Constantine, the former and last king of Greece, dies at 82


ATHENS, Greece (AP) — Constantine, the former and last king of Greece, who won an Olympic gold medal before becoming king in the 1960s caught up in his country’s volatile politics and spending decades in exile, has passed away. He turned 82.

Doctors at the private Hygeia Hospital in Athens confirmed to The Associated Press that Constantine died late Tuesday after being treated in an intensive care unit, but had no further details pending an official announcement.

When he ascended the throne as Constantine II in 1964 at the age of 23, the youthful monarch, who had already achieved glory as an Olympic gold medalist in sailing, was hugely popular. By the following year, he had squandered much of that support with his active involvement in the machinations that brought down Prime Minister George Papandreou’s elected Center Union government.

The episode involving the ruling party’s defection of several legislators, still commonly known in Greece as the “apostasy”, destabilized the constitutional order and led to a military coup in 1967. Constantine eventually clashed with the military rulers and was forced into exile.

The dictatorship abolished the monarchy in 1973, while a referendum after democracy was restored in 1974 dashed any hope Constantine had of ever ruling again.

Reduced in the following decades to only fleeting visits to Greece that each time sparked a political and media frenzy, he was able to settle back in his homeland in his waning years as he resisted his presence no longer being seen as a sign of vigilance. republicanism. With minimal nostalgia for the monarchy in Greece, Constantine became a relatively uncontroversial figure.

Constantine was born in Athens on 2 June 1940 to Prince Paul, younger brother of King George II and heir presumptive, and Princess Frederica of Hanover. His older sister Sophia is the wife of former King Juan Carlos I of Spain. The Greek-born Prince Philip, the late Duke of Edinburgh and husband of the late Queen Elizabeth II, was an uncle.

The family, which had ruled Greece from 1863, apart from a 12-year republican interlude between 1922-1935, descended from Prince Christian, later Christian IX of Denmark, of the House of Schleswig-Holstein-Sonderburg-Glücksburg branch of the Danish ruling family.

Before Constantine’s first birthday, the royal family was forced to flee Greece during the German invasion in World War II, to Alexandria in Egypt, South Africa and back to Alexandria. King George II returned to Greece in 1946, after a disputed referendum, but died a few months later, making Constantine the heir to King Paul I.

Constantine was educated at a boarding school, then attended three military academies and classes at Athens Law School in preparation for his future role. He also participated in several sports, including sailing and karate, in which he held a black belt.

In 1960, when he was 20, he and two other Greek sailors won a gold medal in the Dragon Class – now no longer an Olympic class – at the Rome Olympics. While still a prince, Constantine was elected a member of the International Olympic Committee and made an honorary life member in 1974.

King Paul I died of cancer on 6 March 1964 and Constantine succeeded him, weeks after the Center Union party triumphed over the Conservatives with 53% of the vote.

The prime minister, George Papandreou, and Constantine initially had a very close relationship, but it quickly spiraled out of control due to Constantine’s insistence that control of the armed forces was the monarch’s prerogative.

With many officers toying with the idea of ​​a dictatorship and viewing any non-conservative government as weak to communism, Papandreou wanted to control the defense ministry and eventually demanded to be appointed defense minister. After a bitter exchange of letters with Constantine, Papandreou resigned in July 1965.

Constantine’s insistence on appointing a government made up of centrist defectors that won a narrow parliamentary majority on the third attempt was wildly unpopular. Many saw him as being manipulated by his scheming mother, Dowager Queen Frederica.

“The people don’t want you, take your mother and go!” became the rallying cry of the protests that rocked Greece in the summer of 1965.

Eventually, Constantine negotiated a sort of truce with Papandreou and, with his agreement, appointed a government of technocrats and then a government led by the conservatives to hold elections in May 1967.

But with the polls strongly in favor of the Center Union and Papandreou’s leftist son, Andreas, growing in popularity, Constantine and his courtiers feared revenge and, with the help of senior officers, prepared a coup.

However, a group of junior officers, led by colonels, prepared their own coup d’état and on April 21, 1967, informed of Constantine’s plans by a mole, declared a dictatorship.

Constantine was surprised and his feelings for the new rulers were clearly shown in the official photo of the new government. He pretended to go with them, preparing a counter-coup with the help of troops in northern Greece and the navy, which was loyal to him.

On December 13, 1967, Constantine and his family flew to the northern city of Kavala with the intention of marching on Thessaloniki and establishing a government there. The counter-coup, mismanaged and infiltrated, collapsed and Constantine was forced to flee to Rome the next day. He would never return as reigning king.

The junta appointed a regent and, after a failed naval counter-coup in May 1973, abolished the monarchy on 1 June 1973. A plebiscite in July, widely regarded as rigged, confirmed the decision.

When the dictatorship collapsed in July 1974, Constantine was eager to return to Greece, but was dissuaded by veteran politician Constantine Karamanlis, who returned from exile to lead a civilian government. Karamanlis, who also headed the government between 1955 and 1963, was a conservative but had clashed with the court over what he considered excessive interference in politics.

After his triumphant victory in the November election, Karamanlis called for a plebiscite on the monarchy in 1974. Constantine was banned from entering the country to campaign, but the result was unequivocal and widely accepted: 69.2% voted for a republic.

Soon after, Karamanlis said the nation had rid itself of a cancerous tumor. Constantine said on the day after the referendum that “national unity must take precedence … I wish with all my heart that developments will justify the result of yesterday’s vote.”

Until his last days, Constantine, while accepting that Greece was now a republic, continued to refer to himself as King of Greece and his children as princes and princesses, even though Greece no longer recognized titles of nobility.

He lived in Hampstead Garden Suburb, London, for most of his exile, and was said to be particularly close to his second cousin Charles, the Prince of Wales and now King Charles III.

Although it took Constantine 14 years to briefly return to his country to bury his mother, Queen Frederica, in 1981, he then multiplied his visits and settled there from 2010. There were ongoing disputes: in 1994 the then socialist government gave him his nationality and expropriated what was left of the royal family’s property. Constantine sued at the European Court of Human Rights and was awarded €12 million in 2002, a fraction of the €500 million he had demanded.

He is survived by his wife, the former Princess Anne-Marie of Denmark, Queen Margrethe II’s youngest sister; five children, Alexia, Pavlos, Nikolaos, Theodora and Philippos; and nine grandchildren. ___ Derek Gatopoulos in Athens contributed.

The Valley Voice
Christopher Brito is a social media producer and trending writer for The Valley Voice, with a focus on sports and stories related to race and culture.

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