L a - b e a u t é - s a u v e r a - l e - m o n d e ~ D o s t o ï e v s k i

L a - b e a u t é - s a u v e r a - l e - m o n d e  ~  D o s t o ï e v s k i

Saturday, March 15, 2014

Sophie, Queen of the Hellenes - and way too much Greek history

This and the following two photographs were taken in 1887, the year she turned seventeen.

Sophie (June 14, 1870, Potsdam – January 13, 1932, Frankfurt), born Sophie Dorothea Ulrike Alice, Princess of Prussia, Queen of the Hellenes as the consort of King Constantine I. The seventh child and third daughter of the future Emperor Friedrich III of Germany and his wife, Viktoria, the former Princess Royal of the United Kingdom. She was thus a granddaughter of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert, and a younger sister of German Emperor Wilhelm II.

She and her siblings were fairly divided into two groups, with the elder children coming under the close supervision of their paternal grandparents. Sophie and her two nearest sisters, Viktoria and Margarete, were all very close to their grandmother, Queen Victoria, and spent much time in England; Sophie's sympathies would always be more with England than Germany.

Sophie's developing relationship with Crown Prince Constantine of Greece was overshadowed by the long, agonizing illness of her father, who died of throat cancer in 1888. She and "Tino" were married late the following year, and together they had six children, the last born in 1913. They had a happy family life, but the the instability of Greek and international politics before, during, and after World War I, caused them much personal heartache.

Family connections were also a frequent cause for tension.  In 1890, her brother Wilhelm and his wife were outraged when Sophie announced her intention to convert to her husband's Orthodox faith; ignoring the fact that Sophie was obligated as mother of future heirs to the Greek throne to be of her country's religion, her sister-in-law told Sophie that she would be barred from Germany and that she would go to hell if she converted.

These two photographs are from 1900.

In March of 1913, in the midst of the Balkan Wars, King George was assassinated, and Constantine and Sophie became king and queen.  The new queen was practical and energetic - like her mother, the Empress Frederick - and she devoted herself to social welfare organizations, being particularly interested in education, hospitals, and medical training facilities.  With her husband, she was an avid gardener; her special interest was arboriculture, and she was passionate about efforts being made toward the reforestation of Greece.  The successful outcome of the war had greatly bolstered the royal family's popularity with the Greek people, who had high hopes for the new reign.  But then World War I began.

With both sides putting extreme pressure on Greece to take up their cause, and with an antagonistic, strongly anti-monarchist, and pro-Allied prime minister, Eleftherios Venizelos, Constantine struggled to maintain neutrality, thinking it best for the Greek people. The leaders and, in particular, the press of the Allied countries were openly aggressive in their efforts to get Constantine to their side. Failing that, they set about destroying the régime. Among other things, they spread propaganda that, since Sophie's brother was the Kaiser, the couple was in league with Germany; though Constantine remained convinced that neutrality was the best course, his sympathies were most likely with Germany, but Sophie was decidedly pro-English.

In July 1916, arsonists set fire to the forest surrounding the royal family's country estate at Tatoi, while they were resident. The fire burned for forty-eight hours, destroying the main residence and much of the forest.  And though the king and his family managed to escape - Sophie running for a mile and a half, carrying her youngest child, three year old Katherine - there were many injuries and sixteen people were killed.

Queen Sophie with her youngest child, Princess Katherine, circa 1913.

With the combined machinations of Venizelos and the Anglo-French powers - whose warships bombarded Athens at the end of 1916 - Greece descended into near civil war, and in June of 1917, the king was forced to abdicate and the family left Greece for exile in Switzerland.  The government needed a successor to the king, but considered the eldest son, George, unsuitable, because of his military training in Germany before the war.  Alexander, the couple's twenty-three year old second son, was chosen to be king in his father's place.  Not allowed contact with his family, Alexander endured a reign more as prisoner than king; Venizelos wielded the real power and, only a year after the end of World War I, led Greece into war again.  In the midst of the Greco-Turkish War of 1919-1922, Alexander suddenly died of septicemia, the result of a bite from a monkey; his mother had been refused permission to go to him during his illness.  With the continuing war and the death of the young king, the government was in turmoil and Venizelos - temporarily - fell from power.  After a plebiscite - the results overwhelmingly in his favor - Constantine was then recalled to the throne in December of 1920.  Yet, less than two years later, after the devastating loss of the war with Turkey which had been begun in his absence, Constantine, ill and exhausted, was again forced to abdicate.  He died in Palermo four months later.

His first-born son, George, was now made King of the Hellenes.  But only fifteen months later he, too, while declining to abdicate, was forced to leave Greece.  King George would later return to Greece, and his youngest brother, Paul, and Paul's son, Constantine II, would also weather Greece's complicated and turbulent relationship with its royal family.

But Queen Sophie, who never really recovered from the loss of her son and her husband, didn't live to know that.  Of a forgiving nature - she even tried to repair her relationship with her brother, the former Kaiser - she seemed to hold no grudge against the actions of France and England during the war, and was in frequent contact with her extended family.  Having settled in Florence since her widowhood, she became ill in 1931, and went to Frankfurt for an operation.  But terminal cancer was discovered, and she died at the beginning of the new year.

With her granddaughter, Princess Alexandra.  Only child of Sophie's son, Alexander,
Princess Alexandra was born five months after his death, in 1921.

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