Duchess Helene of Mecklenburg-Schwerin

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Helene of Mecklenburg-Schwerin
Duchess of Orléans
Princess Royal of France
Portrait of Helene of Mecklenburg-Schwerin, (Duchess of Orleans) with her son Prince Louis Philippe, Count of Paris by Winterhalter.jpg
Portrait by Franz Xaver Winterhalter c.1839
Born (1814-01-24)24 January 1814
Schloss Ludwigslust, Germany
Died 17 May 1858(1858-05-17) (aged 44)
Richmond upon Thames, London, England
Burial Chapelle royale de Dreux
Spouse Ferdinand Philippe, Duke of Orléans
Prince Philippe, Count of Paris
Prince Robert, Duke of Chartres
House Mecklenburg-Schwerin
Father Frederick Louis, Hereditary Grand Duke of Mecklenburg-Schwerin
Mother Princess Karoline Luise of Saxe-Weimar-Eisenach
Religion Lutheran

Helene of Mecklenburg-Schwerin (Helene Luise Elisabeth; 24 January 1814 – 17 May 1858) was a French Crown Princess after her marriage in 1837 to the eldest son of Louis Philippe I, Ferdinand Philippe of Orléans.

She was the mother of the future Count of Paris and Duke of Chartres. Her descendants include the present Count of Paris as well the present-day pretenders to the throne of France and Italy and the kings of Spain and Belgium.


Early life and family

Born at the Schloss Ludwigslust, the retreat from a capital of her native Mecklenburg-Schwerin, she was the only daughter born to the Hereditary Grand Duke of Mecklenburg-Schwerin (1778–1819) and his second wife Princess Karoline Luise of Saxe-Weimar-Eisenach (1786–1816), third daughter of Grand Duke Carl August and Princess Louisa of Hessen-Darmstadt.

Via her father she was granddaughter of Frederick Francis I, Grand Duke of Mecklenburg-Schwerin and his wife Princess Louise of Saxe-Gotha-Altenburg.

She was also a niece of Frederick William III of Prussia. On her paternal side she was a cousin of the Duchess of Kent as well as the Leopold I of Belgium. Maternal cousins included the then Queen of Prussia[1] as well as the King of Württemberg.

Her father, the eldest son and heir of Frederick Francis I, Grand Duke of Mecklenburg. Her mother was a princess of the Duchy of Saxe-Weimar-Eisenach. The Hereditary Grand Duke and his wife died within three years of each other; Helen's mother died in January 1816; her father then died in 1819 leaving her older half brother Paul Frederick of Mecklenburg-Schwerin (1800–1842), the new Hereditary Grand Duke, and her other siblings to be raised by her grandfather, the reigning Grand Duke.


On 30 May 1837 Helene Luise married Ferdinand Philippe d'Orléans at the Palace of Fontainebleau. The Archbishop of Paris, Hyacinthe-Louis de Quélen had used the pretext of religious differences to forbid it taking place in Notre Dame de Paris. She was chosen as the bride for the Duke to form of alliance with her uncle Frederick William III of Prussia, despite the fact that she was a Protestant, and that she was considered to be a liberal, and not considered a beauty: described as an ambitious person, she accepted the proposal against the will of her family because she wanted to become a queen.

Her husband was the eldest son of king Louis Philippe I and his Italian consort, Queen Maria Amalia.[2] For the Duke of Orléans, it was a convenient alliance but one without much attraction - Metternich quipped she was "Petite but of a good house"[3]

The marriage was described as happy, and it was mostly the queen who opposed her as a Protestant and a liberal. She became popular with the public by her introduction of the German Christmas tree in France. The couple had two children in quick succession. Their eldest Philippe, born at the Palais des Tuileries in Paris, would later be hailed as Louis Philippe II by Royalists. Their other son, Robert, fought for the Union in the American Civil War, and then for France in the 1870 Franco-Prussian War.

On 13 July 1842, her husband died from injuries sustained after jumping from an out of control carriage, his untimely death sparked a debate within the House of Orléans over the establishment of a regency council which would be necessary should Louis Philippe I die while his heir was still in infancy. The main contenders were Ferdinand Philippe's widow and his brother Louis, Duke of Nemours, but further developments meant that the regency did not in the end materialise. In 1848, her father-in-law was deposed. Helene planned to prevent the abolition of the monarchy and be proclaimed as regent for her young son. Louis, Duke of Nemours, resigned his right to act as regent for her son to Helene and Helene appeared at the French parliament with her two sons; the count of Paris and her younger son the Duke of Chartres, to claim her son's right to the throne and to be installed as his regent during his minority. This claim, however, was not accepted by the parliament. After failing to seize power, she left France for Germany with her children. Helene continued to actively claim the rights of her son to be the monarch of France from abroad, but the French royalists at home began to favour the other formerly reigning French royal line under the headship of the Count of Chambord instead.

Hélène died of a flu in Richmond; she passed the illness onto her son Robert who was staying with her at the time but he survived and continued to fight in the Wars of Italian Unification.

She was initially buried at Weybridge before being translated to the Chapelle royale de Dreux in Dreux in 1876.



Titles, styles, honours and arms

Titles and styles

  • 24 January 1814 – 30 May 1837 Her Highness Duchess Helene of Mecklenburg-Schwerin
  • 30 May 1837 – 13 July 1842 Her Royal Highness the Duchess of Orléans
  • 13 July 1842 – 17 May 1858 Her Royal Highness the Dowager Duchess of Orléans

References and notes

  1. Later German Empress as wife Wilhelm I, German Emperor
  2. Born a Princess of Naples and Sicily and daughter of Maria Carolina of Austria
  3. Cited by Guy Antonetti, Op. cit., p. 782


  • (French) Généalogie des rois et des princes, by Jean-Charles Volkmann. Edit Jean-Paul Gisserot (1998)
  • (French) Les Orléans, une famille en quête d'un trône, by Georges Poisson Perrin (1999)
  • (French) Hélène de Mecklembourg-Schwerin; Madame la duchesse d'Orléans; New edition. Paris: Michel Lévy (1859)

External links