Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Princess Helena of the United Kingdom

The Princess Helena (Helena Augusta Victoria) was the fifth child of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert, born in 1846 at Buckingham. She was known in the family as "Lenchen" (Helena in German is Helenchen.)

Queen Victoria lined up the much older Prince Christian of Schleswig-Holstein for Helena to marry. This caused bad feelings between the queen and the Princess of Wales, as well as the Prince of Wales and the queen's daughter Alice. Remember the Prussian wars to unify Germany and their war with Denmark and seizure of Schleswig-Holstein. Don't make me go through that again. Prince Christian didn't really have anything to be prince of, but he was willing to marry the ummmm dowdy Princess Helena and be kept by Queen Victoria, so the marriage was a go. In the end, they were devoted to one another.

"What shall I do with Christian now that I have him?" must have flitted briefly through the monarch's grieving consciousness from time to time. Queen Victoria's only goal was to have Helena stay close to her beck and call, and that necessitated a husband who had nothing to do and no land to rule.

The queen gave the newlyweds a gift of £100,000 plus she requested £6,000 a year from parliament for the couple, which she got, of course. Helena became the queen's sort of personal secretary. The queen made Christian the Ranger of Windsor Great Park, which came with a house to live in. Shades of Yogi Bear. The queen also made Christian High Steward of Windsor. Both positions were merely figurehead in nature, so Christian was left free to play with his dog Corrie and feed his numerous pigeons. That's about it. (Not to demean his manhood or anything.)

Helena and her younger sister Beatrice catered to the queen, with Beatrice being in charge and Helena doing what Beatrice didn't have time to do.

Helena was not in good health. Actually, she was in pretty good health (for her size) but was a hypochondriac. She was addicted to opium and laudanum. Queen Victoria didn't believe she was sick and said as much in letters to her other daughter Vicky in Prussia. To which Vicky replied... ah, well, who cares what Vicky thought, eh?

The devoted couple (the dope fiend and the pigeon guy) had six children, four of whom survived. None of the four, boys or girls, were what you would call beauties (the princess Helena Victoria, child number three of the devoted couple, was called "Thora" within the family, but everyone called her "Snipe" due to her sharp features. I'm not making this up.)

Besides needlepoint and serving meals to the poor (which made her very popular with the poor, but which I am going to gloss over in this account) she also liked to write, especially translations (German to English.) Perhaps her most famous translation was entitled, rather redundantly, "First Aid to the Injured."

In 1916, Helena and Christian celebrated their golden wedding anniversary. Despite the two countries being at war, German Kaiser Wilhelm II sent a congratulatory telegram to his aunt and uncle. George V was present when the telegram arrived and was not wholly amused. Christian died the next year. George V changed the family name to Windsor and disposed of all the British royal family's German titles. So Christian was just plain old Christian. They still called him prince up until his death, though.

Helena has been described as "...plump and dowdy... placid..." But also businesslike and authoritarian. Go figure.

Her daughter, Princess Marie Louise, described her as, "... very lovely, with wavy brown hair, a beautiful little straight nose, and lovely amber-coloured eyes... She was very talented: played the piano exquisitely, had a distinct gift for drawing and painting in water-colours... Her outstanding gift was loyalty to her friends... She was brilliantly clever, had a wonderful head for business..."

Helena was also fearfully devoted to The Queen - to the point where she did not have a mind of her own. But, in the end, her name was the last one written in the queen's 70-year-old diary before she died.

Helena herself died in 1923.


  1. Very good series this. I never bothered with Vickys family, and who can blame me? The US has an unhealthy respect for royalty but if you want ours please buy them!

    By the way you may know this, but you can never be King or Queen of Scotland (I don't mean you personally!) You can only be King or Queen of Scots! Very democratic that. You see if you fail to do your duty you are asked to leave, possibly on the end of a rope!

  2. Well, I didn't know it, but I'm not sure what to make of this article. Perhaps I should read other ones before I make up my mind.

  3. By the way, laudanum is technically opium as well, in liquid form. Did she smoke opium as well?

  4. Interesting that she did that and we'll never know why.

    Dorothy from grammology

  5. @Adullamite - I'll agree the U.S. has a weird fascination with royalty, don't know about actual "respect". Maybe. I didn't know that fact about Scotland. I did know about Mary Queen of Scots - and now I know why. Thank you. :)

    @Stephanie B - What? (Make up your mind about what?)

    Laudanum is morphine mixed with alcohol. So, yes, opium. I didn't know that. I thought it was some other pain killer. I don't know if she smoked her other opium. I'm not sure how you can use it otherwise except in a pipe (back then, I mean.) Maybe she just ate it. I've heard of opium eaters. More research is needed.

  6. @Dorothy - Hello Dorothy! Yes, interesting indeed.

  7. Make up my mind about your style here. In general, I'm used to a certain logical flow, a method in your madness that brings things through to a conclusion. This particular post seemed a bit muddled to me as if you were leaping from fact to fact. I wanted to read more to see if this was how all of them were written.



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