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.

Greek Princesses in Wartime Europe.

The three daughters of the Russian-born, Romanov Grand Duchess Helen (Ellen) and her husband Prince Nicholas of Greece and Denmark were regarded as the most beautiful and sophisticated in Europe. Marina, Elizabeth and Olga were also extremely close, having been raised together by their beloved, brusque English nurse or ‘nurnie’, Miss Kate Fox, at the Nicholas Palace in Athens, as well as at the Greek royal family’s country retreat at Tatoi, in the wooded foothills of Mount Parnitha. The Princesses made frequent trips to England, where they spent the summer months living in simple hotels or Norland hostels at Westgate-on-Sea or Bognor. Yet, the trio were equally at home amongst the grandeur of the Imperial court in St Petersburg, where their powerful maternal grandmother, Grand Duchess Vladimir, showered them with exquisite gifts and instilled in them a deep understanding of their Imperial Romanov heritage.

The best-known (and youngest) of the trio was Princess Marina. In November 1934, she had made a highly desirable marriage to Prince George, Duke of Kent (the youngest son of Britain’s King George V). The middle sister, Princess Elizabeth, is a more obscure figure. She married a wealthy Bavarian aristocrat (and nephew of Queen Elisabeth of the Belgians), Count Carl Theodor of Toerring-Jettenbach and settled in Munich. However, it was the eldest sister, Princess Olga, who would hold the highest rank as the wife and Consort of the Prince Regent (Paul) of Yugoslavia.

Despite their impeccable royal credentials, the sisters were actually more interested in a ‘cosy’ life en famille, and whenever their individual official or domestic duties permitted, they would meet up in London, Munich, Belgrade or Slovenia for a grand family get- together. When all else failed, long and detailed letters (chiefly concerning domestic matters or news of extended family) flew between England, Bavaria and Yugoslavia on a weekly basis. Grand Duchess Helen encouraged these strong inter-family bonds from her homes in Paris and Athens.

In late 1935, Paul and Olga had purchased a large Slovenian castle at Brdo which was large enough to accommodate all of the extended family for visits throughout August and into late September. The emphasis was firmly on fun: Games of tennis were interspersed with riding, swimming, film shows, charades and fishing trips, as well as excursions to the Slovene capital, Ljubljana. On occasion, several members of the party might travel further afield to enjoy a relaxing cruise down Croatia’s Dalmatian coast. When all else failed, there was always the joy of the popular card game, Lexicon.

However, as early as September 1938, the shadow of war threatened this almost idyllic family existence. All the extended family happened to be staying at the Toerring’s country home, Frauenbuhl Castle at Winhöring when, during a rally in Nuremberg, the German leader, Hitler, denounced Czechoslovakia as a ‘fraudulent state’, focused on subduing the German-speaking minority in the Sudetenland. The Führer also encouraged the Sudeten Germans to demand union with Germany and even offered to provide them with military assistance. Anticipating a deterioration in the European political situation, the Duke and Duchess of Kent returned to England, with heavy hearts, on 14th September. Next day, the Prince Regent and Princess Olga journeyed home to Brdo. Meanwhile, Count Toerring, being of military age, joined the Gebirgsjäger (mountain troops) and was called up to the Czech frontier, leaving his anxious wife to mind their two young children. War was temporarily averted following peace negotiations which resulted in the Munich Agreement of 30 September signed by Hitler, Neville Chamberlain (the British Prime Minister), Mussolini and the French Premier Edouard Daladier. However, Czechoslovakia paid a heavy price as the accord permitted the annexation of the Sudetenland into the Third Reich. Gallingly, the Czechoslovak government was neither invited nor consulted over the matter.

As 1938 drew to a close, Princess Olga feared for her husband’s safety as it was no secret that the Prince Regent was a prime target for terrorists as he sought to thrash out an agreement between the Roman Catholic Croats and Orthodox Serbs. She was cheered by a visit from Marina in February 1939. However, within weeks of the Duchess of Kent’s return to England, German forces invaded the remainder of Czechoslovakia, in direct contravention of the Munich Agreement. Suddenly, it seemed to the British government that Hitler was intent on dominating Europe and Britain’s policy of appeasement was now abandoned. As it appeared likely that Poland would be the Fuhrer’s next target, on 31 March, Neville Chamberlain informed the House of Commons that ‘in the event of any action which clearly threatened Polish independence’ the British government would ‘feel bound.. to lend the Polish Government all support in their power’.

On Good Friday, 7 April, Italy invaded Yugoslavia’s southern neighbour of Albania. This troubled Olga greatly as it put extra pressure on the Prince Regent and served to underline that much of the weight of Yugoslavia’s uncertain future rested squarely on his shoulders. Princess Elizabeth and Count Toerring happened to be spending Easter in England with Marina and the Duke of Kent at their country home, Coppins. Prince George’s correspondence with Prince Paul indicates that there was a frank exchange of (often differing) views on the situation in Europe between the couples.

However, the Duke of Kent and Marina were mostly focused on preparing for their departure to Australia where Prince George was due to take up an appointment as the Dominion’s Governor-General. Elizabeth and Olga were both in despair at the thought of their youngest sibling moving to the other side of the world for a period of up to five years. Fortunately, Olga was distracted by her own official duties, as she and the Prince Regent were due to make State visits to Italy and Germany in May and June respectively. The visit to Berlin provided Olga and her sister Elizabeth with the chance of several brief reunions at the Bellevue Palace, amid a busy week of official engagements.

In early July, it was the turn of Marina and the Duke of Kent to greet Olga and Paul, when they arrived on a visit to London. The stay was a more relaxed family affair, despite the Yugoslav royals being quartered at Buckingham Palace. While the Prince Regent had talks with government ministers, Olga-keenly aware that her sister would be departing in only a few months for Canberra-spent quality time with Marina at the Kent’s home in Belgrave Square. She and Paul also managed a weekend trip down to Coppins.

In early August, Olga and Paul returned to Bled for what remained of the summer; Grand Duchess Helen was already in residence and the house party was soon completed by the arrival of the Kents and the Toerrings. It so happened that Prince Albrecht of Bavaria was a fellow guest. Albrecht was strongly opposed to Hitler and his National Socialist Party and was currently employed by Prince Paul to run his shoots at Petrovčić and Belje. Unsurprisingly, the atmosphere was somewhat strained for if Britain and Germany went to war, as seemed increasingly likely given Chamberlain’s guarantee, the Kents and Toerrings would, technically speaking, be enemies. Since Yugoslavia intended to remain neutral, Olga would be Marina and Elizabeth’s mutual point of contact.

Within a few weeks the situation deteriorated considerably: On 22 August, it was confirmed that Germany and Russia had signed a non-aggression pact. The Treaty had a secret protocol appended to it which divided eastern Europe into German and Soviet spheres of influence and signalled the green light for further German advances, including into Poland. Aware of the implications, both the Duke of Kent and Count Toerring left Brdo for their respective homelands as soon as they received the news. Marina remained in Slovenia until the end of August before departing by train for London.

On 1 September 1939 Germany invaded Poland and Elizabeth Toerring immediately left for Munich. On 3 September, in line with the guarantees it had earlier given to the Polish government, Great Britain declared war on Germany. Olga was ‘stunned’ by this development realising all too well the implications for Marina and Elizabeth. Count Toerring had already been called up to the western front and Prince George-his move to Australia now put on hold-was serving in the Royal Navy at the Admiralty in London. To exacerbate matters, Princess Olga’s sons Nicholas and Alexander were currently attending school in England, a place which now seemed increasingly far off as telephone communications with Yugoslavia were suspended.

Suddenly, the sisters’ life of privilege was gone. In Bavaria, Princess Elizabeth had taken to riding a bike as petrol was rationed, while Princess Olga had been appointed President of the Yugoslav Red Cross. Olga and Elizabeth had originally been able to communicate by telephone (with a German censor listening in), but this facility was withdrawn in late October. Although letters could still be sent (in Olga and Marina’s case via the official diplomatic bag) the process was slow and tedious; there were also limits as to what could safely be committed to paper. In England, Marina had joined the Navy as Commandant of the Women’s Royal Naval Service-‘the Wrens’-and was soon undertaking tours of inspection throughout England. On occasion, she travelled to Scotland to join the Duke of Kent who had been transferred to Admiralty House in North Queensferry. This meant that she was sometimes separated from her young children, Edward and Alexandra, who, with Coppins closed-up and the London house vacated, often spent time staying with their paternal grandmother, Queen Mary, at Badminton.

In early November, Princess Elizabeth and her children Hans Veit and Helen arrived in Belgrade. The main reason for her visit was that food was increasingly scarce in Bavaria. However, the erratic political climate must have been another factor. Countess Toerring feared for her husband’s welfare, particularly when she learned that there were random, ‘new wholesale arrests’ following an assassination attempt on Hitler’s life in Munich’s Bürgerbräukelle. Yet, as 1939 drew to close, the sister’s remained resolute. Elizabeth and her children returned to Bavaria, in early December, to be with Count Toerring (who had now been released from active duty), while Olga sought to try and provide some Festive cheer in Belgrade for King Peter (whose mother, Queen Dowager Marie, now lived in England with her younger sons Andy and Tommy), her three-year-old daughter, Elizabeth, and the Prince Regent. Meanwhile, Marina busied herself with organising accommodation for the Christmas school holiday period, in Cambridge, for Olga’s sons and Miss Fox. She later visited the trio to help them celebrate the Festive Season.

As 1940 dawned, Olga noted that, ‘The future looks dark I must admit- but I know the light is there behind it all the time.’ Yet, in the years ahead, all of the sisters would face terrible challenges, which would test them-and their close bond-to the limit.