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What happened to the Greek monarchy?


Greece is a democratic republic that carefully balances a history that dates back to the 12th century BC and a push for modernisation. 

But if we take a look back about 55 years, we would see a much different picture. Following the tragedy that was World War II, Greece experienced a civil war that saw the communists being banned and would ultimately lead to the 1967 military coup. 

In that year, King Constantine II was only three years into his kingdom, which he accessed in 1964 upon the death of his father, King Pavlos. Later in 1964, the King announced his engagement and subsequently married Princess Anne-Marie of Denmark, whom he had met on several prior occasions, including the wedding of Constantine’s sister, Princess Sophia, to Prince Juan Carlos of Spain. The engagement of their Princess to King Constantine sparked some rage among the left-leaning population in Denmark; nevertheless, the pair got married two weeks after Anne-Marie had turned 18. 

Let’s fast forward to 1967, and the mere three years of reign that King Constantine had under his belt had all taken place in a climate of suspicions and strong ideological oppositions. Rumours of a coup were already circulating – rumours that the King decided to ignore. 

And this proved to be a big mistake; the coup came faster than anyone expected and left the King completely unprepared and vulnerable.

On 21 April, tanks and small units commanded by Army generals took control of Athens; within hours, the military junta could arrest anyone without a warrant and try that person in front of a military court, even if that person was a civilian. 

Tanks surrounded Tatoi Palace, and the coup’s generals went in to speak with the King, who initially tried to dismiss them. He then travelled to the Ministry of Defence building, where he found all generals assembled and agreed to concede them the government of the country and to swear them in, with the only demand being that they appoint royalist civilian Kollias as Prime Minister. 

In April of 1967, Queen Anne-Marie was eight months pregnant and went on to deliver her second child, Crown Prince Pavlos, exactly one month later in the same Tatoi Palace.

But the relationship between the King and the junta was not easy nor safe. Unbeknownst to the new government, the King was organising a counter-coup designed to reinstall a civilian government and give him back the political powers he had before. 

On 13 December 1967, eight months after the coup, King Constantine boarded the royal plane with his family (which included Queen Anne-Marie and the couple’s two children, two and a half-year-old Princess Alexia and seven-month-old Crown Prince Pavlos) and Prime Minister Kollias and flew to Kavala, where they were met by officials from the Navy and Air Force, who were not involved in the junta. 

While initially the plan seemed to be going well, it was soon clear that the King had relied too much on circumstances and had been convinced that an order given by a general would be automatically followed, which wasn’t the case. The junta was easily able to retain its power. 

King Constantine and Queen Anne-Marie with their two youngest children Princess Theodora and Prince Philippos. Photo: Allan Warren (CC BY-SA 3.0)/Wikimedia Commons

The counter-coup failed, and the King, his family and Prime Minister Kollias fled Greece in the royal plane, landing in Rome in the early hours of 14 December. Queen Anne-Marie was pregnant again and subsequently miscarried the baby. 

The royals lived two months in the Greek Embassy in Rome before moving to a house in the suburbs of the Italian capital for the next five years. In 1969, Queen Anne-Marie gave birth in Rome to the couple’s third child, Prince Nikolaos. 

In 1973, the family relocated to the United Kingdom, where the Queen would give birth to two more children: Princess Theodora in 1983 and Prince Philippos in 1986, both born at St. Mary’s Hospital in London. 

But in 1974, the military dictatorship fell, following growing dissent among the Greek population about their liberalisation plans and the infighting between high ranking officials, as well as the Turkish invasion of the island of Cyprus. 

King Constantine hoped that this would mean his return to Greece and reinstatement as King, but a referendum called by the newly-elected democratic government and held on 8 December 1974 decreed the abolition of the monarchy and the installation of the Third Hellenic Republic. 

The King has since repeatedly said that he recognises and fully supports the Greek Republic, stating in a Time interview: “If the Greek people decide that they want a republic, they are entitled to have that and should be left in peace to enjoy it.”

King Constantine and Queen Anne-Marie lived in London until 2013, when the political climate in Greece was deemed sufficiently calm for them to take residence in the country again. Since then, they have lived in Porto Cheli, in the Peloponnese region. 

Princess Tatiana and Prince Nikolaos of Greece Photo: Oskar Aanmoen/Royal Central

Their children have grown up and scattered around the world, with Princess Alexia living in the Canary Islands with her husband Carlos and four children (Arrieta, Anna Maria, Carlos and Amelia); Crown Prince Pavlos residing in New York with wife Crown Princess Marie-Chantal and their five children (Princess Maria-Olympia, Prince Constantine-Alexios, Prince Achileas-Andreas, Prince Odysseus-Kimon and Prince Aristidis-Stavros), Prince Nikolaos living in Greece with his wife Princess Tatiana; Princess Theodora being based in Los Angeles with her fiancé Matthew Kumar and Prince Philippos residing in New York City with his new wife, Princess Nina. 

The entire family still makes regular appearances at international royal events, such as weddings. Because Constantine’s sister Sophia would later become Queen Sofía of Spain, the Greek Royal Family is strongly tied to the Spanish one, with then-Prince Felipe serving as one of Crown Prince Pavlos’s best men and godfather to his son Prince Constantine-Alexios. And because of Queen Anne-Marie being a former Princess of Denmark, they also have a very close relationship with the Danish royals, with Crown Prince Frederik having mirroring roles as Felipe’s. He was one of the best men at his cousin’s wedding and is a godfather for Prince Constantine-Alexios. 

In fact, it is the family’s connection to the Spanish royals that gave the Greeks the idea of landing in Rome following the failed counter-coup. King Juan Carlos of Spain was born in Rome during the exile of his family, and he remained there until he was designated as General Franco’s successor in 1969 when he took up permanent residence in Spain again.