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King George II

Official20portret202georgeIIKing Constantine I died on 11 January 1923 at a hotel in Palermo, Sicily. He had abdicated only four months previously and had been succeeded by his eldest son, Crown Prince George. Greece was in turmoil. Two colonels (Nicholas Plastiras and Stylianos Genatos) had led an insurrection on Chios and had demanded the abdication of Constantine I. When King George II's reign began, he was 33 years old. The colonels killed the Prime Minister, Gounaris and 5 others. King George V of England sent a warship, to rescue his cousin Prince Andrew (younger brother of King Constantine I and father of the Duke of Edinburgh) who was being held by the colonels. He and his family were eventually allowed to leave Greece. The Duke of Edinburgh was 18 months old at the time.

King George II - feeling that he should also go into exile - sought advice from his friend, Colonel Metaxas. He urged caution and delay. To add to the country's confusion, the anti-monarchist Military League was revived in July 1923. Shortly after, Metaxas tried, unsuccessfully, to seize power from the colonels and the republicans. Many Greeks thought that King George II had known of Metaxas' conspiracy. Elections in December 1923 returned an overwhelmingly republican parliament. The King went with his wife, Elisabeth, on a visit to her home country, Rumania (they had been married on 27 February 1921). During their absence, a republic was declared on 25 March 1924 - followed by a plebiscite, which gave full endorsement to the setting up of a republic.

The royal descendants of the first King of the Hellenes, George I, went into exile across Europe. George II came to London. Sadly, he separated from his wife, Queen Elisabeth, during his 11 year exile. She returned to her native home in Rumania. They were divorced in 1935. They had no children. Crown Prince Paul, King George's younger brother became, therefore, heir apparent. He also went into exile in England - working for a year in an aircraft factory in Coventry under the name of Paul Beck.

The new Greek Republic experienced a long series of crises. There was a serious but abortive uprising in March 1935, led by Venizelos and General Plastiris. In July of that year, the Deputy Prime Minister, General Kondylis (a strong republican) announced that he believed that the constitutional monarchy should be restored - because it would bring stability and respect for the state. Kondylis became Prime Minister in October, 1935. A plebiscite on the return of the monarchy was held on 3 November, 1935. 1,491,992 voted in favour of restoration, and only 32,454 against. King George II and Crown Prince Paul returned to Greece on 25 November, 1935 - to great public acclaim.

For his first nine months, King George II tried to get the wheels of good government turning. He removed General Kondylis when he opposed the King's general amnesty to his subjects - which resulted in a strengthening of Greece's political left, with the arrival of refugees from Asia Minor. The King appointed General Metaxas as Prime Minister. The Communist Party called for a General Strike. The day before, on 4 August 1936, King George II authorised General Metaxas to set up a temporary dictatorship. The King felt he could handle Metaxas. But the establishment of Metaxas as a fascist leader made King George's position difficult - to say the least. Press censorship, a strong youth movement (EON), and the sense that Metaxas' 'emergency' measures to deal with communism in Salonika, Kavalla and Piraeus could become permanent - these factors all led Greek Liberals to say that Greece 'is being dragged to a precipice overhanging the abyss.' On 17 November 1936, the bodies of King Constantine I, his wife Queen Sophie and his mother Queen Olga, were brought back from Florence for a state funeral in Athens followed by re-burial at the family home at Tatoi.

King George II continued to tread a delicate path as the threat of conflict between Britain and Hitler's Germany developed. He maintained his close links with the British Royal Family. At the same time, the Crown Prince attended the XIIth. Olympiad in Berlin - where he proposed marriage to Princess Frederica of Hanover, Duchess of Brunswick-Luneburg. The wedding took place on 28 September 1937 in Athens. Her mother, Princess Victoria, Duchess of Brunswick, was the only daughter of Kaiser Wilhelm II of Germany (then exiled in Doorn, Holland). Through the interlocking mechanisms of European royalty, Princess Frederica was 34th in succession to the throne of Great Britain - and a British Privy Council, summoned by the new British King, George VI, gave official approval to the wedding. Nevertheless, Goering, Goebbels and Schacht - 3 top Nazis - visited Athens in quick succession in 1937. But Anglophiles in Greece gained much more propaganda advantage from the wedding than Germany. Their first daughter, Sophie, was born on 2 November 1938 (she was to marry King Juan Carlos of Spain). Their first son, Constantine, was born on 2 July, 1940. He was destined to become King Constantine II of Greece.

After Hitler's quick and triumphant victories in the early days of the Second World War, tension grew between Mussolini's Italy and Metaxas' Greece. Mussolini wanted his own quick victories. In October 1940, Italy presented Greece with an ultimatum demanding that Greece cede some key strategic territories. In the ensuing conflict, the Greeks threw the invading Italians out of Epirus, and penetrated the mountains of Albania. King George II, as supreme Commander, stayed in Athens presiding over meetings of the War Council held in the Hotel Grand Bretagne. Crown Prince Paul frequently went to the front line.

After a short illness, General Metaxas died on 29 January 1941. King George attempted to give war-time leadership and appointed a banker, Alexander Korizis, as Prime Minister. The British gave support to the Greek action against Italy with a small expeditionary force - but on 6 April 1941, the Germans came to the support of Italy. Salonika fell to the Axis powers. On 18 April, Prime Minister Korizis committed suicide. Another banker, Emmanuel Psouderos, took over as Prime Minister. With the situation worsening, many of the Greek royal family left Athens for Crete on 22 April in a British Sunderland flying boat. King George left for Crete on 23 April (his name day). German air raids greeted the royal evacuees. After a week of great uncertainty, most of the royal family were flown to Alexandria in Egypt. King George II tried to stay on in Crete. The resistance of Greek and British troops almost defeated the German airborne assault. But in May, the allied Commander, General Freyburg, decided to evacuate the island. King George II and his party undertook a gruelling march to the south coast of Greece, using mules to take them through steep gorges. The British destroyer, HMS Decoy, took them to join the Greek community in Egypt. King George II was awarded the British Distinguished Service medal (the DSO) for his bravery under enemy fire.

The family moved from Egypt to South Africa. King George II and Crown Prince Paul moved quite quickly to London - where they established offices for the government-in-exile.

Resistance to the Germans in Greece included anti-monarchist communists. The future of the Greek monarchy, inevitably, was in question at a time of such turmoil and danger. In Britain, Winston Churchill supported King George II - though some of his Ministers, such as Anthony Eden (Foreign Secretary) and Harold Macmillan (Minister Resident at Allied Headquarters) were more cautious. In March 1944, the Communists set up an alternative government - the Political Committee of National Liberation (PEEA).

In May 1944, with the war running against Germany, King George II backed the efforts of George Papandreou (anti-communist and anti-Venizelist) to try to organise a government of national unity at a conference specially organised in the Lebanon. At the Caserta Agreement of September 1944 between Macmillan and Papandreou, the British took over the task of supervising the orderly liberation of Greece as the Germans retreated. British forces entered Athens on 14 October 1944.

Civil War broke out in December 1944, as Greek anti-royal communists fought the inter-allied forces in Athens. Churchill and Eden flew to Athens on Christmas Day 1944 for a conference to try to stem to the spread of the Civil War. Three weeks later, agreement was reached at Varzika. After pressure from Churchill at the end of 1944, King George II appointed Archbishop Damaskinos, the Primate of Greece, as Regent until his eventual return.

Troubles in Greece continued after the collapse of Germany in 1945. On 31 March 1946, the first General Election for ten years was held - in the presence of British, American and French observers. Victory went to the predominantly royalist populist block with 231 out of 354 seats. On 1 September 1946, in a high poll, 69% of the electors voted in favour of the return of King George II. He flew from London to Eleusis on 27 September 1946. Crown Prince Paul returned, with his family, to his home at Psychiko. The King's home at Tatoi had been badly damaged during the war. Guerrilla warfare continued in the mountains - but the USA promised military and economic aid to countries threatened by communism, including Greece and Turkey. In February 1947, the Dodecanese islands were ceded by Italy to Greece in the Paris Peace Treaties.

The stress of the war had weakened King George II's health. Soon after taking the salute at the annual Independence Day Parade on 25 March, he became exhausted and died suddenly of a heart attack on 1 April 1947. He was 57 years old. Having no children, he was succeeded by his younger brother, who became King Paul I. He took the oath of sovereignty on the evening of King George II's death. The present King Constantine II became heir apparent, the new Diadoch. He was six years old and walked with his father, the new King PauI, behind his Uncle's coffin at the state funeral in Athens.