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.

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.