Helena’s birth seems to have been a difficult one as Albert indicated in a letter to his brother, Ernst, that the child had been “quite blue” but had made a full recovery. The birth had also taken its toll on her mother, Queen Victoria, as the labour had gone on longer than her previous births and she was taking a while to recover.
Helena was a lively child who loved riding, boating and music, as well as art, however she was often overshadowed by her sisters, Vicky and Alice. Helena spent most of her childhood moving from one royal residence to another with the rest of the family, however family life changed forever upon the death of Prince Albert in 1861. Distraught, Queen Victoria secluded herself from public life and it was left to Alice to perform her royal duties. The work was too vast for Alice to carry out alone but Helena was deemed too emotional to help and their younger sister, Louise, was chosen instead. However, when Alice married, Helena became her mother’s companion and dealt with her correspondence.
In 1859, Helena almost caused a scandal after flirting with her father’s librarian, Carl Ruland, who was promptly sent packing back to Germany so the queen began the search for a suitable husband. Being a middle child, Helena was considered to be less marketable and the queen was determined this daughter would stay close. Christian of Schleswig-Holstein was considered the best candidate but he was fifteen years older than Helena and there were political problems as well. The territories of Schleswig and Holstein were constantly being fought over by Denmark and Prussia, with the latter having won the most recent war, although the Danish king was still laying claim to the titles. The Princess of Wales, formerly Alexandra of Denmar, was dismayed by the proposed match and was supported by her husband and Princess Alice. However, the match was supported by Helena’s older sister, Vicky, who had been a family friend of Christian’s for many years.
Despite the controversy, Helena was happy with him and since Christian was a younger son with no commitments to his homeland, he was able to stay in England. The couple were married on 5 December 1865 at Windsor Castle in the presence of the queen who gave away the bride and a reluctant Prince of Wales who had been persuaded to attend by his sister, Alice. The marriage was a happy one and Helena was content to live a quieter life than her older sisters at Cumberland Lodge in Windsor Greater Park where Christian was given the honorary position of High Steward.
Helena continued to assist her mother with minor duties, alongside younger sister, Beatrice, who was now the Queen’s constant companion. Helena also pursued her interests in nursing, becoming President of the British Nurses’ Association (RBNA) upon its foundation in 1887 until 1901 when she was ousted by the new queen, Alexandra. Alexandra was still harbouring resentment against Helena for her choice of husband, resulting in Helena’s increasing detachment from her brothers and sisters. Helena resigned the position to her sister-in-law but still remained active within other nursing organisations.
Helena’s continued devotion to her royal duties and charity work endeared her to the public, and she continued nursing, along with her daughter Marie Louise, during the Great War. In 1917, her nephew, George V, responded to the wave of anti-German feeling in Britain by changing the name of the royal household to Windsor, disposing of the family’s German titles. As a result, Helena and Christian became simply Prince and Princess Christian with no territorial designation. Christian died in 1917 at Schomberg House in London, and Helena also died there on 9 June 1923.