17.9.12

The People’s Princess

Monday, 9 April 1900 - Dublin, Ireland

Day Five of Queen Victoria’s visit to Dublin. Her Majesty rode through central Dublin, careful to avoid the slums on the north side. However another royal, Princess Christian of Schleswig-Holstein, was in another part of town laying a foundation stone for the new Nurses Home for the City of Dublin Hospital. The hospital, originally built in 1832, has been in the process of being rebuilt and expanded these last ten years.

Future Nurses Home for Royal City of Dublin Hospital
Princess Christian also announced that she had received permission from Queen Victoria to bestow the title of Royal upon the hospital, making it the Royal City of Dublin Hospital. The Board of Governors were so touched by the honor, they requested that the Croly Female Ward be renamed the Helena Female Ward (a suggestion seconded by Senior Surgeon Dr. Croley himself.) Princess Christian was quite pleased, for Helena is her real name.

Princess Christian of  Schleswig-Holstein
a.k.a.
Princess Helena of the United Kingdom
Princess Helena is the middle child of the nine children of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert. The fact that she and not Victoria was here to lay the stone wasn’t questioned, for Helena is the President of the Royal British Nurses' Association. More than just a figurehead, Helena is very interested in nursing and is actively involved in the organization.

Helena was a bit of a problem child in the fact that Victoria didn’t know what to do with her. She was not the oldest, the prettiest or the most talented of her daughters. After Prince Albert died, Victoria decided to keep Helena as her secretary, but Helena was even more distraught by Albert death than her devastated mother. So the job went to next in line, Princess Louise. After her artist daughter married, the job fell to the youngest daughter, Beatrice.

Still Victoria wanted to keep her middle daughter near as an auxiliary. After it was discovered Helena had been flirting with the librarian--a mere servant--it became evident Helena would not stay a spinster. The girl had always been headstrong. As a child any brother that picked on her got socked in the nose!

Victoria found the perfect man--a Prince of Royal Blood! Christian’s father lost Schleswig-Holstein when he tried to break away from Denmark because the population was mostly German. This meant Christian was now homeless which meant he wouldn’t mind living near his mother-in-law.

Victoria had not taken into account, family politics. The Princess of Wales, Alexandria, was also a Princess of Denmark. How dare Christian call himself Prince of lands that belonged to her dad? Never mind Prussia had since took them away. (And I’m sure the fact that Christian actually had more Danish blood than Alexandria didn’t help.) The future queen never forgave Victoria or Helena for this perceived slight.

Helena and Christian
As for Helena, she was not at all adverse to the match. She liked Christian even if he was older and the fact that he bore some likeness to her beloved late father didn’t hurt. He might have no real power but he was amiable, doted on her and she would never have to punch him in the nose. And so the twenty-year-old Helena married the thirty-five-year-old Christian.

While Prince Christian might be happy puttering with his pigeons or hunting, Helena was her father’s daughter. Like Albert she liked science, industry and was a champion of social change. Instead of telling the unemployed in Windsor to just get jobs, she fed them so they could get back on their feet. Over 3000 meals were served over the harsh winter of 1886. This was just one of her many charitable works. And this was before royals were expected to do public service. (I think Helena helped push the trend.)

She also promotes the lost art of needlework becoming the first president of the Royal School of Art Needlework. In her spare time she translates German books into English for publication. She even campaigns for women’s rights, despite Victoria’s disapproval. Her main job though is official duties for the crown. All this despite bouts of poor health. Prince Christian frets over Helena when she is sick and lets her do as she pleases when she is well.

The couple now have four adult children, the oldest, Christian Victor, is Victoria’s favorite grandson and is now fighting in the Boer War. (He will die of malaria in July.) Helena and Christian will celebrate their Fiftieth Wedding Anniversary in 1916. Helena may not have married a powerful man like her sisters, but her marriage is much happier.

As for Helena, she will continue her charitable work. In World War I she will serve as a nurse (despite being 70.) Many describe her as dowdy, placid and too business-like, but ask the people she has helped and they will tell you just how beautiful she is. Prince Christian thinks so, too.

a short slide show on Princess Helena

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