Leopold, the youngest son of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert, was born with haemophilia so his mother believed he would most likely never marry, however Leopold had other ideas. Anxious to escape his mother’s suffocating presence, he decided marriage was the best route to independence but his health condition proved to be an obstacle. Leopold began courting his cousin, Frederica of Hanover, but she was already in love with the man would become her husband. Various other brides were considered amongst European royalty and the British aristocracy but nothing came of it.
Determined her son would make a good match, Queen Victoria suggested he meet Helena of Waldeck and Pyrmont who was the sister of Queen Emma of the Netherlands. Helen proved to be an ideal match as she had a keen intellect that appealed to Leopold who was the most intelligent of Queen Victoria’s sons. The young couple became engaged in November 1881.
The wedding took place on 27 April 1882 at St. George’s Chapel, Windsor Castle, which had become a favourite venue for the weddings of Queen Victoria’s children. The service was conducted by Archibald Campbell Tait, the Archbishop of Canterbury who was aided by the Dean of the Chapels royal, and the Bishops of Winchester, Oxford, and Worcester.
Prince Leopold was attended by his eldest brother, Albert Edward, Prince of Wales, and his brother-in-law, Louis, Grand Duke of Hesse, and they arrived at the chapel at 12:15 pm after a carriage procession from Windsor Castle. As they were conducted to their seats, they were accompanied by Mendelssohn’s march from Athalie. Not long after, Helena arrived with her father, Georg Victor, the reigning Prince of Waldeck and Pyrmont, and they walked down the aisle to a special piece of music written especially for the wedding by Charles Gounod, a friend of Leopold. After the ceremony was conducted, the newlyweds left the chapel to Mendelssohn’s Wedding March.
The wedding party returned to Windsor Castle where a private breakfast was held in the Dining Room for the royal family and special guests. The rest of the guests attended a buffet luncheon in the Waterloo Gallery. The main wedding cake was made by the Royal Household confectioner and was six foot high. Leopold and Helena left afterwards for a honeymoon at Claremont House which would become their home. The honeymoon was marred by tragedy though as Helena’s sister, Marie, who had been unable to attend the wedding to advanced state of pregnancy, gave birth to a stillborn daughter and herself later died of complications. As a result, Helena was required to enter a period of mourning.
Unlike previous royal weddings, Helena’s dress was made in Paris and was presented to her by her sister, Queen Emma.
The dress was made by Madame Corbay of Rue Menar and was made of white satin, decorated with traditional orange blossom and myrtle, and trimmed with fleur-de-lis, with the edge topped with point d’Alençon and white satin. The long tulle veil was held in place by a diamond head dress and a wreath of orange blossoms and myrtle. The bodice was swathed in tulle and ruched laces with a small bouquet of flowers.
Helena also wore the Royal Family Order of the Royal Order of Victoria and Albert and the Companion of the Order of the Crown of India. She received large diamond sprays from her sister, Emma, and her husband, which she wore as a tiara and brooch. From her parents, she received a diamond necklace and sun rays that she also wore as brooches.
Prince Leopold gave his bride a diamond necklace, a large diamond star, a ruby bracelet, a ruby and diamond bracelet, sapphire and diamond earrings, Spanish lace, and a fan.
The bridesmaids wore a petticoat of white moiré, with deep flounces of lace near the hem, trimmed with violets, with bouquets of primroses and white heather. The white white moiré bodices were trimmed with bouquets of flowers arranged in a similar manner as the hem. The bridesmaids wore their hair in a low coil at the back where a tulle veil and flowers was fixed.
- Lady Florence Anson, the daughter of Thomas Anson, 2nd Earl of Lichfield
- Lady Florence Bootle-Wilbraham, the daughter Edward Bootle-Wilbraham, 1st Earl of Lathom
- Lady Blanche Butler. the daughter of John Butler, 2nd Marquess of Ormonde
- Lady Mary Campbell, the daughter of George Campbell, 8th Duke of Argyll
- Lady Anne Lindsay, the daughter of Alexander Lindsay, 25th Earl of Crawford
- Lady Ermyntrude Russell, the daughter of Francis Russell, 9th Duke of Bedford
- Lady Alexandrina Vane-Tempest, the daughter of George Vane-Tempest, 5th Marquess of Londonderry
- Lady Feodore Yorke, the daughter of Charles Yorke, 5th Earl of Hardwicke
Happily Ever After?
Sadly, Helena and Leopold were destined to have a brief marriage but it was said to have been a happy one. Helena gave birth to their first child, Alice, on 25 February 1883 and she was pregnant with her son, Charles Edward when she was unexpectedly widowed in 1884. Leopold had gone to his Cannes residence on the advice of his doctors to ease the pain he was feeling in his joints, however he suffered a fall which led to his death from a brain haemorrhage. Helena devoted the rest of her life to charitable causes and became a firm favourite of Queen Victoria who admired her courage and genuine kindness.