Queen Victoria gave birth to her third daughter, and fifth child, Princess Helena Augusta Victoria on 25, May 1846, one day after the queen’s twenty-seventh birthday. Named in honor of Princess Hélène of Orléans, Helena’s godmother. (Princess Hélène of Orléans was a member of the deposed Orléans family of France and, by marriage to a branch of the Italian royal family, the Duchess of Aosta. Although her hand in marriage was sought for the heirs to the thrones of both the United Kingdom and the Russian Empire, religious differences prevented either alliance.)
Helena’s name was affectionately shortened by her father, Prince Albert, to the German diminutive Lenchen (Helena in German is Helenchen). Prince Albert, together with his friend and counsellor Baron Stockmar, also chose her tutors. Like the other children not weighted down by the prospect of being the Princess Royal or the heir to the throne, Princess Helena’s childhood was quiet and carefree. Obstetrically, Helena’s birth was what was known as “protracted.” Protracted labor is abnormally slow cervical dilation or fetal descent during active labor. Protracted labor may result from fetopelvic disproportion (the fetus cannot fit through the maternal pelvis), which can occur because the maternal pelvis is abnormally small or because the fetus is abnormally large or abnormally positioned. Another cause of protracted labor is uterine contractions that are too weak or infrequent (hypotonic uterine dysfunction) or, occasionally, too strong or close together (hypertonic uterine dysfunction). We do not know the cause of the protracted labor in Helena’s cause, but both mother and child recovered in a relatively short period. Ironically, of the female children of Queen Victoria, Helena would be the most robust of them all. She would also be termed the least remarkable of the bunch.
Victoria and Albert had declared great things for Princess Victoria. They planned a glorious marriage for their first child. Alice, the second girl, was also set for a brilliant match. Alice’s prospects would further their father’s dream of a democratic European world. With such prospects, no aspirations for Helena’s match was set by her parents. Unlike her siblings, Helena distinguished herself at her christening by crying through the entire ceremony.
Shortly after her birth, the royal nursery was reorganized. Vicky and Bertie were be moved into a “classroom” for the “Development of Their Character.” That left Alice, Affie, and Helena in the official nursery. Victoria, the Princess Royal, and Albert Edward, the Prince of Wales, were given a supervised education, which included poetry, history, geography, mathematics, diction, languages, etc. There were also lessons in art, music, dancing, and scriptures. Vicky excelled in these studies. Albert, not so much.
But in December 1861, tragedy struck. Her beloved father died. The whole family, and particularly Queen Victoria, was devastated. The Queen would wear mourning clothes for the rest of her life.
Helena fell in love with Carl Rutland, her father’s German librarian. Queen Victoria “was not amused.” She dismissed Rutland and had the man sent back to homeland. Then she made it her mission to discover a suitable husband for Helena.
On 5 July 1866, Helena married the impoverished German Prince Christian of Schleswig-Holstein, who was 15 years her senior. Because Prince Christian did not have any principality or crown to inherit, the couple settled in England, which suited Queen Victoria very well. This way, Helena could continue working as her mother’s secretary, a position she had assumed the previous year, after the marriage of her older sister Alice.
Helena and Christian had six children: Christian Victor (1867), Albert (1869), Helena Victoria (1870), Marie Louise (1872), and two sons who died in early infancy. Queen Victoria had made Christian the honorary Ranger of Windsor Great Park, which is where the family residence of Cumberland Lodge was located. With no lands, titles or real job, Christian spent most of his time hunting or feeding his beloved pigeons.
“Princess Helena was an unprepossessing and sturdy, but emotionally fragile, woman. Her mother described her as ‘most useful and active and clever and amiable’ but also mentioned that she ‘does not improve in looks and has great difficulty with her figure and her want of calm, quiet, graceful manners.’ She was also addicted to laudanum and opium, and suffered from poor health. Her mother, though, didn’t believe she was ill and accused her of being a hypochondriac. Princess Helena had real health problems though. In the 1870s she suffered from severe rheumatism, congestion in her lungs, and had problems with her joints too.
“Despite her poor health, Princess Helena carried out many royal engagements. This is all the more remarkable because at the time, royals were not really expected to appear in public often. The Princess also became patron of several charities and institutions. She was the founding president of the Royal School of Needlework, as well as the president of the Royal British Nurses’ Association, in which role she helped support nurse registration against the advice of Florence Nightingale. Princess Helena was also one of the founding members of the Red Cross, as well as a supporter of women’s rights. In addition, she hosted free dinners for children and unemployed people, which gained her great popularity. Contemporary author C. W. Cooper, said that ‘the poor of Windsor worshipped her.’ Another interest of the princess was translations. She translated several Germans works into English, some of which were published. In 1916, Princess Helena and her husband Christian celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary. The next year, Christian died. Helena followed her husband in the grave several years later. She died at Schomberg House on 9 June 1923.” (History and Other Thoughts)