King Paul I of the Hellenes

by Scott Mehl

source: Wikipedia

King Paul of the Hellenes

King Paul of the Hellenes reigned from April 1, 1947 until his death on March 6, 1964. He was born at Tatoi Palace on December 14, 1901, the youngest son of King Constantine I of the Hellenes and Princess Sophie of Prussia. He was a great-grandson of both King Christian IX of Denmark and Queen Victoria of the United Kingdom. He had five siblings:

Paul (front) with his parents and siblings, c.1908. (rear: Princess Irene, King Constantine I, future King George II; front: Queen Sophia, Princess Helen, future King Alexander). source: Wikipedia

As the third son, Paul was never expected to mount the throne and therefore did not receive the extensive education given to his eldest brother George. He was educated primarily at home by several foreign tutors and Greek university professors. He also attended Saint Peter’s Preparatory School for Young Gentlemen, in Eastbourne, England and the Royal Military College, Sandhurst. Plans to attend the Royal Naval Academy at Dartmouth were canceled due to the outbreak of World War I.

In 1917, King Constantine I was forced to relinquish the throne, and Paul’s older brother, Alexander, was chosen by the Greek government to succeed him. Paul accompanied his parents and siblings to Switzerland where they lived in exile. No longer able to join the British Royal Navy, it was arranged for Paul to join the Imperial German Navy. He studied at the German Imperial Naval Academy in Kiel, overseen by his uncle, Prince Heinrich of Prussia. However, in 1918, he returned to Switzerland following the fall of the German Empire.

Paul (far right) with members of his family, 1921. (l-r: Princess Irene, Queen Sophia, King Constantine I, Princess Helen, Crown Princess of Romania, Crown Prince Carol of Romania, Paul). source: Wikipedia

Following the death of his brother, King Alexander in 1920, the Greek Government initially wanted Paul to succeed him on the Greek throne. Paul, however, declined, citing the fact that his father and eldest brother were still living and both preceded him in the line of succession. Soon, a new government came to power, and King Constantine I was restored to the throne. The family returned to Greece, and Paul joined the Hellenic Naval Academy, beginning his naval career with the Greek forces. After two years of studies, he was promoted to Lieutenant and served on the Greek cruiser, Elli.

Paul became Crown Prince on September 11, 1922, when his father was forced to abdicate, and his elder brother became King George II. Still in the Greek Navy, Paul split his time between his naval duties and supporting his brother and the monarchy.

More turmoil was soon to come. Following the election of Eleftherios Venizelos as Prime Minister in the fall of 1923, King George II and the Greek royal family were asked to leave Greece while the new government decided on the future of the monarchy. Under the guise of an official visit to his wife’s family in Romania, King George and his wife, accompanied by Crown Prince Paul, left Greece. Just months later, the monarchy was abolished and the Second Hellenic Republic was declared. Quickly tired of the Romanian royal court, Paul moved to Italy, living with his mother and younger sisters. He later moved to London where he worked for a year as an apprentice aircraft mechanic for Armstrong Siddeley (using the name Paul Beck).

While living in the UK, Paul fell in love with a commoner and wanted to marry. However, he was dissuaded by his mother, who stressed the fact that he was likely to ascend the throne, and marriage to a commoner would further damage the future of the monarchy. This was his second failed relationship. He had previously proposed to his first cousin, Princess Nina Georgievna of Russia, the daughter of Grand Duke George Mikhailovich and Princess Marie of Greece, but she had turned him down.

In 1930, Paul accompanied a Danish friend on his private yacht for a cruise in the Aegean Sea. Despite being banned from entering Greece, he agreed to keep his identity secret to avoid any problems. After traveling along the French and Italian coasts, they arrived in Corfu at the beginning of August. He spent the next six weeks traveling around Greece, including visiting his former homes – Mon Repos on Corfu, the Royal Palace of Athens and Tatoi Palace. Although recognized by several former servants, Paul managed to remain anonymous and avoid any problems due to his presence in the country.

In 1935, the Greek monarchy was restored and Paul returned to Greece with his brother. He soon resumed his career with the Greek navy, as a Lieutenant Commander attached to the General Staff. He also returned to working with the Greek Scout Movement, of which he had served as chairman since the 1920s.

Wedding of Paul and Frederica, 1938.

Wedding of Paul and Frederica, 1938.

On January 8, 1938, at the Metropolitan Cathedral of Athens, Paul married his first cousin once removed, Princess Frederica of Hanover, Duchess of Brunswick. She was the daughter of Prince Ernst August of Hanover, Duke of Brunswick, and Princess Viktoria Luise of Prussia. The two had first met in 1927 when Frederica was just ten years old, and then again in 1934 at the wedding of Paul’s cousin Princess Marina and Britain’s Prince George, Duke of Kent. The following year, Paul was living in Italy when Frederica was studying in Florence, and the two began a romance. In 1936, while in Berlin to attend the Olympic games, Paul and Frederica became engaged, but the engagement wasn’t formally announced until September 28, 1937. After their marriage, they settled at a villa in the Athens suburb of Psychiko, and would go on to have three children:

In 1941, German forces invaded Greece, and the royal family was once again forced to flee. Settling first in Crete, Paul soon traveled to London with his brother where they set up a government-in-exile. Meanwhile, his wife and children settled in South Africa before later moving to Egypt.

Finally, Paul and his family returned to Greece in September 1946, and just months later, he ascended the Greek throne following the sudden death of his brother, King George II. The family moved to the Royal Palace in Athens and began restoring Tatoi Palace, which soon became their primary residence. Shortly after becoming King, Paul found his country in the midst of a civil war which would last until 1949. The country suffered more than it had during WWII, with over 10% of the population homeless, and more than 7,000 villages damaged or destroyed. King Paul worked tirelessly to promote reconciliation after the war, and in doing so brought about increased popularity and support for the monarchy.

In August 1954, King Paul and his wife hosted over 100 foreign royals on a cruise of the Mediterranean, Aegean and Ionian Seas, aboard the ship Agamemnon. Officially, it was designed to promote tourism in Greece, as well as reuniting many of the royal families who had been separated by war. Read more about the Agamemnon Cruise here!

After a State Visit to the United Kingdom in July 1963, King Paul fell ill. He was later diagnosed with stomach cancer, but put off having surgery until after the general election which saw the election of George Papandreou as Prime Minister. On February 20, 1964, the day after he swore in the new government, King Paul underwent surgery at Tatoi Palace, in a room which had been converted into an operating room. Sadly, he would never recover. King Paul of the Hellenes died on March 6, 1964 at Tatoi Palace. His funeral was attended by many foreign royals, including King Gustaf VI Adolf of Sweden, Prince Rainier III of Monaco, The Duke of Edinburgh, former King Umberto II of Italy, former Tsar Simeon II of Bulgaria, and the Count of Barcelona, as well as the First Lady of the United States, Lady Bird Johnson, and former US President Harry Truman. King Paul was buried at the Royal Cemetery at Tatoi Palace and was succeeded by his son, King Constantine II, who would become the last King of the Hellenes.

Grave of King Paul and Queen Frederica; Photo Credit – Wikipedia

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