Constantine, the old and last king of Greece, dies at the age of 82

Athens, Greece –

Constantine, the former and last king of Greece, who won an Olympic gold medal before getting entangled in his country’s volatile politics in the 1960s as a king and through many decade of exile, passed away. He was 82 years old.

Doctors at the Hygeia Private Hospital in Athens confirmed to the Associated Press that Constantine passed away late Tuesday after being treated in the intensive care unit but have no further details pending. official announcement.

When he ascended the throne as Constantine II in 1964 at the age of 23, the young king, who had already achieved glory as an Olympic gold medalist in rowing, was immensely popular. In the following year, he squandered much of that support with his active participation in the plot to bring down prime minister George Papandreou’s elected Center-Coalition government.

The episode involving the defection of several legislators from the ruling party, still widely known in Greece as “apostasy”, destabilized the constitutional order and led to an uprising. 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 that Constantine could reign again.

In the decades that followed, with only fleeting visits to Greece, each causing a political and media storm, he was able to settle back into his homeland during the years of depression. decimated when protesting his presence was no longer seen as a currency as a badge of wary republicanism. With little nostalgia for the monarchy in Greece, Constantine became a relatively uncontroversial figure.

Constantine was born on June 2, 1940, in Athens, to Prince Paul, younger brother of King George II and heir to the throne, and Princess Federica of Hanover. His older sister, Sophia, was the wife of former King Juan Carlos I of Spain. Prince Philip was born in Greece, the late Duke of Edinburgh and the husband of the late Queen Elizabeth II of Great Britain, as an uncle.

The family, which had ruled in Greece from 1863 in addition to a 12-year republic from 1922-1935, descended from Prince Christian, later Christian IX of Denmark, of the branch of the House of Schleswig-Holstein -Sonderburg-Glucksburg of Denmark ruling family.

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

Constantine was educated at a boarding school and later attended all three military academies as well as classes at the Athens Law School to prepare for her future role. He also competes in a variety of sports, including rowing and karate, for which he has a black belt.

In 1960, at the age of 20, he and two other Greek sailors won a gold medal in the Dragon Division – now no longer Olympic – at the Rome Olympics. As a prince, Constantine was elected a member of the International Olympic Committee and became an honorary lifetime member in 1974.

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

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

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

Constantine’s insistence on appointing a government composed of centrist defectors won a narrow parliamentary majority on the third attempt was extremely unpopular. Many believe he was manipulated by his scheming mother, Queen Frederica.

“They don’t want you, take your mother away!” became the cry of the protests that rocked Greece in the summer of 1965.

Eventually, Constantine made a truce with Papandreou and, with his consent, appointed a government of technocrats and later, a conservative-led government to organize. an election in May 1967.

However, with polls leaning in favor of the Central Alliance and with Papandreou’s left-leaning son Andreas growing in popularity, Constantine and his courtiers feared reprisal and with the support of his allies. Senior officers prepared a coup d’etat.

However, a group of lower-ranking officers, led by colonels, are preparing their own coup and, informed by a con man of Constantine’s plans, have declared a dictatorship on April 21, 1967.

Constantine was taken by surprise and his affection for the new rulers is evident in the official photograph of the new government. He pretended to follow them, while preparing a counter-coup with the help of the army in northern Greece and the navy, forces loyal to him.

On December 13, 1967, Constantine and his family flew to the northern city of Kavala with the intention of advancing into Thessaloniki and establishing a government there. The coup, badly managed and infiltrated, collapsed and Constantine was forced to flee to Rome the next day. He will never return as the reigning king.

The administration appointed a regent and, following an aborted Navy counter-coup in May 1973, abolished the monarchy on June 1, 1973. A referendum was held on 1 June 1973. July, widely considered fraud, confirmed the decision.

When the dictatorship fell in July 1974, Constantine was eager to return to Greece but was advised by veteran politician Constantine Karamanlis, who had returned from exile, to lead a government. Civil. Karamanlis, who also headed government from 1955-63, is a conservative but has clashed with the court over what he considers excessive interference in politics.

After a resounding victory in the November elections, Karamanlis called for a referendum on the monarchy in 1974. Constantine was not allowed to campaign in the country, but the results were clear and accepted. widely: 69.2% voted in favor of a republic.

Soon after, Karamanlis famously said that the country was free of cancer. Constantine said the day after the referendum that “national unity must take precedence… I wish with all my heart that developments will prove the results of yesterday’s vote.”

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

For most of his years in exile, he lived in Hampstead Garden Suburb, London, and is said to be particularly close to his cousin Charles, Prince of Wales and now King Charles III.

While it took Constantine 14 years to return to his home country, briefly, to bury his mother, Queen Federica in 1981, he has replicated his visits thereafter and since 2010. , he built a house there. Disputes continued: in 1994, the then socialist government stripped him of his nationality and confiscated what was left of the royal family’s assets. Constantine sued at the European Court of Human Rights and was awarded 12 million euros in 2002, a fraction of the 500 million he sought.

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


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