King Alexander of the Hellenes

by Scott Mehl

Photo Credit – Wikipedia

King Alexander of the Hellenes

Born on July 20, 1893 at Tatoi Palace, King Alexander was the second son of King Constantine I of the Hellenes and Princess Sophie of Prussia. He had five siblings:

Alexander with four of his siblings, c1904. (l-r) Helen, Irene (in chair), George, Alexander, and Paul. source: Wikipedia

Raised at the Royal Palace in Athens and Tatoi Palace, Alexander was educated in Greece, attending the Hellenic Military Academy and serving with the Greek forces. He saw combat during the Balkan Wars, and joined his father at the head of the Army of Thessaly, capturing the city of Thessaloniki in 1912.

On June 11, 1917, Alexander’s father was forced to give up his throne, agreeing to go into exile but not officially abdicating. The Allies wanted Greece to remain a monarchy, but felt that Crown Prince George was too pro-German, and bypassed him. Alexander was then chosen to replace his father on the Greek throne. He took the oath of loyalty in the ballroom of the Royal Palace that same day, in the presence of his father, elder brother and the Prime Minister. Two days later, his parents and siblings left Greece and settled Switzerland. Alexander would not see his family again.

King Alexander of the Hellenes (left) with King Alexander I of Yugoslavia, at the Macedonian Front, 1918. source: Wikipedia

Just days later, Alexander was forced to name Eleftherios Venizelos as Prime Minister. Venizelos, the leader of the Liberal Party, held all the power, and Alexander was basically a prisoner in his own palace, merely acting as a puppet king. His few public appearances were usually visits to the Greek troops, including a visit to the Macedonian Front in 1918.

The day after becoming King, Alexander disclosed his relationship with an old childhood friend, Aspasia Manos. She was the daughter of Petros Manos, who had served as Master of the Horse to his father. They had become reacquainted in 1915 and began a secret romance. With Greece at war, King Constantine insisted that his son wait until the war was over before even considering a possible engagement. However, Alexander’s separation from his family and near lack of contact with them, only brought him even closer to Aspasia, and he made the decision to marry her. The Prime Minister, too, was strongly against the idea, fearing that marriage to a native Greek would only bring about public support for the Greek Royal Family. Venizelos had hoped to arrange a marriage between Alexander and Princess Mary of the United Kingdom (daughter of King George V), which would help strengthen the relationship between the two countries. While there was little support at home, his father did support the match but wanted Alexander to wait.

Finally, after several failed attempts, Alexander and Aspasia were married secretly by a royal chaplain on November 17, 1919. When the Archbishop of Athens found out, it turned into a major scandal. Under the terms of the constitution, permission from both the sovereign and the head of the Greek Orthodox Church was needed for any member of the royal family to marry.

At first, the marriage was kept secret, with Aspasia and her mother permitted to move into the palace with Alexander. However, once it became public, she was forced to leave the country, eventually settling in Paris. Alexander was allowed to join her there – under the guise of attending the Peace Conference – on the condition that she would not accompany him at any official functions.

Alexander and Aspasia, 1920. source: Wikipedia

In the mid-1920s, Alexander and Aspasia were permitted to return to Greece. The marriage was legalized, but Aspasia would not be recognized as Queen. Settled in at Tatoi Palace, Aspasia was soon pregnant with the couple’s only child, Alexandra. Alexandra was born in 1921, five months after her father’s death, and would later marry King Peter II of Yugoslavia.

One of his last public appearances was in July 1920, when he visited the newly acquired territories of West Thrace. While there, the main town was renamed Alexandroupoli in his honor. Just a few months later, tragedy struck the Greek Royal Family. On October 2, 1920, King Alexander was bitten by a monkey while walking in the grounds of Tatoi Palace. Not thinking it was serious, he had the wound cleaned and dressed, but it soon became infected. He soon developed septicemia and became delirious with fever. Despite his pleas for his mother to be at his bedside, the government would not allow either of his parents to return to Greece. They did, however, allow his grandmother Queen Olga to come to Athens. King Alexander died on October 25, 1920, at the Royal Palace. Delayed by bad weather, Queen Olga did not arrive until two hours after his death.

Tomb of King Alexander. source: Wikipedia

The King’s body lay in state at the Athens Cathedral until his funeral several days later. Queen Olga was the only member of the Greek royal family permitted to attend. Following the funeral, Alexander’s remains were interred at the Royal Cemetery at Tatoi. Interestingly, unlike the tombstones of his father and brothers, Alexander’s does not refer to him as King of the Hellenes. Because of the political circumstances which put him on the throne, none in the royal family considered his reign to be truly legitimate and treated it more as a regency. Alexander himself shared this feeling. His tombstone simply says ‘Alexander, son of the King of the Hellenes, Prince of Denmark.’

King Alexander’s death left the throne vacant, with the Greek Parliament wanting to pass the throne to another member of the Royal Family. (They had gone as far as insisting that King Constantine and Crown Prince George be permanently banned from the line of succession). Just days after Alexander’s death, the throne was offered to his younger brother, Paul. But he declined, pointing out that both his father and elder brother were still living, and neither had renounced their rights to the throne. Just weeks later, new elections saw the defeat of Prime Minister Venizelos and the monarchists winning the majority. King Constantine was restored to the throne, and the new Prime Minister asked Queen Olga, already in Athens, to serve as Regent until King Constantine’s return to Greece.

Two years after Alexander’s death, his marriage was retroactively recognized by King Constantine I, and their daughter legitimized. Both Aspasia and Alexandra were made Princesses of Greece and Denmark.

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