This article was written by Holly Sennett.
Princess Helena of Waldeck and Pyrmont was born on 17 February 1861 as the daughter of George Victor, Prince of Waldeck and Pyrmont and Princess Helena of Nassau. Both of Helena’s parents could trace their descent back to the eldest daughter of King George II – Anne, Princess Royal.
Helena spent much of her youth at Arolsen Castle, which still serves as a residence for Wittekind, Prince of Waldeck and Pyrmont. Helena was considered highly intelligent, dutybound and charitable, something which would later impress her future mother-in-law, Queen Victoria. The good reputation of Princess Helena’s family led to a visit from Prince Leopold, youngest son of Queen Victoria in 1881, after many failed attempts at finding a suitable bride for her son the Queen hoped that the twenty-year-old Princess Helena might prove a successful match.
After several meetings between the pair and behind the scenes negotiations the couple were eventually granted time alone together, and on 17 November, Leopold sang Helena an Italian love song by Totsi.1 Leopold’s unorthodox approach appears to have worked as a day later the pair became engaged to Leopold’s ‘intense happiness’.
The couple married on 27 April 1882 at St. George’s Chapel, Windsor Castle. Upon her marriage, Helena became The Duchess of Albany and the couple set up residence at Claremont House in Surrey. The marriage between Helena and Leopold was a genuinely happy one which produced two children; Princess Alice of Albany, later Countess of Athlone and Prince Charles Edward, born four months after his father’s death. Helena’s son Charles would go on to hold numerous positions within the German Army and later the Nazi Party.
The marriage between Helena and Leopold would be cut tragically short when Leopold, a haemophilia sufferer, slipped and injured his right knee2 while recovering from illness in Cannes. Prince Leopold died from an apparent cerebral haemorrhage on 28 March 1884 aged only 30. Leopold’s death left Helena a young widow in a foreign country, and the outbreak of war in 1914 found her son (now the Duke of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha) fighting in the German Army. The rest of Helena’s life was dedicated to charitable causes, Helena was one of the founders of the Deptford Fund, dedicated to helping young women employed in the cattle slaughter business find alternative work.
Helena died of a heart attack on 1 September 1922 in Tyrol, Austria at the age of 61 while visiting her son. Through her son, Helena is the great-grandmother of the current King of Sweden.