minor operations herself and of instructing juniors in their duties. Her services to the nursing profession were recognized in July 1925, when she was awarded the badge of the Royal Red Cross.
The outbreak of war in 1939 afforded Princess Arthur further scope for her nursing abilities. She refused the offer of a post as matron of a hospital in the country, preferring to become sister-in-charge of the casualty clearing station of the 2nd London General Hospital. Shortly thereafter, however, she opened the Fife Nursing Home in Bentinck Street which she personally equipped, financed, and administered as matron for ten years with great competence.
The death of her husband in 1938 was followed by that of her father-in-law, the Duke of Connaught, in 1942. He was succeeded by his grandson, Alastair, but little more than a year later the young Duke, who had seen service in Egypt as a subaltern in the Scots Greys, died of pneumonia in Ottawa, 26 April 1943.
Princess Arthur served as a counsellor of state during King George VI's absences abroad in 1939, 1943, and 1944. She was appointed colonel-in-chief of the Royal Army Pay Corps in 1939 and was also president and later patron of the Royal British Nurses' Association (of which she held the honorary diploma) and patron of the Plaistow Maternity Hospital.
In 1949 the multiple-rheumatoid-arthritis, from which Princess Arthur had suffered for many years, rendered her completely crippled and necessitated the closing of her nursing-home. She retired to her house in Regent's Park where she wrote for private circulation two autobiographical fragments in a vivid and entertaining style: A Nurse's Story (1955) and Egypt and Khartum (1956), in which she gave a graphic account of the wreck of the Delhi; she was engaged on a further volume on big-game hunting in South Africa when she died at her London home, 26 February 1959. At her special request she was cremated, her ashes being laid in the chapel of Mar Lodge. The dukedom of Fife devolved upon her nephew, Lord Carnegie, the son of her sister, who had married the eleventh Earl of Southesk in 1923 and died in 1945.
Contributor: John Wheeler-Bennett.