Elena of Montenegro, or Jelena Petrović Njegoš, was born in Cettigne (Cetinje) on January 8, 1873. She is the sixth daughter of King Nicholas I of Montenegro and Milena Vukotić. Cettigne was then the modest capital of Montenegro, in fact it was little more than a mountain village, inhabited by shepherds.
She was educated to the strong values of the family union. The conversation at the table of Montenegrin sovereigns took place in French and was discussed with equal ease in politics and poetry; poet was also Elena who wrote verses and published them in the Russian literary magazine Nedelja, signing Farfalla Azzurra.
He grew shy and reserved, but firm in character and very determined. Attached to traditions, of sensitive soul and with a bright and curious mind, she had a great love for nature (her favorite flower was the cyclamen). He studied in the Smolny College of Petersburg and attended the court of the Tsars.
Nicholas I related all his beautiful daughters to the different European royal courts. Princess Elena was destined for the Royal House of Italy, since Queen Margherita (who wanted to reinvigorate the Savoy blood), in agreement with Francesco Crispi (of Albanian origin), decided for the fate of the only son, Vittorio Emanuele, prince of Naples: the meeting between the two young people took place at the La Fenice theater in Venice, on the occasion of the International Art Exhibition. It was declared love: after another meeting in Russia, Vittorio Emanuele made a request to Nicholas I to marry the one he believed he had personally chosen, without anyone's meddling. Elena, in order to be able to marry with the future king of Italy, had to abjure her own orthodox religion.
The wedding, very subdued due to the recent defeat of Adua, was celebrated on October 24, 1896: the civil ceremony took place at the Quirinale, the religious one in Santa Maria degli Angeli, to which Elena's mother did not participate, in the form of protest to his daughter's religious abdication.
On 11 August 1900, following the assassination of King Umberto I, Vittorio Emanuele ascended the throne. The presence of Helen next to the sovereign was always humble and discreet, was never involved in strictly political matters, but was always extremely dedicated and attentive to the needs of the adoptive people, who made his own in all respects. Her commitment to numerous charitable and welfare initiatives, which assured her great sympathy and popularity, was profuse. The Queen went well beyond mere charity: her evangelical spirit led her to practice every day the most genuine and most charitable love of neighbor.
Every day, the courier delivered a large leather bag to Villa Savoia, called the "bolgetta" (Sardinian-Savoyard word). It contained letters on letters: of every dimension, of every format, of every color. Inks of all colors; pencils of the most varied shades, alphabets also in relief for the blind. A colorful and varied sample that enclosed the humble, confident and sometimes desperate request of those in need and that recurred to the Queen of Charity, knowing she was not forgotten. The answers are not long in coming: hidden help, but effective spread everywhere, healing many material wounds, but also moral, increased by poverty.
For the duration of the winter the kitchens were opened in Sant'Anna di Valdieri and in Trinità in the Vallegesso, in the province of Cuneo. All the inhabitants were distributed soup, bread, meat, cheese, jam and medicines. An infinity of toys came out of the Savoy house and were addressed to all the children. Not to mention clothing. Meters and meters of wardrobes covered the basement of the Villa: it was the "deposit of the poor". Here were stored clothes for adults, household linen, fabrics, layettes for babies, cribs, shoes, hats, scarves, umbrellas, blankets ... all perfectly new.
In Rome there was no lady of the aristocracy or of the good bourgeoisie, who did not work for the Queen's factory, preparing clothes, sweaters, sweaters, baby shoes ...
During the summer holidays in Sant'Anna di Valdieri, Elena opened a clinic for the sick. For the most serious cases, where the care of the sea was necessary, the patients were admitted to Villa Helios in San Remo or were directed to the sanatoriums, where the hospital stays last for months and months, sometimes even years: all at the expense of the House of Savoy .
Immense was the help that the queen gave after the earthquake and tsunami of Messina in 1908. Queen Elena immediately devoted herself to relief, as shown by photographs of the time. During the First World War he was a full-time nurse and with the help of the Queen Mother, he transformed both the Quirinale and Villa Margherita into hospitals; to raise funds, she invented the "autographed photograph" that was sold in the benches of charity, while at the end of the conflict proposed the sale of the treasures of the crown to extinguish war debts.
She was the first Provincial of the Volunteer Nurses of the Italian Red Cross, from 1911 to 1921. She studied medicine and had an honorary degree; he financed charitable works in favor of encephalitics, for poor mothers, for tuberculosis, for former combatants.
When the Garfagnana, in Tuscany, was hit by the earthquake in 1921, Elena had at San Rossore prepare, in the rooms of the Cascine Nuove, seventeen lodgings, for as many families left homeless.
When in Rome a child was the victim of an assassination, the queen had a marble slab placed on the tomb of the child in the Verano cemetery in Rome, on it stood a group of lilies with long stems, on the same bas-relief there was a snake with a bite truncated a lily, folded in on itself. At the top, Mary Most Holy with the Child Jesus in her arms, was ready to accept the broken life. The father of the child, a revolutionary, was troubled by the image and the epigraph: "Here where lies / Rosina Pelli / inexpiable victim / of nefanda barbarism / the perpetual cry of the people / wash the horrible outrage / lilies and roses remember / the innocent soul ascended to the kingdom of angels. Elena di Savoia Queen of Italy Q.M.P. ».
Often he went to the poor neighborhoods of Rome and here he visited both the dispossessed and the sick: he brought money, advice, comfort, caresses and when it was necessary he gave injections and read to the illiterate the medical reports, the components and the dosages of drugs. Often it was not even recognized and many believed to be a lady of San Vincenzo.
It promoted initiatives in favor of research against cancer, Parkinson's disease, polio, or the professional training of category assistants.
In 1927 he assumed the high patronage of the Italian League for the fight against cancer. In Rome, the Regina Elena institute was created a few years later, a hospital-clinical complex of considerable value, both in terms of size and scientific scope.
In the mid-twenties he worked to stop the lethargic encephalitis, which affected the cerebral cortex, promoting the so-called "Bulgarian cure", based on Belladonna grass, which was however hindered by several doctors, so the spread of therapy began seriously only starting from 1934 and the results proved to be more effective.
From nearby San Rossore, Elena often went to Pisa, in the Neurological Clinic belonging to the Ospedali Riuniti di Santa Chiara, where she met the patients. Smiling and affectionate, she inquired and reanimated herself, showing herself as lovable and tender as a mother.
If he happened to cross a beggar on the street, a deranged one, a desperate man, he would stop, or get out of his car and start his intervention.
Prepared especially for the study of foreign languages, she acted as a translator to her husband for the Russian, the Serbian and the modern Greek, keeping in order the newspaper of foreign newspapers.
He had five children, Iolanda, Giovanna, Mafalda, Umberto, Maria.
He dedicated himself with immense love to the husband, to the children, to the house, standing next to the sovereign with dignity of the queen "inside".
On 15 April 1937, the Supreme Pontiff Pius XI conferred on her the Golden Rose of Christianity, the most important possible honor at that time for a woman by the Catholic Church. Pope Pius XII in the message of condolences sent to his son Umberto II for the death of Helen, called her "Lady of charitable charity".
In 1939, three months after the German invasion of Poland and the declaration of war of Great Britain and France to Germany, Elena wrote a letter, touching and unheard, to the six sovereigns of the European nations still neutral (Denmark, Holland, Luxembourg, Belgium, Bulgaria and Yugoslavia), in order to avoid the huge tragedy of the Second World War to Europe and the world.
After the war, on 9 May 1946, Vittorio Emanuele III abdicated in favor of his son Umberto, taking the name of Count of Pollenzo and went into exile with Elena. The royal couple retired to Villa Jela, in Alexandria, Egypt, guest of King Farouk I of Egypt, who thus returned the hospitality given to him by his father to his father.
During the exile the two spouses celebrated their fiftieth wedding anniversary. Elena remained with her husband until her death on December 28, 1947. Three years later she discovered she had cancer and moved to Montpellier to France. Here, too, the population got to know the "bonne Dame noire" (« The good lady in black ") who, despite the now residual economic possibilities, continued to help the poor: the fishermen knew her very well, also because the queen often went fishing (her favorite sport). In November 1952 he underwent a difficult surgical operation at the Saint Cóm clinic. Widow, burned by the pain of the tragic loss of her beloved daughter Mafalda (who died in the Buchenwald lager on August 28, 1944), exiled and disowned by the land to which she had given herself, Elena died on November 28, 1952, poor and alone, assisted only by the faithful chamber musician Rosa Gallotti.
He was buried, as he wished, in a common tomb in the city cemetery in Montpellier. The whole city stopped to attend and attend his funeral, in which 50,000 French took part. The Municipality of Montpellier named the boulevard that leads to the cemetery to Queen Elena and raised a monument to her.