From German royalty to Redmond housewife
One of the most unique stories of Central Oregon is the life of Princess Helen Augusta Victoria Beatrice Bruckner von Gotha. The long moniker of a name was christened on the date of her birth on Sept. 15, 1885, at Castle Liebenstein in Thuringen, Germany.
The House of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha, to which she belonged, is one of the oldest and noblest in all history, and when she was growing up, the family was one of the wealthiest in Europe. Her father was Prince Oscar, who held the position of Prime Minister of the state and also was a field marshal. Prince Oscar's uncle was Prince Albert, who married Queen Victoria of England.
Young Helen grew up mingling with the royalty of Europe. She grew tired of her long series of names and preferred to be called Gertrude as it was a name she liked. She was the oldest child in the family and remembered bouncing on the knee of Queen Victoria. The last time she saw Queen Victoria was in 1896.
She also recounted a trip to Russia when the family dined with Czar Nicholas. She narrowly missed being poisoned by a disgruntled servant of the Czar who served poisoned mushrooms which she didn't like. Another princess did eat the mushrooms and died.
Her early life at the turn of the century was one of tremendous luxury, but she was in the constant care of a governess. The young princess was somewhat of a rebel and complained of having to learn cooking as she thought she would never have to cook. Her mother told her, "Learn to cook. You never know what might happen."
Her youth was very pampered, and she was not allowed to do anything for herself. She wore glamorous clothing, and in 1902, she was presented at court before the Kaiser and later presented in other countries. She became well educated at German exclusive academies, and it was expected that she would marry "properly."
Her rebellious streak created an uproar in royalty circles when she met Swiss-American Albert Munz in 1903. He had migrated to America from Switzerland several years earlier and had established himself in the hardware business in Minnesota. She was introduced at a ball he was attending, and the romance began. The relationship grew serious, but she could not marry the man she loved in Germany because of the royalty requirements.
She made the fateful decision to renounce her royalty and migrate to the United States so she could marry Mr. Munz. Albert met her in New York, and they were married on June 8, 1904.
They remained near Princeton for eight years and then moved to the frontier town of Redmond, Oregon. Albert had purchased a hardware store in Redmond. They kept secret the heritage of Gertrude or "Trudy" as she became known to locals. Her only daughter died in 1930, and her husband died in 1940, leaving her alone in her adopted land.
She met Gus Bray and after a brief courtship, they married on March 17, 1945. They lived in Redmond for the remaining years of her life. She died in February 1966 in Redmond. The princess had died a humble citizen of Central Oregon.
Steve Lent is a local historian and assistant director of the Bowman Museum. He can be reached at: 541-447-3715.