The Death of a King Who Did Not Adapt

The death of former King Constantine at the age of 83 effectively closes the issue of the monarchy, which was formally decided with the 1974 plebiscite.

The time for a calmer historical assessment of that stormy period of the 1960s, which led to his conflict with the democratically elected government, his counter-revolution against the junta, his exile – and finally the plebiscite that deposed him, has now begun.

It must, however, be stressed that he accepted the verdict of the people, at least in appearance, with respect and dignity.

But he will have carried to his own grave on the Tatoi estate, where his family tombs are located, the tombstone he had carved for his dynasty with his actions.

On a broader front, monarchies in our time are anachronistic. They reflect a social and political mentality that has become discredited, outdated.

The few that remain were able on their own – or were forced – to adapt to the demands of the times, not the other way around.

The era of the king-ruler, with their active involvement in politics and the imposition of their choices on the highest state offices in the land, is long gone.

Apparently this could not be grasped by the then-young King Constantine, who was only 23 years old when he was enthroned, and his advisors – including his mother, Queen Frederica.
Perhaps because they were not yet fully integrated into Greek society and thus were not familiar with the prevailing local mindset.

As a result, he made the fatal mistake of clashing with a popular prime minister, George Papandreou, known for his rhetorical and demagogic prowess.

It was this mistake that he probably wanted to correct in his attempt to overthrow the junta that came to power three years after he became king – a brave act that has not been sufficiently appreciated, but which ended in a debacle and his exile.

As for the constitutional referendum, of course, it was not fair, since he could not fight on a level playing field. He was deprived of the right to present his case in person, directly to the people of Greece.

It would not have changed the outcome, however. The margin was overwhelming. He lost by 70%.

He accepted the result in full for the rest of his life, but the Greek state treated him cruelly. Probably because of previous historical experience with removing kings who returned them later, but perhaps also because he had become an easy political target who added votes at no cost.

Few supporters of monarchy are left in Greece and in Hellenism abroad…and the surest way to diminish them even more over time is to make the democratic constitution function as well as possible.


This article is part of a continuing series dealing with reports of Greek POWs in Asia Minor in the Thessaloniki newspaper, Makedonia in July 1936.

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