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Princess Helena of the United Kingdom (Helena Augusta Victoria; May 24, 1846 – June 9, 1923) was the third daughter and fifth child of Queen Victoria of the United Kingdom and Prince Albert of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha.


As the daughter of the sovereign, Helena was styled Her Royal Highness The Princess Helena from birth. Helena was baptised on July 25, 1846 at the private chapel at Buckingham Palace. Her godparents were the Prince Friedrich-Wilhelm, Hereditary Grand Duke of Mecklenburg-Strelitz (the husband of Queen’s cousin); Helene of Mecklenburg-Schwerin, the Duchess of Orléans (for whom the Queen’s mother the Duchess of Kent stood proxy); and Princess Augusta of Hesse-Cassel, the Duchess of Cambridge (the Queen’s aunt).

Helena was educated by private tutors chosen by her father and his close friend and adviser, Baron Stockmar. Her childhood was spent with her parents, travelling between a variety of royal residences in Britain. The intimate atmosphere of the royal court came to an end on December 14, 1861, when her father died and her mother entered a period of intense mourning.

Princess Helena of the United Kingdom

Afterwards, in the early 1860s, Helena began a flirtation with Prince Albert’s German librarian, Carl Ruland. Although the nature of the relationship is largely unknown, Helena’s romantic letters to Ruland survive. After the Queen found out in 1863, she dismissed Ruland, who returned to his native Germany. Three years later, on July 5, 1866, Helena married the impoverished Prince Christian of Schleswig-Holstein.

The couple remained in Britain, in calling distance of the Queen, who liked to have her daughters nearby. Helena, along with her youngest sister, Princess Beatrice, became the Queen’s unofficial secretary. However, after Queen Victoria’s death on January 22, 1901, Helena saw relatively little of her surviving siblings, including King Edward VII.

Prince and Princess Christian of Schleswig-Holstein

Helena was the most active member of the royal family, carrying out an extensive programme of royal engagements. She was also an active patron of charities, and was one of the founding members of the British Red Cross. She was founding president of the Royal School of Needlework, and president of the Workhouse Infirmary Nursing Association and the Royal British Nurses’ Association.

As president of the latter, she was a strong supporter of nurse registration against the advice of Florence Nightingale. In 1916 she became the first member of her family to celebrate her 50th wedding anniversary, but her husband died a year later. Helena outlived him by six years, and died aged 77 at Schomberg House on June 9, 1923.