Alexander of the Hellenes, Andrew of the Hellenes, Constantine I of the Hellenes, George II of the Hellenes, Gran Duchess Olga Constantinovna of Russia, Queen of the Hellenes, Sophia of Prussia
In Switzerland, Constantine I and his family found themselves isolated and without an income. The Greek government under Venizelos did not pay pensions to former rulers and prohibited any contact between the exiles and King Alexander. Already in fragile health, the former king became gradually more depressed. The Russian Revolution and the National Schism deprived Olga of her immovable property and she was forced to live a much less lavish lifestyle than in the past. She did, however, enjoy spending more time with her sons and grandchildren, from whom she had been long separated by the war.
On October 2, 1920, King Alexander was bitten by a monkey during a walk through the gardens at Tatoi. The wound became infected and Alexander developed sepsis. On October 19, he began to rave and called for his mother, but the Greek government refused to allow Queen Sophia to return to Greece. Worried about her son, and knowing that his grandmother was the only other royal still in favor with the Venizelists, Sophia asked Olga to go to Athens to care for Alexander. After several days of negotiations, the dowager queen obtained permission to return to Greece but, delayed by rough seas, she arrived twelve hours after her grandson’s death on 25 October 25. On October 29, Alexander was buried at Tatoi; Olga was the only member of the royal family at the funeral.
Still opposed to the return of Constantine I and Crown Prince George, the government of Eleftherios Venizelos offered the throne to Constantine’s third son, Prince Paul, who refused to ascend the throne before his father and older brother unless a referendum named him head of state. Only days after Alexander’s death, however, Venizelos was defeated in a general election. On November 17, Admiral Pavlos Kountouriotis, regent since the death of Alexander, retired and the new prime minister, Dimitrios Rallis, asked Olga to assume the regency. She served as regent for about a month until her son Constantine returned to the throne on December 19, after a referendum in his favor.
Second exile and death
Constantine I returned to the throne 18 months into the Greco-Turkish War, launched in May 1919. In September 1921, the Greek defeat at the battle of Sakarya marked the beginning of the Greek retreat from Anatolia. Resentment among the allies for Constantine’s policy during World War I prevented Athens from receiving outside support. Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, the new leader of Turkey, regained Smyrna and Eastern Thrace, annexed by Athens at the end of World War I.
Following a coup by disgruntled military officers, Constantine I abdicated for a second time on September 27, 1922. With several other members of his family, including Queen Olga, he went into exile in Italy and his eldest son succeeded him for a few months on the throne as George II. Within months, Constantine died in Italy. One of Olga’s sons, Prince Andrew, was among those arrested by the new regime. Many defendants in the treason trials that followed the coup were shot, including senior politicians and generals. Foreign diplomats assumed that Andrew was also in mortal danger, and George V of the United Kingdom, Alfonso XIII of Spain, the French president Raymond Poincaré and Pope Pius XI sent representatives to Athens to intercede on his behalf. Andrew, though spared, was banished for life and his family (including the infant Prince Philip, later Duke of Edinburgh and consort of Queen Elizabeth II) fled into exile in December 1922 aboard a British cruiser, HMS Calypso.
Unlike her children and grandchildren, Olga was given a pension by the government of the Second Hellenic Republic, but she maintained so many of the faithful old servants who had fled Greece with her that she was usually left with no more than 20 pounds sterling per month (worth about £1,100 in 2019 prices) to meet her own expenses. She could, however, count on the support of her family, scattered throughout Western Europe. In the United Kingdom, she shared her time between Spencer House, London, the residence of her youngest son, Prince Christopher; Regent’s Park, where her daughter, Grand Duchess Marie, rented a mansion; Sandringham House, the home of her sister-in-law, Queen Alexandra; and Windsor Castle and Buckingham Palace, where her nephew, King George V, lent apartments.
Olga’s final years were marked by ill health. Lameness restricted her to a wheelchair, and she stayed in Paris several times to undergo treatment for her eyes. Her poor eyesight caused George V much laughter when she mistook a statue of a naked Lady Godiva for one of Queen Victoria. Increasingly dependent, Olga finally settled with her youngest son, Prince Christopher, shortly after the death of his first wife, Princess Anastasia, in 1923. Olga died on June 18, 1926 either at Christopher’s Villa Anastasia in Rome, or at Pau, France.
Despite republicanism in Greece, Olga was still held in high esteem and the republican government in Athens offered to pay for her funeral and repatriate her remains to Greece. Nonetheless, her children declined the offer, preferring to bury her in Italy beside her son, Constantine I, whose body Greece had refused to accept. Her funeral was held on June 22, 1926 at the Orthodox Church in Rome and the next day she was laid to rest in the crypt of the Russian Church in Florence. After the restoration of the Greek monarchy in 1935 she was re-interred at Tatoi on November 17, 1936.
As much of her property had been confiscated by the Soviet Union and the Greek republican government, most of her estate comprised jewelry reported in The Times to be worth £100,000 (equivalent to £5,600,000 in 2019). This was shared between her children and the children of Constantine I. Traumatized by the events of the Russian Revolution, Olga wished to sever all ties with the country in which her family had been massacred. Before dying, she made her grandson, King George II, swear to repatriate the ashes of her daughter Princess Alexandra, buried in the Peter and Paul Cathedral in Saint Petersburg. Her wish was fulfilled in 1940 after his restoration to the Greek throne.