Princess Helena, Princess Christian of Schleswig-Holstein
Princess Helena was the fifth child, and third daughter, of Queen Victoria of The United Kingdom and Prince Albert of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha. She was born at Buckingham Palace on May 25, 1846. Two months later, on July 25, she was christened in the private chapel at Buckingham Palace, given the names Helena Augusta Victoria. Her godparents were:
- The Hereditary Grand Duke of Mecklenburg-Strelitz
- The The Duchess of Orléans
- The Duchess of Cambridge
Known within the family as Lenchen, Helena’s childhood was spent at her mother’s various homes, in the care of nurses and nannies. An accomplished artist and pianist from a young age, she was often overshadowed in life by her siblings. She was closest to her brother Alfred, and the two remained so for their entire lives. Helena’s life would change drastically in 1861, with the death of her beloved father. She began helping her sister Alice who became an unofficial secretary to their mother. After Alice’s marriage, Helena would continue in this role, along with her younger sister Louise, before the role was primarily taken by her youngest sister, Beatrice.
Helena had a brief romance with Carl Ruland, who had served as her father’s librarian. Of course, when the Queen discovered her daughter’s interest in one of the servants, Ruland was quickly dispatched back to Germany. Victoria then began a quest to find Helena an appropriate husband. It was in May 1865 while visiting Coburg that Helena met her future husband, Prince Christian of Schleswig-Holstein, the son of Christian August, Duke of Schleswig-Holstein-Sonderburg-Augustenburg, and Countess Louise Sophie af Danneskiold-Samsøe. After receiving formal consent from Queen Victoria, as well as agreeing that they would live in Great Britain, their engagement was announced on December 5, 1865. As she had done with her other children, The Queen arranged for Parliament to grant Helena an annuity of £6000 per year, as well as a £30,000 dower. She also personally gave the couple £100,000, which provided them an income of about £4000 per year.
The engagement was not met with unanimous approval within the royal family. The Princess of Wales (formerly Princess Alexandra of Denmark) could not countenance a marriage to someone who, she felt, took the Schleswig and Holstein duchies away from her own father, the King of Denmark. The Prince of Wales supported his wife in this. Another of Helena’s sisters, Alice, disapproved as she felt the Queen was pushing Helena into this marriage simply to ensure that Helena would remain near her side. The fact that Christian was 15 years older than Helena certainly didn’t help that suggestion. However, from all accounts, Helena was truly in love with Christian and was determined to marry him for her own happiness.
Despite the misgivings of some of her siblings, she had the full support and blessing of her mother, and the wedding went on as planned. Helena and Christian married on July 5, 1866, in the Private Chapel at Windsor Castle. Following a brief stay at Osborne House, they set off on a honeymoon in Paris, Interlaken and Genoa. Upon their return, the couple settled at Frogmore House, and over the next 11 years, had six children:
- Prince Christian Victor (1867-1900) – unmarried, no issue
- Prince Albert, later Duke of Schleswig-Holstein (1869-1931), unmarried, had illegitimate issue
- Princess Helena Victoria (1870-1948) – unmarried, no issue
- Princess Marie Louise (1872-1956) – married Prince Aribert of Anhalt (divorced), no issue
- Prince Harald (1876-1876) – lived just 8 days
- stillborn son (1877)
In 1872, as their family was getting bigger, Helena and her family moved from Frogmore House to Cumberland Lodge in Windsor Great Park. Cumberland Lodge was the traditional home of the Ranger of Windsor Great Park, a position to which Prince Christian had been appointed in 1867. She took a very active role in royal duties and engagements at a time when this wasn’t nearly as common as it is today. In addition, she was very involved in charity work, particularly in the area of nursing. She served as president of the Royal British Nurses Association, and was one of the founding members of the British Red Cross. She was also the founding president of the Royal School of Needlework.
In the late 1870s, Helena would suffer several losses. Her young son, Prince Harald, died just 8 days old in 1876, and the following year she would give birth to a stillborn son. The next year, she lost her sister Alice. Despite their strained relationship at the time of Helena’s marriage, Helena recognized that Alice was simply looking out for her happiness, and was devastated by her death. Helena later wrote a forward for a book of letters from Alice to Queen Victoria. The second edition, published in 1885, was titled “Memories of Princess Alice by her Sister, Princess Christian.”
More tragedy would come at the turn of the century. Her favorite brother, Alfred, died in July of 1900, and in October, her oldest son, Christian Victor, died of malaria in South Africa while serving in the Boer War. 1901 would bring the death of her mother, Queen Victoria, and eldest sister Victoria, The Dowager German Empress.
Following Queen Victoria’s death, Helena continued to support the monarchy, although she was not very close with her brother, King Edward VII. With the new King and Queen taking up residence at Buckingham Palace, Helena was in need of a new home in London. (Unlike many of her siblings, Helena did not have a separate London home, and stayed in the Belgian Suite at Buckingham Palace when she needed lodgings in the city.) In August 1902, the King gave her use of the former De Vesci House at 77-78 Pall Mall, which had recently been given to the Crown. It soon became known as Schomberg House, and Helena would live there for the rest of her life. Schomberg House would then become the home of Helena’s two daughters until 1947.
Helena and Christian celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary in 1916 – the first in the family since King George III and Queen Charlotte in 1811. In July of the following year, The King asked his family to relinquish their German titles. Helena’s family dropped the ‘of Schleswig-Holstein’ designation from their titles, and Helena officially became just Princess Christian. Unofficially, she was most often known simply as Princess Helena. Just a few months later, on October 8, 1917, Helena’s husband died at Schomberg House.
Princess Helena died on June 9, 1923 at Schomberg House in London, at the age of 77. She was survived by three of her children, and just three of her siblings. Following her funeral on June 15th, held at St George’s Chapel, Windsor, her remains were placed in the Royal Crypt. In 1928, her remains, along with those of her husband and son Harald were moved to the newly established Royal Burial Ground at Frogmore.