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.