Born: 1873 (Cetinje, Principality of Montenegro)
Elena of Montenegro was born on January 8, 1873, in Cetinje, the capital of the Principality of Montenegro. She was the daughter of King Nicholas I and Queen Milena of Montenegro. As a member of the Petrovi-Njego family, Elena was raised in an environment that fostered unity and emphasized the importance of family values. The conversations at the dinner table were conducted in French, and topics such as politics and poetry were discussed with equal ease. Despite the formalities of royal life, the Petrovi-Njego family maintained a sense of spontaneity and allowed each member’s personality to shine.
Elena was tutored by a Swiss governess named Luisa Neukomn from the age of six until she turned twelve. Afterward, she received education at the prestigious Smolny Institute in Saint Petersburg, Russia, until the age of 18. During her time at the institute, Elena developed an interest in pastel painting and enjoyed activities such as hunting and fishing. She also immersed herself in Russian culture and literature, collaborating with the Russian literary magazine, Nedelya, by publishing her own poems.
Described as shy and reserved, Elena possessed a stubborn streak and was deeply attached to traditions. She had a sensitive soul and a curious mind, and she nurtured a profound love for nature, with the cyclamen being her favorite flower. Notably, Elena stood tall at 180 cm (5-foot 11 inches), making her a striking figure.
In Italy, Queen Margherita became concerned about the marriage prospects for her only son, the future king. In collaboration with Francesco Crispi, an influential figure of Albanian origin who advocated for greater Italian influence in the Balkans, Queen Margherita arranged a meeting between Elena and Prince Victor Emmanuel. This strategic alliance aimed to prevent the genetic complications that often afflicted European royalty due to intermarriages between close relatives.
In April 1895, Elena attended the International Art Exhibition in Venice, where she was introduced to the king and queen of Italy. She also had the opportunity to meet Prince Victor Emmanuel at one of the opera events. This encounter marked the beginning of their courtship.
On July 29, 1900, Elena and Victor Emmanuel tied the knot, with Elena officially becoming the Queen of Italy. Throughout their marriage, Elena and Victor Emmanuel faced various challenges, including their brief claims to the titles of Empress of Ethiopia and Queen of the Albanians. However, both titles were abandoned when Victor Emmanuel formally renounced them in 1943.
Elena dedicated herself to her role as Queen of Italy, supporting her husband in his duties as king. Together, they had one son, Umberto II, who would later succeed Victor Emmanuel as king. Elena’s contribution to society extended beyond the realm of royal duties. She was actively involved in several charitable and social initiatives, demonstrating her compassion and concern for the well-being of others.
In recognition of her exemplary life, Elena was honored with the title of Servant of God by the Catholic Church in 2001 when her canonization process began. She left a lasting impact on Italian society and played a significant role in shaping the history of women as a queen and philanthropist.