Constantine, the last and last king of Greece, dies at 82

ATHENS, Greece—Constantine, the last king of Greece, has died. After winning an Olympic gold medal, he embroiled himself in the country’s political turmoil as king in the 1960s and spent decades in exile. he was 82 years old.

A doctor at Athens’ private Hygeia hospital confirmed to the Associated Press that Constantine died late Tuesday after being treated in an intensive care unit, but no further details are available until an official release.

When he ascended to the throne as Constantine II in 1964 at the age of 23, the young monarch, already an Olympic gold medalist in sailing, was wildly popular. By the following year, he was actively involved in a conspiracy to overthrow Prime Minister George Papandreou’s elected Central Alliance government, squandering much of its support.

An episode involving the defection of several MPs from the ruling party, still widely known in Greece as “Apostasy”, destabilized the constitutional order and led to the 1967 military coup. Constantine eventually clashed with the military ruler and was forced into exile.

The dictatorship abolished the monarchy in 1973, but a referendum after democracy was restored in 1974 dashed hopes of Constantine’s return to power.

In the decades that followed, each political and media storm was reduced to a fleeting visit to Greece, but opposition to his presence no longer held the currency as a badge of cautious republicanism. When he was able to resettle in his native country again in declining years. Nostalgia for the Greek monarchy was minimal, making Constantine a relatively undisputed figure.

Constantine was born in Athens on June 2, 1940, to Prince Paul, brother of George II and presumed heir to the throne, and Princess Frederica of Hanover. His older sister Sophia is the wife of the former King Juan of Spain, his Carlos I. The Greek-born Prince Philip, the late Duke of Edinburgh and husband of the late Queen Elizabeth, was an uncle.

The family that ruled in Greece save for 12 years of Republican intervention from 1863 to 1922 to 1935 was Prince Christian of the Danish Schleswig-Holstein-Sonderberg-Glücksburg branch, later of Denmark. He was a descendant of Christian IX. controlling family.

Before Constantine’s first birthday, the royal family was forced to flee Greece during the German invasion during World War II, moved to Egypt’s Alexandria in South Africa, and returned to Alexandria.George II returned to Greece in 1946 after a referendum, but died a few months later, making Constantine the heir to Paul I.

After his boarding school education, Constantine attended classes at three military academies and the Athens Law School in preparation for his future role. He also competed in various sports, including sailing and karate, where he held a black belt.

Greek King Constantine II
Former Greek King Constantine and his wife Anne-Marie arrive at the Ritz Hotel in London on November 14, 2002. (Alastair Grant/AP Photo)

In 1960, the 20-year-old and two other Greek sailors won gold in the Dragon class (no longer in the Olympic class) at the Rome Olympics. While Constantine was still crown prince, he was elected a member of the International Olympic Committee, becoming an honorary member for life in 1974.

Paul I died of cancer on March 6, 1964, and was succeeded by Constantine just weeks after the Center Union Party won the conservatives with 53% of the vote.

Chancellor George Papandreou and Constantine initially had a very close relationship, but relations soon soured when Constantine insisted that control of the army was a monarch’s prerogative.

With many officers toying with the idea of ​​dictatorship and seeing non-conservative governments as vulnerable to communism, Papandreou wanted to control the Ministry of Defense, eventually demanding to be appointed Minister of Defense. After a bitter exchange of letters with Constantine, Papandreou resigned in July 1965.

Constantine’s insistence on appointing a government made up of centrist exiles, which won him a narrow parliamentary majority in his third attempt, was highly unpopular. Many saw him as being manipulated by his scheming mother, the Queen Dowager Frederica.

“People don’t want you, take your mother!” became a rallying cry during the protests that rocked Greece in the summer of 1965.

Ultimately, Constantine entered into a kind of truce with Papandreou, appointed a technocratic government with his consent, and then appointed a conservative-led government to hold elections in May 1967. bottom.

However, with polls strongly favoring the Central League and Papandreou’s leftist son Andreas gaining popularity, Constantine and his courtiers feared revenge and prepared a coup with the help of high-ranking officials.

However, a group of junior officers, led by a colonel, were preparing their own coup, and on April 21, 1967, spies who learned of Constantine’s plans declared dictatorship.

Constantine was surprised, and his feelings for the new ruler were evident in the official photographs of the new government. I pretended to go with them.

On December 13, 1967, Constantine and his family flew to the northern city of Kavala with the intention of marching to Thessaloniki and establishing a government there. The counter-coup was poorly managed and permeated, collapsing, and Constantine was forced to flee to Rome the next day. He never returned as reigning king.

The junta appointed a regent and abolished the monarchy on 1 June 1973 after a failed naval counterattack coup in May 1973. The July referendum, widely viewed as manipulated, confirmed the decision.

When the dictatorship fell in July 1974, Constantine was eager to return to Greece, but was advised against by veteran politician Constantine Karamanlis, who returned from exile and heads a civilian government. Karamanlis, who headed the government from 1955 to 1963, was a conservative but clashed with the court over what he thought was excessive interference in politics.

After winning the November elections, Karamanlis called for a referendum on the monarchy in 1974. Constantine was not allowed to campaign in the country, but the results were clear and widely accepted. 69.2 percent voted in favor of a republic.

Soon after, Karamanlis famously said the country had rid itself of cancerous growth. I sincerely hope that it will be a development that will be made into.”

Constantine, while acknowledging Greece as a republic until his death, continued to refer to himself as king of Greece and his children as princes and princesses, even though Greece no longer recognized titles of nobility.

For most of his years in exile, he lived outside Hampstead Gardens, London, and is said to have been particularly close to his second cousin Charles, the Prince of Wales and now King Charles III.

It took Constantine 14 years before he returned to bury his mother, Queen Frederica, in 1981, but he made many visits after that and built a house there from 2010. Controversy continued. In 1994, the then socialist government stripped him of his citizenship and confiscated the rest of the royal property. Constantine filed a lawsuit with the European Court of Human Rights and in 2002 he won 12 million euros.

He is survived by his wife, the former Princess Anne-Marie of Denmark, the youngest sister of Queen Margrethe II. Five children, Alexia, Pavlos, Nikolaos, Theodora, and Philippos. and nine grandchildren.

Demetris Neras

Associated Press