King George V of the United Kingdom, Prince Albert of Schleswig-Holstein, Prince Alfred, Prince Christian of Schleswig-Holstein, Princess Helena, Princess Helena Victoria, Princess Marie Louise, Princess of the United Kingdom, Queen Victoria of the United Kingdom
In 1917, in response to the wave of anti-German feeling that surrounded the war, George V changed the family name from Saxe-Coburg and Gotha to Windsor. He also disposed of his family’s German titles and styles, so Helena and her daughters simply became Princess Christian, Princess Helena Victoria and Marie Louise with no territorial designation. Helena’s surviving son, Albert, fought on the side of the Prussians, though he made it clear that he would not fight against his mother’s country.
In the same year, Prince Christian died at Schomberg House, Pall Mall, on October 28, 1917, in his eighty-sixth year. He is buried in the Royal Burial Ground, Frogmore in Windsor Great Park.
Prince Christian of Schleswig-Holstein
Helena’s last years were spent arguing with Commissioners, who tried to turn her out of Schomberg House and Cumberland Lodge because of the expense of running her households. They failed, as clear evidence of her right to live in those residences for life was shown.
Princess Helena, Princess Christian of Schleswig-Holstein, died at Schomberg House on June 9, 1923 at the age of 77. Her funeral, described as a “magnificently stage-managed scene” by her biographer Seweryn Chomet, was headed by King George V. The regiment of her favourite son, Prince Christian-Victor, lined the steps of St. George’s Chapel at Windsor Castle. Although originally interred in the Royal Vault at St George’s on June 15, 1923, her body was reburied at the Royal Burial Ground, Frogmore, a few miles from Windsor, after its consecration on October 23, 1928.
Helena was devoted to nursing, and took the lead at the charitable organisations she represented. She was also an active campaigner, and wrote letters to newspapers and magazines promoting the interests of nurse registration. Her royal status helped to promote the publicity and society interest that surrounded organisations such as the Royal British Nurses’ Association. The RBNA still survives today with Aubrey Rose as president.
Emily Williamson founded the Gentlewomen’s Employment Association in Manchester; one of the projects which came out of this group was the Princess Christian Training College for Nurses, in Fallowfield, Manchester.
In appearance, Helena was described by John Van der Kiste as plump and dowdy; and in temperament, as placid, and business-like, with an authoritarian spirit. On one occasion, during a National Dock Strike, the Archbishop of Canterbury composed a prayer hoping for its prompt end. Helena arrived at the church, examined her service sheet, and in a voice described by her daughter as “the penetrating royal family whisper, which carried farther than any megaphone”, remarked: “That prayer won’t settle any strike.”
Her appearance and personality was criticised in the letters and journals of Queen Victoria, and biographers followed her example. However, Helena’s 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 exquisitively, 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. …
Music was one of her passions; in her youth she played the piano with Charles Hallé, and Jenny Lind and Clara Butt were among her personal friends. Her determination to carry out a wide range of public duties won her widespread popularity. She twice represented her mother at Drawing Rooms, which was considered equivalent to being presented to the Queen herself.
Helena was closest to her brother, Prince Alfred, who considered her his favorite sister. Though described by contemporaries as fearfully devoted to the Queen, to the point that she did not have a mind of her own, she actively campaigned for women’s rights, a field the Queen abhorred. Nevertheless, both she and Beatrice remained closest to the Queen, and Helena remained close to her mother’s side until the latter’s death. Her name was the last to be written in the Queen’s seventy-year-old journal.