by Scott Mehl
Princess Helena Victoria of Schleswig-Holstein
Princess Helena Victoria of Schleswig-Holstein, born May 3, 1870 at Frogmore House, was the third child, and eldest daughter, of Princess Helena of the United Kingdom and Prince Christian of Schleswig-Holstein. Her given names were Victoria Louise Sophia Augusta Amelia Helena, but she was known formally as Helena Victoria, and informally as ‘Thora’. Thora was the 18th grandchild of Queen Victoria, and because her parents lived in close proximity to the Queen, she enjoyed a very close relationship with her grandmother. She had four siblings:
- Prince Christian Victor (1867-1900) – died while serving in the Boer War, unmarried, no issue
- Prince Albert (1869-1931) – later Duke of Schleswig-Holstein, unmarried, illegitimate issue
- Princess Marie Louise (1872-1956) – married Prince Aribert of Anhalt (divorced), no issue
- Prince Harald (1876-1876) – died just 8 days old
Thora never married and remained at home until after her mother’s death. In 1894, she was touted as a potential bride for Ernst of Hohenlohe-Langenburg, by her aunt, the Crown Princess of Prussia. However, nothing ever came of this, and Ernst ended up marrying Helena’s cousin, Princess Alexandra of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha.
Following her mother’s example, Thora was involved in many charities and organizations. These included the YMCA, YWCA, and Princess Christian’s Nursing Home in Windsor (established by her mother). She was also, with her sister, an avid supporter of the arts, and often held small concerts and performances at their various homes. Like her mother, she also assisted her aunt Beatrice in serving as an unofficial secretary to Queen Victoria. In the last few months of the Queen’s life, she often dictated her journal to Helena Victoria.
During World War I, Thora and her family remained at Cumberland Lodge, where they typically spent Sundays with King George V and Queen Mary, to whom they were rather close. It was in 1917 when the King requested his family members to relinquish any German titles. Unlike many other members of the extended royal family who lost their princely titles, Thora and her family retained their titles and simply dropped the ‘Schleswig-Holstein’ designation.
Following her mother’s death in 1923, Thora and her sister divided many of their mother’s charities and patronages between them. Thora became President of Princess Helena College, a position her mother had held since 1874, and who had given her name to the school. She also continued her work with the Princess Christian’s Nursing Home. In addition, she often attended the Davis Cup tennis tournament and presented the trophies to the winners.
When World War II began, it was deemed unsafe for Thora and her sister to remain at Schomberg House in London. They took a ‘flat’ in the home of Lady Grace Weigall in Englemore, near Ascot, for several years, and then spent the remainder of the war at Brantridge Park (home of their cousin Princess Alice, Countess of Athlone), with their aunt Beatrice. Following the war, they gave up Schomberg House (which had suffered significant damage in the war), and took up residence at 10 Fitzmaurice Place, in Berkeley Square.
Thora’s last years were spent rather quietly. In 1941, she was named godmother to Prince William of Gloucester, elder son of the Duke and Duchess of Gloucester, to whom she was quite close. And in November 1947, she made her last major public appearance at the wedding of Princess Elizabeth and Philip Mountbatten.
Princess Helena Victoria died four months later, on March 13, 1948, at the age of 77. Following a funeral held at St George’s Chapel, Windsor, she was buried beside her parents in the Royal Burial Ground at Frogmore.