Every once in awhile you read a book that is truly special. Eddy & Hélene ... an Impossible Match (Rosvall Royal Books) is a rare gem.
Prince Michael of Greece, who is a historian par excellence, was given permission to rummage through boxes of family papers in a relative's garage, He does not identify the relative, but the letters MCBS are an obvious clue: Princess Maria Cristina of Bourbon-Two-Sicilies, younger daughter of Prince Amedeo, 3rd Duke of Aosta, and Princess Anne of France. She and Michael are maternal first cousins.
Prince Amedeo was the elder of two sons of Emanuele Filiberto, 2nd Duke of Aosta, and his wife, Princess Helene of France, whose sister, Isabelle, was the mother of her future daughter-in-law, Anne. [To complicate the family further, Prince Michael's daughter, Olga, is married to Prince Aimone of Savoy, the son of the present Duke of Aosta, whose father, the late Prince Aimone, Duke of Savoy, younger son of the 2nd Duke of Aosta.]
Sitting on the garage floor, Prince Michael came across a file, "written in ink, it had the name 'Eddy'," which did not mean anything at first to him.
He opened to find correspondence between his great-grandfather, the Count of Paris and the Vatican, and letters written mostly in English to Helene and signed by Eddy. It was only until Michael read a letter from Queen Victoria did he realize that Eddy was HRH Prince Albert Victor, Duke of Clarence and Avondale, second in line to the British throne, Hélene was Michael's great aunt.
Hélene was raised in exile in England. Her parents became good friends with Queen Victoria and other members of British Royal Family, so it was not a real surprise that she would come in contact with Prince Albert Victor, then second in line to the throne,
Albert Victor fell very much in love with Hélene, and she apparently reciprocated. Marriage was another matter. Helene was Roman Catholic, and, thus, unable to marry a British prince, according to the Act of Settlement.
The correspondence was largely one-sided: Eddy's letters to Hélene. Prince Michael visited the Royal Archives, and discovered that correspondence and other papers concerning Eddy has been destroyed. He was able to enhance the original letters with correspondence between Queen Victoria and Hélene's parents. The Count of Paris would not hear of his daughter converting to the Anglican faith in order to marry the Duke of Clarence. He told Queen Victoria that he did not think Hélene's desire to convert was sincere, nor did he think she understood the "gravity of the consequences of it."
The Count of Paris was certainly aware of mixed marriages. His mother was Lutheran and retained her faith even after her marriage.
Queen Victoria wrote to Hélene on July 1, 1891. She told the princess that she had wished for the marriage but "feared the difficulties of this marriage ... would be insurmountable.... that in spite of my keen desire to facilitate this union, my hands are tied and I can change absolutely nothing in the laws which prohibit all marriages between English princes and Catholics, because of the succession to the throne." She added that she had read Hélene's "sad letter" to "my poor grandson, who is also very unhappy about, but there is absolutely nothing to be done. I believe he will have to accept it."
The romance and aborted engagement between Albert Victor and Hélene was kept out of the press. After the final breakup, Eddy's family moved quickly to find him a more suitable bride. Victoria considered a selection of German princesses, but none were suitable. The attention soon turned to May of Teck, the only daughter of Princess Mary Adelaide of Cambridge and the morganatic Duke of Teck. Although May had a German title, she was very much an English Princess. Eddy appeared "enchanted" with May, and the engagement was announced in early October 1891. Queen Victoria wrote to the Countess of Paris to inform her of Eddy's engagement, knowing that Isabelle could break the news gently to her daughter.
The British press "was unanimous in its praises" for the newly engaged couple. The foreign press, especially the American newspapers, were far less effusive, On December 11, 1891, the New York Times stripped away illusions that May was Eddy's "persistent love." The paper reported that "it is known that the Duke of Clarence has long been enamoured of Princess Helene of Orleans." The paper also reported that Helene returned his love, that her family supported the match, and even went to the Pope for assistance,
The marriage was scheduled to take place on February 27, 1892. May arrived at Sandringham on January 4. Her fiancé was suffering a cold, which he had caught while attending the funeral of Prince Victor of Hohenlohe-Langenburg, his father's first cousin. He went hunting on his birthday, January 8, and he returned to the house with a fever.
Prince Eddy was confined to his bedroom with a diagnose of influenza, while his family celebrated his birthday downstairs. Two days later, Eddy was declining. Influenza developed into pneumonia. He became delirious.
Prince Albert Victor, Duke of Clarence and Avondale died on January 14, just 28 years old. In one of his final moments, he called for Hélene, not May. It was Helene who he loved until the end.
Although May, the grieving fiancée (in July 1893, she married Eddy's younger brother, Prince George, Duke of York,) was embraced and supported by her family, there was also concern for Helene by Queen Victoria and other members of the family.
Victoria wrote to the Countess of Paris about her grandson's death, stating she thought much of "your poor Hélene, who I am sure will be painfully affected by this terrible disaster which has just struck us."
All three of Eddy's sisters, Louise, Victoria and Maud, also wrote to Hélene. Maud's letter included "He was buried with your little Coin around his neck." She ended the letter "sister Harry."
The Duke of Clarence has been portrayed as a dullard, poorly educated, certainly a prince not suited to be king. This book proves otherwise: his letters are surprisingly cognizant, full of details, and showing a growing passion and love for Helene. He seemed certain he would be able to marry the French princess.
In one letter, he writes: "Tomorrow I have a very tiresome function to go through, as I have to go to Cardiff and do all sorts of things, What a difference it would make I only had you my darling to go about me with these places..."
The couple were most certainly engaged, at least unofficially, as the engagement (and the ring) are referred to numerous times in Eddy's letters.
In the end, it was Hélene who broke off the engagement, knowing full well that the religious issue was insurmountable, She ended her letter, written from Lisbon (visiting her sister, the Queen of Portugal, on May 1, 1891), "Do your duty as an English prince without hesitation and forget me.
That one was the one thing Eddy could not do.
Christmas is coming. Treat yourself. You won't regret it. I wonder what Prince Michael will find next in his garage.
The book can also be ordered directly from the publisher, Rosvall Royal Books. Click on the link for more information.