Princess Hélène of Orléans had an illustrious lineage. Born on 13 June 1871 in York House, Twickenham, she was the granddaughter of Louis Philippe I of France and the great-granddaughter of Louise Phillipe II (Philippe Égalité). Her father Prince Philippe, Count of Paris, was a claimant to the French throne from 1848 until his death, and her mother was the Infanta Maria Isabel of Spain.
Because of her lineage, Hélène had several well-known suitors. One suitor who fell in love with her was the eldest son of the future Edward VII and grandson of then reigning Queen Victoria. His name was Prince Albert Victor, Duke of Clarence and Avondale, but intimates called him Eddy. Twenty-three-year-old Eddy and sixteen-year-old Hélène met in the summer of 1890, became acquainted, and fell in love.
In August, they jointly pronounced their love for one another to Queen Victoria, and although the Queen was supportive, there were religious differences between the couple. To overcome this problem, Hélène offered to become Anglican, but Queen Victoria believed Hélène’s father would be upset if she renounced her Roman Catholic faith, and that is exactly what happened. When her father learned of her plan to convert, he would not consent to his daughter’s change in faith. So, Eddy offered to renounce his succession, but when Queen Victoria’s prime minister, Lord Salisbury, heard, he objected to it in writing.
Prince Philippe was approached again with the idea that his daughter become Anglican. He again refused and insisted that she could not convert but did grant permission for her to personally beseech Pope Leo XIII for a dispensation allowing her to convert. Pope Leo XIII refused, and with no hope left for a marriage, in May 1891, Hélène instructed Eddy to forget her and do his duty. Although the love affair between Hélène and Eddy ended, Eddy never got over his deep feelings for Hélène. When he died on 14 January 1892, their relationship was commemorated with a bead wreath on his tomb at Windsor Castle engraved with the single word “HELENE.”
After Eddy, several other men became interested in the princess. For instance, in 1892, while travelling in Egypt with her brother, Hélène met Ernst Gunther, Duke of Schleswig-Holstein. He proposed marriage, but his sister the German Empress Augusta Victoria was completely opposed and Hélène was not interested. Another marriage to the Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria was discussed, and although Emperor Franz Joseph did not favor the match, he said he would not oppose it, but, in the meantime, Franz Ferdinand met his future wife and never considered Hélène again.
A suitable match was finally arranged between Hélène and the cousin of Victor Emmanuel III of Italy. His name was Prince Emanuele Filiberto Vittorio Eugenio Alberto Genova Giuseppe Maria, 2nd Duke of Aosta. The wedding occurred on 25 June 1895, at the Church of St. Raphael in Kingston upon Thames.
The event was well-publicized by the press, and the town elaborately decorated for the occasion. For instance, major streets were lined with royal flags of France and the ensigns of the House of Savoy. At Kingston Bridge a large banner welcomed the princess, and a triumphal arch of French design was erected over Clattern Bridge. Spectators also lined the streets in excitement along the route from the Orleans House to the church, a distance of three to four miles.
The ceremony was scheduled for 10:30 in the morning, and as the church was small, it could not hold over 300 people. The sanctuary and the altar were decorated with tall palms and white flowers, many of which were lilies or gladioli. The aisles were wreathed with laurel and red roses and in the center of the church was suspended a large cross of red roses. In addition, two velvet chairs were placed in front of the altar rails for the bride and groom.
The bride’s mother accompanied her to the church, and as the bride’s father had died on 8 September 1894, her uncle, the Duke of Chartres, gave her away. The groom was dressed in the uniform of his regiment and the bride walked down the aisle decked out in dress described as “a high dress of soft white faille, very simply made, but having a long train, with a deep border of orange blossoms round the hem. The bodice was untrimmed, with only a cluster of orange blossoms at the throat and another at the waist..” Her 14 foot long veil had a floral pattern that had been specially manufactured in Bayeux. In addition:
“From the train sprang two branches, forming in the middle a sort of medallion enclosing the arms of the bridegroom, surmounted by the Cross of Savoy, and those of France with the fleur-de-lys. The bride’s shoes were of satin with her monogram embroidered in pearls and brilliants.”
Another slightly different and more complete description of the bride’s dress was provided by another newspaper:
“The bridal dress shows her to be extremely tall, and is placed on a dressmaker’s lay figure. It also shows her to be very slight. Old Orleanists say the Princess has the figure of her grandmother, the late Duchesse d’Orleans. The wedding dress is of thick creamy white faille, rather lack lustre. The edge of the skirt is bordered with a garland of orange blossoms. The train is not made to be supported by bridesmaids, but is three yards long, and is lined with white moiré, which throws it well out from the figure. The corsage is made a little in the blouse style, with three deep pleats in back and front. It looks loose thought a close fit, and has a kind of ruff arrangement round the neck formed of finely pleated white silk gauze, dotted with orange blossoms and supported with a number of bows of white faille ribbon. This part is very light and graceful, and will look well round a swan-like neck. The sleeves fit closely to the fore-arm, and gigots above the elbow. They are not at all so ample as sleeves now generally are. The veil is nearly three yards long and two wide, and will fall over the whole dress. The arms of France and Savoy are brought into this design. The wreath of orange blossoms from which it will fall is arranged like a diadem, and must add to the impression of height.”
After the ceremony, breakfast was served to the royal guests and a buffet provided for the general company. The bride and groom greeted their guests at Stowe House on the lawn of the library. The library was where hundreds of visitors passed through to view the wedding gifts which had been arranged on tables. Among the gifts given from the royal family to Hélène were the following:
“[A] collection of precious stones, two black pearls, a diamond crescent, a carriage rug in white foxskin, an English pony carriage and pony, a modern cashmere shawl … a diamond necklace, emerald pendants, a diadem … a string of 35 pearls with diamond clasp, 11 strings of pearls with an emerald and diamond clasp, a necklace of diamonds … a fleur de lis in diamonds and rubies … enamelled watch with diamonds … diamond bracelet … chain bracelet in gold with five stones (rubies and sapphires) …. a caduceus in diamonds, rubies, and pearls.”
In addition, her friends presented her with such items as a coffer in mother-of-pearl, a diamond brooch in the form of a royal crown, an antique inkstand, an old Japanese vase, a decorative fan in a pierced ivory mounting, a white silk umbrella, various crocheted pieces, embroidered cushions, a silver bouquet holder, painted porcelain pieces, an old Sevres vase, morocco bound books, and gold and precious stones.
The bride’s trousseau was also reported on by newspapers. Here is one description of her trousseau published in the Gloucester Citizen and provided verbatim:
“Princess Hélène is taking to Italy a Court dress with a light blue corsage and train lined with white satin and trimmed with Alençon lace. The style of this garment and the skirt of white silver tissue to be worn with it is 18th century. The skirt has also a corsage to match, and will have a fine effect when ornamented with brilliants. There are black dresses, some enlivened with steel, mauve dresses, grey dresses, and in all elegant simplicity is aimed at. The sleeves are only moderately large at the shoulders. The Comtesse de Paris, according to French etiquette, will lay aside her widow’s dress on the wedding day, and appear in grey faille trimmed with crape to match, and will have on her head a grey crape bonnet with a long veil of the same material.”
Another newspaper provided slightly different information about her trousseau, which is also provided verbatim:
“The trousseau of the Princess has been made by the very best modistes on either side of the silver streak. The great Worth furnished twelve dresses, which were finished long ago. Twelve more, as well as the lovely bridal dress presented to her by her sister, the Queen of Holland, were made by Madame Corbay of Paris. A very elegant dress, presented by the Queen to her new daughter-in-law, was made by Mrs. Stratton of turquoise blue velvet, brocaded with a raised pattern of roses and leaves on a satin ground, over a petticoat of blue satin nearly covered with beautiful Honiton lace six inches wide. The centre of this petticoat opens again over palest primrose satin, a narrow plissé of which edges the skirt, and the brocaded train is lined with the same delicate contrasting tint. The opening is trimmed on both sides with exquisite passementerie of pearls and gold filagree in pine pattern, and the low bodice and short sleeves are adorned with the same. A bouquet of Maréchal Niel roses on the left shoulder completes this lovely toilette.
An evening dress, given by Prince Leopold, is a pale blue satin, trimmed with iridescent embroidery, the low bodice being a blue satin, brocaded with silver roses. A picturesque short dress, also the gift of his Royal highness, is of Oriental blue and yellow brocade, the jacket bodice opening over a waistcoat of cream satin sublime; paniers and drapery of the brocade are artistically arranged over a petticoat of cream satin, the whole being trimmed with cream lisse embroidery.
Among other dresses is a tea gown of pearl-white silk, shot with pink and blue, and trimmed with pale pink satin and the new ficello lace. A dress of Pekin-French grey and gold short silk, striped with grey satin, brocaded with pink silk, is trimmed with cream lace. A simple yet beautiful dress is composed of the finest slate-coloured alpaca, the coat bodice being lined, and the skirt trimmed with ruby satin. Some charming race and ball dresses were prepared by Mrs. Mason, who also made the beautiful costume de voyage, and the bonnet worn with it came from the establishment of Mesdames Perryman and Parsons. The productions of the English couturières are not in the least outshone by those of the clever Parisiennes, but all are exquisite in their several styles.”
Between three and four in the afternoon, the newlyweds departed for Wood Norton. It was the English residence near Evesham that was owned by Prince Philippe d’Orléans, Duke of Orléans, who was the Orléanist claimant to the throne of France from 1894 to 1926. Wood Norton was located in a remote woodland on a hill facing south, and it was there they passed nine or ten days before returning to London. They then left for the Italian capital and took up residence in the Castello della Mandria, near Turin.
-  “Marriage of the Duc D’Aosta and the Princesse Hélène,” Morning Post, 26 June 1895, p. 7.
-  “Wedding of the Duke of Aosta and Princess Helene,” Exeter and Plymouth Gazette, 26 June 1895, p. 3.
-  “The Royal Wedding,” Gloucester Citizen, June 18, 1895, p. 3.
-  “The Wedding of the Duke of Aosta and Princess Helene, Morning Post, 19 June 1895, p. 5.
-  “The Royal Wedding,” p. 3.
-  “The Royal Marriage,” Warminster & Westbury Journal and Wilts County Advertiser, April 29, 1882, p. 5.