by Scott Mehl
Aspasia Manos, Princess Alexander of Greece
Aspasia Manos was the wife of King Alexander of the Hellenes. She was born on September 4, 1896 in Athens, to Colonel Petros Manos and Maria Argyropoulos, and grew up around the royal family as her father was an aide to King Constantine I.
After her parents divorced, Aspasia left Greece to study in France and Switzerland. Upon returning, she became reacquainted with Prince Alexander, King Constantine’s second son, who would later reign briefly as King. The two quickly began a romance, despite the unlikelihood of being able to marry due to their different ranks.
In June 1917, King Constantine I was forced to step down from the throne, and Alexander was appointed to replace him. With his family exiled in Switzerland, and subject to a Prime Minister who treated him as just a puppet king, Alexander had only Aspasia by his side. The relationship remained largely unknown to the public, but was a source of contention within the royal family and the government. The Prime Minister was strongly against the idea of the marriage, as he feared that marriage to a Greek citizen would bring about increased support for the monarchy. He, instead, hoped to arrange a marriage for Alexander to Princess Mary of the United Kingdom, to strengthen the relationship between the two countries. King Constantine supported his son’s relationship, but before leaving Greece had made him promise to wait until his return before marrying.
Despite the challenges from his family and the Prime Minister, Aspasia and Alexander married secretly on November 4, 1919. Aspasia and her mother moved into the Royal Palace, but were soon forced to go abroad when news of the marriage became known. Several months later, Alexander was able to leave Greece and join his wife in Paris and soon the couple returned to Greece together. However, she was never given the title of Queen – instead being known simply as Madame Manos.
Months later, on October 25, 1920, King Alexander died after contracting septicemia from a monkey bite several weeks earlier. Aspasia was four months pregnant at the time, and gave birth to their daughter, Alexandra, in March of 1921. Not long after Alexander’s death, his father, King Constantine I, was restored to the throne. Both the King and his government treated Alexander’s reign as merely a regency, which meant that Alexander and Aspasia had not gotten the necessary permissions to marry and their marriage was void. However, at Queen Sophia’s urging, a law was later passed which allowed the King to retroactively approve the marriage. On September 12, 1922, King Constantine issued a decree recognizing the marriage and legitimizing their daughter. Aspasia was now Princess Alexander of Greece and Denmark. Despite this, her relationship with her husband’s family was not always easy. Her father-in-law remained distant, and her sister-in-law, Elisabeta of Romania (wife of Crown Prince George) despised her. But others reached out to her, including Queen Sophia and the Dowager Queen Olga, and Princess Andrew of Greece (the former Alice of Battenberg, and mother of the Duke of Edinburgh).
In the fall of 1922, King Constantine was forced to abdicate in favor of Crown Prince George (King George II), and another coup in December 1923 again forced the Greek Royal Family into exile. When the Second Hellenic Republic was declared in March 1924, Aspasia and Alexandra were the only members of the Royal Family to remain in Greece. However, the left several months later, settling in Florence with Queen Sophia. Later, they moved to England, where they stayed with Sir James Horlick and his family near Ascot. With Horlick’s help, Aspasia was able to purchase a property in Venice – known as the Garden of Eden (link in French) – from a relative of Sir Anthony Eden (who would later become Prime Minister of the United Kingdom). The property consisted of a modest villa and large garden, situated right on the canal.
Aspasia and her daughter remained in Venice after the monarchy was restored in 1935, making only occasional visits to Greece. However, after the outbreak of war between Italy and Greece in 1940, they quickly left Venice and returned to Athens, where Aspasia worked tirelessly with the Red Cross. The next year, they were forced to flee when the Germans invaded, traveling to Egypt and then South Africa. Aspasia was given permission to settle in the UK where she continued her work with the Red Cross. It was there that her daughter began a romance with King Peter II of Yugoslavia, and the couple was married on March 20, 1944. The following year, Aspasia’s only grandchild – Crown Prince Alexander of Yugoslavia – was born at Claridge’s Hotel in London.
Aspasia soon returned to Venice and began the project of rebuilding her home which had been partially destroyed during the war. The remainder of her life was often a struggle financially, and Aspasia was once forced to leave her villa during the winter as she could not afford the heating bill. She also sold furniture and other assets when necessary, in order to pay her bills. Despite her financial situation, she often had her daughter and grandson living with her. Following the war, and the overthrow of the Yugoslavian monarchy, Alexandra and Peter’s marriage began to deteriorate. Limited income, his numerous affairs, his drinking, and Alexandra’s ill health and depression soon led the couple to separate, and Aspasia was instrumental in the raising of her grandson.
Aspasia lived to see her grandson’s marriage to Princess Maria da Glória of Orléans-Bragança, although she was too ill to attend. A month later, on August 7, 1972, Aspasia Manos, Princess Alexander of Greece and Denmark, died in Venice, just a month before her 76th birthday. She was buried in the Orthodox cemetery on the island of San Michele in Venice. In 1993, her remains were reinterred in the Royal Cemetery at Tatoi.
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