• Chocolate Duchess

A History Of Royal Weddings At Windsor: The Duke of Albany & Princess Helena of Waldeck and Pyrmont

Her Majesty Queen Victoria and His Royal Highness Prince Albert’s youngest son, His Royal Highness The Prince Leopold, Duke of Albany, married Her Serene Highness Princess Helena of Waldeck and Pyrmont at St. George's Chapel on April 27, 1882. Princess Helena was the fifth of six daughters of His Serene Highness Georg Victor, Prince of Waldeck and Pyrmont, and Her Ducal Serene Highness Princess Helena of Nassau. Though coming from such a tiny principality, the bride was quite well-connected as her maternal uncle was Grand Duke Adolphe of Luxembourg, her maternal grandmother Pauline was a Princess of Württemberg, and her elder sister Emma was Queen of the Netherlands.

The couple first met in September of 1881 in Darmstadt while Leopold was visiting his brother-in-law, Grand Duke Ludwig IV of Hesse and by Rhine. Leopold was a handsome man, but he had been rejected as a suitor several times because of his hemophilia and mild epilepsy, the latter of which particularly was considered a social stigma. Queen Victoria and his eldest sister, Victoria, The Princess Royal, stepped in and suggested Leopold and Helena meet. They took an immediate liking to each other and were engaged by November. Leopold especially was over the moon, gushing about Helena in a letter to Ludwig: “You only know Helena a little as yet - when you really know her, then you will understand why I am mad with joy today”.

Helena’s dress was a gift from her sister Queen Emma, a Parisian concoction made (of course) of heavy white satin trimmed with point d’Alençon lace, decorated with the traditional British orange blossoms and myrtle, and embroidered with delicate fleur-de-lis. An interesting difference is that rather than lace, the veil was made of simple tulle and held in place by a diamond bandeau surmounted by a wreath of more orange blossoms and myrtle. Her diamond necklace was a gift from her parents, and she wore on her left wrist a double coil serpent bracelet given to her by the people of Windsor. Unlike many grooms, Leopold had taken an interest in the ceremony, enlisting his close friend, composer Charles Gounod, to compose a March specifically for the wedding. Helena was escorted down the aisle by her father and her brother-in-law, King Willem II of the Netherlands.

After their wedding, the couple resided at Claremont House in Surrey which had been a gift to Leopold from his mother the previous year. Sadly, Helena’s sister Marie died three days following the wedding after giving birth to a stillborn daughter, and Helena immediately went into mourning. Otherwise the first weeks of the marriage were happy, for Helena was soon pregnant with their first child. The Royal Family was ecstatic, as they had thought Leopold might not live long enough to father a child. Leopold and Helena had a wonderfully loving and happy marriage, but it was tragically cut short in 1884 when Leopold died after a fall, leaving a once-again pregnant Helena to give birth to their son three-and-a-half months later. She never remarried, instead devoting herself to her children and charity work.

- Written by Heidi Retzer