Princess Frederica of Hanover, Queen of the Hellenes
Queen Frederica was the wife of King Paul of the Hellenes, and the mother of the last Greek king, Constantine II. She was born Princess Frederica Louisa Thyra Victoria Margareta Sophie Olga Cécilie Isabelle Christa of Hanover, on April 18, 1917 in Blankenburg am Harz, in the Duchy of Brunswick. She was the daughter of Ernst August (III) of Hanover, Duke of Brunswick, and Princess Viktoria Luise of Prussia, and had four brothers:
- Prince Ernst August (IV), Duke of Brunswick (1914) – married (1) Princess Ortrud of Schleswig-Holstein-Sonderburg-Glücksburg, had issue; (2) Countess Monika of Solms-Laubach, no issue
- Prince Georg Wilhelm (1915) – married Princess Sophie of Greece and Denmark, had issue
- Prince Christian Oskar (1919) – married Mireille Dutry, had issue
- Prince Welf Heinrich (1923) – married Princess Alexandra of Ysenburg and Büdingen
Although known as Princess Frederica of Hanover, this was merely by courtesy. The Kingdom of Hanover had ceased to exist after being annexed by Prussia in 1866. She was, however, a Duchess of Brunswick, as her father had been the reigning Duke of Brunswick since 1913. This title would also become merely courtesy after her father was forced to abdicate in 1918. And to confuse things further, at the time of her birth she was also a British princess! In 1914, King George V of the United Kingdom had issued Letters Patent granting the title of Prince/Princess of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland, with the style of Highness, to any children born to The Duke and Duchess of Brunswick. (You can read the Letters Patent here.)
While studying in Florence in 1935, Frederica began a romance with the future King Paul of the Hellenes. First cousins once removed, they had first met in 1927, and again in 1934 at the wedding of Princess Marina of Greece and Prince George, Duke of Kent. Paul soon asked her father for permission to marry, but the Duke of Brunswick refused, based on Frederica’s age. However, in 1936, while both were attending the Olympic Games in Berlin in 1936, Paul proposed again and this time the answer was yes. Their engagement was formally announced on September 28, 1937, and the couple married at the Metropolitan Cathedral of Athens on January 8, 1938. They soon settled at a villa in the Psychiko district of Athens, and went on to have three children:
- Princess Sophia (1938) – later Queen Sofia of Spain, married King Juan Carlos I of Spain, had issue
- King Constantine II (1940) – married Princess Anne-Marie of Denmark, had issue
- Princess Irene (1942) – unmarried
In 1941, the Greek royal family were evacuated to Crete and then forced to flee the German invasion. She and her children eventually settled in South Africa and then Egypt. They returned to Greece in September 1946, following a referendum to restore King George II to the throne. Just seven months later, on April 1, 1947, King George died and Paul became King of the Hellenes. As the country was in the midst of civil war, Queen Frederica set up a group of camps around Greece, to provide shelter, food and education for orphans and needy children. Following the war, Frederica and her husband traveled extensively, building support for the monarchy as well as promoting Greece throughout the world. Despite this, there was always a faction who were against the monarchy, and The Queen in particular. Her membership, as a child, in the Bund Deutscher Mädel (League of German Girls) – a branch of the Hitler Youth – made her a target of the anti-monarchists. In addition, she was known for publicly straying into politics, even campaigning against the election of Prime Minister Papagos in 1952. Many historians feel that Frederica’s forays into politics contributed to the instability of the monarchy. (In 1974 when her son was campaigning for a restoration of the monarchy, one of the things he promised was to keep his mother out of Greece and its politics).
On March 6, 1964, King Paul died of cancer, and was succeeded by his son, King Constantine II. Later that year, Constantine married Princess Anne Marie of Denmark, giving Greece a new Queen. Frederica stepped aside, allowing her new daughter-in-law to take center stage. However, she was accused in the media of being the ‘power behind the throne’. In response, the Dowager Queen relinquished her appanage from the State and retired from public life. While she remained active in family and social events, she stayed out of the official, and political, spotlight.
In 1967, the Greek Royal Family was once again forced to leave the country following a failed counter-coup led by King Constantine II. They settled in Rome, and Queen Frederica and her daughter Irene spent some time living in India. In later years, she would divide her time between her son’s home in the United Kingdom, and that of her elder daughter, Sofia, in Spain.
On February 6, 1981, after undergoing cataract surgery in Madrid, Queen Frederica died from a massive heart attack. After receiving permission from the Greek government, she was buried beside her late husband in the Royal Cemetery at Tatoi Palace. Her son and his family were permitted to attend but had to leave immediately after the burial.