Princess Helena Escape Queen Victoria’s “Heavy Thumb”

220px-Helena_scan.jpg Princess Helena (Helena Augusta Victoria; Princess Christian of Schleswig-Holstein by marriage; 25 May 1846 – 9 June 1923) was the third daughter and fifth child of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert. Like the queen’s other children, Helena was educated by private tutors chosen by her father and his close friend and adviser, Baron Stockmar. At her birth, Albert reported to his brother, Ernest II, the Duke of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha, that Helena “came into this world quite blue, but she is quite well now”. He added that the Queen “suffered longer and more than the other times and she will have to remain very quiet to recover.”

Helena was a lively and outspoken child, and reacted against brotherly teasing by punching the bully on the nose. Her early talents included drawing. Like her sisters, she could play the piano to a high standard at an early age. Other interests included science and technology, shared by her father Prince Albert, and horseback riding and boating, two of her favourite childhood occupations. However, Helena became a middle daughter following the birth of Princess Louise in 1848, and her abilities were overshadowed by her more artistic sisters.

Queen Victoria’s Daughters tell us, “Helena was always known within the family as Lenchen. Finding a husband for her was problematic for the queen. The older sisters had been more desirable for several reasons but Lenchen has no seniority in the family, as Vicky had as the eldest daughter. Alice was undoubtedly attractive, unlike Lenchen, who was was rather dumpy.

“To outsiders, Lenchen’s choice of husband seemed to have few attractions. Prince Christian of Schleswig-Holstein was older than his bride (but looked considerably older than he really was, he was impoverished (in royalty terms) and having just left the army, was jobless. But Lenchen fell hook, line and sinker and was determined to marry the prince. But the couple had a close and happy marriage, producing six children.”

princess-helena-1After, Prince Albert’s death, Queen Victoria went into a profound depression that affected the remainder of her reign. Her children still under her care were expected to abandon their youthful pursuits and grieve for their beloved father, as did the Queen. At age sixteen, Helena was barely from the schoolroom, but Victoria’s few thoughts beyond her grief at Albert’s loss turned to finding an appropriate husband for a daughter that she had termed as the “least promising.” Victoria had written that “poor dear Lenchen, though most useful and active and clever and amiable, does not improve in looks and has great difficulty with her figure and her want of calm, quiet, graceful manners.” (Rappaport, Helen. Queen Victoria: A Biographical Companion. ABC-CLIO. Oxford. page 189.)

Helena was not known for her intellectual curiosity, and many would say that she ate her feelings of inadequacy. Even with Lenchen’s “faults,” Victoria called upon her daughter often to assist in the queen’s official duties (especially in Alice’s absence from England). 

In 1862, Victoria took her children on a journey through Germany. They were to visit where Albert had lived as a boy. While visiting their Uncle Leopold at Laeken Palace in Brussels, Lenchen and Princess Louisa took the acquaintance of the Prince Christian of Denmark. During this time they became friends with the prince’s daughters Alexandra (later the wife of the Prince of Wales) and Dagmar. 

220px-1831Christian-05.jpg Three years later on another visit to Germany, Helena met another Prince Christian, this one of Schleswig-Holstein-Sonderburg-Augustenburg. On the maternal, Prince Christian held ties to a Danish noble family, as well as to the British royal family. His grandmother was the granddaughter of Frederick, King George II’s son. He was 15 years Helena’s senior. Unfortunately, the prince appeared older than he actually was, a fact that Victoria remarked upon on numerous occasions. Moreover, Christian was not the most intelligent of men (certainly nothing in the manner of Victoria’s “dear Albert”). He was not sophisticated or ambitious or very amiable. Nor did he possess a fortune worthy of Victoria’s daughter. Moreover, he had recently left his military post in the Prussian army. 

As Beatrice became the queen’s newest “crutch” in her official capacity, Helena was free to marry. However, Queen Victoria was not one to lose a daughter easily, and so she demanded that Christian and Helena reside in England and near to her own residences. 

According to Jerrold M. Packard in his Victoria’s Daughters (New York. St Martin’s. 1998. pages 112-113, the Prusso-Danish war “… would have a profound impact on Queen Victoria’s third daughter as the Augustenburg family became a second casualty of all this Realpolitik. A younger son of the Augustenburgs, who were a branch of the Schleswig-Holstein family, Christian recognized that his family were no longer practical candidates for a throne of the duchies. This signified that his own future was pretty much bereft of recognizable landmarks, and specifically that he was free from any dynastic responsibility at home. Yet even with the issue of Christian’s political liabilities largely obviated by his family’s loss to Bismark’s scheming and Prussia’s strength, his own personal lack of desirability would drive a wedge between members of Lenchen’s family.” 

Even so, two years passed before Victoria finally agreed to Helena’s joining to Christian. It took place on 5 July 1866 in private chapel at Windsor Castle. Christian who had recently been naturalized wore the uniform of a major general in the British Army, indicating his appropriate station as the son-in-law of the Queen. Victoria gave the bride away. 

Resources: 

“Princess Helena of the United Kingdom,” Wikipedia

“Victoria’s Children, Part 5: Princess Helena,” Nineteen Teen

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About reginajeffers

Regina Jeffers is the award-winning author of Austenesque, Regency and contemporary novels.
This entry was posted in Act of Parliament, British history, marriage, Victorian era and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to Princess Helena Escape Queen Victoria’s “Heavy Thumb”

  1. Pingback: Princess Helena’s Marriage Splits Queen Victoria’s Family | ReginaJeffers's Blog

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