The world seemed to be King Constantine II's oyster, but that world began to spoil even during his infancy. By the time he was an adult, it was a wasteland. Read on to learn about the epic tale of King Constantine II, the last royal.
On June 2, 1940, Constantine came into the world as the only son of Crown Prince Paul and Princess Frederica of Greece. This immediately put him near the front of the line for the Greek throne, just after his father and the current ruler, his uncle King George III. Now, you might think this was a cushy existence, but Constantine's trouble started almost instantly.
Constantine's childhood should have beee carefree...but that didn't happen. He was born right in the middle of WWII, and the Axis powers were ramping up to try to oust his family from their royal seat. It quickly turned into a nightmare: When Constantine was just 10 months old, his family was forced to flee to Crete for their survival. It would only get worse.
The young Constantine may have not known it, but he spent one of the most dangerous weeks in his entire life when he was only an infant. While the family must have thought they were safe on the island, they soon found out how wrong they were. With enemies advancing, they had to flee again, this time to Egypt—just days before the Germans ran roughshod over their first hiding place.
Even then, Constantine was far from safe.
For the next months and years of his formative stages, Constantine lived in a state of flux as the royal family went whichever way the wind blew best. Constantine and the women in his family ended up in South Africa, but his father Prince Paul took off for the even safer haven of England. The young boy wouldn't see his daddy for three long years.
Then again, when there was a reunion, it somehow got even worse.
By 1946, WWII had wound down and Constantine and his family returned to Greece at long last. But this homecoming was a nightmare in disguise. The Greek people weren't even sure they wanted a king anymore.
So, as Constantine and his family looked on, a brutal Civil War between the pro and anti-monarchists erupted all around them—with people looting the Royal Palace, burying enemies in shallow graves, and destroying any of the monarch's property they could lay hands on.
Constantine was barely out of diapers, and it seemed like he had lost his kingdom twice already. Only, then something happened that would change Constantine’s future forever.
On April 1 1947, in the middle of this raging conflict, Constantine’s uncle King George II collapsed in the Royal Palace and never recovered. What seemed like a bad April Fool’s joke turned out to be a tragedy for the royal family...but it was also the beginning of a new era. Constantine was now the Crown Prince of Greece, and his father was king, bringing a new stability to Greece.
What had seemed impossible in 1941 had finally come to fruition. But Constantine was full of even more surprises.
From his precarious childhood, Constantine soon grew into the picture of Greek manhood, a kind of royal Adonis. In particular, he was a master sailor, and went on to represent Greece in the Summer Olympics of 1960. Incredibly he brought the gold medal in sailing home to Greece for the first time since 1912.
The crown prince was now also a national hero. But the bigger you are, the harder you fall.
Right around the time the strapping Constantine was wowing on the world stage, he went on a state visit with his parents to Denmark. While there, he met a scandalous love interest. Princess Anne-Marie was the youngest daughter of the Danish King and Queen, and besides being Constantine's third cousin, she was just 13 years old while he was 19.
But after just that one visit, the two had sealed their fates.
Even though a whole year went by, Constantine couldn’t stop thinking about his cousin. When he saw Anne-Marie again on another visit to Denmark in 1961, he could no longer inhibit himself. The 20-year-old crown prince reportedly told his parents that he was going to marry Anne-Marie as soon as he could. But before that could happen, a different wedding had to take place.
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In May of 1962, Constantine's sister Sofia married Prince Juan Carlos of Spain in a lavish ceremony that lacked for nothing. But Constantine got something out of it too. That's because Anne-Marie was one of the bridesmaids in the ceremony, giving him plenty of opportunity to get alone time with his crush.
It must have worked a charm, because Constantine wasted no time from there on out.
In 1962, Constantine crossed paths with Anne-Marie again while they were both in Norway. This time, he plunged right in, proposing to the 15-year-old girl. Starry-eyed herself, Anne Marie accepted, and the couple probably imagined riding off into the sunset together. But they had made a crucial error.
Constantine may have been swept up by his kissing-cousin romance, but he'd forgotten a crucial piece of the puzzle. Namely, her parents' permission—which still mattered a lot back then, especially for royals. And wouldn't you know? Anne-Marie's father, King Frederick IX of Denmark, was initially against the match and refused his consent.
Constantine, never one to take no for an answer, managed to eventually sweet-talk Frederick into agreeing, on the condition that they wait until Anne-Marie was 18. Only, a tragic circumstance was about to alter this promise.
In 1964, Constantine's father King Paul of Greece learned that he had stomach cancer, and his health went almost immediately to shambles. It got so bad, in fact, that he appointed Constantine as his regent, trusting the young man to look over all the important decisions of the kingdom.
Constantine must have known that the death of his father was his only way to the throne, but he wasn't ready to say goodbye yet. Instead, he performed a desperate act.
Constantine’s faith must have been immeasurable, because in the darkest hours of his father’s illness, he went on a pilgrimage. His destination was Tinos, a Greek island in the Aegean sea, which housed a holy temple. There, he sought out a holy icon from the Greek Orthodox Church, and brought it back to his ailing father. He was horrified at the results.
Unfortunately, this would be one of Constantine's first lessons that the world wouldn't bend to his will. In truth, his father was beyond help: In the spring of 1964, Paul of Greece passed at the still-young age of 62, turning the 23-year-old Constantine into the new Constantine II of Greece.
It was a heavy burden for such young shoulders. The cracks began to show before the crown was warm on his head.
When Constantine came into power, his kingdom was already poised for a fight (again). Progressive and conservative factions were snapping at each other, and each of them hoped the new, youthful king would be pliable to their own demands. The conservatives even insisted on calling him Constantine XIII, indicating a continuation with the old Byzantine empire.
Yes, this would all be his downfall. For now, though, he had a much more pressing matter.
In the wake of his father's rapid decline, Constantine and Anne-Marie moved up their wedding date nearly half a year. After all, a king needed his queen, and giving the country a royal wedding was a surefire way to distract people from all the tensions in the government. Unsurprisingly then, Constantine made sure that his nuptials dropped jaws.
Paul and Anne-Marie's ceremony took place across multiple days and multiple countries, with the main even happening on September 18, 1964, just two weeks after Anne-Marie's 18th birthday. Although Anne-Marie opted for a simple wedding dress, she did top it with a Cartier diamond tiara.
Soon after the wedding, Constantine got even more good news.
Not long after the marriage, Queen Marie-Anne became pregnant, and on July 10, 1965, she gave birth to a healthy baby girl, Princess Alexia. Four children, another girl and three more boys, would follow in short succession. It was everything he needed for a strong future kingdom. Yet before he could enjoy domestic bliss, disaster struck.
Very shortly into his reign, Constantine was faced with a ruinous scandal. His polarized government was causing him headaches left, right, and center, but more than that, he and his Prime Minister George Papandreou disagreed on how to handle the various insurrections. Before long, the two of them were at each other's throats, and it led to a brutal climax.
In the summer of 1965, after a flurry of angry letter-writing between the King of Greece and his Prime Minister, the situation hit its Rubicon. Prime Minister Papandreou resigned from his office in a blaze of glory, taking nearly 40 loyal members of parliament with him. It wasn't a good look for the young king, and from there, it only got worse.
With no Prime Minister in power, Constantine naturally had to appoint a new one. But this turned into his most dangerous decision yet. When Constantine appointed Georgios Athanasiadis-Novas as the new PM, protests erupted across the kingdom. To be fair, the way Greece was at the time, any choice Constantine made likely would have caused riots.
But this one was different. This one turned deadly.
July 21, 1965 became King Constantine's day of reckoning. On that date, an officer killed a 25-year-old leader of a youth moment during a protest in the middle of Athens. From there, the downfall was swift. Constantine cycled through a multitude of governments, Prime Ministers, and elections over the next months—never the sign of a stable country.
If we believe the rumors, it all pushed Constantine into a foolhardy act.
Everybody could see that Greece was going through it, and it may have given Constantine a diabolical idea. There are whispers that he and his mother tried to organize a military takeover during these years to neutralize the different, unruly factions in the government. Well, they soon they got their wish. Sort of.
On April 21, 1967, Constantine woke up to a horror show. Colonel George Papadopoulos and his lackeys had taken control of the country, though without—or so historians think—any collaboration with Constantine. In fact, the Colonel surrounded the King's residence with tanks that morning just to make sure it all went smoothly.
The Colonel had one request of his King: legitimize their new junta. This was not the way Constantine had likely wanted it to go, but he did the only thing he could.
After pleas from his current Prime Minister to denounce this coup, Constantine completely crumbled under pressure. That very afternoon, he swore in the military dictatorship and put all their top men in his government's top spots. Although he expressed fears that the junta was "leading Greece to destruction," he couldn't see a different way forward. But he did have one last, desperate plan.
Constantine no longer had the power to challenge the military, so he looked for external assistance. Determined to fight back for his country—as well as preserve what little power his monarchy had left—he traveled to the United States and met with president Lyndon B Johnson.
He asked the president for help, particularly for enough manpower to orchestrate a counter coup. The answer gravely disappointed him. Johnson refused, and Constantine returned home to his enemies empty-handed. But this didn't stop him from seeking revenge.
Surrounded by enemies, Constantine knew that he had few options. First, he decided to befriend them and trick them into believing that he was their ally. But the reality was quite different: For months, he planned his counter coup anyway, down to the very last detail. And just before Christmas 1967, he put his plot into motion.
Ahead of the planned coup date, the royal family flew to northern Greece, far away from where the action would take place. Yet from the moment it started, it was chaos. Most of the airbases immediately went to King Constantine's side, but the well-organized and vicious junta fought back, arresting several senior officers.
When the dust settled, Constantine's heart was broken.
King Constantine's counter coup was so close to succeeding, but in the end he was no match for the men who had taken his government by force. Constantine was now in the most dangerous situation he had ever been in. He was completely powerless, and his enemies would likely soon imprison him for high treason. So once more, he ran..
On December 14, 1967, Constantine and his family headed to Rome and another exile. It seemed even fate felt the harsh pain of Constantine’s defeat, because it poured rain biblically on that unfortunate December day, and he landed at his destination with only a few minutes of fuel left. As we'll see, though, that day held one final tragedy.
For the next two months, Constantine lived in the Greek embassy in Rome, then moved to a comfortable house in one of the city's suburbs. The entire time, the royal family looked the picture of normalcy and calm. Photos of them happily celebrating Christmas even made their way to Greece, much to the consternation of the royalists back home.
Throughout it all, though, Constantine maintained a kind of lazy confidence that he would once more be king in Greece, once saying, "I am sure I shall go back the way my ancestors did". He'd find out how wrong he was.
In 1973, Constantine's allies tried their luck yet again when the Navy staged another countercoup on the junta. Unfortunately, the coup failed once more, and the consequences were devastating. Sick and tired of this gadfly king, the junta simply used their power to entirely abolish the Greek monarchy.
Constantine's birthright was gone in a puff of smoke...but there was one final insult.
Constantine's enemies wanted to make sure he stayed far away from Greece, so they didn't stop at abolishing the monarchy. In July 1973, they also held a referendum to ask the people of Greece whether they wanted a monarchy. It was a crushing disappointment for Constantine: The people voted a resounding "no".
Still, this wasn't the end of Constantine's royal story, not in the least.
Constantine may not have been King of Greece anymore, but he still held immense symbolic power. In 1981, after his mother passed, Constantine returned to Greece for her funeral. His simple motion caused complete chaos. When he arrived, he kneeled and kissed the ground of his homeland. But many don't know the other side of this story.
Although the government roared in panic at Constantine's rabble-rousing actions, the ex-King was still very much a puppet of his old realm. In fact, officials only let Constantine stay in Greece for a measly six hours during this mournful visit, forcing him to fly back home right after the funeral. But he did have a real rebellion later on.
For much of his post-royalty life, Constantine peacefully recognized Greece as a republic, stating that if that was what his people wanted, he had to accept it. There was, however, one thing he couldn't swallow: The loss of his childhood home, the palace of Tatoi. Instead of working through this emotionally, Constantine came up with a bizarre solution.
In 1992, Constantine performed his strangest act yet. He had all the moveable property at Tatoi packed up and sent to him in exile. To make this deal sweeter for the current government, Constantine even gave up the rest of his moveable property in Greece to charity. Problem solved, right? Uh, wrong.
Constantine's reclaiming of Tatoi enraged the Greek people, and caused further issues in the government. Eventually, the whole situation turned very sour, with government officials going back on their word and Constantine asking for more and more concessions around the blasted immoveable palace of Tatoi. Enter: more revenge.
Constantine was no one's favorite in the Greek government, but in 1994 they well and truly screwed him over. That year, they passed a law that hit him on all fronts. The name on his passport was "Constantine, former King of the Hellenes," and the government now insisted he have a "real" surname—then stripped him of his Greek citizenship, his passport, and his property.
Yes, the former King of Greece had to reapply to become a Greek citizen. That was the last straw for him.
In November 2000, Constantine challenged the Greek government in the only place he could, the European Court of Human Rights, fighting them on Tatoi, his other properties, and his citizenship. The results were both triumphant and heartbreaking. He did get a sum of money for his troubles, but only a small one. But the real disappointment came next.
Unfortunately for Constantine, it turns out that not having a Greek passport isn't a human rights violation, and the courts upheld the law that had stripped him of his citizenship. Somehow, this still didn't change the former king's mind. Constantine continued to refuse to get a last name—and his reasons were utterly ridiculous.
According to the ex monarch, since his family came from Denmark and the Danish royal family had no last names, there was nothing for him to do. And although he came from the House of Glucksburg, as he put it, that "was not a family name but the name of a town. I might as well call myself Mr Kensington".
Okay, whatever you say, Constantine. Luckily he still had a Danish passport.
When he was living among civilians, Constantine mostly showed humility. Um, except for that time he compared himself to Christ. Barred from his homeland for so long, he once claimed to Greek reporters that “for many years I have lived through my own Golgotha, now I am ready to return”. That’s a rather bombastic allusion...but he did return.
In 2013, after nearly half a century in exile, Constantine finally made a heartfelt homecoming. He sold off his principal residence and returned at long last to Athens, Greece. While there, he kept the low profile he usually adopted, though people sometimes still spotted him walking through the streets.
Nonetheless, not even a return to his homeland could fix his health issues.
In his old age, Constantine’s health had many complications, and that caused him to disappear from the public eye in the final years of his life. He had chronic heart issues as well as mobility problems, and wasn't even well enough to attend the funeral of his third cousin, Queen Elizabeth II. When his own end came, it was swift.
On January 6, 2023, his health only worsened when he suffered a debilitating stroke. For four days, he lay in critical care at the Hygiea hospital in Athens, before succumbing to his illnesses. He passed at the age of 82.
Even in death, Constantine continued his interminable struggle with Greek authorities. In a distasteful low blow, the government disallowed Constantine a state funeral and used his death as a political message, demonstrating to the Greek people that the former king has nothing to do with Greek politics. Well, his family had something to say about that.
If Constantine couldn’t receive a state funeral, the surviving members of his family felt that the government could at least honor him in another way. They wanted to bury Constantine's remains in a popular pilgrimage site, so that everyone nearby could pay their respects.
It was not to be: The Greek government also denied these requests...but that didn't mean Constantine was forgotten.
No fewer than 200 people showed up on the day of Constantine's funeral, including nine monarchs. This popularity even forced the Greek deputy Prime Minister to come out and pay his respects. But the most heartbreaking tribute came from Constantine's wife. At the somber ceremony, Anne-Marie wore a diamond cross she had worn the day of their wedding.
Then again, Constantine's funeral wasn't even worst ordeal she'd been through.
When Constantine and his family fled Greece after his failed counter coup, no one could’ve anticipated the further tragedy that awaited him. Constantine and his wife had been expecting another child, but just after they arrived in Rome the stress of the situation took its toll on the queen's body, and she miscarried.
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