Anne-Marie of Denmark, Colonels Coup, Constantine II of the Hellenes, Counter-coup Georgios Papandreou, Frederica of Hanover, Junta, King Pavlos of the Hellenes, Referendum
Constantine II (born June 2, 1940) reigned as the last King of the Hellenes, from March 6, 1964 until the abolition of the Greek monarchy on June 1, 1973.
Constantine is the only son of King Pavlos and Queen Frederica of Greece. Frederica was born a, Princess of Hanover, Princess of Great Britain and Ireland, and Princess of Brunswick-Lüneburg on April 18, 1917 in Blankenburg am Harz, in the German Duchy of Brunswick, she was the only daughter and third child of Ernst August then reigning Duke of Brunswick, and his wife Princess Viktoria Luise of Prussia, herself the only daughter of the German Emperor Wilhelm II.
Constantine acceded as King of the Hellenes in 1964 following the death of his father, King Pavlos. Later that year he married Princess Anne-Marie of Denmark the youngest daughter of King Frederik IX of Denmark and his wife Ingrid of Sweden. She is the youngest sister of the reigning Queen Margrethe II of Denmark and first cousin of the reigning King Carl XVI Gustaf of Sweden.
Although the accession of the young monarch was initially regarded auspiciously, his reign saw political instability that culminated in the Colonels’ Coup of April 21, 1967.
On April 21, 1967, a group of colonels overthrew the caretaker government a month before scheduled elections which Georgios Papandreou’s Centre Union was favoured to win. The dictatorship was characterised by right-wing cultural policies, restrictions on civil liberties, and the imprisonment, torture, and exile of political opponents.
The coup left Constantine II, still as the head of state, but with little room to manoeuvre since he had no loyal military forces on which to rely. As a result, he reluctantly agreed to inaugurate the junta on the condition that it be made up largely of civilian ministers.
When the tanks came to the streets of Athens on April 21, the legitimate National Radical Union government, of which Rallis was a member, asked King Constantine II to immediately mobilise the state against the coup; he declined to do so, and swore in the dictators as the legitimate government of Greece.
The King, who had relented and decided to co-operate, claims to this day that he was isolated and did not know what else to do. He has since claimed that he was trying to gain time to organise a counter-coup and oust the Junta. He did organise such a counter-coup; however, the fact that the new government had a legal sanction, in that it had been appointed by the legitimate head of state, played an important role in the coup’s success.
The King was later to regret his decision bitterly. For many Greeks, it served to identify him indelibly with the coup and certainly played an important role in the final decision to abolish the monarchy, sanctioned by the 1974 referendum.
The only concession the King could achieve was to appoint a civilian as prime minister, rather than Spandidakis. Konstantinos Kollias, a former Attorney General of the Areios Pagos (supreme court), was chosen. He was a well-known royalist and had even been disciplined under the Papandreou government for meddling in the investigation of the murder of MP Gregoris Lambrakis.
Kollias was little more than a figurehead and real power rested with the army, and especially Papadopoulos, who emerged as the coup’s strong man and became Minister to the Presidency of the Government. Other coup members occupied key posts.
Up until then constitutional legitimacy had been preserved, since under the Greek Constitution the King could appoint whomever he wanted as prime minister, as long as Parliament endorsed the appointment with a vote of confidence or a general election was called. It was this government, sworn-in during the early evening hours of April 21, that formalised the coup. It adopted a “Constituent Act”, an amendment tantamount to a revolution, cancelling the elections and effectively abolishing the constitution, which would be replaced later.
In the meantime, the government was to rule by decree. Since traditionally such Constituent Acts did not need to be signed by the Crown, the King never signed it, permitting him to claim, years later, that he had never signed any document instituting the junta. Critics claim that Constantine II did nothing to prevent the government (and especially his chosen prime minister, Kollias) from legally instituting the authoritarian government to come. This same government published and enforced a decree, already proclaimed on radio as the coup was in progress, instituting military law. Constantine claimed he never signed that decree either.
From the outset, the relationship between Constantine and the colonels was an uneasy one. The colonels were not willing to share power, whereas the young king, like his father before him, was used to playing an active role in politics and would never consent to being a mere figurehead, especially in a military administration.
Although the colonels’ strong anti-communist, pro-NATO, and pro-Western views appealed to the United States, President Lyndon B. Johnson – in an attempt to avoid an international backlash – told Constantine that it would be best to replace the junta with a new government according to Paul Ioannidis in his book Destiny Prevails: My life with Aristóteles Onassis. Constantine took that as an encouragement to organize a counter-coup, although no direct help or involvement of the U.S. (or Britain) was forthcoming.
The King finally decided to launch his counter-coup on December 13, 1967. Since Athens was militarily in the hands of the colonels, Constantine decided to fly to the small northern city of Kavala, where he hoped to be among troops loyal only to him. The vague plan that Constantine and his advisors had conceived was to form a unit that would invade and take control over Thessaloniki, where an alternative administration would be installed. Constantine hoped that international recognition and internal pressure between the two governments would force the junta to resign, leaving the field clear for him to return triumphant to Athens.
In the early morning hours of December 13, the King boarded the royal plane, together with Queen Anne-Marie, their two baby children Princess Alexia and Crown Prince Pavlos, his mother Frederica, and his sister, Princess Irene. Constantine also took with him Prime Minister Kollias. At first, things seemed to be going according to plan.
Constantine was well received in Kavala, which was under the command of a general loyal to him. The Hellenic Air Force and Navy, both strongly royalist and not involved in the junta, immediately declared for him and mobilised. Another of Constantine’s generals effectively cut all communication between Athens and northern Greece.
However, Constantine’s plans were overly bureaucratic, naïvely supposing that orders from a commanding general would automatically be obeyed.
In the circumstances, middle-ranking pro-junta officers neutralised and arrested Constantine’s royalist generals and took command of their units, and subsequently put together a force to advance on Kavala to arrest the King.
The junta, not at all shaken by the loss of their figurehead premier, ridiculed Constantine by announcing that he was hiding “from village to village”.
Realising that the counter-coup had failed, Constantine fled Greece on board the royal plane, taking his family and the helpless Kollias with him. They landed in Rome early in the morning of December 14. Constantine remained in exile during the remainder of military rule.
Constantine remained (formally) the head of state in exile until the junta abolished the monarchy on June 1,1973. The 1973 Greek republic referendum on July 29, ratified the abolition. There were questions concerning the validity of this referendum and whether people were pressured to vote for a republic.
Therefore a fresh referendum was held after the restoration of democracy in 1974. This second referendum was held after the fall of the junta as the 1974 Greek republic referendum on December 8, 1974 and confirmed the abolition of the monarchy and the establishment of the Third Hellenic Republic. Constantine, who was not allowed to return to Greece to campaign, accepted the results of the plebiscite.