AN expert on royal security wrote in 1910: 'A royal crown may sometimes seem heavy, even under the radiant skies of Greece'. The convoluted and sometimes violent history of the modern Greek monarchy has been further explored in a new book, just published by John van der Kiste, King of the Hellenes. What seems to emerge from this and other studies, and indeed from the present dilemma of the former King over his nationality and possessions, are certain common threads. These run through the history of the restored Greek state from its re-emergence in 1827. It was only of course in name, in geography and in folk memory, that the Greece of 1827 bore any resemblance to the ancient classical state, or even to the Byzantine state finally extinguished in 1453. This perhaps is one of its fundamental flaws and the cause of much psychosis and schizophrenia in modern Greek thinking. Too much water had flowed under the bridge; the Greek persona had become clouded and changed by the long centuries of Ottoman occupation and Western European ambition. How could it be otherwise? Was Britain the same after four centuries of Roman occupation?
The second thread is then that of foreign domination and manipulation. Greece may not have been occupied since 1827, (except by the Germans during World War II), but the ever present interference of foreign powers remains. Greece was too small, too underdeveloped, too dependent for it to be otherwise. This naturally has bred resentment, xenophobia and suspicion, mostly and naturally towards Turkey, as the successor of the old Ottoman masters. The neurosis remains even during the 1994 presidency of the European Union, when despite this prestigious occupancy it has been threatened with being taken to the European Court. It remains volatile, unstable and capricious. It is not surprising therefore that this attitude should be turned upon its own politicians and especially upon its own heads of state. Certain states retain a very close involvement with Greece: Britain, France and Russia pre-eminently, closely followed by Germany and to a lesser extent Italy. Having thrown off the Ottoman yoke, it was the Great Powers, France, Britain and Russia, who, by the London Protocol of 1830, recognized the independence of Greece, and expected a 'Sovereign independent Prince' to be chosen as King of Greece.
A favourite candidate was Prince Leopold of Saxe-Coburg, the widower of the heiress to the British throne, Princess Charlotte. But his father-in-law. George IV, was appalled by the offer of the Greek crown to 'the suave, calculating Marquis Peu-a-Peu', as he called him. 'How could the government be such fools as to think he could be of any use?' Leopold withdrew, and later accepted the crown of the newly created state of Belgium, in a way a greater risk even than Greece. It was, as modern Belgians admit, 'an artificial construct', and perhaps bound to dissolve into new forms in the end, like Yugoslavia. This of course simply compounds the interference and manipulation of the Great Powers over the little ones during the nineteenth century and beyond. Newly created crowns were hawked round the courts of Europe and not only to princes, but sometimes to 'gentlemen' and even those without titles. This was not new: one has only to think of a Hanoverian prince coming to Britain in 1714, or a French prince to Spain at the same time. But in the nineteenth century it almost became a mania: new crowns for Romania, Bulgaria, Greece, Belgium, Spain and later Albania, Yugoslavia and attempts in Portugal and Croatia. King-making was part of policy, and it is instructive to remember that in 1814 when Napoleon abdicated for the first time, 'with the exception of Switzerland, there was only one Republic in the world, while among the States of Europe, England was the only one really constitutionally governed'.
Thus king-making came together with empire-building in 1830, for Britain had, since 1814 (and in practical terms before that) control of a string of Greek islands, the Ionian islands, which had been erected into an experimental republic -- unusual for Britain! To this republic came the Lord High Commissioners, the first being Sir Thomas Maitland, who ruled the seven islands with wisdom and understanding of the nature of the people. A vexatious presence was Count John Capodistrias, born in Corfu, aflame for Greek independence, whom the National Assembly of Greece elected their first president in 1827. Power went to his head. While president, he declared his conviction that the Greeks were utterly unfitted for constitutional government. He was assassinated as a tyrant and an enemy of Greece in 1831. The way was clear for the Great Powers to choose their sovereign prince. They chose the seventeen-year-old Prince Otto of Bavaria, a member of the notoriously unstable Wittelsbach dynasty, an unwise choice from the beginning, and the beginning also of an involvement with the German states.
John van der Kiste explores this period very well in the prologue to his book. He states that 'The Greeks' innate sense of equality and rivalry among the leading families made the idea of one of them becoming Head of State inconceivable. No self-respecting Greek would accept another fellow countryman as his or her sovereign'. This is a statement which might be qualified to a greater or lesser degree! They had after all just had a Greek-born president. His summing up of poor Otto (or Otho as he became in Greece) rings true however: 'Otto's lack of leadership qualities, a disastrous inability to accept candid criticism of his faults, and a fatal belief in monarchical infallibility, that administration of Greece depended on the manipulation of elderly, inept politicians ultimately proved his undoing'.
A new sovereign needs an heir. Otto married in 1857, a Protestant princess from Oldenburg, Amalia, but they had no children. Thus isolated and unpopular, Otto left Greece for his native Bavaria in 1862, after an attempt to assassinate the queen. Greece wanted the union of the Ionian islands and it wanted a new sovereign. It wanted Prince Alfred of Edinburgh, the second son of Queen Victoria. The National Assembly voted for him and a plebiscite gave him 241,202 votes (over 95 per cent) while the second candidate, the Duke of Leuchtenburg, (the Russian choice), polled only 2,400 votes. Ninety-three electors voted for a republic and precisely one for the return of King Otto!
It was not to be, for by the Self-Denying Ordinance no-one from the Great Powers could be given the crown. Queen Victoria was relieved; Alfred later became Duke of Saxe-Coburg. The final choice proved a good one: Prince William of Denmark, another seventeen-year-old prince and brother of the future Queen Alexandra. This was a piece of political manoeuvring of course: William was chosen in 1862, and his sister did not marry into the British royal family until 1863!
What the Greeks had wanted as a coronation present was the Ionian islands: hence their choice of a British prince. Indeed, anyone suitable who was British would have done: the Earl of Derby and even Gladstone were suggested! This is not so amazing as it sounds for Gladstone had been Lord High Commissioner of the Ionian islands himself, although only briefly, from 18 January to 1 February 1859, an even shorter tenure than John Major had at the Foreign Office. The British did not abandon their 'imperial' attitude to Greece and its new ruler. The king later found himself pilloried for having taken for his private purposes some land belonging to Finlay, the historian. Palmerston, the British Foreign Secretary, reached a zenith in gunboat diplomacy when he ordered Athens to be shelled when Don Pacifico, a Maltese Jew and dubious financier, had his house sacked in Athens by the mob, because he had British nationality! The Greeks however got the present they wanted. On June 2, 1864, the British evacuated the Ionian islands and handed them over to Greece.
The young Prince William of Denmark adopted the name George and started a reign which was to last fifty years. He was a success, arguably the only success of the six rulers of the House of Glucksburg. Why was this? 'He brought the qualities of his frigid and well-balanced northern temperament to that nation which does not require the stimulant of its Patras wine to become hot-headed', wrote his royal detective, Xavier Paoli. Unfortunately, although Paoli was able to protect him in France, he was not able to stop the assassin's bullet at Salonika in 1913. The timing could not have been worse. The new king, Constantine, was married to Sophie, the German Kaiser's sister. Inevitably, charges of being pro-German were brought against him, and he was subsequently dethroned in June 1917, in obedience to an ultimatum of the Allies.
Interference with the strict line of descent has never helped Greece, and from now on the fortunes of the House of Glucksburg make one blink with amazement as they run from the worst luck to the best. The heir, Prince George, was also known to be a Germanophile, and so was excluded from the succession, and his younger brother Alexander was proclaimed king. King Constantine and Prince George and all the rest of the royal family left Greece and watched from afar in republican Zurich. One cannot separate leading Greek politicians from all these machinations, and it is this which forms the third or fourth strand of commonality in Greek royal history: the involvement and identification with certain policies and politicians instead of rising above them. (To be fair, King George II tried desperately to do this later on, having assiduously studied Westminster democracy, but was overtaken by events). These changes in the occupancy of the throne were now diplomatically prepared and directed from the background by King Constantine's sworn foe, the Greek statesman, Venizelos.
It is during the brief reign of Alexander that the fifth strand emerges again: the need apparently of the Greeks for some neutral reference point outside their own people. Alexander had fallen in love with Aspasia Manos, the daughter of Petros Manos, the Master of the Horse in the royal household. He was determined to marry her. Aspasia's ancestors were the Phanariotes, who settled in Athens in the early nineteenth century. They could trace their descent from the Greek Byzantine emperors and were linked with the noblest families of Venice and Greece. 'Those', later wrote Alexandra, the daughter of this union, 'were my mother's ancestors, always tremendous and true patriots of Greece, and staunch supporters of the monarchy which was established in 1863 . . .'. One might have thought this was an ideal match, linking the imported monarchy with ancient native families and roots. This apparently was not the case. John van der Kiste sums it up thus: 'The Greeks, being a democratic race and recognizing no hereditary aristocracy, looked askance on the prospect of a Greek woman becoming their queen'. This statement is at least questionable.
The Greeks, while unquestionably coining the idea and word for democracy, as they did with the word 'Europa', nevertheless were not always democratic. Unfortunately Alexander's parents, who, like the father of King Baudouin later exercised considerable control and influence from afar, were in full agreement with Venizelos, who warned the king that his people would not approve of a marriage between a king and a commoner of their own race. The use of the word 'commoner' implies that there were others, nobility, who were not commoners: Aspasia was certainly not a commoner in this sense. Late one night in November 1919 King Alexander enlisted the help of Aspasia's brother-in-law, Christo Zalocostas. A palace chaplain (van der Kiste does not name him) had agreed to perform the marriage ceremony between the king and Aspasia, but he lost his nerve at the last moment. When he failed to appear at the appointed time Alexander had to go and fetch him by force in the middle of the night from Zalocostas' house. Terrified at the consequences, the chaplain gabbled his way through the service, signed the marriage certificate and left as soon as he could. Though he had been sworn to secrecy, he went to the Archbishop and confessed everything!
Of course, such hole and corner proceedings sat ill with a constitutional king. There was consternation when the secret was discovered, for the King had married without the consent of his father or the head of the church and the marriage was intensely unpopular in Greece. Mlle. Manos, as she was still known, had to leave Athens. Yet, in van der Kiste's words, there was nothing anyone could do about it and it was agreed the marriage was to be recognized as legal, but that the king's wife was not to be given the rank or any of the privileges of a queen. She was to be known as Madame Manos. (Reminiscent of Mme. de Maintenon who secretly married Louis XIV.) After the return from a honeymoon in Paris six months later she was pregnant. Marriage with commoners was not unknown in the Greek royal family. Alexander's sister, Princess Marie for instance, married Admiral Ioannides as her second husband in December 1922, but it is arguable that there is one rule for the sovereign and another for lesser members, especially as women could not succeed to the Greek throne.
The situation resolved itself in tragic circumstances. Alexander was bitten savagely when trying to rescue his dog from two pet monkeys. The monkey bites turned to septicaemia, amputation was considered too late, for removing a royal limb made the surgeons reluctant and the king died at the age of twenty-seven on 25 October 1920. He left the pregnant Aspasia and a disputed succession. On 25 March 1921 Aspasia gave birth to a daughter who was named Alexandra. By this time the mother of Alexander, Queen Sophie, had become reconciled to her daughter-in-law, and through her, Aspasia was granted the title, Princess Alexander and the baby daughter recognized as a princess of Greece and Denmark. She had the distinction of being the only member of the Greek royal family to have Greek blood. Later Alexandra married King Peter of Yugoslavia and died in 1993.
King Constantine now re-assumed the throne but abdicated in September 1922 in favour of the Crown Prince who became King George II. In London there was undisguised relief that the king, who, as a young man, had been trained militarily in Potsdam, had abdicated. 'A paltry personage vanishes from the Near Eastern stage' began a damning leader in The Times the next day. Thus between 1913 and 1922, just nine years, there had been four kings, an assassination, two abdications, a violent death, a secret marriage and a disputed succession. Unbelievably, worse was to come. King George had married Princess Elisabeth of Roumania, a strange and unbalanced character who was no help to him at all, and who after one miscarriage remained childless. She was even reluctant to come to Athens!
On 25 March 1924 the Assembly passed a resolution by the new government under the republican, Alexander Papamastiou, abolishing the monarchy, declaring Greece a republic, and depriving all members of the dynasty of their Greek nationality as well as of any fights to the throne. This now brings us to yet another thread in this confused tapestry: the royal family being used as a scapegoat. The expansion of Greece had not gone according to the Megali Idea (the Great Idea). Greek armies had been defeated and Greek princes had been blamed. Indeed, in the case of Prince Andrew, son of King George, and father of the future Prince Philip he had only narrowly escaped the firing squad. King George and Queen Elisabeth then separated and she went to live in Bucharest. For both the marriage had been a hollow one since they left Greece in 1924. Queen Elisabeth was then advised to divorce the king on the grounds of desertion, as he had been absent from the country for so long. At a special court session in Bucharest on 6 July 1935 the marriage was dissolved. The queen, who henceforth resumed her Roumanian nationality, had been represented by an advocate, while nobody represented the king. He stated that, allegedly, the first he knew of it was when he read the news in a London paper!
However, more surprises were in store and King George's luck changed. After a long and convoluted experience of the Greek republic, General Kondylis proclaimed late in 1935 that 'the only solution was to bring back the well-tried system of constitutional monarchy'. King George returned to Athens to begin his second reign, which was to last from November 1935 until the Germans obliged him to leave for Crete, and then Egypt in April 1941. In between another major Greek political figure, Metaxas, had tried to gain royal approval for dictatorship. King George had studied the Westminster system at close range while in exile, and had refused to return until a plebiscite was in his favour, perhaps his own idea of democracy in Greece. This he had obtained with 1,491,992 in favour of his return and 32,454 in favour of the republic.
There is one incident which deserves special mention. In August 1936 King Edward VIII and Wallis Simpson arrived in Greece on their Mediterranean cruise, and were received by King George. The Greek king had become close friends with an English lady who was still married, and who was referred to as 'Miss Brown' or 'Mrs. Jones'. 'Why doesn't the king marry her?' inquired the ingenuous Wallis Simpson. One of the other guests replied with candour 'that it was impossible for the king to marry a woman who was a commoner and who was already married'. This seems to have been lost on the hearer. Van der Kiste does not tell us who 'Miss Brown' was, as the liaison was kept discreet.
King George was an unlikely king. He had had two reigns already. After World War II another plebiscite on his return was held. Sixty-nine per cent of those who voted were for his return 20 per cent against his return -- though not against the monarchy as such -- and 11 per cent in favour of a republic. Interestingly, a similar vote in Italy some ten weeks before that in Greece, found in favour of a republic. But then the House of Savoy had been stigmatized by association with Mussolini. George had resisted to the end and then found it politic to leave.
His brother, the third of the brothers to reign, succeeded him as Paul I when George eventually died in April 1947. He had married somewhat late in life a princess fifteen years younger than himself, Princess Frederica of Brunswick. King Constantine had married the Kaiser's sister; Paul had married the Kaiser's grand-daughter. Politically neither marriage did them any good. His reign was troubled by the movement in Cyprus for Union with Greece (Enosis) which brought him into conflict with the country he loved next to his own, Britain. He died in 1964, and was succeeded by the glamorous and charismatic Constantine II who married the eighteen-year-old Princess Anne Marie of Denmark within the year. Quickly the early fund of goodwill was dissipated. Constantine seemed drawn by inexperience and youth to play a dangerous game of politics and in 1967 fled from Greece after an abortive attempt to thwart the rise of 'the Colonels', relatively young junior officers who claimed they were saving their country from Communism.
In June 1973 the military regime formally deposed King Constantine and eight weeks later a plebiscite confirmed the end of the monarchy yet again. On 8 December 1974 a plebiscite returned a verdict two to one in favour of the republic. Was this the end of the Greek monarchy, which had come back after so many vicissitudes? Van der Kiste is reticent on this point. In his introduction he says: 'I make no apologies for condensing the last two reigns into a single chapter. To coin a phrase, history requires distance.' And yet accurate record is of course possible, if not judgement. Readers may make their own judgements later.
Recently, the former king has been involved in legislation which invites comment and analysis. In February 1991 the Conservative government of Greece cleared nine containers for shipment to the king in Britain, which had, it said, been negotiated with the various governments which ruled Greece over the past fifteen years, including the Socialists of Andreas Papandreou. But the Socialist and Communist opposition denied they had approved the deal and described it as a 'national scandal'. The private belongings shipped to Britain included valuable paintings, ornaments and jewellery, some of them dating back to the early nineteenth century. The case of course raised again the vexatious question raised in Britain since at least the seventeenth century as to what is private and what is public or national property.
Legislation passed in June 1992 allowed the king also to keep his two summer palaces of Tatoi, near Athens, and Mon Repos, in Corfu, and hundreds of acres in Polydendri in central Greece in return for outstanding taxes. By April 1994 it was reported that the king had paid tax debts of about [pounds]2 million and in return was allowed to keep his former residences. (Mon Repos had ironically been built for the British High Commissioner in Corfu in 1831.) By this time the Socialist government of Andreas Papandreou, not surprisingly, had reneged on the promises of the former Conservative government, and introduced legislation concerning 'the deposed Glucksburg' as the king was called, to deprive him of not only his palaces and tracts of land, but his nationality as a Greek citizen and his passport. This would apply also to all the Greek royal family.
We have seen that this was not new, and had been done in 1924. That resolution, in 1924, also provided for the compulsory expropriation of property belonging to members of the deposed dynasty, and stipulated that property which had come into the possession of the royal family in the form of gifts from the state, local municipalities and the like should revert automatically to the previous owners without compensation. Included was the estate of Tatoi, which King George I had purchased from his private funds, like Balmoral, and stipulated in his will should always belong to the 'reigning' king. Members of the dynasty were forbidden from residing in Greece. The decision was ratified by plebiscite, controlled by the police the following year, 1925. Taking pity on his stateless exiled relatives, who were still nominally Princes and Princesses of Greece and Denmark, King Christian X of Denmark issued them all with Danish passports!
Thus the vindictive measures of 1924 have been repeated seventy years later in 1994: there is nothing new under the sun. Herein lies at least part of the solution of King Constantine's dilemma. It had been established by the original election of King George I in 1863, and ratified by treaty on 13 July 1863 that all members of the Royal Houses of Greece should automatically be Princes or Princesses of Greece and Denmark. Thus they have been assured of dual nationality: if they lose one, they have the other. We can also note that from 1 January 1993 they also have, of course, 'European citizenship'.
In an important interview in The Times on 15 April 1994 King Constantine tackled these two issues: his property and his nationality. He was more reluctant about the first. Sources of income were 'a private matter' he told the interviewer, Valerie Grove. But he said he would launch a legal battle against the Greek government's decision to seize his property and strip his family of their passports. 'I will certainly claim my property with all legal means provided by the (Greek) constitution and laws', he said in an interview with the Athens newspaper, Apogevmantini. (It is interesting to note also that most other royal property in Greece other than the three sites noted had been given to the state already to cover unpaid taxes.) In June King Constantine spoke at the Oxford Union about the Socialist government of Andreas Papandreou: 'It is just a bit bizarre for a Prime Minister who left Greece, renounced his citizenship, took American citizenship and served in the American armed forces -- as a nurse -- at a time when Greece was fighting for her life against the Nazi and Fascist forces to claim that I and my family are not Greek'. He plans to take his case first to the Greek courts, then, if necessary, to the Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg. He has the support of Greece's best-known constitutional lawyer, Professor Manesis and the advice of two well-known British lawyers, Professor Rosalyn Higgins, QC, of the London School of Economics and Lord Lester, QC, an authority on human rights.
So what is the position now? The deprivation of nationality would certainly seem to be against the Declaration of Human Rights of 10 December 1948 and the constitution of the Court of Human Rights, set up under the auspices of the Council of Europe in Strasbourg in May 1949. It is significant also that Greece, an original signatory, withdrew from the Council between 1969 and 1974. However these events had happened almost precisely before and whatever the rights and wrongs, the Greek royal family have their Danish nationality to fall back on, and possibly also British nationality, as they have qualified residentially some time ago and the last children of King Constantine have been born here. The third child was born in Rome and could claim Italian nationality. When Prince Christopher of Greece wanted to marry a commoner, Mrs. Nancy Leeds, in 1920, he was told that any member of the royal family wishing to marry could only do so after obtaining the consent of both the king and the head of the church. While not opposed to the marriage, King Constantine was reluctant to give his approval on account of the precedent for a morganatic marriage which it might create. Finally he suggested that the best thing would be for his brother to change his nationality back to Danish, thus enabling him, to marry a commoner, renounce his claims to the throne and relinquish his title of Royal Highness. This Prince Christopher hesitated to do, not least because of the delays involved!
The experiments with government the Greeks might blame on their connections with France, so often their mentor and their sponsor; their connections with monarchy they might well lay at the door of Britain, so taken with the notions of constitutional kings and queens. It is impossible to escape the conclusion that although recently the Greeks, or the government, have used the former ruling house as a scapegoat, they might consider it yet again. 'You see,' said King Leopold of the Belgians, who was so nearly King of Greece, 'our real rest lies in forgetting who we are'. But King Constantine cannot forget and consequently he is never at rest.
[Michael L. Nash is a Lecturer in Law and European Studies in the Business School of City College Norwich and the Law School of the University of East Anglia.]…