This article was written by Holly Sennett.
Princess Helena of the United Kingdom was born on the 25th of May 1846 at Buckingham Palace. Helena was the third daughter and fifth child of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert. Helena’s birth appears to have been somewhat problematic. Victoria laboured for longer than her earlier children and Helena emerged (according to her father), ‘quite blue’.
As a child, Helena appears to have been an energetic child who showed artistic flair, something which pleased Queen Victoria. Despite her many talents in music and art, her talent would be eventually be overshadowed by those of her artistically gifted younger sister, Louise.
On the 14th of December 1861, Helena’s childhood took a traumatic turn when her father, the Prince Consort died prematurely, aged only 42. The fifteen-year-old Helena was distraught at the death of her beloved father. Shortly after she wrote to a friend ‘I adored Papa, I loved him more than anything on earth’. In the early stages of her grief, Queen Victoria relied heavily on her daughters to manage secretarial roles within the household. Helena, however, was viewed as too emotional to fulfil a meaningful role as she tended to burst into tears. When her sister Alice married Louis of Hesse in 1862, Helena eventually assumed some secretarial duties.
As the middle daughter, Helena’s prospects of marrying into a powerful European royal house were relatively low. Her mother also insisted that any future husband must be content to live at Windsor. This was mainly so the Queen could have at least one daughter remaining at home. Eventually, the Queen settled on Prince Christian of Schleswig-Holstein. However, this choice would cause a major divide within the royal family.
The duchies of Schleswig and Holstein were territories contested by both Prussia and Denmark. During the fight for these territories, Denmark had been brutally suppressed by Prussia and Austria. The match, therefore, horrified Alexandra, the Princess of Wales, who was the daughter of the Danish king and who had been distressed by her county’s loss during the war. Alexandra received support from other members within the family, who also opposed the match. The family accused Queen Victoria of selfishly sacrificing Helena’s happiness.
Despite the tension surrounding the match and the significant age difference between the couple, Helena appeared content with marriage. On the 5th of July 1866, the couple was married at Windsor Castle, and despite the previous tensions, it was a happy occasion. In comparison to her sisters, Helena lived a relatively quiet married life devoted to her husband and raising their growing family.
Helena’s interest in nursing dominated her adult life. In 1870, Helena was a founding member of the Ladies Committee of the British Red Cross. In addition, she campaigned for the registration of nurses; something which was strongly opposed by people such as Florence Nightingale. Helena also became popular among the young, poor and unemployed as her charity work fed 3,000 people in the harsh and bitter winter and spring of 1886. Helena also spent a great deal of time faithfully translating her father’s letters from German to English in preparation for the publication of a biography.
After the death of Queen Victoria in 1901, Helena and Christian mostly retired from court life due to some existing tensions with the new Queen Consort Alexandra. During this period, Helena’s eldest son (Prince Christian Victor) died while serving in the Boer War. Prince Christian died in 1917 with Helena surviving her husband by a further six years. Princess Helena died on the 9th of June 1923 at Schomberg House, aged 77.
Helena and Christian were survived by three of their children. They have no living descendants today.