Princess Helena’s Marriage Splits Queen Victoria’s Family


Princess Helena and her fiancée, Prince Christian of Schleswig-Holstein (1865)

Princess Helena chose to marry Prince Christian, one of Schleswig-Holstein-Sonderburg-Augustenburgs. On the maternal side, 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.

(For more on Helena’s path to marriage, see Princess Helena Escapes Queen Victoria’s Heavy  Thumb.)

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.” 

When Bismarck gained control of the provinces of Schleswig and Holstein (at Denmark’s expense), he transformed his military into one of the world’s greatest and himself into an adversary the rest of the world needed to beware. The Danish king had owned Schleswig since 1815. Meanwhile, the duke of Augustenburg claimed both Schleswig and Holstein. . The duke was the personal friend of Frederick tIII, Princess Victoria’s husband. Bismarck’s plans included replacing the Hapsburg Austrian leadership with a Hohenzollern Prussian one. The Prussians and Austrian armies defeated the Danes in Schleswig and Holstein. The Austrians  pressed to have the Augustenburg family (Christian’s family) govern the two states, but two years later, Bismarck turned his discontent on Austria for vocally expressing its disdain for the Prussian occupation of the duchies to eliminate Austrian rule in Germany.

Christian’s Augustenburg family were no longer candidates for the throne of the duchies. Prince Christian’s dynastic responsibility were eliminated by Bismarck’s scheming. His lack of “merit” became an issue within Queen Victoria’s family. Victoria’s eldest, Princess Victoria and Frederick III strongly supported Christian’s family’s claim to the two duchies, for Christian’s family had long been welcomed at the Neues Palais. Meanwhile, Albert Edward (Bertie) held a different opinion. Bertie’s wife, Alexandra, was Princess of Denmark, daughter of the monarch, and the Augustenburg family were the enemy of Denmark. Alexandra supported her father’s claim to Schleswig. Bertie threatened to “disown” his family if they ignored his and his wife’s objections to Prince Christian. 

Princes Louise agreed with her eldest sister, mainly because she recognized Helena’s desire to be from Victoria’s rule. Princess Alice sided with Bertie. Alice believed the marriage would upset the Hohenzollerns, who considered the Augustenburg faction as too liberal. Alice thought it foolish to rile Princess Victoria’s powerful in-laws. Alice also thought that Prince Christian was too old for Helena, but, moreover, she thought that her mother was too dependent upon Helena. The queen had insisted that Helena and Prince Christian reside in England. Alice’s objections to Christian made her a target for Queen Victoria’s venomous complaints regarding her daughter. 

Alice, however, proved herself the better person. She was the one who convinced Bertie to attend the wedding when he threatened to boycott it. Alice also reminded Bertie that England had stood against the Hohenzollerns’ objections when Albert decided to marry Alexandra. 

Two years passed before the actual marriage took place, smack dab in the middle of the Austro-Prussian War. “On a family level, this second of Bismarck’s wars split Victoria’s progeny and their spouses between the Belligerents, Fritz (Frederick III) commanding the Prussian troops, Alice’s husband leading Hessian forces in support of the Austrian Army. The state of affairs kept Vicky and Alice away from the wedding, which in all likelihood, was for the best.Despite the bitter feelings over Christian’s entering her family, Lenchen’s (Helena’s) wedding day – July 5, 1866 – represented a personal triumph for this most timid of the five sisters, and the one that would happily spare the bride the political trials her two already married sisters were to endure in their more consequential marriage. What was more, these nuptials were not celebrated with the deafening gloom that overlaid those that had joined Alice and Louis.” (Packard 115)


The Wedding of Princess Helena & Prince Christian of Schleswig-Holstein (Christian Karl Magnussen, 1866)



About Regina Jeffers

Regina Jeffers is the award-winning author of Austenesque, Regency and historical romantic suspense.
This entry was posted in British history, family, history, kings and queens, marriage, political stance, Victorian era and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.