Royal house expert on ex-King Constantine: That’s why he never got the throne back

People with machine guns were ready, and it was a dramatic exit when the Greek royal family chose to flee Greece in a hurry on the night of 14 December 1967.

Constantine II, who died on Tuesday aged 82, hoped for many years to get the throne back. But that never happened. And there is a special reason for that, according to a royal house expert.

“He was a special king because he didn’t really have a kingdom, and the reason he lost Greece quite early on was because there is such a big difference in how the kingdom works in Greece compared to in Denmark,’ says Lars Hovbakke Sørensen, who is a royal house expert and historian and adds:

“There was a long tradition in Greece of the king meddling politically in things. Much more than was done in Denmark. That was why the Greeks were so skeptical about letting him come back again.’

Ex-King Konstantin and Queen Anne-Marie at Queen Margrethe’s 75th birthday in 2015.
Photo: Patrick van Katwijk

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King Constantine became monarch aged just 23 in March 1964 when his father, King Paul, died suddenly.

Later that year, the young king was married to the Danish princess Anne-Marie, who became Queen Anne-Marie.

Just three years later, a military coup created major unrest. The royal couple were woken up at their Tatoi castle outside Athens to the news that there were people standing outside with machine guns.

Telephone lines had been cut and the couple frantically tried to find out what had happened.


Princess Anne-Marie was only 18 when she married the Greek king in 1964.

Princess Anne-Marie was only 18 when she married the Greek king in 1964.
Photo: Steen Jacobsen

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Constantine was subsequently forced to approve the new military government, for which he subsequently received a lot of criticism. Some thought that he should have resisted more and fought more and shown the Greek people that he would not just surrender say

He himself explained that he did not want bloodshed and wanted to buy time for a counter coup.

The counter-coup came eight months later, but it failed completely, and then the Greek royal family had to flee for good:

“Right when we were in it, I don’t think I thought too much about what happened, we just had to leave there in the middle of the night, but afterwards I thought: How could I go through that? Our son was only six months old and I was pregnant when we left the country. But then again, we didn’t know what the future would bring and that it would be so many years before we could return,’ ex-Queen Anne-Marie said in an interview with Her World.


Today, Tatoi Palace is abandoned and looks like a ruin.

Today, Tatoi Palace is abandoned and looks like a ruin.
Photo: STELIOS MISINAS

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For the same reason, they had taken almost no money or possessions with them when they fled. And during the flight in their private plane, the royal couple were running out of fuel over Italy and decided to land in Rome.

They lived there for seven years, hoping to return to Greece.

But Constantine never returned as monarch. Because even though the military regime was overthrown and democracy reinstated, the Greek population voted no to a monarchy in 1974. And that no was never turned into a yes – at least not during Constantine II’s lifetime.

The main explanation for the fact that he was not allowed to play a role again was the political interference of his predecessors:


Constantine II's two sisters, Queen Sofia of Spain and Princess Irene, walked around the family tombs at Tatoi Palace on Thursday.

Constantine II’s two sisters, Queen Sofia of Spain and Princess Irene, walked around the family tombs at Tatoi Palace on Thursday.
Photo: STELIOS MISINAS

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“It is important to emphasize that it was not really because Constantine II did something wrong that he could not return. It was more because there was a built-in skepticism in the population against a monarchy, because there were many who were against a monarchy for reasons of principle,’ explains Lars Hovbakke Sørensen.

“It wasn’t so much what he did as a person that made people not want the king back – it was more this left turn of the Greek democracy and population. It was almost equally valid what he had done, then it would not have succeeded because there was so much skepticism towards anything that smelled of monarchy,’ he says.

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