Queen Margrethe of Denmark: Doyenne of Monarchs.

Princess Margrethe Alexandrine Þórhildur Ingrid was born on 16 April, 1940, at Frederik VIII’s Palace in Copenhagen, the eldest child of Crown Prince Frederik of Denmark (elder son of the reigning King Christian X) and his Swedish-born wife Ingrid, the only daughter of the Crown Prince Gustaf Adolf of Sweden (later King Gustaf VI Adolf). In addition to the Danish and Swedish royal houses, Margrethe also had strong links to the British Royal Family (her late maternal grandmother, after whom she was named, was Princess Margaret of Connaught, a granddaughter of Queen Victoria.) Margrethe was born at a time of great national crisis in her Danish homeland as, only a week earlier, troops of the German Third Reich had occupied Denmark. The princess’s birth would later be referred to as ‘a touch of sunshine.’ in an otherwise bleak landscape. Nevertheless, the new-born did not even feature in the line of succession, despite the fact that Crown Prince Frederik was the current heir, as it was not possible for a woman to ascend the Danish throne.

Margrethe was christened on 14 May at the Holmens Kirke in central Copenhagen by Provost Dr Michael Neiendam. Given the circumstances, it was hardly a time for a large celebration. Indeed, the occupation period was a dramatic time for the Danish royal family, who had to walk a difficult path in relation to the German occupying power. King Christian X seemed to catch the mood of the moment when he set out resolutely, most mornings, to ride through the streets of Copenhagen, to be greeted with great enthusiasm by his subjects. He soon became a national icon among the population for this symbol of opposition. Meanwhile, both the Crown Prince and Crown Princess had difficulty accepting Denmark’s ‘cooperation’ with Germany but soldiered on with their life. Some would argue that it was more a process of ‘negotiation’ for, whereas in other occupied countries an independent German administration was established, in Denmark, it was still the Danish authorities that had the formal responsibility for governing. However, matters changed in late August 1943, when extensive sabotage activity (for instance the Danish navy sunk many of its own ships at Holmen) and unrest (including strikes and protests) in several Danish major cities led to the imposition of martial law by the Germans. The King was placed under house arrest for around six weeks and the Danish parliament ceased to function. The birth of another daughter, Benedikte, in April 1944, provided a welcome addition to the royal family, not to mention a playmate for Margrethe who was now often pictured with her parents. Meanwhile, opposition to the German occupiers continued apace with further strikes in Copenhagen and other towns in Zealand, Lolland-Falster and South Jutland. Then, in September 1944, several thousand Danish police were sent to concentration camps by the increasingly embattled occupiers.

Denmark was finally liberated on 5 May 5, 1945, at 08:00, by British forces led by Field Marshal Montgomery. An exception, however, was Bornholm, which was liberated by Soviet forces. In August 1946, Ingrid gave birth to a third daughter who was named Anne-Marie. She was seen by many Danes as a symbol of a liberated Denmark. The three sisters would form a tight bond which survived marriage and many decades later would provide comfort in widowhood. Ingrid was a relatively strict mother who liked order and routine. For instance, the children had their meals earlier than their parents and went to bed at a reasonable hour. What has recently been revealed, and briefly discussed by Margrethe herself, was the future king had a problem with alcohol. However, his wife was an invaluable support to him in the battle to fight this addiction which he eventually overcame. Margrethe would later reflect that ‘there was something or other’ but it certainly did not seem to impact greatly on the equilibrium of a happy childhood home. One occurrence which did make an impression was a car crash in the summer of 1948, when Margrethe’s mother was at the wheel of her Ford Mercury and hit a tree near Graasten Palace. Anne-Marie and her eldest sister were in the front seat next to their mother. Margrethe recalled, ‘Suddenly there was a loud bang. The next thing I know, I woke up in a hospital bed at Sønderborg Hospital with a bandage around my head.’ This may account for the present-day Queen of Denmark’s preference to be driven rather than to drive herself.

On 20 April, 1947 Margrethe’s grandfather, King Christian X died and her father was proclaimed King Frederik IX. Although the heir to the throne was now Frederik’s younger brother, Hereditary Prince Knud, Margrethe would recall that when she was aged twelve, she was aware of discussions taking place to change the rules of succession in her favour. Interestingly, this period coincided with the ascension of her kinswoman, 26-year-old Queen Elizabeth II, to the throne of the United Kingdom (and numerous other realms), following the death of her father King George VI in February 1952. In later years, Margrethe would also remember how, some five years earlier, the then Princess Elizabeth had made a speech to the people of the British Empire from Cape Town, on her 21st birthday, dedicating her ‘whole life whether it be long or short’ to ‘your service.’ This broadcast made ‘an enormous impression’ on the young princess. In Denmark, changes were eventually enacted via The Succession to the Throne Act of 27 March 1953 which introduced conditional female succession in Denmark as of 5 June. This meant that a female descendant of the current reigning sovereign could now inherit the throne, providing that there was no male heir, which, of course, in King Frederik IX’s case, there was not as all his children were daughters. The princess was now referred to as Crown Princess Margrethe. Interestingly, in 2009, this Act was amended such that the eldest child, regardless of gender, will inherit the throne.

Margrethe received a good education but it was not that of a typical Danish girl of the period. From 1946-1949, she was tutored privately, along with six other girls, at the Amalienborg. She then spent a spell at the well-known N Zahle’s School for Girls. She found it hard to concentrate at school and admitted to being shy. Subsequently, during the 1955-1956 school year, the (by now) Crown Princess was a pupil at the North Foreland Lodge, a reputable girls-only boarding school in Hampshire, England. She returned to Copenhagen to complete her schooling, again at the Amalienborg, where teachers from several local high schools gave her instruction in their particular subjects. By the age of 17, the Crown Princess had started to smoke cigarettes, after having been offered one by her parents, who were both avid smokers (the King preferred a pipe, while Queen Ingrid used a tortoiseshell cigarette holder) although it has been said that they perhaps hoped that having tried some, she would not care to pursue the habit. When Margrethe graduated in 1959 with excellent grades, the press photographed her wearing the traditional matriculation cap which is worn in Denmark, accompanied by her (only) classmate Birgitte Juel. But even at this time the future queen had led a relatively sheltered life. For instance, at the age of 14, Queen Ingrid arranged for her daughter to participate in dancing classes which were held in private homes. The group was specially selected and composed of twelve girls and twelve boys.

On her 18th birthday, 16 April 1958, Margrethe was admitted to the Council of State, a body mainly composed of government ministers of cabinet rank, which meets around fifteen times a year for the coordination of government policy and the granting of royal assent to bills, the purpose of which are explained by the relevant minster. If required, she was now able, as heir to the throne, to chair meetings of the Council, in the King’s absence. Like her male predecessors, it was felt that the future queen should have a military education and so she enrolled for a period of training in the Danish Air Force.

Given her academic talents and future role, it was decided that the Crown Princess should proceed to university. In 1959, Margrethe studied philosophy at the University of Copenhagen before enrolling, in 1960, at Girton College, Cambridge from where, in 1961, she received a Diploma in Prehistoric Archaeology. She later studied political science at Aarhus University (where she lived on campus, often cooking for herself.) and, in 1963, attended the Sorbonne in Paris. She later moved to England in 1965 to complete her studies at the London School of Economics. However, archaeology would remain her enduring interest and she later admitted in a documentary that had circumstances been different, ‘If you had asked me when I was an 18-19 year old, there was no doubt; Then I would have studied archaeology. I would have spent ten years doing that and hopefully obtained a good job.’

While Margrethe was still undergoing her academic studies, her youngest sister, Princess Anne-Marie, became engaged to her third cousin, Crown Prince Constantine of Greece. He was also a Prince of Denmark, his great-great grandfather being King Christian IX of Denmark. The couple married on 18 September 1964 and, as Constantine had by then ascended the throne as King Constantine II of the Hellenes, following the sudden death of his father on 6 March, Anne-Marie was now known as the Queen of the Hellenes. This event caused the Danish press to speculate on who Margrethe might marry (and when!) They would have to wait a further two years for the answer. During her period at the London School of Economics, Margrethe was introduced at a dinner party to a charming French diplomat (then accredited to the French Embassy in London) of aristocratic lineage, Henri Comte de Laborde de Monpezat. They met again at a wedding of a friend in Scotland, in April 1966, when he invited her out to lunch. The Crown Princess had never been out on a ‘date’ with a member of the opposite sex and found that, although she had little appetite for the meal itself, the sparks were certainly flying between the two lunch partners. On September 2, 1966, Ekstra Bladet’s correspondent Sven Peter Sabroe revealed that an engagement was imminent. On 5 October, the engagement was formally announced and the duo appeared together on the balcony of the Amalienborg. The couple were married on the 10 June 1967 at the Holmens Kirke, with a reception for four hundred guests afterwards at Fredensborg Palace. Henri was now styled as His Royal Highness Prince Henrik of Denmark. The newlyweds soon settled into an apartment in the Amalienborg’s Christian IX’s Palace. They were also given the use of Marselisborg Castle, near Aarhus which was renovated using monies received from a ‘folk fund’ raised at the time of their nuptials. Henrik was already a talented linguist (he had lived in French Indochina) and spoke French, English, Vietnamese, Mandarin Chinese and now focused on learning Danish, although he and Margrethe invariably spoke French together in private.

The following year, on 26 May, the Crown Princess gave birth to a son, Frederik. His arrival was soon followed by another boy, Joachim, on 7 June 1969. These developments in Margrethe’s life galvanised her for the future, she feeling that ‘the home front was ready and there.’ She was fortunate in that the boys enjoyed a good filial relationship, as she acknowledged in a 2022 interview with Billed Bladet, ‘Since the boys were very young, they have been aware that there is a difference in their roles. However, this has not posed any problem in the brothers’ upbringing.’ She added, ‘Frederik and Joachim have always been a great support for each other. I remember thinking how incredibly lucky I was to have two boys who got along so well and who didn’t suffer from any jealousy.’

On 31 December 1971 Margrethe’s father made his New Year speech at 6 pm prompt. He looked tired and unwell. Immediately thereafter he took to his bed at the Amalienborg with suspected influenza. The traditional New Year receptions due to take place on 5 and 6 January were cancelled by the Court Marshall’s office. On 3 January King Frederik was admitted to hospital after suffering a heart attack. Margaretha was appointed Regent the following day, although by 5 January her father’s health had improved somewhat and this change for the better would continue over the next few days. Unfortunately, on 12 January, the King’s condition deteriorated and preparations were in hand for the transition. His Majesty died at 7.50pm on 14 January with Queen Ingrid and all his children and sons-in-law at the bedside. Later that evening the flags of the Royal Guard were moved from the late King’s home, the Frederik VIII Palace to Christian IX’s Palace, the new Queen’s residence, a neat way of signifying the new reign of the latest incumbent of one of the oldest royal houses in the world, stretching back some 1000 years to the times of Gorm the Old.

On 15 January, Queen Margrethe appeared on the balcony of Christiansborg Palace alongside Prime Minister, Jens Otto Krag who proclaimed, as tradition dictated, three times, ‘King Frederik the Ninth is dead. Long live Her Majesty Queen Margrethe the Second.’ The Queen was clearly affected as she made a brief speech to her subjects. Her Majesty was then joined on the balcony by her husband who bowed and kissed her hand. Both waved to the crowds before retreating indoors. The uncertainty she had displayed as a child now seemed to disappear as she had a kingdom to run and she admitted, ‘It was as if everything my father had taught me came into its own.’ His memory and example were of tantamount importance to her, for as she admitted in 2012, ‘He was a wonderful father and I loved him very much.’ There was no time for unnecessary self-reflection, ‘You pull yourself together.’ She also believed firmly that, ‘The least one can do is one’s best.’ There was certainly a hill to climb for at time of her accession, the monarchy had an approval rating of around forty-five per cent. However, Margrethe acknowledged that where the monarchy was concerned, ‘nothing can be taken for granted,’ and she was certainly of the view that ‘you give your life to your country.’

From the beginning of her reign, Margrethe’s year has always been planned well in advance. The Amalienborg Palace (more specifically Christian IX’s Palace) is Her Majesty’s official base in Copenhagen and is used mainly in the winter months, although the Queen usually appears on the balcony on her birthday, 16 April. This is also the setting for the Queen’s New Year televised broadcast to her people. However, in spring and in the autumn, the Queen is in residence at Fredensborg Palace, located some 24 miles north of Copenhagen. This palace is often used for State Banquets and other official occasions. Christmas and Easter is usually celebrated at Marselisborg Castle, as are periods in the summer.

From the outset she was accessible to the public. For instance the Queen holds an audience at Christiansborg Palace on a number of Mondays throughout the year for members of the public who register in advance to attend. This is to give the Queen’s subjects the opportunity to personally thank Margrethe, for example, for the award of a royal order or medal, a royal appointment or for the Queen’s participation at an event or a visit. Throughout the conversation, only the person seeking the audience and the Queen are present. This tradition dates back the reign of Christian V. During these public audiences Margrethe wears a brooch bearing the insignia of the Order of the Elephant. This was a gift from her father on her 18th birthday in 1958.

The Queen also reaches out to her subjects when she makes her traditional New Year speech on Danish television. This is usually viewed by 2.5 million of her people. As a general rule, they are based on a draft speech provided by the Prime Minister’s office. Next, the Queen, with the help of her Private Secretary, personalizes the speech. During the filming of a 2010 Danish TV documentary “The Royal Family from Within” she states, ‘I’ll take it up and work on it and maybe add more from my own side. I’m trying to make it a speech that I can really vouch for myself.’ This process can take some time as she thinks it all through. It has to be the correct balance for as her then Private Secretary, Henning Fode noted, ‘Here the Queen has a political space that she uses and where it is fully acceptable and fully accepted that she uses that space in her New Year’s speech to express some opinions on essential societal problems.’ These can include immigration or climate change. Appropriately, in 31 December 2021, she sent thanks to those who had helped in the fight against the coronavirus. Margrethe delivers the speech ‘live’; it is not pre-recorded.

The Queen makes use of the Royal Yacht Dannebrog for expeditions to various Danish towns and cities in order to carry out an extensive range of official engagements (with dates varying from June right through to September.) The Dannebrog is also used as a base for visits further afield, particularly to Greenland and the Faroe Islands, the Queen having visited both on 10 occasions using this mode of transport. The Crown Princely couple have also used Dannebrog to travel to these destinations. Yet some engagements are more spontaneous such as her visit to Afghanistan in March 2011 to visit the Danish Battle Group of Task Force Helmand at Camp Price, where she was pictured alongside officers in a green jumpsuit and trainers.

Queen Margrethe regularly speaks to the press. This extends to international news organisations such as Britain’s ITV or CNN in the United States. She can be outspoken, certainly more so than say Britain’s late Queen Elizabeth II. In a recent interview with Weekendavisen, she gave a damning assessment of Vladimir Putin (whom she had met in 2011 and 2014) ‘I remember thinking he was not pleasant. I have never seen such cold eyes in my life.’ Yet, royal historian Lars Hovbakke Sørensen acknowledges that in speaking so frankly, Margrethe is being more political than in past times.

Margrethe receives important overseas guests such as heads of state, heads of government or foreign ministers in private audience which usually take place in Christians IX’s Palace at the Amalienborg. The monarch also receives foreign ambassadors to the Kingdom of Denmark either at Fredensborg Palace or Amalienborg who, before they can perform their duties as an official envoy, must hand over their credentials. They are conveyed to the relevant palace in a covered carriage accompanied by a court chamberlain. Often other members of the embassy staff, such as the military attache are included. The Queen also receives outgoing ambassadors in audience before they leave Denmark.

As a constitutional monarch, the Queen’s role is particularly limited. She certainly does not wield political power-at least not overtly-although she doubtless has influence. There is certainly an ample opportunity for dialogue between Margrethe and her Prime Minister (and Foreign Minister) when these politicians meet with Her Majesty to report on the latest political developments. Nevertheless, Margrethe openly admits that she was ‘brought up to be outside [day-to-day] politics.’ Ultimately, she has observed that ‘I should be able to be completely impartial.’ As head of state, she participates in the process to form a government, taking soundings from representatives of the various political parties. According to the website of the Danish Royal House, ‘the monarch [then] calls on the party leader with the most seats in parliament to form a government’. Furthermore, although the monarch signs acts of parliament, such legislation only becomes law when it is countersigned by the government minister of the relevant department responsible for the law.

The Queen, although more than content to undertake her public role to the full, has been keen to emphasise the need for a private life free from media intrusion, especially in these times when there is ‘more pressure’ from the press and social media: ‘We do need to have a home base which is unassailed where we can be at peace and where we can recuperate.’ She has been at pains to emphasise that this had nothing to do with maintaining the mystique of the monarchy; rather it is a case of ‘You can’t work if you aren’t able to relax.’

Prince Henrik, meanwhile, had to establish a role for himself at the Danish Court as he was the first male consort in Denmark’s history. Not an easy matter when there are no established boundaries, no dedicated funds initially with which to run an office and you are also being criticised for speaking indifferent Danish with a foreign accent! Nevertheless, he soon became involved with many organisations including, in 1972, assuming the role of President of the World Wildlife Fund in Denmark. He was also Patron of the Danish Red Cross and Honorary President of the Royal Danish Yacht Club. Furthermore, in 1974, the Queen and the Prince bought the Château de Cayx, located in the Cahors district of France. Although this would become a much-loved holiday home for the family, it had also been acquired for a commercial purpose as the Prince went on to successfully produce and sell wine for a period of more than 40 years. And of course it maintained the Prince’s links with his homeland and could act as a bolt hole if required. Certainly, there were many rumblings over the years about Henrik’s dissatisfaction over his role and place in the royal hierarchy. It certainly did not help that when the Queen was unable to attend the traditional New Year reception in 2002 for ambassadors and diplomats, it was Crown Prince Frederik who was called upon to deputise for his mother rather than Prince Henrik. Perhaps in attempt to make his role more defined, in 2005 he was given the title of Prince Consort. Press reports indicated that this still did not meet with his total approval. Some sources stated he would liked to have been known as King on the basis that if a King’s wife is known as Queen, then why should a Queen’s husband not be known as King? In a recent interview with Weekendavisen’s Editor-in-Chief, Martin Krasnik, the Queen blames herself for not paying more attention to Prince Henrik’s challenges in connection with his role and calls her younger self ‘ hilariously naïve’, for not anticipating these hurdles. Perhaps she is being a trifle hard on herself as, after all, while he was learning to play ‘second fiddle’ (as she puts it), Margrethe was herself adjusting to her new role as Sovereign.

In widowhood, Queen Ingrid remained a strong presence in her eldest daughter’s life. She certainly knew of the aforementioned difficulties with Prince Henrik, even sending, according to the British diarist Nigel Dempster, for a copy of an article which had appeared in the British press on the subject. Although she became increasingly frail, Ingrid’s mind remained sharp to the end. To Margrethe, her mother was, ‘a constant support and joy for me.’ Her death, on 7 November 2000, at her home, the Chancellery, in the grounds of Fredensborg Palace, was a blow, for Ingrid’s advice and wise counsel (always given quietly but firmly behind the scenes) had been a source of comfort to her daughter. Fortunately, all of the family (including Crown Prince Frederik, who had been in Australia for the Olympic Games but rushed home for he and his grandmother had always been very close) were at her bedside. The funeral took place in Roskilde Cathedral and was attended by the Kings and Queens of Sweden, Norway and Belgium, the Queen of the Netherlands, the Queen of Spain, Grand Duke Jean and Grand Duchess Josephine Charlotte of Luxemburg and Britain’s Prince Charles. Also present were many members of the extended Swedish Royal Family including Ingrid’s brothers Carl Johan and Sigvard Bernadotte. In keeping with tradition, Queen Ingrid was laid to rest next to her husband, King Frederik IX.

However, as in all families, new family members were welcomed into the fold. In May 2004, Crown Prince Frederik married an Australian marketing executive, Mary Donaldson in a ceremony held at the Cathedral Church of Our Lady in Copenhagen. The couple had met at the Olympics in Sydney in September 2000. Frederik’s mother formally gave her consent to the marriage at the a State Council meeting on 8 October 2003. The Queen and her daughter-in-law established a good rapport. Margrethe informed CNN in an interview in 2012 that she thought Mary, with whom she had a ‘warm relationship’, was ‘very competent’ and that she was ‘very confident in her.’ It perhaps helped that the new Crown Princess tactfully often asked her mother-in-law for advice on her public role. The couple have four children: Christian (who is second-in-line to the throne), Isabella and twins Vincent and Josephine.

Prince Joachim had actually been the first of the brothers to marry in 1995. His first wife was Alexandra Manley, a marketing executive, who was born and raised in Hong Kong. The couple had two sons, Nikolai and Felix. However, the marriage foundered (some say she preferred city life; while Joachim preferred living in the country). The duo separated in September 2004 and divorced the following year, with Princess Alexandra taking the title of Countess of Frederiksborg on her remarriage in 2007. Prince Joachim also remarried in the same year. His second wife is a Frenchwoman Marie Cavallier who had worked in advertising and finance. They have two children, Henrik and Athena and currently live in Paris where Prince Joachim, a Brigadier-General, is Military Attaché at the Royal Danish Embassy. The Queen’s face was said to light up when any conversation involved a mention of her two daughters-in-law and, during the 2022 interview with Billed Bladet, Margrethe emphasized that she enjoyed a very close relationship with both Crown Princess Mary and Princess Marie.

It has been said that the Scandinavian royalties had a more informal lifestyle than their British counterparts. This was perhaps true, but only to a point. For instance it is hard to imagine Queen Elizabeth II hanging out of a window at Windsor Castle, her hair somewhat unkempt and wearing night attire, to be serenaded by staff and family. Yet this is exactly what Margrethe and Henrik did at Marselisborg Castle on the 25 anniversary of their marriage. However, Margrethe is also a stickler for good manners, not to mention protocol. “I don’t think we went to school together,” she once rebuked a young journalist, who did not address her correctly. Nevertheless, she still has the ability to laugh at herself, as was proved when the Queen made a surprise appearance at a farewell performance by actor Ulf Pilgaard in 2021. For some forty years he had appeared in Denmark’s famous Circus Revue, often parodying Queen Margrethe with a queenly-style dress, tiara atop his head, dangly earrings and cigarette at a jaunty angle in his mouth. Margrethe gamely came on stage and presented Ulf with a small gift-said in the press to have been an ash tray-as a memento of this occasion.

The Queen has for many years been involved designing sets and costumes for television and theatre productions. This she acknowledged, came for ‘a need to express myself.’ Her natural talent was augmented by help and supervision from those with more experience and expertise. For instance, in 1987 she was in charge of costume design for the Danish television production of the Hans Christian Andersen tale “Hyrdinden og skorstensfejeren” [The Shepherdess and the Chimney Sweep] and as recently as November 2022, at the age of 82, she was at work on a production of the “The Nutcracker” at the Tivoli Theatre (with which she has a long association stretching back some thirty years-this is her fifth production there). The hope was at that time expressed that Margrethe might be involved in the Tivoli’s 2023 production “The Snow Queen.” As videos of her at work reveal, she is literally very hands on in her approach. The Queen is paid for the work she does and this money is given to her charities. She has found this to be ‘hard work’ but ‘great fun.’ In addition, Margrethe has embroidered copes for the clergy, made a decoupage drinks tray (‘pieces of imagination’) for use in a guest room and fashioned a zany floral raincoat out of a waxcloth tablecloth. This is perhaps not surprising from an individual who once admitted that she dreamed in vivid technicolour. Indeed, her talents seem almost without limit: What other Queen Regnant has translated works by Simone de Beauvoir into their native language? She herself acknowledges that one needs ‘a certain amount of confidence and perhaps, madness!’ It has to be said that it must also be a wonderful diversion from her everyday role as sovereign.

In terms of holidays, later in the summer the Queen will spend time at Graasten Palace, often in the company of her sisters, as this palace is filled with memories of their childhood and time spent privately with their parents (King Frederik and Queen Ingrid had adopted this as the family’s summer home as far back as 1935, when they were still Crown Prince and Crown Princess). The Queen usually takes a holiday, in February, at Gausdal in Norway and, in August, she enjoys a break with family members at the Château de Cayx. Her Majesty can also make use of a hunting lodge at Trend near Bjørnsholm Bay, Limfjorden. This was purchased by her parents in 1935 using monies received as a ‘folk gift’ at the time of their marriage.

During her New Year’s Eve speech in 2015, Margrethe indicated that Prince Henrik was to retire from public life. On 14 April 2016, he renounced the title of Prince Consort and was thereafter to be referred to as Prince Henrik. According to the Danish Royal House’s head of communications, this decision had been made on the basis that this title was better suited to the Prince’s new life in retirement. In the summer of 2017, it was revealed in the press that Prince Henrik did not wish to be buried beside the Queen at Roskilde Cathedral as he had never been treated as an equal in life, so he should not be treated as an equal in death. This view which was greeted with a mixture of incredulity and annoyance. Apparently, Margrethe had known of her husband’s decision for some time. There seems little doubt that by this stage the Prince was stricken by dementia. A close friend of Margrethe throughout her long life, Birgitta Hillingsø, states in a recent book by Thomas Larsen, that the diagnosis of Henrik’s dementia came somewhat late, the implication being that it had affected his reasoning over a longer period of time than was perhaps realised. Birgitta added that, ‘it was really a hard few years for her…but she never complained.’ Indeed, she would later praise him for his ‘love and support.’

2022 was a very special year for both of Europe’s reigning Queens. The senior monarch, Queen Elizabeth was celebrating an amazing seventy years on the throne, while Queen Margrethe was celebrating a reign of fifty years. Although the 96-year-old British Queen appeared very frail and was largely confined to ceremonial duties at Windsor Castle, her Berkshire home, Her Majesty managed to make an appearance on the balcony of Buckingham Palace, on 5 June, during a weekend of celebrations for her Platinum Jubilee (although her actual day of ascension had been 6 February, 1952). Margrethe was in awe of her sister sovereign, telling Britain’s ITV that, ‘the way she has faced her duties, the way she is dedicated-also she does it with a smile.’ The Danish monarch also commented on Elizabeth II’s ‘clear’ voice and ‘marvellous sense of humour.’ Margrethe also opined that, although Elizabeth had only the previous year lost her husband Prince Philip, ‘She is still bearing up beautifully.’ Indeed, at this time there seemed no reason to think that she might live to attain her centenary, as had her mother, Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother, who lived to be 101. Then suddenly, on the evening of 8 September, a news flash over the BBC and other networks stated that Elizabeth II had died peacefully at her Scottish summer home, Balmoral Castle. Although not many people realised it at the time, this left Margrethe as the sole Queen Regnant in the world. Furthermore, she had also assumed the (admittedly informal) position as the doyenne of the European monarchical scene being the longest-reigning monarch in Europe. In terms of the world-at-large, only the Sultan of Brunei has currently ruled longer.

On 11 September 2022, there was what can only be described as a televised dinner (attended by 1000 guests) with music-some would say ‘a party’ at Christianborg Palace as part of the celebrations for Queen Margrethe’s Golden Jubilee. This was attended by Scandinavian royalties and presidents, as well as distinguished guests from all over Europe. Yet, Margrethe was somewhat pensive when she rose to make her speech to those gathered. She asked that everyone in the Great Hall stand and observe a minutes silence to the memory of her kinswoman, friend, and mentor Queen Elizabeth II whose recent death ‘has made a big impact on us’. However, it was very much Margrethe’s evening and Crown Prince Frederik made an emotional speech concerning ‘generations with the same mission’ taking ‘the helm’ of the Kingdom: ‘I follow you as you followed your father and as Christian will follow me.’ Yet, he also emphasised to his mother that currently, ‘You alone have the helm.’ On 19 September, the Crown Prince accompanied his mother to London to attend Elizabeth II’s funeral at Westminster Abbey. Margrethe was also later part of a select group of royalty who attended Elizabeth’s interment at St George’s Chapel in the grounds of Windsor Castle, led up the steep steps to the West Door by her nephew, Crown Prince Pavlos of Greece (Crown Prince Frederik had to leave earlier to fulfil prior engagements overseas).

On 28 September, to the bewilderment of the Danish nation (who had only recently given their sovereign an 80% approval rating) and most members of her own family, Queen Margrethe announced her decision to slim down and modernise the Danish monarchy by stripping her youngest son Prince Joachim’s four children, Nikolai, 23, Felix, 20, Henrik, 13, and Athena, 11, of their titles as princes and princess of Denmark which they had held since birth. Furthermore, they would also no longer be referred to as ‘His (or Her) Highness.’ This was to take effect from 1 January 2023. ‘It is a consideration I have had for quite a long time,’ Margrethe told reporters after the decision was announced. ‘I think it will be good for them in their future.’ The four grandchildren are now styled as His (or Her) Excellency the Count (or Countess) of Monpezat. Prince Joachim publicly criticized his mother for her action relating to his ‘sad’ children asking, ‘Why should their identity be removed? Why should they be punished in such a way?’ Apparently eldest grandchild Nikolai, who spoke of his ‘shock’ at the decision, also now wondered what name would be placed on his passport. The Queen subsequently conceded in a further statement that, ‘I have made my decision as Queen, mother and grandmother, but, as a mother and grandmother, I have underestimated the extent to which much my younger son and his family feel affected.’ There has been speculation that the Queen made the decision about the titles to avoid Crown Prince Frederik having to deal with such things when he becomes king, a fact Margrethe recently confirmed in Martin Krasnik’s Weekendavisen interview.

The Queen spent Christmas Eve of 2022 privately in the company of her sister Benedikte and some friends on the Djursland peninsula. Crown Prince Frederik and his family were on a Christmas visit to the Crown Princess’ family in her native Australia; while Prince Joachim and his family (wife Marie and all four children) were also ‘overseas’, doubtless licking their wounds. As usual, on the last evening of the year, 31 December, the Queen was back at the Amalienborg, to make her traditional New Year’s speech at 6pm. Queen Margrethe once again opened up about ongoing drama relating to Prince Joachim’s children losing their royal status, a decision which was due to come into effect in a matter of hours: ‘Difficulties and disagreements can arise in any family, including mine,’ adding ‘That the relationship with Prince Joachim and Princess Marie has run into difficulties causes me hurt.’ Yet, within days she was back at work, attending a diplomatic reception on 3 January.

Nevertheless, regardless of this recent development, both sons joined their rather frail mother and Princess Benedikte in Athens for the funeral, on 16 January 2023, of King Constantine of the Hellenes who had died on 10 January of a stroke (although his health and mobility had been in decline for many years.) At the graveside at the royal burial ground at Tatoi, Margrethe stood stoically behind her mourning sister, Queen Anne-Marie, her hand gently placed on the widow’s arm to provide reassurance, while to the rear, Princess Benedikte kept a careful watch over both her siblings. Margrethe and all of the Danish royal party later lunched with the Greek Royal Family at the Grand Bretagne Hotel. Frederik and Joachim then travelled together out to the airport, where they amicably parted ways-Joachim to fly back to Paris to his job at the Danish Embassy, while Frederik returned to Copenhagen as, the following day, he had official duties to undertake in relation to the UNESCO-UIA World Capital of Architecture 2023 events. Margrethe and Benedikte returned to Denmark next day, giving them a chance to provide comfort to their youngest sister. Yet, the media, Denmark’s TV2, even found a reason to find a link between this sad occasion and the stripping of titles from Prince Joachim’s children with the headline, ‘The Queen has cleaned up the Royal Family, but Constantine’s descendants are still princes and princesses of Denmark.’ TV2 pointed out that, ‘This is despite the fact that they have very little affinity with the country.’ Historically, the link goes back to when a Prince William of Denmark, the younger son of the future King Christian IX of Denmark, was selected in 1863 by the Great Powers to be Greece’s new monarch. He was to be known as King George I of the Hellenes. This decision was ratified by the Greek Parliament at the Danish prince’s insistence. According to historian Emma Paske, the King of Denmark, realising the volatile political situation in Greece, arranged a ‘safety net’ whereby the descendants of George I should bear the titles of princes and princesses of Denmark, so that they always had Denmark to come back to. Whether that will now change remains to be seen but Paske argues that this is a matter for the head of the Greek family, not Queen Margrethe.

On 8 February the Royal House issued a statement indicating that Margrethe was about to undergo surgery on her back (some twenty years ago she had an operation for spinal stenosis.) Then on 16 February, the Queen’s interview with Martin Krasnik received widespread coverage in the Danish press and on social media. Margrethe had been in a reflective mood (perhaps not surprising given that she was about to undergo surgery and had only recently buried her brother-in-law), noting that ‘The crucial thing is that you grow heartily with your country and become deeply connected to it. That has been my ideal.’ She also spoke of Ukraine. While some of her subjects still commented on the royal titles question on Det Danske Kongehuse Instagram page, most praised ‘ our super, cool Queen’ and frequently mentioned her ‘intelligence’ ‘skill’ and ‘wisdom’.

On 22 February Queen Margrethe underwent what was describe as ‘extensive back surgery’ at the Rigshospitalet in Copenhagen. Her condition was described as ‘good and stable under the circumstances.’ Her Majesty now required a longish period of convalescence and rehabilitation. Crown Prince Frederik (and during his absence abroad in India Princess Benedikte) acted as Regent. By the end of February, Margrethe was already out of bed and walking a little. On 3 March the Danish Royal House website indicated that she had been discharged from hospital and was back in residence at the Christian IX Palace. There are certainly tentative plans afoot for the Queen to embark the Dannebrog, in early June, for yet another summer tour in the Bornholm Municipality and Ertholmene archipelago, followed by visits to Nordsjælland and Halsnæs Municipality.

As Queen Margrethe recently explained in the interview with Weekendavisen, ‘The crucial thing is that you grow deeply with your country and become deeply connected to it. That’s been my ideal.’ There is little doubt that she has achieved this and more. Like Queen Elizabeth II there will be no abdication by Margrethe from her duties as sovereign (as has been the case in the Netherlands and Belgium) although doubtless Crown Prince Frederik will, as he is currently doing, take on an increasing amount of the day-to-day work.

We wish Her Majesty a speedy recovery.

Robert Prentice is the author of the biography Princess Olga of Yugoslavia Her Life and Times (link below for e-book) Hard Copy also available from Amazon.

Princess Ragnhild of Norway: A Life of Contrasts.

Princess Ragnhild of Norway was born on 9 June 1930 at the Royal Palace in Oslo, where her parents, Crown Prince Olav and his Swedish-born wife, Crown Princess Märtha had decamped some three weeks before, as a fire had almost destroyed their family home at Skaugum, in the village of Asker, west of Oslo. Ragnhild was the first Norwegian Princess born on Norwegian soil in over six hundred years. In her autobiography (published in 1995), Princess Ragnhild relates how her Swedish mother was anxious that her first-born child should come into the world on the 25th anniversary of the dissolution of Norway’s union with Sweden (7 June 1930), so that target was missed by two days! However, despite being the eldest child of the Crown Prince, Ragnhild was not destined to become queen, as at that time there was no right of succession to the throne of Norway for females. Had she been born under the constitutional rules of today, the Princess would eventually have succeeded her father Olav as Queen of Norway.

When a mere two and a half weeks old, Ragnhild was baptized by Bishop Johan Lunde in the Royal Palace Chapel in Oslo. The infant was carried throughout much of the ceremony in the arms of her paternal grandmother, Queen Maud of Norway (a daughter of Britain’s King Edward VII). To commemorate the occasion, 1,400 Norwegians bearing the name of Ragnhild collected sufficient money to provide a baptismal gift of a cross which was embellished with five natural pearls from different geographical areas of Norway.

The Princess was raised at Skaugum until the age of ten, receiving a private education at home. Joining her in the nursery, in February 1932, was a younger sister, Astrid. In February 1937, Crown Princess Märtha gave birth to a son, Harald. Being a male, he was second-in-line to the throne of Norway from the moment of his birth and the succession was secured for the future. Like all children, the royal trio enjoyed visits from their paternal grandfather, the recently-widowed King Haakon, who liked nothing better than to motor out to Skaugum to play with his grandchildren or watch them bicycling (or in Harald’s case tricycling) through the grounds. Haakon also enjoyed lunching with the family and was invariably full of jokes. Interestingly, Ragnhild was also old enough to remember attending the circus with her English-born paternal grandmother Queen Maud, who died in November 1938 in her native England. The children’s maternal grandparents, Danish-born Princess Ingeborg of Sweden and her husband Prince Carl, Duke of Västergötland, also relished entertaining their Norwegian grandchildren at their whitewashed Swedish summer home Fridhem, near Norrkoping. Fridhem was a children’s paradise, with a wonderful parkland to play in and a brick-built Wendy House filled with sturdy furniture and cooking utensils where the children could play ‘house.’ It was also at Fridhem that young Raghild spent time with her cousins who included the children of her mother’s younger sister Queen Astrid of the Belgians, Joséphine-Charlotte, Baudouin and Albert. Also often present were the much older Danish cousins, Georg and Flemming (the offspring of Crown Princess Märtha’s elder sister, Princess Margaretha, and her husband Prince Axel of Denmark).

Ragnhild and her siblings formed a close bond at Skaugum, which was fortunate as the Norwegian Royal family was soon to undergo a period of major change: A month after Nazi Germany flexed its muscles by occupying Czechoslovakia in March 1939, Crown Prince Olav and his wife commenced a ten-week, 15000-mile goodwill tour through thirty-four states of the United States, visiting many places with large Norwegian populations, particularly in the mid-west. They were invariably greeted by members of the fraternal Sons of Norway (Sønner av Norge) organisation. The royal duo returned in July with many gifts for their three children including native Indian outfits for the girls and a cowboy outfit for little Harald. However, as far as the future was concerned, the most important ‘gift’ was mentioned, at the beginning of the visit, during a stay with President Franklin D Roosevelt and his wife Eleanor at their private home, Springwood, close by the town of Hyde Park on the Hudson River. During a one-to-one meeting with the Crown Prince, the President made it clear to Olav that he would offer sanctuary to his three children in the event of any war in Europe reaching Norway. It would not be long before the Crown Prince would ask the President to make good on his promise for, on April 9, 1940, German forces invaded Norway. At Skaugum, the Crown Prince received news of the invasion in the early hours of the morning with deep concern. Almost immediately, the children were awakened from their slumbers, provided with a quick breakfast, and then bundled into a car alongside their parents, with Crown Prince Olav himself taking the wheel and driving at top speed to the Royal Palace in central Oslo.

In order to avoid capture by the occupying power, it was now decided that all the Royal Family, the Government and the Storting (Parliament) should leave Oslo immediately by a special train from Østbanen Station. Fru Ragni Østgaard, the Crown Princess’s Lady-in-Waiting, kept a diary and observed that it was only when the train arrived at Lillestrøm station, just as the nearby Kjeller aerodrome was being bombed, that the seriousness of the situation became apparent to the royal family, particularly where the children were concerned for they were growing anxious as wave after wave of enemy aircraft flew overhead. Although Astrid cried and appeared somewhat distraught, Ragnhild seemed to be a little less affected, asking Fru Østgaard if this was just a rehearsal.

By early evening, the royal group had reached Hamar, with accommodation and dinner hastily arranged at a manor house at the Sælid Estate. However, with the Germans still in hot pursuit, it was decided to travel eastwards to Elverum. At this juncture, the heart-breaking decision was made that while King Haakon and Crown Prince Olav should remain in Norway, the Crown Princess and her children should attempt to cross the border into Sweden, Märtha’s country of birth. Although the royal party had no passports, they managed to enter Sweden at a crossing near Trysil, just prior to 1am on the morning of 10 April. Later, the group found accommodation at the nearby Sälen Høyfjellshotell, a well-known hotel for winter sports enthusiasts. As it was a bright, sunny day, the children borrowed skis from the hotel and spent most of the day outdoors, doubtless recovering from the traumas of the previous day. A few days later, they were delighted to be joined, from Stockholm, by their grandmother, Princess Ingeborg. As the Swedish officials were keen for the Norwegian royals to relocate, as soon as possible, for fear of a German raid over the border to kidnap them, Princess Ingeborg arranged for them to stay with the Swedish King’s grandson, Count Carl Bernadotte of Wisborg, at his home at Rasbo, near Uppsala. The children thought it was exciting to sneak out of the hotel in the dead of night on yet another adventure. Indeed, so quick was the departure of the royal entourage that there had been insufficient time to pack food for the journey, so the royal party had to make do with pastries purchased en route.

A few weeks later Ragnhild and her siblings found themselves on the road again, when King Gustav of Sweden offered his niece the use of Ulriksdal Palace in Stockholm. However, neither King Haakon nor Crown Prince Olav were keen on Märtha and the children remaining there as neither particularly trusted King Gustav, who was thought to have pro-German leanings. Furthermore, this mistrust had been exacerbated by the Swedish King’s recent actions: When, on 11 April, King Haakon and Crown Prince Olav had been in dire danger from occupying forces and requested to cross into Sweden at the Lillo customs crossing, the Swedish Foreign Minister, given the uniqueness of the situation, had contacted King Gustav for his input. Back came the reply, which was imparted to his brother sovereign, ‘Cross the border and you will be detained.’ Olav now become so concerned for the safety of his children and wife that he wrote to President Roosevelt from his then hiding place at Trangen, Langvatnet, on 10 May, reminding him of his offer made at Springwood a year before.

While Ragnhild and her siblings enjoyed themselves swimming and playing in the grounds of Ulriksdal, Crown Princess Märtha was being subjected to considerable political pressure from the Administrative Council in Oslo, who indicated that they wanted her to return (with Prince Harald) and assume the role of Regent until her son reached his majority. This, it was argued, would save the monarchy. However, it would also require King Haakon’s abdication. In a telegram to Hitler, on June 16, the Swedish King openly encouraged the Germans to adopt this ‘Norwegian Regency’ model. The Crown Princess was clearly aware of King Gustav’s ploy and sent a telegram to London warning her husband and father-in-law that her Swedish family (i.e., King Gustav) and Hitler were conspiring to remove King Haakon and set up a regency.

Since there was now a very real danger that the Crown Princess and Prince Harald might be kidnapped and taken to Oslo, on 22 June Crown Prince Olav wrote again to President Roosevelt (this time from Buckingham Palace in London, as he and King Haakon were required to leave Norway on 7 June to set up a government-in-exile and carry on the fight against the Nazi regime from England) asking him to make good on his offer of sanctuary to his children, but this time he also included a request on behalf of his wife. On 12 July, the US Secretary of State sent a message to the US Minister in Stockholm saying that President Roosevelt was arranging for a naval transport vessel to be sent to Finland to evacuate the Crown Princess and her family along with a group of ‘stranded’ US citizens.

On 18 July, Crown Princess Märtha received a telephone call from the Norwegian Minister in Washington, Wilhelm Thorleif von Munthe af Morgenstierne, to inform her that an American warship, the USS American Legion was being sent to Finland to transport her and her children to the United States. On 12 August, Ragnhild and her siblings were once again on the move when, along with their mother and a royal entourage, they travelled by rail to the Finnish port of Petsamo (now Petsjenga, Russia) where, on 15 August, they embarked the American Legion which transported them across the Atlantic to New York. Märtha appeared on the ship’s manifest as ‘Mrs Jones.’ Others in the party included the Crown Princess’ Chief of Staff, Peder Anker Wedel Jarlsberg, her Lady-in-Waiting, Mrs Ragni Østgaard, the latter’s son Einar and the royal children’s nurse, Signe Svendsen.

The Norwegian royal entourage arrived in New York on 28 August, after a stormy journey. They were taken to the Waldorf Astoria hotel where an eight-room apartment on the 32nd floor was put at their disposal. Ragnhild was photographed with a posy of flowers at the hotel entrance. Inside, she found a room full of dolls and toys awaiting her in the family’s luxurious suite. The children later joined their mother in the sitting room where the Crown Princess held a press conference. Märtha emphasised that her family’s presence in America was temporary which must have given some reassurance to Ragnhild.

The families next stop was to the private home of their host, President Roosevelt, at his country home at Hyde Park, which had a wonderful informal retreat, Top Cottage, where Ragnhild and her siblings played happily in the swimming pool; while Märtha took the chance to have a long chat with the President about her current situation. The duo also discussed where she might live. Within days, the Crown Princess and her children were heading to the White House in Washington D.C., from where the President took the Crown Princess for a drive in his official car to view a large twenty-four roomed property, set in 105 acres, at Pook’s Hill, Maryland. This was subsequently leased by the Norwegian government-in-exile for the royal family’s use.

America was a whole new way of life, both for the children and their mother. Although Crown Princess Märtha was already proficient in English (albeit with a strong Scandinavian accent) the three children were soon completely fluent in English. Nevertheless, their mother insisted that only Norwegian was spoken at home. The Crown Princess remained focused on providing her children with a secure upbringing and, in this respect, the US President proved a good friend: Roosevelt would often drive out to Pook’s Hill to take tea with the Norwegian royals; in turn they were often asked for lunch, tea, dinner or for a swim in the heated pool at the White House. Sometimes they joined the President and his family on a sailing trip on board the Presidential Yacht USS Potomac, perhaps on a short trip down the Potomac River to Mount Vernon, the home of the Founding Father of the United States, George Washington. President Roosevelt also helped Märtha to find schools for the children. The Norwegian royals also invariably celebrated Christmas with the Roosevelt family. Otherwise, the children lived a peaceful and normal life, with only occasional glimpses of the war from newsreels and the like.

In September 1941, King Haakon broadcast to the people of the United States thanking them for their unwavering support. Ragnhild and her siblings joined their mother to listen to their grandfather’s words over the radio at Pooks Hill. Yet many Americans remained determined isolationists and did not want to be drawn into any conflict. However, when the Japanese bombed the US naval facility at Pearl Harbor in Hawaii in December 1941, the United States entered the war on the Allied side. This change would prove to be fortuitous for Norway.

During the summer of 1942, Ragnhild bid farewell to her mother as she flew to London for King Haakon’s 70th birthday on 3 August. The latter awarded his daughter-in-law with the Dame Grand Cross of the Royal Norwegian Order of St Olav for her role in promoting the Norwegian cause in the United States. Then, in September, the Crown Princess was present at Washington’s Navy Yard, when President Roosevelt handed over the gift of a submarine chaser to the Norwegian Navy. This was named the HNoMS King Haakon VII. Indeed, Ragnhild’s mother would now be regarded as a key figure in the Norwegian war effort, particularly in the USA, as she patriotically toured hospitals, churches, and schools with links to Norway. Nor was she averse to enrolling Ragnhild and her younger children to further the cause, as is exampled by the royal family’s regular visits to “Little Norway” the Norwegian Air Force training camp at Muskoka Aerodrome in Ontario. The propaganda value of such a patriotic royal visit was immeasurable, even more so if these pictures somehow found their way into the hands of Norwegians in their occupied homeland. The Crown Princess also invited the press into the family’s Maryland home for charming photographic opportunities, featuring Ragnhild and her sister and brother riding their bicycles or posing with their mother in the drawing room. Furthermore, on Norway’s National Day, 17 May, the royal siblings were photographed parading along with other children, their Norwegian flags held proudly aloft. These images were widely circulated to the US and international press. On other occasions, snaps were taken of the children with President Roosevelt whom they now called ‘Godfather,’ although he was probably more of a grandfather figure to these youngsters. They were on particularly good terms with the President’s photogenic Scottish Terrier, Fala. It all made for good publicity, as did Ragnhild’s mother’s radio broadcasts at Christmas to the people of Norway, in which she stated with emotion, ‘We think of you with sadness in our heart but also with unspeakable pride.’ For Christmas 1942, it was the turn of Ragnhild and her siblings to gather around the radio microphone to send Christmas greetings over the airways to those at ‘home.’

While in the States, the Crown Princess and her children enjoyed visits from Crown Prince Olav. However, they were never quite sure as to when he would arrive, although there was always a warm welcome when he did. Olav tried to spend several months of the year in the US and if it could be arranged to coincide with Christmas, all the better. During one of his visits, in May 1944, he accompanied Ragnhild to Chester in Pennsylvania where she christened a 10,000-ton tanker ship, assigned to the Norwegian Merchant Navy, the Karsten Wang.

Following the capitulation of Nazi forces on 8 May 1945, Ragnhild returned to Oslo on 7 June aboard the British ship HMS Norfolk, having set sail from Rosyth in Scotland, on 5 June, in the company of King Haakon, Crown Princess Märtha and her siblings Astrid and Harald. Wearing ill-fitting duffle coats, the teenage Princess’ and their brother were up on deck as the vessel sailed up the Oslofjord, escorted by happy Norwegians who took to the waters in all manner of flag-bedecked sailing craft, from fishing boats to tugs, to welcome their beloved Sovereign home. Ragnhild’s father, Crown Prince Olav, had returned to Norway on 13 May and he joined his family aboard HMS Norfolk at Moss for what must have been a very emotional reunion. In Oslo, the greeting from the hundreds of thousands of Norwegians who lined the streets by the Honnørbrygga was overwhelming and described by Aftenposten, a respected Norwegian newspaper, as ‘The biggest and most beautiful day in the history of free Norway.’ On one street alone, a large sign the breadth of the road read ‘Velkommen Hjem.’ King Haakon, Crown Prince Olav, Crown Princess Märtha and the three royal children later all appeared together on the balcony of the Royal Palace which was bedecked for the occasion with a large flag of Norway.

Yet, this must have been a difficult period of adjustment for Princess Ragnhild who had become used to the American way of life and education, not to mention the freedom which five years of relative anonymity (and a group of American friends) had brought. Nevertheless, following the family’s return to Skaugum in November (the royal residence had been occupied by the Nazi Reichskommissar Josef Terboven during the war and it had taken time to make it habitable again) she commenced her studies at the Nissen Girls’ School, obtaining her school leaving certificate in 1948. She later spent four semesters, between 1948 and 1949, studying at a finishing school in Lausanne, Switzerland. During this immediate post-war period, she met, and over time was to fall in love with, Erling Lorentzen, the son of a wealthy shipping owner and former member of the Norwegian resistance. He was seven years her senior. Post-war he joined King Haakon’s bodyguard with responsibility for his three grandchildren and he later taught Princess Ragnhild and her sister to sail aboard their sailing vessel Ukabrand. When Erling was attending Harvard Business School in the United States, around the same time Ragnhild was in Switzerland, the two continued to maintain a long-distance correspondence. In the meantime, a new batch of photographs was released to celebrate Ragnhild’s 18th birthday in June 1948. The Princess also began to undertake official engagements including a reception for US servicemen at the United States Embassy in Oslo in September 1949; while in May 1952 she attended events in connection with the visit of NATO supremo, General Dwight D. Eisenhower. Again, in October, she and Astrid jointly opened an exhibition of items from the recently independent nation of India.

Ragnhild also travelled abroad to undertake duties on behalf of her homeland. In June 1951 she travelled to Paris to open the House of Norway. While in the French capital, she also attended the wedding of Prince Michel of Bourbon-Parma to Yolande De Broglie. She was seen off at Fornebu Airport by her father, Crown Prince Olav. Also present was Erling Lorentzen which perhaps might indicate a measure of recognition of the situation that was developing on the part of Ragnhild’s father. There was no sign, however, of Crown Princess Märtha. Crown Prince Olav was also at his eldest child’s side when Ragnhild and Erling attended a cross-country ski event (known as the 50km Holmenkollen) in March 1952, only two weeks after the completion of the VI Winter Olympics in Oslo.

On August 3 1952, Ragnhild was part of large party (including her maternal grandmother Princess Ingeborg of Sweden) who gathered in the Bird Room of the Royal Palace for a group photograph to celebrate King Haakon’s 80th birthday. There was also a balcony appearance at an event at the City Hall. She had earlier been photographed (cigarette in hand) alongside her smiling grandfather in the more relaxed environment at Skaugum. However, behind the smiles both King Haakon and Crown Princess Märtha resisted the prospect of Ragnhild’s marriage with a commoner, a situation they knew might prove controversial with members of the public. At one stage the couple were not allowed to meet for a whole year, presumably as some sort of test as to their commitment to each other (or perhaps in the hope that Princess Ragnhild might change her mind and look for a more ‘suitable’ royal suitor.) Ragnhild was taken aback by her family’s attitude writing to Erling that, ‘If I do say so myself, they have been more than terrible to me in this difficult time of ours.’ In desperation, Crown Princess Märtha now tried to engage the services of the war hero and resistance fighter Gunnar “Kjakan” Sønsteby as an intermediary. He was a close friend of Erling Lorentzen, and the Crown Princess wanted Sønsteby to make use of his influence and persuade Erling to break up with Ragnhild. But Sønsteby refused. It is no wonder that Ragnhild would write that, ‘It is almost the worst thing for me, that they [also] say and act like that towards the one I am so incredibly fond of’. Lorentzen would later recall that, ‘It was undoubtedly a difficult decision for King Haakon… and it was certainly a difficult position for all parties.’ Indeed, after years of angst and little progress on the matter, Erling finally decided to speak to King Haakon directly. He recalled ‘We had an open conversation. He did not give me any blessing. I later understood that he had raised the matter with the Prime Minister and the President of the Storting.’ This was the case and, in January 1953, Crown Prince Olav wrote to his daughter to say that ‘Now Grandfather has received an answer from Torp [The Norwegian Prime Minister] regarding you and Erling, and I am happy to be able to tell you that Grandfather will give his permission for you to get married.’ Olav seemed keen to unburden himself further adding, ‘I know it has been a difficult time for you… but I hope you still understand that this has not been done out of ill will, but because …..above all, that we, your parents, could be completely sure that you fully understood what you were doing..’

The couple’s engagement was announced on 14 February 1953 with a press conference being held at the bride-to-be’s home at Skaugum. They married at Asker Church, on 15 May, in the presence of her parents, her grandparents King Haakon and Princess Ingeborg of Sweden, with the King and Queen of Denmark and Britain’s Princess Margaret (sister of Queen Elizabeth II) being among the better known foreign royal guests. Following her marriage, the bride became known as Her Highness Princess Ragnhild, Mrs Lorentzen. She was no longer entitled to be addressed as Her Royal Highness following her marriage to a non-royal personage. Furthermore, her birthday was removed as an official flag day in Norway.

Ragnhild and her husband now moved to Rio de Janeiro in Brazil, where Erling planned to work for a couple of years in the shipping and gas sectors. These interests would later be extended into wood pulp production and cellulose. But that did not mean that Ragnhild was cut-off from her Norwegian family. She returned to Norway to visit her ailing mother, Crown Princess Märtha, who died of liver failure on 5 April 1954. Sadly, she had become infected with the hepatitis virus during an operation undertaken shortly after the Second World War. The period following this surgical procedure was difficult for the family as the Crown Princess’s health continued to deteriorate, her family having eventually been made all too aware that ‘there was only one way’ this could end. For Ragnhild the anxiety must have been acute, for she was pregnant with her first child throughout the final months of her mother’s life. On 23 August, Ragnhild gave birth to a son, Haakon, at Oslo’s Rikshospitalet. The child was christened at Asker Church the following month in the presence of his great-grandfather, King Haakon, maternal great-grandmother Princess Ingeborg and grandfather Crown Prince Olav. (Ragnhild would also return to Oslo for the birth of her second child, Ingeborg, on 27 February 1957.)

Following Crown Princess Märtha’s death, Princess Astrid took on the role of First Lady of Norway, helping her father and grandfather to entertain foreign dignitaries and accompany them on official duties. However, this did not prevent Ragnhild from also being present in Oslo for official events, such as State Visits. Such was the case when her kinswoman, Britain’s Queen Elizabeth II paid a State Visit in June 1955 (the first of four visits by Elizabeth to Norway for the family bonds were close.) A wonderful memento of the visit was when Ragnhild and Astrid posed with ‘cousin’ Elizabeth in summery dresses. Over the years the Princess would also be present, inter alia, during State Visits by President Nyerere of Tanzania (1976), Queen Margrethe of Denmark (1992) and Queen Beatrix of the Netherlands (2010).

Only a few weeks following Queen Elizabeth’s visit, while Ragnhild was still on a family vacation in Norway, King Haakon suffered a bad fall in his bathroom at Bygdøy, breaking a thigh bone. Ragnhild and her husband paid him a visit at Oslo’s Rikshospitalet in August. The King would now be confined to a wheel chair and Crown Prince Olav appeared in public on his father’s behalf. When, on 21 September 1957 King Haakon died at the grand old age of 85. Princess Ragnhild travelled from Brazil for the funeral which was held on 1 October. She was also present at her father, King Olav V’s Consecration at Trondheim on 22 June 1958, a date which was particularly historic as this was the 52nd anniversary of the Coronation of King Haakon and Queen Maud on 1906. Ragnhild was prominently seated at the front of the cathedral and had a clear view of her father as he knelt before the high altar, while Trondheim’s Bishop Arne Fjellbu recited the consecration prayer in which he asked for God’s blessing on the King and his royal office. The Princess later appeared on the balcony of the Royal residence in Trondheim, Stiftsgården, alongside her father and her siblings.

On a cold, snow-covered day at Asker, in January 1961, Ragnhild, wrapped up against the cold in a long fur coat, attended the wedding of her beloved sister, Astrid, to Mr Johan Martin Ferner. Mr Ferner, an Olympic Silver medal winner in sailing, was not only a commoner (the son of a prosperous Oslo department store owner) but he was also divorced. The latter fact fanned the flames of controversy and even although Astrid had waited patiently for many years for permission to marry Mr Ferner, when King Olav finally gave his consent (following the inevitable consultations with the Prime Minister and President of the Storting) there was an outcry from many members of the clergy. Since Ragnhild had already been through the matrimonial mill, she was ideally placed to offer an empathetic ear to her younger sister during this difficult period. Having married a commoner, Astrid -like Ragnhild-was no longer entitled to be called Her Royal Highness. Henceforth, she would be addressed as Her Highness, Princess Astrid, Mrs Ferner.

Princess Ragnhild, meanwhile, lived a relatively quiet life in a large apartment in Rio de Janeiro, taking care of her children. She rarely gave interviews but when the veteran journalist Annemor Møst met the Princess in her adopted homeland, he found that the Ragnhild remained ‘absolutely Norwegian’ and continued to maintain Norwegian traditions, particularly at Christmas when she loved to light many candles in Brazilian heat (as it was the height of summer, temperatures there often reached over 40 degrees Celsius). Furthermore, her apartment near the beach at Leblon, became a gathering place for Norwegians to visit, and the Princess’s concern for them, as well as her care for the disadvantaged in Rio, won her many friends. Among other things, she established Princess Ragnhild’s Fund for Children in Brazil and in 1961 the Princess laid the foundation stone for the Norwegian Seamen’s Church in Santos, and was, according to one clergyman, a ‘driving force’ in raising funds over many years. She also opened the church’s annual Christmas bazaar. Ragnhild’s friends found her to be caring, faithful and loyal, with an infectious sense of humour. However, in large gatherings, she could appear to be shy and reserved. Jens Stoltenberg, who visited her in Rio, would later describe her as ‘our best ambassador to Brazil.’

In September 1967, Ragnhild was briefly in the limelight in her adopted homeland when King Olav paid a State Visit to Brazil. The Princess accompanied her father to his meeting with President Artur da Cost e Silva at the latter’s office in Rio (Ragnhild, as was the custom, subsequently met with the President’s wife). She and King Olav later attended Brazil’s Independence Day celebrations in Rio, on 7 September, where they joined the President and his wife on the review stand throughout the military parade (which included a fly-past by aircraft of the Brazilian air force). Ragnhild and her father then flew to the nation’s capital, Brasilia, on 8 July, to attend a formal state reception at the Itamaraty Palace. The following day, Ragnhild acted as hostess for the King at a return reception given by the Norwegian delegation at the Hotel Nacional. She then joined King Olav for a two-day visit to São Paulo.

On 8 May 1968 the Princess gave birth to a second daughter, Ragnhild Alexandra, at the Amparo Feminino Hospital in Rio. Although not born in Norway, the infant was baptized at Asker Church the following September. In the meantime, the Princess attended the wedding, on 29 August, in Oslo Cathedral, of her brother Harald to Sonja Haraldsen, a commoner. As with the marriages of his sisters, Harald (who had first met Sonja at a party in the summer of 1959) had been forced to wait (in his case for nine long years) before being permitted to wed. It is said that Harald grew so frustrated with the situation that he informed his father and the Norwegian Prime Minister, Per Borton, that if he could not marry Sonja he would remain unmarried for the rest of his life, thus threatening the future of the monarchy. Finally, the necessary consents were granted and the couple’s engagement was announced by the Royal Palace on 19 March 1968. Over 850 guests attended the wedding, including the King of Sweden and the King and Queen of Denmark. The Princess would later record that her ‘first impression’ of her new sister-in-law ‘was very good. I thought that the couple would probably get along well, because Sonja seemed both sweet and sensible.’ Ragnhild and her brother continued to remain close and, in September 1973, she made sure to be in Oslo for the christening of his son Haakon, the second-in-line to the throne of Norway. She was also present at Harald’s 40th birthday celebrations in February 1977.

In April 1982 Ragnhild attended the wedding of her son Haakon to Martha Carvalho de Freitas. This was followed two months later by the nuptials of her elder daughter Ingeborg to Paulo Ribeiro Filho. Harald’s daughter Princess Märtha Louise was a bridesmaid and Crown Princess Sonja also attended the celebrations. In September, Ragnhild and her husband were in Oslo for the events to celebrate King Olav’s 25 years on the throne.

On 17 January, 1991 King Olav died of a heart attack, aged eighty-seven, at his winter residence Kongsseteren. Ragnhild was present at his bedside, as were her brother and sister. Indeed, since her father had suffered a debilitating stroke in May 1990, the Princess had spent much of her time in Norway, full of daughterly attentions. King Olav’s death must have been a major blow for the Princess for the two were close. Furthermore, where she had previously stayed with her father in his royal residences, following his passing, Ragnhild decided to buy a flat in Oslo’s fashionable Frogner district as a base during her visits to Norway. It was here, now that her family in Brazil was grown up, that she would escape from the summer heat of Rio during the months of January through to March. Her life in Oslo (as in Rio) was mostly spent quietly: solo official engagements were few, although she still served as a Patron of the National Society for the Deaf in Norway. The Lorentzen’s also often vacationed at their cabin, which they named Arnfinnstølen, in the Votndalsåsen area, where Erling enjoyed meeting up with friends from his time in the Norwegian resistance. Back in Brazil, Ragnhild was also glad to make use of a new country house, at Pedra Azul, in the Serrana Region of Espírito Santo, where the temperature was considerably cooler than in Rio de Janeiro. The couple raised horses here, and there was sufficient accommodation for up to six guests with a cook to take the strain from entertaining.

The Princess attended the consecration of her brother King Harald in Trondheim’s Nidaros Cathedral in June 1991. A few years later, the Ragnhild and her sister Astrid inaugurated an exhibition of their grandmother, Queen Maud of Norway’s wardrobe at the Museum of Decorative Arts and Design. As she was over eight years old at the time of her paternal grandmother’s death, Ragnhild retained happy memories of the elegant Queen Maud gardening at Skaugum (where the two were often photographed together.)

Although a private person, in 1995 Ragnhild decided to write her autobiography (this was penned with the help of author Lars O. Gulbrandsen) published under the title, “Mitt liv som kongsdatter” [My Life as a King’s Daughter]. She wrote lovingly of her brother Harald noting that ‘The big age difference between Harald and me (6.5 years) made us never argue like most siblings. I thought my little brother was sweet, kind, and cheerful-yes, just as he is today.’ Ragnhild also admitted to being glad she was not the monarch noting that, ‘It must be a terrible struggle and responsibility to be a monarch, but Harald is doing a fantastic job.’ She added that,’ I see a lot of my father’s traits in Harald who, with each passing year, becomes more and more like him.’ In 1999, she also talked of her relationship with her homeland, in an interview with VG magazine, ‘We feel at home in both places. Our roots are both here [Brazil] and in Norway but she added ‘Now I couldn’t imagine staying 365 days in Norway.’

As the new millennium dawned, Ragnhild celebrated her 70th birthday. This caused some interest and Norwegian journalist, Tante P, conducted a television interview with the Princess during which she mentioned that she and her father had kept a up a regular(weekly) correspondence throughout her years in Brazil. She also indicated that these letters were currently in a safety deposit box and she had left instructions that they should be burned following her death, given that they were private correspondence of ‘no historical significance.’ However, when it emerged, in August 2001, that she had subsequently burned the correspondence (estimated in the press to be between 1500 and 2000 letters), historians were aghast. Author Knut Olav Åmås of the Norwegian Biographical Society stated bluntly that the Princess was hardly qualified to assess the historical value of this primary source stating, ‘It’s extremely sad to hear. A very important source of the history of the Norwegian monarchy has been lost. It’s shocking. It is a particularly unwise act by Princess Ragnhild…’ Yet, apparently, she was greatly influenced by the wishes of her late father. Indeed, King Olav described the letters as “his little chat with his daughter once a week” and according to his wishes, the letters were not registered in the Royal Court archives, nor did he want the letters to be made available to the public at any time, according to a Royal Palace press release.

Controversy or no controversy, in January 2001, Ragnhild attended her maternal uncle, Prince Carl Bernadotte’s 90th birthday party at the Grand Hotel in Oslo. This gave her an ideal chance to catch up with her royal cousins, her late Aunt Astrid’s daughter Josephine-Charlotte (then Grand Duchess of Luxembourg) as well as her son, Albert (at that time the King of the Belgians). Also present was Count Flemming of Rosenberg, the son of Crown Princess Märtha’s eldest sister, Princess Margaretha of Denmark. In early 2003, Ragnhild helped host an 80th birthday party for her husband Erling at the Grand Hotel. King Harald, Queen Sonja and Queen Silvia of Sweden (who had close family links with Brazil) were among the guests. Then, in July, Princess Ragnhild and her husband attended a football match between Norway and Brazil at Ullevåll Stadium. The result was a rather diplomatic draw. In November, there was the joyous occasion of the wedding of her youngest child, Ragnhild Alexandra to an American, Aaron Matthew Long. Princess Astrid and her husband were guests at the nuptials in Sao Pedro de Alcantara Church. However, the King and Queen did not attend which was not surprising given that they had recently concluded a State Visit to Brazil.

Princess Ragnhild was also known for having strong opinions, or rather what the former Norwegian Prime Minister Stoltenberg referred to as her ‘fresh remarks.’ The Princess let it be known, in an interview with Anne Fredrikstad of Norway’s TV2 channel for their documentary “Princess in Exile”, which was shown in early 2004 (but recorded at her home in Rio in the autumn of 2003) that she did not approve of her brother’s children’s choice of spouses (Crown Prince Haakon wed, in August 2001, Mette-Marit Tjessem Høiby, a single mother; while his sister, Princess Martha Louise married author Ari Behn in May 2002). Ragnhild observed that the royal family in Oslo must have had ‘bad advisers,’ adding that King Olav would never have approved of these matches. However, several Norwegian politicians, including Kjell Engebretsen, opined that the Princess should keep quiet about her private perceptions of the royal children, adding ‘I think that she should worry more about the President of Brazil.’ Ouch! Certainly, these remarks must have seemed surprising from the woman who, some fifty years earlier, had cleared the way for a member of the Norwegian royal family to marry a commoner for love. And after all, King Harald and Princess Astrid had both gone down a similar route. Furthermore, Ragnhild had been quite content to attend the nuptials of the couples whom she was now criticising. Meanwhile, Ragnhild and Erling celebrated their Golden Wedding with a trip aboard the car ferry MS Prinsesse Ragnhild which travelled the Oslo to Keil route.

Some commentators have indicated that Ragnhild’s remarks may have been prompted by her annoyance at her treatment by the Norwegian King and Queen during their recent State Visit to Brazil. Whereas in 1967, King Olav had chosen to place Ragnhild at his side throughout his State Visit, during the October 2003 visit King Harald’s sister received no official invitation to participate in any aspect of the visit. Indeed, when Ragnhild attended events, it was as the wife of her businessman husband, not in her role as a Norwegian Princess or the sister of the King. For this reason, she was unable to travel on the royal party’s chartered plane during a visit to Brasilia, the Norwegian Ambassador Jon Gerhard Lassen emphasising that this was because ‘Princess Ragnhild is not part of the official delegation;’ while the press spokesman for the Norwegian Foreign Minister, Karsten Klepsvik, stated somewhat disingenuously that, ‘She would probably have been invited to some events during the state visit if she were not married to a member of the business delegation.’ The only private contact King Harald and Queen Sonja had with the Lorentzen family during their stay in Brazil was a lunch in Búzios on the day they flew into Brazil, but prior to the State Visit officially commencing on 7 October. The King and Queen also saw fit to cancel-at short notice-a family lunch at the end of the tour with Ragnhild and Erling at their Rio de Janeiro home. Nevertheless, in his official speech at a dinner given by the Governor of Rio at the Palace of Laranjeirast, the King did go out of his way to mention his sister and brother-in-law, stating ‘We also feel a special connection to the city since my sister, Princess Ragnhild, and Erling Lorentzen have been living here with their family for fifty years.’ And really this was the point. Indeed, Norwegian commentator Stig Tore Laugen expressed his surprise that Ragnhild (and her husband) should have been treated in this way given that ‘the Lorentzen couple “are” the symbol of Norway in Brazil.’

All seemed to be forgiven and/or forgotten, when in September 2005, Ragnhild joined her siblings and sister-in-law, Sonja, in Washington for the unveiling of a statue at the Norwegian Embassy (their wartime home at Pook’s Hill had long been demolished and the site redeveloped as a housing complex). The statue was a gift presented to the citizens of Norway from the Norwegian American Foundation on behalf of the Norwegian-American community in the United States to mark Norway’s centennial, as well as the Nordic nations one-hundred years of diplomatic relations with the United States. Ragnhild had clearly not forgotten the words of the “Stars and Stripes” and could be seen singing along to the US national anthem. In 2007, on King Harald’s 80th birthday, a replica of the statue was erected on the grounds of the Royal Palace in Oslo, a gift from the Storting, Norway’s Parliament.

On 9 June 2010 the King hosted an 80th birthday dinner for Ragnhild. Among those on the guest list are several long-time girlfriends from her post-war schooldays in Oslo, many of whom she had kept up with over the years. In an interview with the weekly publication Allers, the Princess admitted that even at this age, she did not find it easy to open-up to strangers. She also indicated that she spent a lot of time alone and thrived in her own company. As far as gifts were concerned, Ragnhild indicated that she would prefer it if contributions could be made to her charitable fund for the aid of street children in Brazil. She and Erling had previously attended a Norwegian National Day event in Rio de Janiero on 17 May which was attended by several hundred Norwegians.

In December 2011, Se og Hør interviewed the Princess and Erling in Brazil. Ragnhild indicated that after 59 years in Rio, ‘We will probably not move to Norway again.’ This was consistent with what she had stated to VG in 1999. But behind the scenes she and Erling’s commitment to their homeland remained strong and it was revealed that, in 2011 alone, they had donated one million kroner to help children with cancer. These funds enabled individual grants of 50,000 kroner to be made to a family with a child affected by the disease in order that they could go on holiday or realize a dream together. This donation followed hard on the heels of a larger donation (five million kroner) made three years previously to help with the building and maintenance of a holiday cabin, overseen by the Support Association for Children with Cancer. Ragnhild expressed the hope ‘that the researchers will one day manage to crack the cancer riddle.’

In the same interview, the Princess mentioned that she had now passed over the torch to the younger generation where the hosting of the annual family Christmas celebrations was concerned (before this, up to twenty family and friends had been royally entertained at Ragnhild and Erling’s Rio home.) The reason was simple, ‘It is a lot of work…’ Certainly the years were rolling on and the pace of life had to be adjusted accordingly. In February, 2012 the Princess was photographed with her two siblings at a dinner party given at the Royal Palace to celebrate the 80th birthday of Princess Astrid. The image was later released by the Royal House. Ragnhild looked frail and much thinner than in past times, but appeared tanned and beautifully turned out in a tasteful couture silk outfit. However, she was not present at the joint 75th birthdays celebrations for the King and Queen which were held in May as, at Easter, the Princess had fallen and fractured her hip. However, on further investigation, it was discovered that Ragnhild, who had never been one for bothering doctors, was suffering from lung cancer. Erling was told that his wife would have only six months to live. Initially, he did not share this news with the Princess for several months and she managed to make what would be her final visit to Norway in the summer. Thereafter, Ragnhild returned home to Rio de Janeiro where, as her health faded due to the cancer, she was constantly surrounded by her devoted family. She died in her own bed, in her own house at 9.45am local time on Sunday, 16th September.

Following her death, flags were flown at half-mast in Norway, including at the Royal Palace. Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK) reported that the government had offered to pay for Princess Ragnhild’s funeral, but her family had gracefully declined the offer. The mortal remains of Princess Ragnhild arrived in Oslo on 24 September. Both the King and Princess Astrid were at the airport to receive them along with a bearer party of the Royal Guard. Ragnhild’s funeral was held at noon on 28 September in the chapel at the Royal Palace, where she had been baptized in 1930 and confirmed in 1947. This was followed by a reception for family and close friends at the palace. In the afternoon, Princess Ragnhild was laid to rest, as she herself had requested, in the cemetery at Asker Church where, touchingly, she and Erling had married nearly 60 years earlier. The committal was attended by close family only, just as the rather ‘private’ Princess would have wished.

How was Ragnhild remembered? The then Prime Minister Jens Soltenberg described her as ‘a warm-hearted representative of Norway.’ Kjell Arne Totland, former court reporter with Se og Hør, defined Ragnhild as, ‘a royal of the old school.’ He added, ‘She did not seek the limelight and so probably had a lot in common with her grandmother, Queen Maud. Therefore, I think she was happy that she could live a quiet and relatively quiet life in Rio all these years.’ Odd Nelvik, a former editor with the same publication also recalled that she was renowned for her direct speaking but noted too that, ‘She always had a twinkle in her eye.’

Perhaps the last words should go the Princess herself. In 2010, during an interview with Allers magazine, she stated, ‘My motto in life is to keep the wheels turning as long as possible! And when I think back on life, I am filled with gratitude for all the good times I have had. I have always focused on the positive.’

Robert Prentice is the author of the biography Princess Olga of Yugoslavia Her Life and Times (link below for e-book) Hard Copy also available from Amazon.

Death of an Iconic Princess.

At 11.40am on 27 August 1968, Princess Marina died peacefully in her sleep at her apartment in Kensington Palace, from an inoperable brain tumour. This had only been discovered by doctors, on 18 July, when she entered the National Hospital for Nervous Diseases for ‘various tests’, as Marina had increasingly found it difficult to put weight on her left leg, which kept giving way, causing her to stumble badly. This devastating news, along with the doctors’ prognosis that the Princess had only six or seven months left to live, was known only to her children, Edward, Alexandra and Michael. Even her beloved older sister, Princess Olga of Yugoslavia, was kept in the dark noting, ‘I can’t make it out exactly what is the cause…’ Marina herself thought it was rheumatism. Although, following her discharge from hospital, she needed daily assistance from a nurse, the Princess was still able to pay a visit to her daughter and grandchildren at Alexandra’s home, Thatched House Lodge, in London’s Richmond Park, on 23 August. Furthermore, on 25 August, Alexandra, her husband Angus Ogilvy and their children, James and Marina, lunched with the Princess at Kensington Palace. Marina’s close friend, Zoia Poklewski was also present. At this stage there seemed no immediate cause for alarm. However, in the evening, Marina suffered a brief blackout and, on the morning of 26 August, she said, ‘I feel tired. I think I will go to sleep.’ It was a sleep from which she would never awaken.

Thus, when word was released of her death, people both in Britain and the British Commonwealth (for the Princess had travelled extensively on official duties to Commonwealth countries both in the Far East, as well as-inter alia-to Canada, Australia and Ghana) were shocked by the news, for she was only 61 years of age. Many could still recall Marina’s arrival in Folkstone, in September 1934, as the chic future bride of the handsome and popular Prince George, youngest surviving son of King George V. Others remembered her as an enduring presence (for some 25 years) when, as President of the All England Tennis and Croquet Club (“Wimbledon” in everyday parlance), she presented the trophies to the champions and runners-up at the end of the famous tennis tournament. The Australian Women’s Weekly called her ‘the smartest of the royal women’ in terms of dress sense and, in England, the late Princess even had a colour named after her, Marina Blue.

It was announced on 28 August that the funeral would take place in private at St George’s Chapel Windsor. It was the height of the holiday season and most of the British Royal family travelled down from Balmoral on Royal Deeside for the service. The Princess’ mortal remains were carried into the chapel by eight officers from regiments of which she was Colonel-in-Chief, her personal standard and flowers atop the coffin. The service was conducted by the Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Ramsey, assisted by Archimandrite Gregory Theodorus of the Greek Orthodox Church. The latter’s participation was particularly apt as Marina had been raised in the Greek Orthodox faith and had remained a regular attendee, during Holy Week, at the Orthodox Easter services at the Greek Orthodox Cathedral of Saint Sofia in London’s Moscow Road. The moving service also included the collect hymn of the Holy Orthodox Church, Give Rest, O Christ, to Thy Servant with Thy Saints. Marina was subsequently laid to rest at the Royal Burial Ground at nearby Frogmore. Interestingly, on the previous evening, the mortal remains of her late husband, Prince George, who died on active service in a flying accident in 1942, had been removed from the Royal Crypt at St George’s Chapel and transferred to Frogmore. Now husband and wife were once again reunited.

In addition to Marina’s three children and other royalties, also present was Marina’s sole surviving sister, Princess Olga of Yugoslavia. The latter had hastened over from her holiday home near Florence, after being told that Marina’s health had suddenly deteriorated, so as to be at her younger sister’s side for the final hours of her life. Olga wore Marina’s own mourning outfit and veil at the funeral for, in the rush, she had no chance to pack her own. The Duke of Windsor also made a rare appearance at Windsor, to salute a royal sister-in-law who was, after all, the widow of his favourite brother, George.

A public memorial service (which was televised to millions) was held in Westminster Abbey on 25 October. Among the two thousand present were representatives of the British, Greek, Danish, Yugoslav and Russian Royal Families. The presence of the latter was particularly prescient as Marina was (through the maternal line) a great-granddaughter of Tsar Alexander II of Russia. However, in a nod to the Princess’ down-to-earth character, also present were two representatives of a garage in Iver, where she lived for so many years on the Coppins estate. The Dean of Westminster summed up Marina’s salient characteristics succinctly: ‘her grace and beauty, her spirit of spontaneity, her courage in adversity, her unswerving service to this land of her adoption, her faithfulness in friendship…[and] not least do we thank God for the mutual affection which was established between her and our people…’ And that was Marina’s secret-the British people had taken her to their heart almost from the first; yet equally she had reached out to them. In essence, it was a case of ‘mutual admiration’.

As the years have moved on, Marina is still remembered with great affection. This warmth has long been extended towards her children, particularly Prince Edward, the Duke of Kent and Princess Alexandra, the Hon. Lady Ogilvy who, although in their late eighties, continue to carry out a wide range of official engagements, for dedication to duty was at the heart of their late mother’s ethos.

Robert Prentice is a biographer and regular contributor to ‘Majesty’ magazine in the United Kingdom. His biography of the late Princess Marina’s sister, ‘Princess Olga of Yugoslavia: Her Life and Times’ is available to purchase in hardback or as an e-book through Amazon.

Prince Michael of Kent-An 80th Birthday Celebration.

HRH Prince Michael of Kent was born on 4 July 1942 at Coppins, the Buckinghamshire home of his parents, Prince George, the Duke of Kent (the youngest surviving child of the late King George V and Queen Mary) and Princess Marina, born a Princess of Greece and Denmark, but also with strong links to the exiled Russian Imperial family (her great-grandfather was the late Tsar Alexander II). The Prince’s birth was a rare moment for celebration, as the United Kingdom was currently at war with the Axis powers of Germany, Italy and Japan, with food, fuel and clothing subject to strict rationing.

The baby boy was christened Michael George Charles Franklin (the latter a nod to one of the child’s godparents, the US President Franklin D. Roosevelt with whom Prince George had struck up a friendship during an official visit to the United States the previous year), in a ceremony at Windsor, on 4 August, attended by a large gathering of royalty which included the Kings of Britain, Greece and Norway, as well as Prince George’s cousin, Crown Prince Olav of Norway and his Swedish wife Crown Princess Martha. Michael’s paternal grandmother, Queen Mary, made a rare journey up to Windsor from her wartime bolthole at Badminton in Gloucestershire. The Queen and the Princess Royal were also in attendance. It was a joyous occasion but tragedy was just around the corner…

On 25 August, Prince George, who at the time was an Air Commodore in the Welfare Section of the Royal Air Force Inspector General’s Staff ( a post which included making official visits to RAF bases to help boost morale) took off on a grey overcast day from the Royal Air Force base at Invergordon in a Sunderland flying boat bound for Iceland, where the Duke was due to carry out an inspection tour of air bases. However, some 30 minutes later the aircraft crashed into a hill side, known as Eagle’s Rock, near Dunbeath, in Caithness. All on board died-with the exception of the rear-gunner who was thrown clear by the impact.

Marina learned of her husband’s death at Coppins from her beloved childhood nurse, Miss Fox, who had earlier answered the telephone to be informed of the tragic news. The Princess became so distraught that King George VI made the decision to send for Marina’s eldest sister, Princess Olga of Yugoslavia, who was then living in Kenya as a political prisoner, following her husband, Paul’s removal from power as Prince Regent of Yugoslavia, the previous year in a British-backed coup. This was an astute move on the part of the King, for Marina had few close friends in Britain and by the time of Princess Olga’s return to Kenya at the end of the year, she had resumed her busy official life. But it was more than sisterly love which helped to bring the widowed Duchess of Kent back from the brink of such a terrible ordeal: As Olga astutely noted, little Michael was the ‘greatest blessing of all…that depends on her [Marina] so much and for whom she must live…’

Prince Michael enjoyed a happy childhood. He and his older siblings Edward (now the Duke of Kent) and Alexandra formed a strong family bond which was fostered by their ‘cosy’ mother, who continued to remain close to her sisters Olga and Elisabeth and their Russian-born widowed mother Grand Duchess Helen. It is not surprising therefore, that in his youth, the young Prince would often join his mother on post-war trips to Athens to see his maternal grandmother, who lived in a large, airy house in the upmarket suburb of Psychiko, surrounded by faithful servants and a menagerie of cats and dogs. It was also during this period that Michael paid visits with his mother and older siblings to his Aunt Olga and Uncle Paul, who had by now settled in Paris with their children Alexander, Nicholas and Elizabeth. Similarly, the Kent family also regularly travelled to Bavaria to stay with Aunt Woolly (as Marina’s middle sister Elisabeth was referred to en famille) and her husband Count Karl Theodor Toerring (‘Uncle Toto’). The Toerrings had two children, a son Hans Veit and a daughter Helen, so there was no danger of ever becoming bored. On occasion, a selection of these cousins would arrive at Coppins (described in later years by cousin Helen as ‘the meeting place’) for a summer or Easter reunion. There were also “bucket and spade” holidays for the extended family in Jersey or Norfolk.

The Prince’s pre-school education was supervised by a Scotch governess, Miss Catherine Peebles, who later moved on to look after Queen Elizabeth II’s children, Prince Charles and Princess Anne. In 1951, Michael attended Sunningdale Preparatory School before going on to Eton four years later. Like his mother, Princess Marina, and brother Edward, Michael already displayed an aptitude for foreign languages (French and German) and spent a brief period at the Institut de Torraine in Tours to study French language and culture.

In January 1961, the Prince joined the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst where officers in the British army are trained to take on the responsibility of leading their soldiers. He was commissioned into the 11th Hussars (Prince Albert’s Own) in 1963. Michael proved an enthusiastic sportsman, enjoying bobsleighing (he would later compete for Great Britain) and he also continued to expand his linguistic skills, this time studying Russian (the native language of Grand Duchess Helen). His level of fluency was such that he subsequently qualified as a military interpreter in that language. By 1968 the Prince was attached to the Ministry of Defence, liaising with Foreign Defence Attaches based in London. He subsequently saw service in Germany, Hong Kong and Cyprus (where his squadron formed part of the UN peacekeeping force in 1971). On his return to England, he worked in the Defence Intelligence Service at the Ministry of Defence. But it was not all work: Prince Michael loved cars and competed in a number of motor rallies including the 1970 World Cup Rally from London to Mexico, co-driving an Austin Maxi. He also took up competitive carriage driving and later, in the 1980’s, Michael qualified as a pilot and passed the Institute of Advanced Motorists tough motor-cycle test on a Honda CX50 (he had passed the Institute’s equally demanding test for motorists some twenty years earlier).

The death of Princess Marina in August 1968 was a severe blow to Michael. She had recently been diagnosed with an inoperable brain tumour, a fact which was kept from Marina. The Prince was the only one of her children to remain unmarried and, when not on military duties, he continued to lead a bachelor life from a small flat in Chelsea. As was usual for a man of his age and background, there were no shortage of girlfriends with whom to socialise. In early 1972, while staying with his cousin Prince William of Gloucester at the latter’s home, Barnwell Manor, near Oundle, Prince Michael had an interesting encounter with a Karlsbad-born, Roman Catholic aristocrat of mid-European descent (but who had been raised in Australia), Baroness Marie-Christine von Reibnitz. She had arrived in London in 1968 to be apprenticed as an interior designer and was married to a merchant banker friend of Prince William, Tom Troubridge. Michael and Marie Christine (who would go on to establish her own successful interior-design business, Szapar Designs, named after her mother Countess Marianna’s Hungarian family) soon discovered that they shared a keen interest in the history of modern art and had a long discussion together on the subject. However, following this brief meeting, the duo were not to meet again for some time, as Marie-Christine moved to Bahrain where her husband had been posted by his bank. The Baroness, who liked to keep busy, was soon bored with the ex-pat life and returned to London to continue her work in interior design. After having been separated for several years, the Troubridges’ divorced in 1977. Marie-Christine was granted an annulment by the Pope in April of the following year.

In the meantime, Michael and Marie-Christine had established a close friendship and in mid-December 1975, the Prince and the Baroness paid a visit to Princess Olga of Yugoslavia and her husband Paul at their Parisian home in Rue Scheffer. Michael’s Aunt Olga warmed to Marie- Christine, feeling that she displayed ‘just the right influence’ over her nephew. In April 1977, the couple paid a return visit to Paris, following a holiday to the South of France, and over lunch at the Relais restaurant informed Olga they would like to marry. Michael and Marie-Christine celebrated a civil marriage at the Rathaus (Town Hall) Vienna on 30 June 1978 where guests included the bride’s parents and Prince Michael’s siblings. Also present was Earl Mountbatten of Burma, who had been a wise counsellor to the couple. The ceremony was followed by an evening banquet at the Schwarzenberg Palace. Although the newlyweds had hoped for a church wedding, for complex Canon Law and religious procedural considerations, this had not proved possible. Furthermore, the fact that Marie-Christine was a Roman Catholic meant that under the Act of Settlement of 1701, which was still in force at the time, Prince Michael was required to forfeit his place in the royal line of succession. However, on 27 July 1983, it was announced that Pope John Paul II had given his approval of the marriage; a blessing ceremony then took place in Cardinal Hume’s private chapel at Westminster Cathedral on 30 July. The couple’s marriage was now established in the eyes of the Roman Catholic Church. Furthermore, the 1701 Act of Settlement was eventually repealed by the Succession to the Crown Act of 2013 and Prince Michael was later reinstated in the line of succession.

On their return to London the Kents’ were given the use of a grace-and-favour residence, Apartment 10, in Kensington Palace which was free of rent, although domestic rates were payable. Marie-Christine was now known by the royal title, Her Royal Highness Princess Michael of Kent (or more frequently as simply ‘Princess Michael’). Children soon followed: a boy, Lord Frederick Windsor, was born on 6 April 1979 in the Lindo Wing of St Mary’s Hospital. In the spring of 1981 Princess Michael gave birth to a girl, Lady Gabriella Windsor. Despite their royal lineage, both siblings keep a reasonably low profile: Frederick attended Oxford University and is an executive director with J P Morgan Private Bank; while Gabriella is a freelance writer with a Master of Philosophy Degree in Social Anthropology from Oxford University. Both are married and Frederick has two daughters, Maud and Isabella, born in 2013 and 2016 respectively.

In 1981, Prince Michael retired from the army in the rank of Major. As the younger son, he was not expected to undertake royal duties and therefore received no payment from the Civil List. With the maintenance of the apartment at Kensington Palace, not to mention the upkeep of a new country home, the neo-classical Nether Lypiatt Manor near Stroud in Gloucestershire, for which it was said the couple paid around £300,000, the Prince had to earn a living. He decided to work in the City, initially serving on the board of several companies including Aitken Hume, Walbrook Investments and Standard Telegraph and Cables. Michael also later set up his own consultancy business, working in sectors which included property, education, medicine, aviation and the automotive industry. As Founder Patron of the Genesis Initiative, the Prince has also been involved in promoting the growth of small businesses, particularly in relation to developing export initiatives.

However, despite not being on the regular royal rota, on occasion the Queen has asked him to represent her on the international stage: In 1981, Prince Michael attended the Independence Day celebrations of Belize (formerly known as British Honduras) in Belmopan and he and Princess Michael also attended the coronation of King Mswati III of Swaziland in 1986 ( the Prince had previously attended the funeral of Mswati’s father and predecessor, King Sobhuza II, in 1982).

Prince Michael has maintained close links with the military: He is-inter alia-an Honorary Air Marshal of the Royal Air Force; a Royal Honorary Colonel of the Honourable Artillery Company and is Senior Colonel of the King’s Royal Hussars. The Prince has also been heavily involved over the years in charity work. The list is eclectic and long and includes the Presidency of both SSAFA-The Armed Forces Charity and the famous Battersea animal shelter. Given his love of motoring his role as President (since 1979) of the Royal Automobile Club seems particularly apt. Given his links to Russia, charitable links were also to be found there and included a role as Patron of the Children’s Fire & Burn Trust.

Prince Michael of Kent is a first cousin, twice removed, of the last Tsar of Russia, Nicholas II on both the maternal and paternal side of his family. He bears a strong resemblance to the late Tsar (as did his grandfather King George V). During his visits to Athens with Princess Marina, his grandmother Grand Duchess Helen would often talk of Russia and the Romanovs to her young grandson. Marina’s sister Olga was also most concerned with her imperial lineage, so it is safe to assume that she never missed a chance to impart her first-hand knowledge of life at the Imperial Court in St Petersburg and Tsarskoe Selo with her nephew during her long stays at Coppins and Kensington Palace. It thus seemed apt that Prince Michael, who had since developed a keen interest in Russian history, should travel to St Petersburg to join over fifty members of the Romanov family and their close relatives for the interment, on 17 July 1998, at the Saint Peter and Paul Cathedral, of the earthly remains of Tsar Nicholas II and his immediate family, exactly eighty years to the day after their murder in the cellar of the Ipatiev House at Ekaterinburg. In September 2006, the Prince returned to St Petersburg to attend the reburial of his Great-Great Aunt (and mother of Tsar Nicholas II), the Danish-born Dowager Empress Maria Feodorovna of Russia. Over the years, Prince Michael continued to maintain close links with Russia. However, following Russia’s recent incursion into Ukraine, he resigned his position as a patron of the Russo-British Chamber of Commerce, which has been active in the promotion of trade between Russia and the United Kingdom. He has also relinquished an Order of Friendship award, one of Russia’s highest honours, that he received from former Russian President Dmitry Medvedev in 2009 for his work to promote Anglo-Russo relations.

In 2005, Prince and Princess Michael placed Nether Lypiatt Manor on the market. It sold the following year, allegedly for £5.75m. The Princess was quoted in the Sunday Times as stating that it had proved ‘very expensive’ to run. This sale was perhaps fortuitous as it was announced in 2008 that from 2010 the royal couple would pay a market rent of £120,000 per annum for the use of Apartment 10.

In mid-June 2022, there was speculation that the Prince and his wife would ‘retire from public life’ and that Michael’s retirement would ‘coincide’ with his 80th birthday on July 4. This has been reiterated in press articles (e.g. the Daily Express) on his actual birthday. However, with his dedication to charity work and eclectic range of interests, it is hard to imagine the Prince withdrawing totally from public life, although inevitably there might be a slowing of pace.

Happy 80th birthday Prince Michael.

Robert Prentice is the author of Princess Olga of Yugoslavia Her Life and Times which is published by Grosvenor House Publishing and is available to purchase on Amazon and other outlets both as a hardback and an e-book.

Queen’s Platinum Jubilee: Trooping the Colour.

The start of a busy four days of Platinum Jubilee events to celebrate the 70th anniversary of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II’s Accession to the throne commenced on 2 June with the Trooping of the Colour in London’s Horse Guards Parade, an imposing ceremonial parade ground overlooked by the Prime Minister’s residence at 10 Downing Street, as well as the offices of the Privy Council. The ‘Trooping’ is an annual event (with rare exceptions such as during wartime or a train strike), now customarily held on a Saturday (often the second) in June, to celebrate the Official Birthday of the Sovereign (as opposed to Her Majesty’s actual birthday on 21 April). Thus the Trooping is also often referred to as the Queen’s Birthday Parade. However, given Her Majesty’s ongoing mobility issues, and in deference to her great age, this year Prince Charles deputised for his mother to take the salute, just as when, in 1951, the present Queen-then The Princess Elizabeth, Duchess of Edinburgh-presided over proceedings on behalf of her ailing father, King George VI; with the slight difference that, on 2 June, Her Majesty was able to be present on the balcony of Buckingham Palace, to inspect the troops of the 1st Battalion of the Welsh Guards (whose turn it was to have the new colour trooped) as they marched past, after having progressed just over half-a-mile up the Mall, from Horse Guards, at the conclusion of the Trooping ceremony.

The event has its origins in the 18th century, when the guards and sentries of the royal palaces and (other important buildings) were mounted daily at the Horse Guards (a Palladian building constructed around 1750, replacing an earlier guard house belonging to the Palace of Whitehall). As part of the ‘mounting’ of the guard, the Regimental Colour (or flag) of the battalion, bearing the battle honours of the battalion (and used historically as rallying points in battle) was carried (‘Trooped’) down the ranks, so as to be seen and memorised by the troops. Queen Victoria twice took the salute at the Trooping at Windsor during her reign, with the future King Edward VII (then still Prince of Wales) taking the salute in London in 1896.

The nucleus of the current form of the Trooping was developed thanks to the intervention of Edward VII’s son, King George V in 1913. Until then, the traditional ceremony involved the customary exercise of several elements carried out in slow and quick march time, with the Escort for the Colour advancing to the centre of the parade ground to receive the new regimental colour from the Colour Party. This was then carried down the ranks, followed by a march past of Foot Guards (and sometimes the Household Cavalry) after which the Monarch or their representative departed with minimum ceremony. However, George V was keen to offer a more impressive public display for his official Birthday Parade, and at the close of the ceremony, George V placed himself at the head of his Guards and rode down the Mall to Buckingham Palace, proceeded by the mass bands. There, the troops who were to provide the new King’s Guard at the Palace (and the nearby St James’ Palace) marched into the forecourt of Buckingham Palace to prepare for the Changing of the Guard ceremony. The Monarch, meanwhile, positioned himself in the central gateway of Buckingham Palace, where he was saluted by the remainder of the troops on parade, as they returned to barracks. The King then moved into the palace between the Old and New Guards, who offered him a salute. Thereafter, the Changing of the Guard continued apace in the Palace forecourt.

King George VI also introduced a further innovation: following the completion of the salute at the gates of the Palace, the Monarch joined other members of the royal family (many of whom had, as was customary, earlier travelled both to and from Horse Guards in a carriage procession) on the balcony of Buckingham Palace to witness a fly-past by the Royal Air Force. It is also worth noting here that the present Queen first appeared on parade in the first post-war Birthday Parade on 12 June 1947 in her role as Colonel-in-Chief of the Grenadier Guards.

During Elizabeth II’s reign, the Queen rode on horseback down the Mall, preceded by the Sovereign’s Escort . However, from 1987, she instead travelled in Queen Victoria’s 1842 ivory-mounted phaeton. In 2020 and 2021, as a result of the Covid-19 crisis, a modified Trooping event took place in the presence of the Queen in the quadrangle of Windsor Castle, but without the attendance of the customary dignitaries, diplomats and members of the public. Normally 1400 to 1500 parading soldiers, 200 horses and 400 musicians (led by the Massed Bands of the Household Division) take part in the Queen’s Birthday Parade. And, once again in 2022, the crowds returned in force to line the Mall with Union flags and celebrate Her Majesty’s Platinum Jubilee. Instead of the customary 41-gun salute in Green Park provided by the King’s Troop, Royal Horse Artillery, on this special Jubilee year, all witnessed an impressive 82-gun Royal Gun Salute from Hyde Park, as well as a well-executed fly-past of 71 aircraft.

Robert Prentice is the author of the recently-published Princess Olga of Yugoslavia Her Life and Times which is available to buy through Amazon and other on-line and local bookshops.

Prince Philip: The Early Years.

Prince Philip of Greece and Denmark was born on 10 June 1921 in the dining room of Mon Repos, the Corfu summer home of his parents, Prince Andrew of Greece and Denmark (the second youngest son of King George I of the Hellenes) and his English-born wife, Alice, a great-granddaughter of Queen Victoria and eldest daughter of the first Marquess of Milford Haven, a former First Sea Lord of the Royal Navy and, until the ‘Anglicisation’ of royal titles by King George V in 1917, styled as Prince Louis of Battenberg. Philip was the couple’s only son and by far the youngest of their five children, the oldest of whom, Margarita, was sixteen years the new-born’s senior. Prince Andrew must have been glad of a son but he had little time to reflect on this latest addition to his family, for Greece was in the midst of yet another war with the Turks (officially referred to in the textbooks as the ‘Greco-Turkish War 1919-1922’) and he was about to assume command of the 2nd Army Corps with the rank of Lieutenant-General. It would be many months before he would even set eyes on his son.

Meanwhile, Prince Philip settled into a familiar nursery routine at Mon Repos under the watchful ‘Nana’ Emily Roose. However, when his maternal grandfather,the Marquess of Milford Haven died in early September, Alice decided to take her young son with her to England (for she was still nursing him) to visit her widowed mother, Victoria, at Kensington Palace. This would be the first of many such visits by this Greek Prince.

Prince Andrew had, meanwhile, grown increasingly dissatisfied with his time in the military, feeling that he was surrounded in the current campaign in Asia Minor by ‘riff-raff’ and that ‘all military prudence had vanished.’ Nor was he a fan of his Commander-in-Chief, General Papoulas, and seems to have disagreed with an order to make ‘an immediate violent attack’ to the north, deeming this manoeuvre to be ‘impossible’. Andrew thought it would instead be more expedient to use his men to bolster the manpower of another corps. Papoulas was ‘astonished’ at this plan and ordered the Prince to desist. He also relieved Andrew’s Chief of Staff of his position, prompting the aggrieved Prince to demand that Papoulas also ‘order my immediate relief.’ The General refused. However, eventually, on 30 September 1921, Andrew was granted three months leave. Nevertheless, as readers will later learn, this altercation with his superior officer would have serious repercussions.

Thereafter, Alice and Philip returned to Corfu from their English visit and Prince Andrew was at last able to meet his son. However, with Greece still at war, Andrew returned to his military duties; he was transferred to the command of the 5th Army Corps Epirus and the Ionian Islands, at that time stationed in Janina [Ioannina]. However, the military situation for the Greeks was now increasingly perilous for, as 1922 progressed, the Hellenic forces continued to extend their lines of communication and supply in Anatolia to the utter limit. In the meantime, young Philip accompanied his mother and sisters to London for the wedding, in July, of Alice’s younger brother, Louis (‘Dickie’) Mountbatten to the wealthy socialite Edwina Ashley at St Margaret’s, Westminster. Philip’s four sisters were bridesmaids, although their small brother remained in the care of his nurse at his maternal grandmother’s Kensington Palace home. As summer drew to a close, the Turks, under the command of the legendary Mustafa Kemal (Atatürk), were diligently driving Greek forces back to towards the sea, with predominantly Christian towns such as Smyrna being overrun by the enemy with great loss of life. Furthermore, those Greeks who survived this advance were forced to abandon lands on which they had lived peaceably for centuries to resettle in Athens and other areas of Greece. Estimates put the number of these refugees at around 1.5 million.

In addition to the returning refugees, there was a large group of returning Greek soldiers who were still smarting at their recent humiliation. Thus, on 11 September, a Revolutionary Committee was established in Athens led by Colonel Nikolas Plastiras (who had previously served under Prince Andrew) bent on exacting revenge for the defeats in Asia Minor. The Committee demanded that the royalist government resign and also insisted that (an already ailing) King Constantine abdicate the throne. This he did on 27 October. ‘Tino’ was succeeded by his eldest son, who took the title of King George II of the Hellenes. However, the new monarch had neither real power nor influence and lived mostly in isolation at his country estate at Tatoi. In addition, these avenging revolutionaries rounded up a group of politicians and soldiers (including General Hadjianestis, who had succeeded Papoulas as Greece’s Commander-in-Chief) to face trial before a ‘Court’ largely composed of headstrong junior officers.

During this unsettled period Prince Andrew sojourned at Mon Repos, where the new powers-that-be were initially content for him to remain providing that he resigned his commission. Then, in late October, Andrew was interviewed by a member of the revolutionary committee in Corfu and summoned as a witness in the trial of the aforementioned individuals. However, on his arrival in Athens, the Prince found himself placed under house arrest and charged with offences, including disobeying orders and abandoning his post in the face of the enemy. The pretext for the trial was the acrimonious disagreement with General Papoulas the previous year. While her husband languished in a prison cell, a despairing Princess Alice (who had returned from London with Philip and her daughters in late September and was now under police surveillance at Mon Repos) contacted her brother Louis in London. Dickie subsequently lobbied Andrew’s cousin, King George V and the new Prime Minister, Bonar Law, on his sister’s behalf. Eventually, a Commander Gerald Talbot (who had previously served as the British Naval Attaché in Athens) was sent to Greece by the British Foreign Secretary, Lord Curzon, to try and negotiate Andrew’s release or, at the very least, attempt to save his life.

In November, the trials of five Greek politicians (three of whom had served as Prime Minister) and General Hadjianestis commenced. They were tried for high treason, found guilty and sentenced to death. On 28 November, they were taken to a piece of exposed ground outside Athens and executed by firing squad. That same day, the the British Legation in Athens telegraphed the Foreign Office in London to say that Prince Andrew’s situation had now grown ‘more dangerous’ and his trial was now scheduled for 30 November.

Meanwhile, Princess Alice had now arrived in Athens and a British battleship, HMS Calypso, was dispatched by the British government to lie off coast of the Greek capital to await further developments. Commander Talbot eventually obtained a promise from General Panagalos (the newly appointed Greek Minister for Military Affairs) and the aforementioned Colonel Plastiras, that Prince Andrew would stand trial and be sentenced. Plastiras would subsequently pardon the Prince who would then be handed over into Commander Talbot’s care for immediate transportation by sea to Brindisi and onwards to England.

On 3 December, Prince Andrew’s trial took place in the Chamber of Deputies and he was unanimously found guilty of the charges against him by a jury of officers. His sentence was that he was ‘degraded and condemned to perpetual banishment’ from Greece. As previously agreed, the Prince was subsequently taken down to Phaleron Bay where he boarded HMS Calypso (under the command of a Captain Buchanan-Wollaston) accompanied by Commander Talbot. Princess Alice was already aboard to greet her husband and the vessel immediately set sail for Corfu-which was reached the next day-to pick up the couple’s children and pack up such belongings as was possible. 18-month-old Prince Philip was taken aboard the Calypso in an orange box which acted as his cot.

On reaching Brindisi on 5 December, the Greek royals were far from out of the woods. Lacking financial means, they were advanced funds by the British Ambassador in Rome before travelling onwards to Paris. They reached London on 17 December and checked-in to the Stafford Hotel in Mayfair. Interestingly, there had already been questions on the British House of Commons regarding the cost (£1200) of sending HMS Calypso to Greece. During this brief English interlude, Prince Andrew had a meeting with his cousin King George V. However, at this interval, it seemed that Philip and his family’s best option-given their state of relative poverty-was to return to Paris and the benevolent care of the wealthy Marie Bonaparte (the wife of Prince George of Greece and Denmark [‘Big George’]) at St Cloud. She would subsequently place a small house adjacent to her own larger mansion at the disposal of these exiled relations.

Paris would be the home of Prince Philip for the next seven years and provided a safe haven in a time of continuing turmoil in Greece. 1923 brought mixed fortunes: In January, Prince Andrew and his wife made a visit to the United States to holiday with Prince Christopher and his wealthy wife, the former Mrs Nancy Leeds, leaving Philip in the care of ‘Roosie’. However, they had no sooner started out on their journey aboard the liner RMS Olympic, than they received word that ex-King Constantine had died of heart failure on 11 January in Italy, where he had been living in exile. Subsequently, in Athens, following a failed royalist coup in October, King George II was effectively hounded into exile by Plastiras and his Revolutionary Committee cronies; in March 1924, the Greeks would vote to ditch the monarchy in favour of a republic. Another blow to the family was the death of Philip’s grandmother, Queen Olga, in Rome, in June 1926, at the age of 74. Olga had been by far the most respected member of the Greek royal family and with a following that transcended across all political boundaries.

Philip, meanwhile, was now a of school age. He attended school at the wonderfully titled MacJannet Country Day and Boarding School (habitually referred to as ‘the Elms’ after the name of the house in which it was located). This catered mainly for the children of American clients and diplomats and was near enough for Philip, who was always full of energy and boisterous enthusiasm, to cycle to. The youngster also liked nothing better than going for motor drives through the Bois de Boulogne in his father’s car or partaking of a generous Sunday lunch at his Aunt and Uncle’s neighbouring home. Also in Paris, were Philip’s Uncle Nicholas and his charming (but intimidating) Russian wife Grand Duchess Helen, along with their daughters, Elizabeth and Marina (their eldest child, Olga, Philip’s godmother-by-proxy, was already married to Prince Paul of Yugoslavia and lived in Belgrade). These cousins were-like his sisters-much older than Philip but, as was true of most members of that generation of the Greek royal family, they were full of fun and possessed of a decidedly unique sense of humour which appealed to the youngster.

The young Prince enjoyed holidays too with his older cousin Crown Princess (later Queen Mother) Helen and her son Michael at their home in Romania. France was an obvious destination with Berck Plage, near Le Touquet, a decided favourite. Another welcome French summer retreat was the holiday home, in Marseilles, of Madame Anna Foufounis, the widow of a wealthy Greek royalist. When visiting England, Philip also enjoyed vacationing with his sisters Sophie (‘Tiny’) and Cecile (Blakeney in Norfolk being a particular favourite). Apparently, Prince Andrew was keen that his son should also be educated in England and, in 1929, it was decided to send him to Cheam, a preparatory (or ‘prep’) school in Surrey, whose purpose was-as the name suggests-to prepare boys for passing the Common Entrance examination which was required (along with payment of the large fees) for entry to exclusive public schools such as Eton or Harrow. Discipline was tight at Cheam and it is fair to say that he did not excel academically other than in French for which he won a prize. The headmaster, the Reverend Taylor would later remember Philip’s strong personality and leadership skills.

The months between December 1930 and August 1931 saw the marriage of all of Philip’s sisters to members of the German aristocracy. The Prince’s time at Cheam also saw him draw closer to his maternal grandmother, Victoria, the Dowager Marchioness of Milford Haven (born a Princess of Hesse and by Rhine and the eldest sister of the late Tsarina Alexandra Feodorovna of Russia) and various other Mountbatten relatives in England, particularly his maternal uncle, George, the 2nd Marquess of Milford Haven and his Romanov wife Nadejda (‘Nada’), the younger daughter of Grand Duke Michael Mikhailovich of Russia. Conveniently, they lived at Lynden Manor on the upper reaches of the Thames. It was the Marquess who paid Philip’s school fees during this period and some have referred to George as a ‘surrogate father’ to the young Prince, while the couples’ son David-who also attended Cheam-assumed a sort of quasi-brother role in his Greek kinsman’s life. This affinity to his British-based relations coincided with a deterioration in the mental health of Philip’s mother Princess Alice, who had entered a clinic in Tegel, Germany in February 1930, for a period of rest and psychoanalysis. She was subsequently diagnosed with schizophrenia and was moved to a psychiatric sanatorium in Kreuzlingen. Until her recovery in 1937, Philip would only see his mother intermittently. His father Andrew too was not much on the scene, spending much of his time on the French Riviera, where he had many rich friends and a mistress, Madame Andrée de la Bigne.

In the 1930’s, Prince Philip spent periods at Wolfsgarten, the home of his sister Cecile (now married to Georg Donatus [‘Don’], Hereditary Grand Duke of Hesse) as well as with his sister Theodora (‘Dolla’), who lived at Schloss Salem with her husband Berthold, the Margrave of Baden. Dolla seemed keen to take an interest in her brother’s education during this period and Philip was soon enrolled at the Schloss’ school founded, in 1920, by Prince Max of Baden (Dolla’s father-in-law) and Kurt Hahn, a German Jew who had served as Private Secretary to Prince Max. Hahn was an outspoken critic of Hitler and the anti-Semitic Nazi regime and this led to his arrest in March 1933. Kurt was eventually released (thanks to the intervention of influential British friends including Ramsay MacDonald, the former Prime Minister) and subsequently moved to Scotland where he founded a new school, Gordonstoun, situated near Hopeman on the Moray coast. After only a couple of terms at Schule Schloss Salem (by which time Hahn had already departed for Britain and Berthold had assumed the role of headmaster) Philip-who was also far from respectful of the Third Reich’s foibles (he detested the ‘heel clicking’ style and thought the Nazi salute quite ridiculous as it reminded him of having to put up his hand in class at Cheam to ask to use the lavatory)-relocated to Scotland, thanks to the assistance again of George Milford Haven, to commence his studies at Gordonstoun.

Gordonstoun was an ideal school for this energetic boy with no surname, who was usually known simply as ‘Philip’, or occasionally more formally as ‘Philip of Greece’. As at Salem, the day started with cold showers and a brisk run. Meditation was also encouraged. Sailing was on the curriculum, as was amateur dramatics (a production of Shakespeare’s Hamlet is frequently mentioned by past biographers). The Prince also played cricket and hockey (eventually captaining both teams). Philip seemed keen to fit in and according to one contemporary never ‘swanked about his relatives.’ Like other pupils he undertook work to help out the local community. Kurt Hahn recalled that, ‘He was often naughty, never nasty.’ During the long summer holidays, he would continue to spend time in Germany with his sisters and their families. Wolfsgarten remained a particular favourite and Philip’s father, Prince Andrew, was sometimes present too and this made for brief, but welcome, reunions.

In November 1935 the Greek monarchy was restored following a plebiscite and, on 22 November of the following year, Philip paid a visit to Athens to join other members of the Greek royal family for the reburial, at Tatoi, of the three senior members of the Hellenic royal house who had died in exile, namely King Constantine I, Queen Olga and Queen Sophie. Their bodies had earlier been exhumed from the vaults of the Russian Orthodox Church in Florence. All of the extended royal family stayed at the Grande Bretagne Hotel which seems to have been commandeered for the occasion. This provided the young Prince with ample opportunities to discuss the history of the family with his aunts, uncles and cousins. He would also return, in January 1938, for the wedding of his cousin Crown Prince Paul (‘Palo’) to Princess Frederika of Hanover.

However, there was one disaster during this early period of the Prince’s life which was to have lasting consequences: On 16 November 1937, a Belgian Sabena aeroplane carrying his sister Cecile (pregnant with her fourth child), her husband Don, their sons Ludwig and Alexander and Cecile’s mother-in-law, Eleanore, hit a chimney in thick fog as it approached Ostend’s Steene Aerodrome. All of the passengers (who had been en route to London to attend the nuptials of Don’s younger brother, Ludwig [‘Lu’] to Margaret ‘Peg’ Geddes) were killed. Philip was informed of the tragedy by Kurt Hahn and, although in deep shock, he travelled south from Gordonstoun to rendezvous with his father in London and travel on to the funeral, which was held on 23 November in Darmstadt. Philip’s mother Princess Alice-who was now much improved health wise-was also in attendance.

In April 1938, more tragedy followed when Philip’s mentor, George Milford-Haven, died of bone cancer at the age of only forty-six. Aged sixteen, the Prince was at an impressionable age. Meanwhile, his father’s continued absence in the South of France and his mother’s recent decision to return to Greece to live in a small flat in Athens, left the way open for George’s younger brother, Louis Mountbatten, to exert considerable influence over his nephew, especially when Philip commenced his naval career, in the spring of 1939, as a cadet at the Royal Naval College at Dartmouth. By going to sea, the young Prince thus followed in the footsteps of both his maternal and paternal grandfathers. Philip often spent the weekend at Mountbatten’s London home in Chester Street, where he invariably slept on a camp bed in the sitting room.

Yet Philip’s maternal grandmother, Victoria, also remained an influential presence in his life and he sometimes spent time at her grace-and-favour apartment at Kensington Palace. Indeed, during the summer of 1939, as the storm crowds of war gathered on the horizon, Philip stayed there for a month along with his mother, Princess Alice. The duo then travelled via Paris to Italy from where they sailed to Athens. They arrived in Greece just prior to war being declared between Britain and Germany on 3 September. Philip returned to England, in late September, to resume his nautical training at the instruction of his cousin, King George II of the Hellenes. He then graduated as best all-round cadet of the term at Dartmouth, an accolade which won him the King’s Dirk. Philip would go on to serve in the Royal Navy for the duration of World War II and beyond, until 1951.

However, there was already a far greater prize on the horizon. Just prior to Philip’s summer holiday with his mother, he had enjoyed a reunion with his distant cousin, Princess Elizabeth, and her sister, Princess Margaret Rose, at Dartmouth, during a tour of inspection of the Royal Naval College by their parents, King George VI and Queen Elizabeth (later the Queen Mother). Captain Louis Mountbatten was also ‘in attendance’ in his role as the King’s Aide-de-Camp. There happened to be an outbreak of mumps at the College so, rather than attend a morning church service as previously planned, the Princess’ were placed in the care of Philip. The trio played games (both croquet and tennis are frequently cited) together on a lawn, during which the Prince was observed jumping enthusiastically over a tennis net. Later, as the Royal Yacht Victoria and Albert sailed out of the Dart Estuary, a plucky Prince Philip jumped into a small boat and determinedly continued to follow the yacht long after his fellow cadets had given up the effort. Thirteen-year-old Elizabeth (or ‘Lilibet’ to her family) was captivated by her older kinsman’s exploits that day and somehow this Greek princeling found a niche in her young heart which would only grow fonder with the years.

Robert Prentice is the author of the latest biography on a member of the Greek Royal Family, Princess Olga of Yugoslavia Her Life and Times. Available, at time of posting from the bookdepository.com with FREE Worldwide Postage. Click on link below:

Princess Olga of Yugoslavia : Robert Prentice : 9781839754425 (bookdepository.com)

A Greek Princess in New York.

As the swinging 1960’s dawned, Greek-born Princess Olga of Yugoslavia decided to make her first journey “across the pond” from Europe to “the Big Apple”. The occasion was to attend the birth, in September 1961, of the firstborn child of Olga’s much-loved daughter Elizabeth and the latter’s American husband, Howard Oxenberg.

Following an eight-hour air journey in first class, the Princess arrived in New York, on the evening of 20 September, in a gale and sweeping rain. She was met by Elizabeth, Howard and the Greek Consul and whisked to Elizabeth’s Manhattan apartment at 983 Park Avenue. Olga would actually stay with a friend of her daughter, Countess Atalanta Arlen, at the latter’s ‘luxurious Louis XVI double flat’, where she was given the use of the owner’s bedroom and boudoir. However, the Princess did not have long to wait for the arrival of her grandchild: On the afternoon of 21 September Olga and Howard accompanied Elizabeth to Doctors Hospital where, in the early hours of 22 September, she gave birth to a daughter. Soon, father and royal grandmother were gazing contentedly at the new arrival through the glass screen of the hospital’s baby nursery. A somewhat exhausted Olga then returned to her luxury lodgings and slept until late. However, at noon she returned for another hospital visit, followed by a walk through Central Park. This, the Princess noted somewhat disapprovingly, was ‘full of squirrels and dirty, screaming children!’ Later, during the evening visiting hour, she looked on disdainfully as ‘crowds had gathered at the glass window at 8[pm] to see their babies, like a zoo!’

As Olga had still not had a chance to see much of the city, some friends took her up to the 82nd floor of the Empire State Building to admire the ‘staggering view’. Howard then drove his mother-in-law through Manhattan’s main streets to give her a flavour of Manhattan. The duo then dined together at the Hemisphere Club restaurant on the 48th floor of the Time-Life building. Being alone, they had ‘a long talk’ and the Princess noted enthusiastically that Howard ‘has nice, honest opinions and ideas…’ There was also the opportunity for Olga to pay a visit to the United Nations and listen to President Kennedy give a speech on nuclear proliferation and the current situation in Berlin (where a wall had just been built to prevent East Berliners disaffected with the communist regime from escaping to the Allied zones). The Princess, descended as she was from the Romanovs, kept a beady eye on the Soviet delegation’s reaction to the President’s discourse and observed reprovingly that they didn’t clap. Her appetite whetted, Olga returned the next day to take in a session of the Security Council and later dined with the United States chief representative to the United Nations, Adlai Stevenson.

However, the Princess’ thoughts soon returned to the practicalities of everyday life and she rushed to Bloomingdales to buy her new granddaughter (whom she learned was to be named Catherine) a Moses basket. She then hired a Cadillac and chauffeur and journeyed out to Glen Cove, Long Island to visit her cousin Xenia (‘Thomas’) in her cottage there. Xenia was the younger daughter of Olga’s late Aunt, Princess Maria of Greece and Denmark by her first marriage to Grand Duke George Mikhailovich.

On 1 October Elizabeth and Catherine came home to Park Avenue. Olga helped sort through the baby clothes and assisted Howard with making-up a bed for the nurse in the dining room. The Princess then enjoyed a trip to Broadway to see the musical “Camelot” and even managed, next evening, to embrace Noel Coward at the opening night of his musical “Sail Away”. Thereafter, events took a downward turn when Olga spent several days in bed and complained of feeling washed out. When her concerned hostess called in the doctor, he confirmed that the Princess had a particularly virulent case of flu. Fortunately, by mid-month she had recovered sufficiently to be taken on a long drive via the Bronx to New Jersey and back to Manhattan’s East Side via Harlem. It was all such a novel experience.

On 18 October, baby Catherine was christened by a Greek Orthodox priest in the drawing room of Greek shipping magnate Basil Goulandris’ Manhattan apartment. Olga gave her firstborn granddaughter her heart-shaped turquoise and diamond brooch to commemorate the occasion. Then, despite an on-going period of dental treatment, the Princess ventured to the Stork Club to enjoy the United States’ ‘national dishes’ of a hamburger followed by apple pie. Her horizons were further expanded when she attended a Polish Ball, at which the “twist” (which she described as ‘the new crazy sexy dance’) was performed. There was time too for a weekend visit by train to snowy Washington (where Olga stayed at the Ladies Club as the guest of the philanthropists Mr and Mrs Robert Bliss). She made time visit the National Gallery and to meet a childhood friend, Leonid Ouroussoff, who had lived in the States for thirty years. Leonid took her out to Arlington to view the Pentagon and he and the Princess also paid a visit to the Lincoln Memorial and explored the Capitol. On the final day, Olga accompanied Mrs Bliss to Dumbarton Oaks, the Bliss family’s former home in Georgetown, which had recently been donated (together with the Bliss’ Byzantine art collection) to Harvard University. After attending a ‘huge’ lunch in her honour, a tired but happy Princess boarded the train for her return journey to New York.

As her New York visit drew to a close, Olga made a visit to the Saint Sava Serbian Cathedral on West 26 Street and quizzed the priest on work being done to assist Yugoslav refugees in the United States. At a ladies’ luncheon hosted by Elizabeth she met the actress Merle Oberon; while Joan Fontaine was also introduced to her at a farewell dinner given by Adlai Stevenson. The Princess summed up her trip by noting that she had ‘met with so much affection and kindness.’ Indeed, so much so that she would make a return visit to the Big Apple in October 1965.

Robert Prentice is the author of Princess Olga of Yugoslavia Her Life and Times which is published by Grosvenor House Publishing and is available to purchase on Amazon and other outlets both as a hardback and an e-book.

La Vie Parisienne de la Princesse Olga de Yougoslavie.

Paris était une ville que la princesse Olga de Yougoslavie connaissait bien. Enfant, elle loge avec sa grand-mère Romanov, la grande-duchesse Vladimir, à l’hôtel Continental à la mode. Puis, en 1922, l’appartement d’une amie sur la place des États-Unis a été le lieu d’une réunion qui a abouti à la rupture de ses fiançailles avec le prince héritier Frédéric du Danemark. Par la suite, Paris devint en 1923 la maison des parents d’Olga, prince et princesse Nicolas de Grèce et du Danemark et de leurs plus jeunes filles, Marina (plus tard Duchesse de Kent) et Elizabeth (Comtesse Toerring). La princesse Olga rendait souvent à ses parents en route de l’Angleterre à Belgrade. Elle aimait particulièrement faire du shopping ici pour les vêtements de créateurs de mode tels que Jean Patou. En outre, parfois elle et son mari le prince Paul de Yougoslavie ont célébré Noël ici. En 1925, le couple envisagent brièvement d’y louer un appartement.

Plus tard, à son retour d’exil en Afrique du Sud en 1948, Olga loue, avec son mari, un appartement au Quai d’Orsay. Le couple loua ensuite brièvement la Villa Trianon de Lady Mendl à Versailles. Pendant cette période, Olga et Paul déjeunaient souvent au restaurant de Vatel ou dînaient au Ritz ou à La Méditerranée. Finalement, en 1952, ils établissent une résidence permanente dans une maison de ville située dans le 16ème arrondissment au 31 rue Scheffer. Bien que le prince Paul était un individu sociable (et aimé divertir des amis tels que le roi Umberto d’Italie), Olga préférait éviter les dîners et les cocktails. Au lieu de cela, la princesse aimait lire et écrire des lettres à la famille et aux amis. De plus, elle aimait lire les journaux intimes de sa défunte mère. En effet, tout ce qui a à voir avec l’histoire de sa famille a été particulièrement bienvenu.

Chaque jour, la princesse se rendait à pied à la rue Passy pour acheter un journal anglais. Plus tard, elle se rendit en autobus au grand magasin Marks and Spencer situé Boulevard Haussman. Au moins une fois par semaine, elle se rend à Versailles pour rendre visite à ses petits-fils jumeaux, Dimitri et Michel et leurs frère et sœur, Serge et Hélène. Les quatre petits-enfants recevaient invariablement un cadeau. À l’occasion, elle se promenait dans le jardin de Tuileries en se souvenant de ses visites d’enfance avec sa grand-mère, la grande-duchesse Vladimir et ses jeunes sœurs.

Comme elle est devenue frêle et oublieux, à la fin des années 1980, la princesse a déménagé dans une maison de soins infirmiers à Meudon où elle a été visitée par le prince de Galles à plusieurs reprises. Olga est décédée le 16 octobre 1997 à l’âge de 94 ans.

Robert Prentice est l’auteur d’une nouvelle biographie de la princesse Olga (écrite en anglais).

Princess Olga of Yugoslavia: Her Life and Times est publié par Grosvenor House Publishing. Disponible à l’achat sur Amazon ou d’autres librairies.

Yugoslav Royals wartime move to Africa.

On the morning of 28 March, Princess Olga of Yugoslavia and her family, including her husband Prince Paul, who had only the previous evening been forced to abdicate as Prince Regent of Yugoslavia, following a British-backed coup, were journeying towards Athens from Belgrade by rail accompanied by what were ominously referred to as ‘escort officers.’ On reaching the Greek border, these two gentlemen bid the Greek-born Princess farewell. At the first large town, Larissa, Olga took the opportunity to telephone her mother, Princess Nicholas, in Athens. The latter informed her astonished daughter that it was widely being reported (and even credited in Athens) that Prince Paul (who was standing nearby) was already en route to Germany. Olga was also shaken by the Greek press’ enthusiastic support for the coup d’état in Yugoslavia, which had occurred as a counter-reaction to the Slavs accession to the Tripartite Pact with the Axis powers on 25 March, a piece of slick diplomatic manoeuvring which might well (due to its exceptional terms) have kept Yugoslavia out of any conflict in the Balkans or at the very least given the country time to mobilise fully and build-up its military strength. The Greeks now expected the new government of Dushan Simovic to join with the Allied cause and fight alongside Britain and Greece against the Germans and Italians. They were about to be sorely disappointed.

Later in the evening of 28 March the British Foreign Minister, Anthony Eden (who had arrived in Athens by air from Malta) held talks with King George II of the Hellenes, whom he found to be in good spirits but not very confident about the situation in Belgrade, which he described as ‘that hive of intrigue.’ The King also indicated that he would be meeting Prince Paul and his family at the railway station the next day, but added that it might be an awkward meeting. George II must have mentioned to Eden about the constant speculation over the BBC radio about the recent whereabouts of Prince Paul, for the British Foreign Minister telegraphed London, stating this should be ‘ceased’ as it was embarrassing for the King of Greece (although not as much as it must have been for the subject of these false rumours).

On 29 March, Princess Olga and her family arrived in Athens. All the Greek royal family were at the station to greet them and appeared outwardly friendly, except Paul’s mother-in-law, Princess Nicholas, who was noticeably stiff. The Yugoslav family were staying with ‘Ellen’, as she was known in the family, at her large house in the upmarket suburb of Psychiko. It was not long before this Romanov Grand Duchess had a heated conversation with Prince Paul and Princess Olga in her salon and gave vent to her frustration over recent events in Belgrade. Ellen basically implied that Yugoslavia should have done everything in its power to protect Greece from the machinations of the Germans and Italians rather than sign the Pact.

The following day, the Greek King came to lunch at Princess Nicholas’ home at Psychiko. He had a long talk with Paul and promised to find out if Eden would agree to hold a meeting with him. However, the British Foreign Minister subsequently declined to do so citing that it would be ‘rather awkward’ given ‘the feelings in England just now’. Further still, although King George was in favour of Olga, Paul and the family remaining in Athens, Eden (later backed by Churchill) indicated that he was totally opposed to such a move. Eden’s mood was not helped by his failure to secure a personal meeting with an evasive Simovic in Belgrade. Although a delegation, headed by General Dill, flew to the Yugoslav capital on the evening of 31 March for a ‘secret’ meeting, the visitors left with nothing except the now familiar entreaty that the Slavs badly needed arms from Britain. The new Simovic government, to the Brits consternation, also deemed it inexpedient to attack the Italians in Albania and the visiting delegation also concluded the Yugoslavs would engage with German forces only if Yugoslavia was first attacked. Suddenly, like Prince Paul before him, Simovic found that he was spending much of his time trying to keep the delicate alliance of Serbs, Croats and Slovenes on-side. He was particularly wary of Croat intentions.

Meanwhile, having been told by the King to keep a low profile, Olga sat in the sun teaching her children some words and phrases in Greek. She also made a visit to the graves of her ancestors up at Tatoi and entertained Crown Princess Frederika to tea. On 31 March, the Princess tried to be put through to King Peter in Belgrade but was informed he was in bed. She tried again on 1 April, but an A.D.C. informed her that he ‘was away’ and refused to say where. The following day, Olga inspected a house for rent next to her mother’s home. At this stage, the Princess still seems to have been under the impression that she and her family might be able to live in Athens. Friends called by and tactfully spoke of everything apart from the Yugoslav royals’ recent troubles in Belgrade. However, events were about to take a dramatic turn…

In the early hours of Sunday morning, 6 April 1941 (Palm Sunday), the German minister in Athens handed a note to the Greek Foreign Office stating that Germany was going to attack Greece. The Germans also marched into Yugoslavia and bombed Belgrade. At nine o-clock that evening several flights of German aircraft flew in over Piraeus and dropped magnetic mines, one of which set on fire to the freighter Clan Fraser. She was loaded with two hundred tons of explosives due to be delivered to the Greek Powder Factory. A further six ships were written off. The naval college was also attacked and Olga was in despair that a hospital under her mother’s patronage at Piraeus had to be evacuated as bombs fell all around it smashing all the windows. Next day, Eden departed Athens for London.

On 9 April the Germans swept into Salonika having advanced almost unopposed down Yugoslavia’s Strimon Valley and then overcome Greek forces at Doiran Lake. HQ British Forces Greece now began to consider how best to withdraw the RAF squadrons from Greece. In Athens, Olga was receiving reports of the death toll of the recent air raids on Belgrade [some 17000 souls] and was distressed to learn that corpses filled the streets and the old Royal Palace-their former home-had been severely damaged. Already, there was talk of the Greek royal family evacuating to Crete and the question now arose as to where Olga and Paul and their family might go. The decision was actually to be made for them. On the morning of 10 April, Crown Prince Paul informed Olga and Paul that the Greek government could no longer guarantee their safety. Later in the day, ‘Palo’ returned to tell his cousin and her husband that it had been arranged for the Yugoslav royals to fly next day from Tatoi Aerodrome to Egypt in a British Royal Air Force plane. Olga was in dismay at leaving her mother behind in Athens (where she would remain for the duration of the war).

On 11 April, Olga, Paul and their three children Alexander, Nicholas and Elizabeth flew into Heliopolis, after a flight lasting four hours. They were greeted by Peter Coats, A.D.C. to General Wavell, the Commander-in-Chief Middle East, and taken to a comfortable house which belonged to a British officer who had been taken prisoner by the Germans in Libya. The house was staffed with a cook and some soldiers mounted guard on the lawn. The British officials in Egypt were, on the whole, well-disposed towards the Yugoslav royals and the British High Commissioner, Sir Miles Lampson, called to visit them, accompanied by his wife, on 15 April. He informed the Foreign Office in London that he was ‘rather appalled at [the] humiliating conditions in which they are held there.’ Lampson was particularly concerned about Princess Olga and observed that ‘surely it is not right to ignore Princess Olga as a Greek princess and sister of the Duchess of Kent?’ He wanted to invite Olga and Paul to lunch or dinner and ‘generally help them in a purely unofficial manner and informal way.’

Meanwhile, arrangements were being made for the Yugoslav family’s transfer to Kenya and Lampson was already in touch with the Governor of Kenya, Sir Henry Moore. Sir Miles was also impressing on a sceptical Princess Olga ‘what an excellent climate there is in Kenya and how much better than [spending] the summer in Egypt.’ However, Olga seemed ‘preoccupied about educational facilities’ (or the lack of them in Kenya!) and rightly feared that both she and Prince Paul might be ‘ostracised’ in Kenya ‘or in any other British territory to which they may go.’ Interestingly, during his visit to Heliopolis, Lampson found the Yugoslav royal couple displayed a ‘detestation of the Axis and all its works’. Their ‘sentiments’, he added, ‘could not have been more thoroughly English.’

Unlike Lampson, Anthony Eden seemed to have no interest in the welfare of the Yugoslav royal couple. He telegraphed back to Lampson next day, stating that it was a, ‘Bad idea to entertain them or exceed original instructions.’

And so it was that in the early morning of 25 April the family were driven in two cars down to the River Nile and taken out in a motor boat to the waiting flying boat. A party of friends, including Olga’s long-time friend Lilia Ralli, who had recently escaped from Athens, waved them off. A new life in Kenya now beckoned…..

A new biography Princess Olga of Yugoslavia: Her Life and Times was published on 1 April 2021 by Grosvenor House Publishing. This is now available to purchase on Amazon in hardback or e-book.

Prince Paul Of Yugoslavia meets Hitler.

On 2 March 1941, Prince Paul of Yugoslavia, the senior or ‘chief’ Regent of that country departed Belgrade for his Slovene holiday home at Brdo in what his Greek-born wife, Princess Olga, describes as ‘a depressed condition’. The Prince had every reason to feel so. Firstly, Italy had made no secret of its expansionist desires in the Balkans, as was evidenced by its recent invasion of Greece. Athough this incursion had, for the moment, been successfully repulsed, Prince Paul remained very much alive to the threat that Italy posed to Yugoslav independence. Secondly, the attitude of the British government left much to be desired. Oxford-educated Paul was known as ‘F’ or ‘Friend’ by the British for his solid Anglophile outlook. However, the British had repeatedly avoided the Prince Regent’s numerous requests for ‘material aid’ in the form of weapons and ammuntion etc.. Indeed, Churchill’s government had, until recently, been content with the Yugoslav’s neutral stance. Nevertheless, this had changed in January and February when the British government indicated that they wished Yugoslavia and Turkey to join with them to form a ‘united’ Balkan front to ‘fight’ (even if their own country was not invaded) and provide ‘speedy succour’ to Greece. Thirdly, and most pressing, were the demands currently being made by Germany for Yugoslavia to join the Axis Tripartite Pact. This matter had to be addressed as a matter of extreme urgency for, following Bulgaria’s accession to the Pact on 1 March, Yugoslavia now found itself surrounded by Axis-aligned nations on all borders, a fact emphasised when between twelve to fifteen divisions of German soldiers crossed the Danube into Bulgaria as Paul’s train travelled westwards. Ominously, ‘Fascists’ in Bulgaria were apparently calling out, ‘Down with Yugoslavia.’

Hence, Paul’s final destination was not to be Slovenia but the Berghof, Hitler’s residence in the Bavarian Alps near Berchtesgaden. Word of the meeting had gradually leaked out to the international press as far as Australia. The Fuhrer seemed to be in good form and according to German Foreign Office documents, he informed the Yugoslav Prince Regent that England had already lost the war and other nations would have to adapt themselves to a ‘new order’. Hitler mentioned that he was offering the Slavs a ‘unique opportunity’ to ‘establish and secure’ their ‘territorial integrity’ in this reorganised Europe. The Fuhrer indicated that in order to secure this preferential treatment, Yugoslavia would have to acceed to the Axis Tripartite Pact.

The Prince was not about to be rushed into a decision there and then. He parried that as far as he personally was concerned, the Greek descent of his wife, as well as his sympathies for England, made this a most difficult matter. There was also another complication: It also so happened that one of the ‘founding’ signatories of the Pact was Mussolini’s Italy. Prince Paul firmly believed that Mussolini and Italy were responsible for the assassination of King Alexander of Yugosalvia in Marseilles in 1934.

Nevertheless Hitler persevered and stressed that Yugoslavia, through accession to the Tripartite Pact, could rely on Germany both as a ‘partner’ and a ‘guarantor’ of both her present and future territory. The latter was a reference to Germany’s tempting offer that should they sign the Pact, ‘when the war ended, Salonika would go to Yugoslavia’. The Fuhrer also declared that his country only expected Yugoslavia to acceed. The Slavs would not, however, be asked to participate militarily in any war.

Prince Paul ‘reserved’ his position, having already indicated that if he did as the Germans asked, his position in Yugoslavia might become untenable. The Regent further declared that as this was such a serious matter, he would have to discuss the matter with the cabinet on his return to Yugoslavia. Soon thereafter, the German Foreign Minister, von Ribbentrop contacted the German Minister in Belgrade, von Heeren, and informed him, ‘Please do everything you can in every possible way to hasten the accession of Yugoslavia [to the Pact]’. The Prince, meanwhile, left Bavaria convinced that ‘war was inevitable but that we had to gain time to be able to moblize.’ His viewpoint was echoed by the international press in headlines ‘BALKAN VOLCANO NEARING RUPTION..’

A new biography Princess Olga of Yugoslavia:Her Life and Times was published on 1 April 2021 by Grosvenor House Publishing. This is now available to purchase on Amazon. ISBN 9781839754425