There is much in the career, character, and womanly deeds of Queen Helene of Italy which appeals to British women-her simple childhood, romantic marriage, the manner in which she has won the love of her husband's subjects who, at first, were inclined to regard the Montenegrin princess as an inferior bride for the then heir-presumptive to the crown of Italy. Indeed, the kindliness of her nature, her courage, motherliness, and passion for children-she is known throughout Italy as the "Babies'queen" -have won for her Majesty almost as much popularity in this country as in the land of sunny skies.
There can be no question of her popularity in Italy. For evidence of the regard in which she is held by the people of that country, one has only to go back to June 1, 1901, when her first child, Princess Yolanda, was born. Plebeian and aristocrat united in their congratulations, and literally showered gifts on the baby girl and Royal mother, in spite of the fact that at first a chill of disappointment was felt that a daughter, instead of the anxiously expected heir to the crown of United Italy, had been born. Cradles were sent from all parts of Italy, and a pathetic note is struck when it is recalled that one of the most charming-made of fresh flowers-was sent to the Quirinal Palace by the working girls of Messina, where the terrible earthquake occurred in December, 1908.
The birth of Princess Yolanda did not occur until five years after the marriage of her parents, so that people were beginning to fear that no children would result from the marriage. This, perhaps, to a certain extent, accounted for the intense enthusiasm which the birth of Princess Yolanda aroused. In the following year, on November 19, another daughter - Princess Mafalda-was born; but on September 15, 1904, Prince Umberto, the heir-apparent, was born, and Italy went wild with joy. His birth was followed, on November 13, 1907, by that of another girl, Princess Gio-vanna.
Queen Helene herself was one of six daughters. Her father, King Nicholas of Montenegro, has had nine children altogether; and Queen Helene, who was born on January 8, 1873, was his fourth child. And it is a remark-able fact that, although Montenegro is but a small country - it is only a little over half the size of Yorkshire-it is connected by the brilliant marriages of the daughters of the King with Russia, Italy, Great Britain, and Servia. The eldest, Zorka, who died in 1887, was married to Prince Peter Karageorge-vitch, now King of Servia. The second daughter, Militza, became the wife of the Grand Duke Peter of Russia; the third, Princess Stana, married Duke George of Leuchtenberg; and Anna, born the year after Queen Helene, married Prince Francis Joseph of Battenberg.
H.M. The Queen of Italy, who before her marriage was Princess
Helene of Montenegro, the "Shepherdess Princess." Queen
Helene is a devoted wife and mother, and has endeared herself to her subjects by her sympathy with and kindness to all in trouble
Photo, Guigoni and Rossi
It was arranged at one time that Queen Helene should become the wife of the present Tsar of Russia. Indeed, his father, Alexander III., greatly desired the marriage at one time. But Nicholas II. had already lost his heart to Princess Alix of Hesse, and consequently the projected marriage was abandoned. A great friendship existed between the King of Montenegro and the late Tsar, and it was this friendship which led to the Princesses of Montenegro spending a great deal of their childhood in St. Petersburg, where they were educated under the special protection of the Empress.
What a contrast the Princesses must have found the Russian capital to Cettinje, the capital of Montenegro, where they were born. Cettinje practically consists of an unpretentious palace, a few private houses, an abbey, gaol, arsenal, theatre-which serves also for the State library and national museum-hospital, theological seminary, gymnasium, and a girls' high school maintained at the expense of the Empress of Russia. But in spite of the primitiveness of the capital, the ruggedness of the country, the warlike character of the Montenegrins, whose principal business in life has for generations been to fight the Turks, Queen Helene spent many happy days at Cettinje. Here it was that she developed that fondness for sport and outdoor life which has always been one of her notable characteristics, and which has earned her the name of the Modern Diana. She learned to shoot, fish, and ride, spending her days among the wild mountain passes that look across the Adriatic to Italy. And by so doing she laid the foundation to a splendid constitution, and added not a little to that grace and beauty which caused her to be regarded as the prettiest of her father's six daughters.
Her fondness for walking and climbing recalls a rather amusing story of a visit she paid to Montenegro after her marriage to King Emmanuel. One day she announced her intention of revisiting on foot the mountains about Cettinje. Her Italian ladies-in-waiting glanced at one another in dismay, and all, with one exception, begged to be excused, and then the request, good-naturedly, was granted. One, however, ambitious for the favour of her mistress, determined to brave all and go. The next morning at six all had gathered except the venturesome lady, who at last appeared in a gown with a train, which, however, had all been carefully pinned up, scent-bottle in hand, and in high-heeled, thin kid slippers. The Queen took in this vision, and remarked smilingly that she looked pale, that evidently she was not feeling well, and had not better undertake so arduous a climb. The hint was accepted. She stayed behind, but lost nothing, as she has since been prime favourite, and often laughs over the incident with her Royal friend, who says, "Never forget again that you are ornamental."