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Olga Constantinovna of Russia (September 3, 1851 – June 18, 1926) was queen consort of the Hellenes as the wife of King George I. She was briefly the regent of Greece in 1920. Olga was the Grandmother of Prince Philip, The Duke of Edinburgh and the great-great-grandmother of Spains current king, Felipe VI.

Family and early life

Olga was born at Pavlovsk Palace near Saint Petersburg and was the second child and elder daughter of Grand Duke Constantine Nikolaievich and his wife, Grand Duchess Alexandra, a former princess of Saxe-Altenburg. Through her father, Olga was a granddaughter of Emperor Nicholas I, a niece of Emperor Alexander II and first cousin of Emperor Alexander III.

Her childhood was spent at her father’s homes, including Pavlovsk Palace and estates in the Crimea. Her father was a younger brother of Alexander II, and her mother was considered one of the most intelligent and elegant women of the court. Olga was particularly close to her older brother, Nicholas, and was one of the few members of the imperial family to keep in touch with him after he was banished to Tashkent.

Grand Duke Nicholas Constantinovich of Russia had an affair with a notorious American woman Fanny Lear. Due to his affair, he stole three valuable diamonds from the revetment of one of the most valuable family icons. He was declared insane and he was banished to Tashkent.

As a child, Olga was described as a simple and chubby little girl with a broad face and big blue eyes. Unlike her younger sister, Vera, she had a calm temperament, but she was also extremely shy. For example, when interrogated by her tutors during lessons, she burst into tears and ran from the classroom.

In 1862, Grand Duke Constantine Nikolaievich was appointed viceroy of Russian Poland by his brother and moved to Warsaw with his wife and children. The stay in Poland proved difficult for the Grand Duke, who was the victim of a nationalist assassination attempt the day after his arrival in the Polish capital. Although Constantine embarked on a program of liberalization and re-instated Polish as an official language, Polish nationalists agitating for reform were not appeased. Finally, an uprising in January 1863 and the radicalization of the separatists pushed the Emperor to recall his brother in August. Olga’s difficult experiences in Poland marked her profoundly.

Engagement and marriage

The 17 year old King George I of Greece visited Russia in 1863 to thank Olga’s uncle Emperor Aexander II for his support during George’s election to the throne of Greece. Whilst there, George met the then twelve-year-old Olga for the first time.

George visited Russia again in 1867 to meet with his sister Dagmar, who had married Tsarevitch Alexander (later Alexander III) the year before. He was determined to find a wife and the idea of an alliance with a Russian grand duchess, born into the Eastern Orthodox Church, appealed to him.

Olga fell in love with George, but she was nevertheless anxious and distraught at the thought of leaving Russia. Her father was initially reluctant to agree to their marriage, thinking that at the age of fifteen she was too young and, being close to his daughter, concerned by the distance between Greece and Russia.

For her part, Grand Duchess Alexandra was much more enthusiastic than her husband and, when some members of the imperial family noted the extreme youth of her daughter, she replied that Olga would not always be as young. Eventually, it was decided that Olga and George would marry when she had reached her sixteenth birthday. Meanwhile, she would continue her schoolwork until her wedding day.

Olga and George married at the chapel of the Winter Palace in Saint Petersburg on October 27, 1867. After five days of festivities, they spent a brief honeymoon at Ropsha, south-west of Saint Petersburg. Over the following twenty years, they had eight children:

Constantine (August 2, 1868 – January 11, 1923), who was born ten months after the marriage of his parents; he married Princess Sophia of Prussia and succeeded his father as king;

George (June 24, 1869 – November 25, 1957), High Commissioner of Crete from 1898 to 1906, married Princess Marie Bonaparte;

Alexandra (August 30, 1870 – September 24, 1891), married Grand Duke Paul Alexandrovich of Russia; their children included Grand Duke Dmitri Pavlovich of Russia, one of the assassins of Grigori Rasputin;

Nicholas (January 22, 1872 – February 8, 1938), married Grand Duchess Elena Vladimirovna of Russia;

Marie (March 3, 1876 – December 14, 1940), married firstly Grand Duke George Mikhailovich of Russia and secondly Perikles Ioannidis;

Olga (April 7, 1880 – November 2, 1880);

Andrew (February 2, 1882 – December 3, 1944), he married Princess Alice of Battenberg, their children included Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh; and

Christopher (August 10, 1888 – January 21, 1940), father of Prince Michael of Greece.