Aspasia Manos, Duke of Connaught and Strathearn, Eleftherios Venizelos, King Alexander of the Hellenes, King Constantine I of the Hellenes, Prime Minister of Greece, Prince, Prince Arthur of the United Kingdom, princess Sophie of Prussia
On June 26, 1917, King Alexander was forced to name Eleftherios Venizelos as head of the government. Despite promises given by the Entente on Constantine’s departure, the previous prime minister, Zaimis, was effectively forced to resign as Venizelos returned to Athens. Alexander immediately opposed his new prime minister’s views and, annoyed by the king’s rebuffs, Venizelos threatened to remove him and set up a regency council in the name of Alexander’s brother Prince Paul, then still a minor.
The Entente powers intervened and asked Venizelos to back down, allowing Alexander to retain the crown. Spied on day and night by the prime minister’s supporters, the monarch quickly became a prisoner in his own palace, and his orders went ignored.
Alexander had no experience in affairs of state. However, he was determined to make the best of a difficult situation and represent his father as best he could. Adopting an air of cool indifference to the government, he rarely made the effort to read official documents before he rubber-stamped them. His functions were limited, and amounted to visiting the Macedonian front to support the morale of the Greek and Allied troops. Since Venizelos’s return to power, Athens was at war with the Central Powers, and Greek soldiers battled those of Bulgaria in the north.
On June 12, 1917, the day after his accession, Alexander revealed his liaison with Aspasia Manos to his father and asked for his permission to marry her. Constantine was reluctant to let his son marry a non-royal, and demanded that Alexander wait until the end of the war before considering the engagement, to which Alexander agreed. In the intervening months, Alexander increasingly resented his separation from his family. His regular letters to his parents were intercepted by the government and confiscated. Alexander’s only source of comfort was Aspasia, and he decided to marry her despite his father’s request.
The ruling dynasty of Greece (the House of Glücksburg) was of German-Danish origin, and Constantine and Sophia were seen as far too German by the Venizelists, but even though the marriage of the king to a Greek presented an opportunity to Hellenize the royal family, and counter criticisms that it was a foreign institution, both Venizelists and Constantinists opposed the match.
The Venizelists feared it would give Alexander a means to communicate with his exiled family through Colonel Manos and both sides of the political divide were unhappy at the king marrying a commoner. Although Venizelos was a friend of Petros Manos, the prime minister warned the king that marrying her would be unpopular in the eyes of the people.
When Eleftherios Venizelos, visited Athens in March 1918, to confer the Order of the Bath upon the king, Alexander feared that a marriage between him and Princess Mary of the United Kingdom would be discussed as part of an attempt to consolidate the relationship between Greece and Britain.
To Alexander’s relief, Arthur asked to meet Aspasia, and declared that, if he were younger, he would have sought to marry her himself. For the foreign powers, and particularly the British ambassador, the marriage was seen as positive. The British authorities feared that Alexander would abdicate in order to marry Aspasia if the wedding was blocked, and they wanted to avoid Greece becoming a republic in case it led to instability or an increase in French influence at their expense.
Alexander’s parents were not so happy about the match. Sophia disapproved of her son marrying a commoner, while Constantine wanted a delay but was prepared to be his son’s best man if Alexander would be patient. Alexander visited Paris at the end of 1918, raising hopes among his family that they would be able to contact him once he was outside Greece. When Queen Sophia attempted to telephone her son in his Parisian hotel, a minister intercepted the call and informed her that “His Majesty is sorry, but he cannot respond to the telephone”. He was not even informed that she had called.