Anne-Marie of Denmark, Exile, General Georgios Zoitakis, King Constantine II of the Hellenes, King Paul of the Hellenes, Military Junta, Monarchy Abolished, Queen Margrethe II of Denmark.
Constantine II (June 2, 1940 – January 10, 2023) was the last King of the Hellenes reigning from March 6, 1964 until the abolition of the Greek monarchy on June 1, 1973.
Constantine was born in Athens as the only son of Crown Prince Paul and Crown Princess Frederica of Greece. Born Her Royal Highness Frederica 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 and his wife Princess Augusta Victoria of Schleswig-Holstein-Sonderburg-Augustenburg.
Prince Constantine had an elder sister, Princess Sofia, born in 1938. However, since agnatic primogeniture governed the succession to throne in Greece at the time, the birth of a male heir to the throne had been anxiously awaited by the Greek royal family, and the newborn prince was therefore received with joy by his parents.
His birth was celebrated with a 101–gun salute from Mount Lycabettus in Athens, which, according to tradition, announced that the newborn was a boy. According to Greek naming practices, being the first son, he was named after his paternal grandfather, Constantine I, who had died 17 years earlier in 1923. At his baptism in Athens, the Hellenic Armed Forces acted as his godparent.
Being of Danish descent, Constantine was also born as a Prince of Denmark. As his family was forced into exile during the Second World War, he spent the first years of his childhood in Egypt and South Africa. He returned to Greece with his family in 1946 during the civil war.
After Constantine’s uncle George II died in 1947, Paul became the new king and Constantine the crown prince. As a young man, Constantine was a competitive sailor and Olympian, winning a gold medal in the 1960 Rome Olympics in the Dragon class along with Odysseus Eskitzoglou and George Zaimis in the yacht Nireus. From 1964 he served on the International Olympic Committee.
Constantine acceded as King following his father’s death in 1964. Later that year he married Princess Anne-Marie of Denmark, the youngest daughter of King Frederik IX of Denmark and Princess Ingrid of Sweden, the daughter of King Gustaf VI Adolph of Sweden and his first wife, Princess Margaret of Connaught, a granddaughter of Britain’s Queen Victoria.
Anne-Marie is the youngest sister of Queen Margrethe II of Denmark. She is also a first cousin of King Carl XVI Gustaf of Sweden and a second cousin of King Harald V of Norway. Anne-Marie and her husband Constantine were third cousins: they shared King Christian IX of Denmark as patrilineal great-great-grandfather. They also shared Queen Victoria as a great-great-grandmother.
They had five children: Princess Alexia, Crown Prince Pavlos, Prince Nikolaos, Princess Theodora, and Prince Philippos.
Although the accession of the young monarch was initially regarded auspiciously, his reign saw political instability.
The opportunity to be removed from the Greek Orthodox Cephaly, in fact it was one of the first measures with which Constantine collaborated with the Junta. On April 28th, 1967, Chrysostomos II was retained and was forced to resign after having to sign one of the two versions of the letter brought to him by an official of the royal palace. Finally, Ieronymos Kotsonis was elected as metropolitan by the junta’s and Constantine’s proposal on May 13, 1967.
From the outset, the relationship between Constantine and the regime of the colonels was an uneasy one, especially when he refused to sign the decree imposing martial law and asked Talbot to flee Greece in an American helicopter with his family.
But the administration of US president Lyndon B. Johnson wanted to keep Constantine in Greece to negotiate with the junta for the return of democracy. The presence of the United States Sixth Fleet in the Aegean Sea outraged the junta government, which forced Constantine to get rid of his private secretary, Michail Arnaoutis [el]. Arnaoutis, who had served as the king’s military instructor in the 1950s and became his close friend, was generally reviled among the public for his role in the palace intrigues of the previous years.
The king and his entourage were beginning to worry that the future of the monarchy was endangered. Constantine visited the United States in the following days and in a meeting with Johnson, Constantine asked for military aid for a countercoup he was planning, but without success. The junta, however, had information about Constantine’s conspiracy. Constantine later described himself as having the idea of a countercoup ten minutes after he found out about the junta’s rise to power.
On the morning of the day the countercoup had been rescheduled to, December 13, 1967, after eight months of planning the countercoup, the royal family flew to Kavala, east of Thessaloniki, accompanied by Prime Minister Konstantinos Kollias who was informed at that moment of Constantine’s plan.
They arrived at 11:30 a.m. and were well received by the citizens. But some conspirators were neutralised, such as General Manettas, and Odysseas Angelis informed the public of the plan, asking citizens to obey his orders minutes before telecommunications were cut off.
By noon, all the airbases, except one in Athens, had joined the royalist movement, and fleet leader Vice Admiral Dedes, before being arrested, ordered successfully the whole fleet to sail towards Kavala in obedience to the king.
They did not manage to take Thessaloniki and it soon became apparent that the senior officers were not in control of their units. This, along with the arrest of several officers, including the capture of Peridis that afternoon, and the delay in the execution of some orders, led to the countercoup’s failure.
The junta, led by Georgios Papadopoulos, on the same day appointed General Georgios Zoitakis as Regent of Greece. Archbishop Ieronymos swore Zoitakis into office in Athens. Constantine, the royal family and Prime Minister Konstantinos Kollias took off in torrential rain from Kavala for exile in Rome, where they arrived at 4 p.m. on December 14th with their plane having only five minutes of fuel left. In 2004, Constantine said that he would have done everything the same, but with more caution.
Two weeks after his exile, photos of Constantine and his family celebrated Christmas with normality in the Greek Ambassador to Italy’s home reached Greek media, which didn’t do Constantine’s reputation “any favour”. He remained in exile in Italy through the rest of military rule.
King Constantine II formally remained Greece’s head of state in exile until the junta abolished the monarchy in June 1973 (a decision ratified via a referendum in July). After the restoration of democracy a year later, a second referendum was held in December 1974, which confirmed the abolition of the monarchy and the establishment of the Third Hellenic Republic.
While Constantine had contested the results of the 1973 referendum, he accepted the verdict of the 1974 vote, even though he had not been allowed to return to Greece to campaign. After living for several decades in London, Constantine moved back to Athens in 2013. He died there in 2023 following a stroke.
From the Emperor’s Desk: I will conclude this series next week with my assessment and thoughts on the Greek monarchy.