Russian Royalty, Uncrowned Lithuanian Grand Duchess and Polish Queen. She was oldest surviving child of Ivan III the Great, the Grand Prince of Moscow and the wife of Alexander Jagiellon, the Grand Duke of Lithuania and King of Poland; yet she was never crowned Grand Duchess of Lithuania and Queen of Poland. Her marriage to Polish royalty had been arranged when she was eight-years-old. Alexander had to receive a special permission from Pope Alexander VI to marry a non-Catholic and sign a formal agreement with Ivan III in October 1494 that Helena would not be forced to convert, but could if she desired to convert. Before her wedding, her father forbid her to convert from Russian Eastern Orthodoxy to Catholicism; to become the Queen of Poland, Alexander’s bride had to be of Roman Catholic faith. Part of the marriage agreement was an Eastern Orthodox Church was available for her to worship in her faith. Although her dowry was scant, she was intelligent, well-educated, beautiful, twenty years younger than her husband, but as the years pass, she was unable to give him an heir; she had two miscarriages. The couple wed on February 15, 1495. Their marriage was a constant source of tension between her father in Moscow and her husband, between the couple and her in-laws, and King Alexander of Poland and his subjects. Despite political tensions and religious differences, their marriage was a loving one and the royal couple were close. Instead of guaranteeing peace, her marriage gave her father Ivan III an opportunity to interfere in Lithuanian affairs by accusing Alexander of mistreating his beloved wife and repressing Orthodox believers. This became the pretext to renew war in 1500 with Lithuanian losing 8,000 men on the battle field. When Alexander's older brother, John I Albert, was King of Poland, he had also lost a war with land to Russia. With her help indirectly, the war ended with a six-year truce in 1503; Lithuania lost about a third of its territory as Russian expanded its borders again. Before the six-year truce ended, her husband's health declined with him having a stroke. After her husband's death in August of 1506, she wanted to return to Moscow but was not allowed by Alexander's younger brother, Sigmund I the Old, who was now the reigning king. Her father Ivan III died the October after her husband's death with her younger brother Vasili III taking his place as ruler. She had been given land and a wealth of gold from her husband as he did not want her to be a penniless young widow after his death. Although Alexander made plans with Sigmund to care for her after his death, the plans were discarded and the gold and land was taken away by an unknown source. The Polish looked at her as a possible spy giving Russia political information. She attempted to escape to Russia, but was captured, put under house arrest in a castle where, in a short time, she died suddenly; the cause of death was reportedly poisoned. Vasili III of Russia requested Sigmund to launch a full investigation into her death and to what happened to the treasure of gold given to by her husband. No one was ever arrested. Besides John I Albert and Sigmund I the Old, another brother-in-law was Saint Casimir. Since the couple had different faiths, they were not buried together, but each's last resting place was a church of their faith.
Bio by: Linda Davis
Cause of death: Alleged poisoning