ATHENS: Greece’s last king, Constantine II, was laid to rest on Monday at the royal cemetery of Tatoi near Athens, after a private funeral service that drew dozens of European royals and a crowd of several hundreds. Constantine, who died last week aged 82, was a divisive figure in the country’s history, and the government drew criticism from conservatives after deciding not to grant him the honour of a state funeral.
Former prime minister Antonis Samaras was among those who said Constantine, a former Olympic gold medallist for Greece, deserved to be buried as a former head of state. In his eulogy, Constantine’s eldest son Paul said his father ascended to the throne during a “difficult period” and had left the country to avoid causing “fresh bloodshed”. “This is not the end, father. You will live forever in our thoughts and hearts,” he said, adding that the former monarch had helped Athens secure the 2004 Olympics.
At least 2,000 people had queued outside the Athens Metropolitan Cathedral from dawn on Monday to pay their respects, according to state television ERT. Police declined to give an estimate of the numbers. Some gatherers clutched flags of the royal era, flowers and portraits of the ex-king and his wife, the Danish princess Anne-Marie. Many bowed and kissed the coffin, which was covered with the Greek flag.
“He was an honourable man, a proper family man who never harmed Greece,” pensioner Fotis Stamatiou, 85, told AFP. “We are here to accord our king the honour he deserves… We love him,” added fellow pensioner Arietta Papadaki.
Toppled by coup
The private service, officiated by Archbishop Ieronymos, head of the Orthodox church of Greece, began shortly after noon with almost 200 guests attending. Royals from Belgium, Britain, Denmark, Luxembourg, Monaco, the Netherlands, Norway and Spain flew in for the service. The British Crown was represented by Princess Anne, daughter of the late Queen Elizabeth II.
Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis and President Katerina Sakellaropoulou-whose official residence is a former royal palace-did not attend the funeral. The government was represented by Deputy Prime Minister Panagiotis Pikrammenos and Culture and Sports Minister Lina Mendoni. Surveys in past decades have shown most Greeks feel either indifference or resentment towards the former king.
The last member of a century-long dynasty, Constantine had reigned for just three years when an army dictatorship seized control of the country in 1967. Declassified US diplomatic cables say Constantine may have been mulling martial law himself prior to the coup.
Nearly eight months after the junta seized power, Constantine organised a military counter-coup that failed. He fled to Rome with the rest of the royal family, and later to London. The junta abolished the monarchy in 1973, and Greeks voted not to restore the royal family after the restoration of democracy in 1974.
‘Kingdom of Greece no longer exists’
Later locked in a bitter property dispute with the Greek state, Constantine had his Greek citizenship revoked in 1994. The ex-king returned to Greece in 2013, selling the 9,500-square-foot (880-square-metre) London mansion where his family had lived for four decades.
The day after Constantine’s death at a private Athens hospital, the prime minister announced the funeral would be held privately. Mitsotakis insisted on Saturday it was the right decision, stressing that the former king was the leader of the “Kingdom of Greece, which no longer exists”.
He said history “will judge Constantine fairly and harshly”. There was a frantic race over the weekend to prepare the royal cemetery in Tatoi, about 29 kilometres (18 miles) north of Athens, after it nearly burned down in a 2021 summer wildfire.
Most members of the former royal family are buried at the former royal summer palace at Tatoi, including the dynasty’s Danish-born founder George I. Constantine was married to Anne-Marie-sister to Denmark’s Queen Margrethe-and they had five children.
He was also the younger brother of Sofia, the queen mother of Spain. As crown prince, he won a sailing gold medal in the 1960 Rome Olympics and was an honorary member of the International Olympic Committee. – AFP