Sunday, August 1, 2010

Birthday of King Alexander of Greece

August 1 marks the 117th anniversary of the birth of Alexander I, who was King of the Hellenes from 1917-1920 and the third monarch of the House of Glucksburg.

Prince Alexander (Alexandros) of Greece and Denmark was born August 1, 1893 at Tatoi, the royal family's private estate outside of Athens. He was the second child of Crown Prince Constantine of Greece and Princess Sophie of Prussia. Born during the reign of his grandfather, King George I, Alexander was third in the line of succession to the Greek throne, behind his father and his elder brother, George. Crown Prince Constantine became King of the Hellenes upon his father's assassination in 1913, moving Alexander to second place in the line to the throne.

In 1917, Alexander's relatively easygoing life changed abruptly when, following months of political intrigues, King Constantine I was forced to step down from the throne under overwhelming pressure from the Allies, who believed the King was a German sympathizer. The Allies refused to accept Constantine's elder son, Crown Prince George, as his successor, and so the crown unexpectedly fell to Alexander. Just 24 years old, Alexander had not been trained at all to become king and was completely bewildered by the prospect. Before leaving Greece, King Constantine advised his son that he was merely holding the Greek crown in place of his father and his elder brother, and the family prayed that they would return in a few years' time and restore the proper order.

King Alexander's first few months on the Greek throne were miserable. With his entire family driven into exile, he was surrounded day and night by political enemies who merely used him as a puppet king by Prime Minister Venizelos, his father's arch-rival. The King was constantly under surveillance by secret police, and none of his friends were allowed to work as members of his household, instead being replaced by known rivals of his family.

Alexander's piteous existence was made bearable by a young woman named Aspasia Manos, the daughter of a colonel and a descendant of one of Greece's most illustrious families. The King fell deeply in love with Aspasia, but when he announced his intentions to propose to the girl, he was faced with opposition from nearly all sides. Greek society being what it was, it was considered extremely controversial for any member of the royal family to marry a Greek national. The King and Aspasia Manos instead eloped, infuriating Prime Minister Venizelos and causing a major scandal within Greece. Aspasia was forced to temporarily flee Greece until the scandal had settled, and once she returned the Greek government agreed it would be viewed as a morganatic marriage, where the marriage was deemed legitimate but Aspasia would not be permitted to share her husband's rank and become Queen.

On October 2, 1920, King Alexander was walking in the gardens of the royal palace in Athens when his favorite dog was attacked by a pair of wild monkeys. Alexander attempted to drive the monkeys away from his dog but was bit during the scuffle. At first, he was more embarrassed by the scene than alarmed, but within hours infection had set in and he became seriously ill.

For weeks Alexander suffered from agonizing pain and went into fits of delirium, imagining himself to be driving along the roads at Tatoi and claiming to have seen visions of his assassinated grandfather, King George I. Finally, on October 25, King Alexander died at the age of 27.

The only member of his family to attend his funeral was his grandmother, Queen Olga of Greece. When King Constantine and Queen Sophie received word of their son's illness, Queen Sophie begged the Greek government to let her see Alexander. Her requests were cruelly denied, but the government did grant permission for Queen Olga to return to Greece. Due to bad weather, her ship was delayed, and she arrived in Athens just hours after her grandson's death. Shortly after Alexander's death, Constantine I was recalled to the Greek throne.

At the time of his death, Alexander's wife Aspasia was pregnant. Five months after his death, his daughter Alexandra was born. Queen Sophie, devastated by her son's death, found herself deeply attached to Aspasia and the baby Alexandra, and convinced her husband to pass a decree declaring the legitimacy of Alexander and Aspasia's marriage. Aspasia was created Princess Alexander of Greece, and Alexandra was created Princess Alexandra of Greece and Denmark. Alexandra would later marry King Peter II of Yugoslavia.

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