Helena Comnena

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Helena Comnena
8 March 1607
17 September 1625
29 October 1662
Princess Consort of Knootcap, Porphyrogenita

Her Imperial Highness Princess Helena Comnena (full name: Helena Theodora Maria Anna Comnena) was born in the purple room of the Imperial Court of Christ Pantocrator in New Rome, the eldest daughter of Emperor Constantine XVIII of Pantocratoria.

The halls of the old palace in the reign of her paranoid father mustn't have made a particularly pleasant environment for an impressionable young girl. Plots, real and imagined, abounded, and the Emperor was constantly purging his court of cabals. He was particularly terrified of being poisoned, and when Helena misbehaved, her punishment was to stand in for the Emperor's official taster, to test whether his food or drink was poisoned before he would partake of it. Fortunately for Helena, the Emperor was only poisoned once, and on that day she hadn't misbehaved. Her father died in August, 1623, blaming Helena's eldest brother, Constantine for the murder.

Early in the reign of her other brother, Emperor John IX, who succeeded Constantine XVIII as the senior emperor, Helena was married to the new Stadtholder of Knootoss, Prince Hugo of Knootcap, a Dutch Reformed Protestant twice her age. Despite Helena's protests and those of the court's leading Catholic clergymen, she was sent off to her arranged husband by boat in 1625 - she would never see Pantocratoria or her family again.

Hugo had already produced bastard sons with several mistresses and initially refused to marry, just like his cousin the life-long bachelor Maurice. But in 1625 the old Stadtholder lay dying and he called his cousin to his side, ordering him marry and produce legitimate offspring to prevent the House of Knootcap from dying out. Infuriated by his initial refusal, the terminally ill Maurice threatened that he would marry himself then and make one of his bastards sons his full heir.

Although it was a marriage of convenience, Hugo of Knootcap and Helena Comnena turned out to fit well together and their marital life was harmonious. As the church bells of their wedding rang the coming of the century-long golden age dawned. The prince turned out to be itself to a brilliant soldier and an even better statesman who solved internal religious conflicts with tact and tolerance. The perspicacious Helena Comnena filled his defects perfectly: she recreated the sober Calvinistic court of Knootcap into of the most lustre courts of the time, assuming her spouse's domestic responsibilities when he was on military expeditions and giving him the much-coveted son and heir.

In those days the quarters of the Stadtholder in The Hague seemed more like a barracks then a Royal House, as the organiser of the rebellion and military man prince Maurice had not cared for luxuriously and other externalities, living in a simply furnished chamber. On the insistence of Helena their quarters on the Binnenhof were made more luxurious and extended with a number of magnificent apartments near the court pond - which nowadays still house buildings of the Staten-Generaal. Helena was not satisfied that her spouse was only with the non-hereditary post of Stadtholder, instead of having the status of sovereign, and she ambitiously used her influence to raise the stature of the House of Knootcap. Impressed with the artistic and cultural energy of 17th century Knootoss, so vibrant and different from the Pantobyzantine artistic style of her homeland, she surrounded herself with the best examples of early baroque art and fashion. She established a court etiquette, lavishly arranged the rooms of its palaces and dressed herself with precious jewels. Thanks to the judicious management of the capital of the family by investing it in the new Knootian East India Company they could afford to build superb new palaces, including Huis ten Bosch Palace and Noordeinde Palace. The prince made the United Provinces of Knootoss an important power as a statesman while Helena recreated the Court of Knootcap into a sumptuous House worthy of its rising stature. She dressed the new palaces with works of the most famous Knootian painters, turning the palaces into places of music, dance and poetry. The Golden Age spread a brilliance which drew nobles from other nations to The Hague.

When the princess gave birth to the small prince Gozewijn in 1626, the Republic was frenzied with joy. The petit prince was baptised in the Grote Kerk, and after him came many more children.

When Hugo died 1647 his widow still had a difficult fifteen years ahead. She could still experience her son Gozewijn being raised as Stadtholder of the United Provinces, only to see him die three years later of smallpox. Gozewijn's rule had not been a success as there were many conflicts between the mercantile elite and Gozewijn – who had been raised like Royalty by her caring mother and expected to be treated as such. This bitter conflict led to Gozewijn putting many powerful merchants from Amsterdam in prison. After her son's death no new Stadtholder was appointed for over 20 years and the United Provinces was led by the Staten-Generaal, leaving Helena to rule alone over the court of a House that no longer had a country to control.