Today, His Majesty King Constantine II of Greece celebrates his eightieth birthday.

 

 

Crown Prince Pavlos and Crown Princess Frederica with their children Princess Sophia and Prince Constantine
 

Prince Constantine of Greece and Denmark was born at Psychiko Palace, Greece, on 2 June 1940. Crown Princess Frederica recalled: “My two elder children, Sophie and Constantine, were born in my sitting-room in our small house. My parents came for Sophie’s birth but, when Tino was born, the war had already started and they could not come. Palo [Paul] stayed with me all the time and held my hand. The Prime Minister sat downstairs with the King, because it was the custom that the Prime Minister should be in the house.” The Acropolis was floodlighted in celebration of the prince’s birth, and guns were fired in salute throughout the country. The baby boy was named after his paternal grandfather King Constantine I of Greece. The prince was the first son and second child of Crown Prince Paul of Greece and Crown Princess Frederica (born Princess of Hannover), who wed in 1938. Constantine joined an older sister, Princess Sophia (b.1938); he was followed by a younger sister, Princess Irene (b.1942). At the time of his arrival, Constantine’s uncle George II was King of Greece; the infant prince was second in the line of succession after his father Paul.

 

 
 

King George II of the Hellenes passed away at Athens on 1 April 1947 at the age of fifty-six. He was succeeded by his last surviving brother, who became King Paul I. At the time, the new Crown Prince Constantine of Greece was only six years-old. The crown prince accompanied his father during the funeral of his uncle. Constantine had been educated at a preparatory school and later a boarding school, the Victoria College of Alexandria, Egypt, where his classmates included King Hussein of Jordan. A fellow student recalled him as “a good chap, a young man with all the right instincts. He was at his best on the playing fields.” Constantine was also a pupil at Anavryta, a secondary school established at Sygnros in Kifissia; the prince attended this institution for nine years. Crown Prince Constantine served in all three branches of the Hellenic Armed Forces and attended the requisite military academies. The Greek heir also attended the NATO Air Force Special Weapons School in Germany, as well as the University of Athens, where he undertook courses in the school of law.

 

 

The Greek Royal Family in 1959
Left to right: Crown Prince Constantine, Princess Irene, Queen Frederica, King Paul, Princess Sophia, and Prince Michael.
Photograph (c) Getty Images / Dean Loomis

 

When Crown Prince Constantine came of age in 1958, he swore allegiance to his father and to the Greek people. Given this occasion, on 2 June 1958 King Paul delivered this address to his only son:

Constantine, 

God has graciously destined you to reign over this glorious, gallant and noble Nation of ours. 

This sacred favour given to you, is an outstanding mark of honour and a legacy of great responsibility.  

As from this day, you shall be my partner in the endeavour to further the progress and well-being of my people. 

I am confident that your love of the Greek People, equal as it is to my own profound affection for them, will bring you as great happiness as it brings to me. In paying the price of their glorious history and enduring the consequences of their age-long struggles even to this day, in defence of mankind, the Greek People have not as yet been able to develop their capabilities to the full and achieve the standard of well-being to which they are justly entitled. For this very reason, they deserve every mark of affection and regard and every act of sacrifice on your part. 

Be a just, kind and indefatigable worker for the advance and glory of Greece.
Uphold steadfastly the Democratic Principles of our institutions and the Constitutional Liberties of our People.
 

Devote your life to the happiness of the Country. There is no task more noble and more important than this. Always remember that it is preferable that the King should suffer than that the suffering should fall on the Nation and the Country. Endeavour to show yourself worthy of the Greek Soldier whose leader you will be in the future. When the time comes, you will take your place at the head of the Greek Armed Forces, the bearers of a heroic and glorious tradition. 

Keep them devoted to duty and battle-worthy, the guardians of our tradition, respected by our friends and feared by our foes, the priceless jewel of a proud Nation.
May they never be forced to strike.
 

Be the protector and guardian of our Holy Church.
Draw your strength from the love between you and your people.
Redress offence by pardon,
Discord by unity,
Error by truth,
Doubt by faith.
 

I pray that you and my People may know days of glory in the noble struggle for progress and civilisation. 

May God Almighty make you an instrument of peace and always keep guard over Greece and over your, Constantine, my son.  

 
 
 

In 1959, at the age of nineteen, Constantine met his future wife, his third cousin Princess Anne-Marie of Denmark, aged thirteen, on a state visit to Denmark. Anne-Marie was the third and last daughter of King Frederik IX of Denmark and Queen Ingrid. Constantine and Anne-Marie met a second time in Denmark in 1961, when Constantine declared to her parents his intention to marry Anne-Marie; at this point King Frederik briefly locked Constantine in the toilet. They met again in Athens in May 1962 at the marriage of Constantine’s sister Princess Sofia of Greece and Denmark to Prince Juan Carlos of Spain at which Anne-Marie was a bridesmaid: and again in 1963 at the centenary celebrations of the Greek monarchy.

Crown Prince Constantine of Greece and Danish yachtsman Paul Elvstrøm at the Rome Olympics in 1960
Brothers-in-law engaged in martial arts: Prince Juan Carlos of Spain and King Constantine II of Greece in 1966
Photograph (c) Getty Images / David Lees

When he was on a tour of the United States, Constantine spent time with his cousin King Simeon II of Bulgaria, who at that time was a student at the military school at Valley Forge. The two royals were pulled over by a policeman. Though neither Constantine nor Simeon had identification on them, they presented themselves as “Crown Prince of Greece” and “King of Bulgaria.” Needless to say, they were briefly arrested before the Greek embassy intervened and verified their identities. In 1960, aged twenty, Crown Prince Constantine won an Olympic gold medal in sailing, which was the first Greek gold medal in sailing since the Stockholm 1912 Summer Olympics. He was also a strong swimmer and had a black belt in karate.

 

Aged sixty-two, King Paul I of Greece died at Athens on 6 March 1964, and Constantine succeeded to the throne.

On 18 September 1964, King Constantine of Greece and Princess Anne-Marie of Denmark were wed at the Metropolitan Cathedral in Athens. The couple had five children: Princess Alexia (b.1965), Crown Prince Pavlos (b.1967), Prince Nikolaos (b.1969), Princess Theodora (b.1983) and Prince Philippos (b.1986). In 1967, following political instability, the King and Queen, with their two eldest children, fled from Greece to Rome, where they lived for a time. In 1974, the Greek monarchy was abolished. Eventually, the royal family settled in London – their residence in the United Kingdom lasted for many decades. In 2013, King Constantine and Queen Anne-Marie returned to live in Greece.

We wish His Majesty many happy returns of the day!

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