January 21

Constantine, King of the Hellenes


…Constantine, King of the Hellenes… 

The Greek monarchy has twice been in the media recently.

First a British programme, ‘Constantine: A King’s Story,’ was broadcast by SBS.   This includes an interview in which the King discusses, it was said for the first time, the events which led to his exile.  There is also some very interesting old newsreel footage.

Having seen the programme, which I found to be reasonably balanced, I have not changed my mind as to my opinion about the King, which I recorded in this column on 2 February 2006.  I remain of the view that King Constantine is an admirable man, who has behaved with considerable propriety and with great dignity.

 From my own reading – and not from any information from the Greek Royalist Association of Australia – it seemed to me that the King had been unfairly treated by the politicians. It has to be remembered this was an exceptionally difficult time.  Greece had not long emerged from the civil war where the communists had been defeated.

….a national hero…

The young King Constantine of the Hellenes, who came to the throne at the age of 24, was a dashing and popular figure. Married to the beautiful Princess, Anne-Marie of Denmark, sister of the current Danish Queen, Margrethe II, he was considered a national hero for winning a gold medal in sailing at the 1960 Rome Olympics. This  was Greece’s only gold medal between 1912 and 1980.  Indeed in exile he was to play a leading and perhaps crucial role on the International Olympic Committee in the award of the 2004 Olympics to Athens.

The particular criticism made in the television programme was about the King swearing in the military junta in 1967. But the King had no realistic alternative and has always maintained that his brief co-operation with the coup was a tactical move that he hoped would allow him to organize a counter-coup. That was in fact launched later that year. Unfortunately it failed, at least in part because the King wanted to avoid bloodshed at all costs, so he and his family went into exile.

The dictator George Papadopoulos tried to persuade The King to return, but would never accept his condition that democracy be re-established.

When naval officers tried to overthrow "the Colonels”, Papadopoulos, with the support of a rigged plebiscite, retaliated by declaring a republic in 1973.

In April 1974 the junta's disastrous mishandling of events in Cyprus led to its downfall.

The apparently pro-royalist leader, Constantine Karamanlis, returned from exile to become Prime Minister.

…a politician’s double cross…

Although the 1973 republican constitution was generally believed to be a sham,  Karamanlis continued to operate under the junta’s republican constitution. This was as inconceivable as keeping Cromwell’s constitution at the restoration of King Charles II in England in 1660.  Karamanlis even kept the junta’s president, Phaidon Ghizikis, in office, at least for the time being. He clearly had an agenda.

Instead of observing the lawful constitution, Karamanlis then announced that a second vote would be taken on the monarchy. Although he was the leader of the traditionally royalist party, he chose not support the King.  Karamanlis had had a brittle relationship with Constantine's parents, particularly when Karamnalis was accused of being an informer during the Second World War.

By failing to defend the King against the patently unfair charges that he had supported the junta, Karamanlis placed the King at a serious disadvantage.  He would not allow him to return to Greece during the campaign preceding the plebiscite.  For years, the Colonels had conducted a propaganda campaign to damage the King, and now he was being blamed for the tyranny he tried to remove.  And as the principal opposition party was also republican, it was not surprising that the vote to retain the monarchy was defeated. The King, however, graciously accepted the decision.

The day after the vote, the junta’s President Ghizikis stood down and Karamanlis became acting President as well as Prime Minister.  Although this lasted only a few days, the impropriety of one person holding both offices was glaring.  An interim President was then elected by Parliament. 

As Prime Minister leading an ostensibly centre-right party, Karamanlis embarked on a major programme of nationalising certain sectors of the economy.

Karamanlis subsequently twice became President, moving into what was once the Royal Palace.

..republican vindictiveness…

Successive Greek governments have displayed hostility, and at times vindictiveness, towards the King. They were reluctant to allow the King to visit Greece except under exceptional circumstances, until at last it became clear they could not stop him under European law.

One government even confiscated all his property, particularly the family estate at Tatoi, bought by King George I from his own funds, and on which King Constantine had been required by successive republican governments to pay taxes as the owner.  This brazen theft was subsequently found to have been unlawful by the European Court. The meagre compensation paid was used by the King to endow a charity for disaster relief, the Anna Maria Foundation. The Queen, Anne- Marie, is the President of the Foundation.  

The government also attempted to strip him of his nationality, and even today refuses him a passport insisting that he invents a surname. But during this time, when he briefly put into a Greek port, he was received warmly by the local people, which put the republican politicians on edge.

…still The King ….

In the British television programme, a Greek Orthodox priest explained that Constantine will always be King. Unlike many modern monarchs, but as with Queen Elizabeth II, The King was anointed at his coronation, as were the Kings of the Old Testament. Although he accepts the referendum, The King has not abdicated. 

 As a private citizen, he returned to Greece for the Athens Olympic Games. He lives in London with Queen Anne-Marie, where he is a close friend of Prince Charles and a godfather to Prince William of Wales. He continues to be invited to state functions there as the "King of the Hellenes," notwithstanding the disdain of successive Greek governments.

A noble figure, the King clearly puts the interests of Greece and the Greek people first. He is in so many ways a model King. 

Prince Pavlos, the Crown Prince of Greece and  Prince of Denmark, was born in 1967. He was married on 1 July 1995 in London to Marie-Chantal Miller, who became The Crown Princess Pavlos of Greece and Princess of Denmark.  They live in New York.

Readers of The Spectator may recall that the wedding was described in detail by the magazine's celebrated columnist, Taki, who wittily compared the beauty, virtue and incorruptibility of the royal couple with those of the politicians in Athens.

The Greek Royal Family has also been in the news because Crown Prince Pavlos and Princess Marie-Chantal have announced  that they are expecting their fifth child in early July.  (We thank George Bougias of the Greek Royalist Association of Australia for letting us know of the announcement.)

The couple have a daughter, Maria Olympia, aged 11 and three sons, Konstantinos Alexios, aged 9, Achilleas Andreas, aged 7 and Odysseas Kimon, aged 3.        


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