Queen Victoria’s Children: Princess Helena

 

princess-helena-of-the-united-kingdom-300x396

Full Name: Helena Augusta Victoria

Born: 25th May 1846

Married: Prince Christian of Schleswig-Holstein

Died: 9th June 1923

Buried: St George’s Chapel, Windsor

Princess Helena was born at Buckingham Palace the day after her mother’s 27th Birthday. She was the third daughter and fifth child of Prince Albert and Queen Victoria and her labour was difficult for the Queen who took several months to recover. As a child, Helena was outgoing and mischievous especially with her siblings. Her talent with art and needle work was demonstrated at a young age, and she went on to pursue later in life.

Princess Helena Augusta Victoria of Schleswig-Holstein, by W. & D. Downey, circa late 1860s - NPG Ax46168 - © National Portrait Gallery, London
Princess Helena, c. late 1860s from the National Portrait Gallery

Like her sister Alice, Helena was interested in nursing and caring for others. This became apparent in 1861 when her father died suddenly at the age of 62. However Helena had struggled with her emotions and found seeing her father so ill made her so upset. Only after Alice married and moved abroad was Helena able to shine showing her organisation skills in assisting her mother with her daily duties and letter writing. In 1863, the Queen began to make enquiries for Helena to marry. This came after a scandal involving Helena and Carl Ruland, the librarian for the royal household. It appear Helena had developed a strong attachment to Carl, and once the Queen was aware he was immediately removed.

In May 1865 while visiting the father’s hometown of Coburg, Helena met her future husband. Prince Christian of Schleswig-Holstein who was a minor Prince of Danish origin residing in pre-unified Germany. He was 15 years older than Helena yet this was not the only controversy. Politically the match was difficult owing to duchies of Schleswig and Holstein having previously been part of Denmark which was the former home of Alexandra, the Princess of Wales. The wars over this land had only just ended and therefore was a major area of contention within the royal family. Queen Victoria was happy with the match as Prince Christian had agreed to move to Britain. The couple were wed at Windsor in July 1866, with the Queen giving her away. Helena’s wedding dress was covered with Australian lace, Ivy and roses. Having previously been described as ‘dowdy’ and unlucky with her looks, her wedding day saw her transform to look like an actual princess.

 

 

Once the newlyweds returned from their honeymoon, they moved to Cumberland Lodge at Windsor. Unlike some of her siblings marriages, Helena’s was a happy one. They had six children, however the last two died in infancy. She was a doting mother and dutiful in her royal role, assisting her mother with daily tasks including letter and diary writing. Like her elder sister Alice, Helena took a keen interest in nursing. She was the founding Chair of the Ladies Committee of the British Red Cross and was heavily involved in helping with supplies during the Franco-Prussian War of 1870. She later became the President of the British Nurses Association and the Army Nursing Services, however once her brother Bertie became King, his wife Alexandra felt she should be President.

 

Princess Helena Augusta Victoria of Schleswig-Holstein with her two eldest children, by Alexander Bassano, mid 1870s - NPG x95876 - © National Portrait Gallery, London
Helena with her two eldest children, c. 1870s from the National Portrait Gallery

Helena health often caused her problems and she suffered from severe pain in her joints and became addicted to opium. Despite this, she lived long than many of her siblings and died in 1923 at the age of 77. Her devotion to nursing and promoting nursing registration remains part of her lasting legacy.

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