Saturday, April 20, 2013

Kings of the Hellenes: The Greek Kings 1863-1974

Kings of the Hellenes: The Greek Kings 1863-1974 is a book by John van der Kiste on the Schleswig-Holstein-Sonderburg-Glucksburg dynasty that ruled Greece for nearly 100 years; from the first King of the Hellenes, George I, to the last, Constantine II.

In 1821, having just gained independence from the Ottomen Turks, the fledgling nation of Greece reached out to the European powers for a King. Prince Otto of Bavaria, King Otho of Greece, was chased out by 1862 and the nation was again looking for a ruler. Many in Greece wanted Alfred, Duke of Edinburgh, the second son of Queen Victoria, but he was already designated as the future Duke of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha. The crown fell into the hands of the Danish Prince, William, who took the name of George upon his ascension.

George's reign would prove to be a successful one when compared to his predecessor. While Otto believed that the King's power was absolute, George was a constitutional king who signed documents before he even reads them. Another aspect where George succeeded and Otto did not was in producing a dynasty. In 1867, George married Grand Duchess Olga Constantinovna of Russia. The happy marriage produced 8 children. During George's long reign, he expanded the nations borders by winning wars against the Turks in the first Balkan War  and then defeating Bulgaria in the second Balkan War. On March 18, 1913, 2 weeks short of his being on the throne for 50 years, George was assassinated by Alexandros Schinas.

George's eldest son, named Constantine after the last Byzantine Emperor, ascended the throne 44. A studious man, Constantine had already won the hearts of the Greek people during the Balkan Wars. In 1914, the first World War broke out across Europe. Constantine wished for Greece to remain neutral putting him in conflict with his minister,Venizelos, who was pro-German. The Kings neutrality also put him at odds with the Allies who repeatedly threatened him to join their cause and slandered his wife, Queen Sophie, for being the German Kaiser's sister. In 1917, King Constantine and Queen Sophie left Greece after the Allies threatened to bombard Athens, leaving their second son, Alexander, as king (his elder brother, George, was deemed too German for the government's tastes).

Alexander was a puppet King and his reign was a short one. In 1919, he married Aspasia Manos, the daughter of the Master of the Horse. All of Greece was scandalized, not least his parents, but he was happy and months later she was pregnant. Alexander died after infection set in from a monkey bite. Despite his parents pleading, the government would not let them see their son before he died on October 25, 1920. Alexander's daughter, Alexandra, was born 5 months after his death.

Constantine was brought back to Greece, welcomed back with open arms. His popularity soon waned as the Greece continued its disastrous war in Asian Minor against the Turks. After an army revolt in 1922, Constantine left Greece for the second time. He died of a broken heart in 1936 in Palermo, Italy, having never returned to Greece. George II was married to Elisabeth of Roumania, while his sister, Helen, was married to King Carol II of Roumania. Neither marriage was happy and George's marriage was childless. During the second World War, George left Greece after an increasingly intolerable communist republican government and his brother, the third son of Constantine I and Sophie of Prussia to wear the crown, Paul, succeed him in 1947. The republican kept growing as King Paul and Queen Frederica, born Princess Frederica of Hanover, were criticized for meddling too much. Paul died of cancer in 1964 and was succeeded by his eldest son.

Constantine II would be the last Greek King. He was forced to leave Greece in 1974 after a failed coup against putschist government. He and his wife, Anne Marie of Denmark, currently reside in London.

I give this book a 2/5. The book focuses heavily on George I's reign and how the kingdom was born while neglecting Paul and Constantine II's and how the monarchy was abolished. John van der Kiste's odd usage of names do not help this book at all. He will say "Alice said this" without ever having mentioned her before. It didn't matter too much to me seeing as I had some knowledge of the Greek royal family but to a beginner they would have certainly been lost. With not enough information for a season historian but too specific for the proverbial "noob", this book is rather lack luster.