As her children grew up, Helena became more active as a charity patron. She set up a holiday home for deprived and handicapped children, she was a founding member of the Red Cross, she became the President of the Royal School of Needlework and became involved with the British Nurses’ Association. Helena also began to regularly go abroad for visits to spas in the late summer. She usually took her daughters with her, but Christian preferred to stay at home. She also liked to go to Darmstadt, where the children of her late sister Princess Alice lived – Alice had died in 1878.
By 1890, Helena’s daughter Marie Louise became engaged to Prince Aribert of Anhalt. Helena was thrilled and wrote to Emily that the upcoming marriage, “makes us very happy, as we feel that with God’s blessing a very happy future is in store for her.” The following year, Helena and Christian celebrated their silver wedding anniversary. That same year, Christian was accidentally hit in the face by stray pellets, and he lost his left eye. Christian accepted the loss and even began collecting glass eyes. On 6 July 1891, Princess Marie Louise married Prince Aribert of Anhalt at St. George’s Chapel at Windsor. She would be the only one of Helena’s children to marry.
In 1900, Helena would again suffer the loss of a child when her eldest son died while serving in the Boer War. Queen Victoria wrote in her journal, “Poor dear Lenchen, poor Christian, who is abroad, and loved this son so dearly!” Helena was also very worried about Marie Louise whose marriage had turned sour. Around the same time, their younger son Albert had an affair with a woman in Berlin who gave birth to his daughter. This daughter – named Valerie Marie – would be Helena’s only grandchild and it is not known if she ever had any contact with her.
On 22 January 1901, Helena’s mother Queen Victoria passed away. Helena and Beatrice spent a lot of time sorting through the Queen’s clothes and possessions. In her will, Queen Victoria left her an imposing house called Schomberg House in London, and they moved in by April 1902. This new base in London also meant that she spent more time with charities in the city. Helena was also with her elder sister when she died in August 1901.
Helena would live through her brother’s reign, and King Edward VII died on 6 May 1910 at the age of 68. They had never been particularly close. With his death (Alfred too had died in 1900), Helena now became their parents’ eldest surviving child. The following First World War deeply affected Helena, and their eldest surviving son Albert had been adopted as heir by his childless uncle Ernest Gunther, Duke of Schleswig-Holstein. Helena wrote, “Our only boy is with the German Army on the wrong side!!” In 1916, Helena and Christian celebrated their golden wedding anniversary, but by the following year, Christian was becoming increasingly ill. He died on 28 October 1917 with his wife and daughters by his side. Helena wrote to Emily, “You know how happy we were, and can understand what my loneliness and desolation are without the loving companion of over 51 years. But, I thank God for the eternal peace and blessedness which is his now, and in God’s own good time I shall go to him.”
Helena would survive her husband for six years, and she slowly let go of her charities as she aged. One of the last great occasions she attended was the wedding of the future King George VI and Lady Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon in April 1923. At the beginning of May, she had a minor heart attack, and a cold turned into influenza. In early June, Helena fell into a coma, and she died at 9.10 am on 9 June 1923 at Schomberg House. She was laid to rest beside her husband at the Royal Burial Ground at Frogmore.1
What a wonderful article on Princess Helena. Enjoyed very much. Thank you Moniek.