19 March 2015

Today's Princess: Helena of Denmark

Royal lines can stretch deep into history. While many of us cannot trace our genealogy back more than a few generations, our royal ladies can tell you the names of ancestors from the last millennia. This is why I have selected an image of the 20th century's Queen Frederica of Greece to represent the 12th century Danish Princess Helena Valdimarsdottir (c. 1180-1233). They represent the beginning and the end of a line. Helena is the ancestress of the House of Welf, which ruled Brunswick and Hanover for centuries. The Welfs or Guelphs even sat on the British throne from 1714 until the death of Queen Victoria in 1901. Frederica of Hanover was the last Welf to sit on a throne, when she served as Queen Consort of Greece from 1947 to 1964.

Helena doubtlessly could not imagine that her descendants would be looking back to her 800 years later. Her own immediate family was complicated enough. One of eight children of Valdemar the Great of Denmark and the Swedish-raised Russian Princess Sophia of Minsk, Helena lost her father when she was only five. Her mother remarried a German prince and then was repudiated and sent back to Denmark. Two of Helena's brothers became Danish kings and two sisters become Queen Consorts: one in France and one in Sweden.

Helena did not marry until the ripe old age of 22 when she became the wife of Duke William of Luneburg, the English-born son of Henry the Lion of Saxony and his English wife Matilda. Their only son Otto became the titular ruler Brunswick-Luneburg at age nine when Duke William died. Helena lived another two decades as a widow, passing away in her early fifties.

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