10 August 2020

Royal Jewel Rewind: The Greek Royal Wedding of 1938

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Ten years ago this month, the former royal family of Greece gathered to celebrate the wedding of Prince Nikolaos and Tatiana Blatnik. To mark the anniversary, we're spending all week looking back at some prominent Greek royal weddings. We're kicking things off with a wedding that happened more than eight decades ago: the 1938 nuptials of Crown Prince Paul of Greece and Princess Friederike of Hanover.

The Greek royal family, ca. 1913 (L-R): Prince Paul, Prince Alexander, Queen Sophie, Crown Prince George, King Constantine II, Princess Helen, and Princess Irene

Crown Prince Paul, who later reigned as King Paul I, was the fourth child of King Constantine I of the Hellenes and his German-born wife, Princess Sophie of Prussia. Paul's family had only reigned in Greece for about forty years when he was born in 1901. His paternal grandfather, King George I, was a Danish prince who had been elected King of the Hellenes in 1863. His paternal grandmother, Queen Olga, was a Romanov grand duchess. Their reign was largely marked by five decades of increasing prosperity for Greece, but in 1913, just before his Golden Jubilee celebrations, King George was assassinated. Paul's father succeeded to the throne as King Constantine I just months before the outbreak of World War I. 

Prince Paul as a young man, ca. 1920s (Wikimedia Commons)

What followed was a series of upheaval in just about every way possible for the Greek royals. Public discontent, tensions of war, and military coups ensued. (The fact that Queen Sophie was the sister of Kaiser Wilhelm II did not help matters.) Paul's father, King Constantine I, was compelled to surrender his throne in 1917 in favor of his second son, King Alexander. After Alexander's untimely death three years later, Constantine returned to the throne, only to abdicate after another military coup in 1922. Paul's eldest brother, King George II, took over, reigning until a republic was proclaimed in 1924. Paul spent much of the next decade in England, where he trained as an officer at Sandhurst and worked at an aircraft factory.

King George II was invited to return to the throne in 1935, after a plebiscite brought an end to the Greek republic. George had divorced his wife, Princess Elisabeth of Romania, and had no children to inherit the throne. (He also had no plans to remarry -- partly because he didn't want to upset the Orthodox patriarchs, but mostly because he was in a happy romance with his companion, the British commoner Joyce Brittain-Jones.) Thirty-three-year-old Paul therefore became Greece's crown prince. George and Paul left England for Athens together, arriving in November 1935. Soon enough, Paul was searching for a wife to join him in Greece and help him secure the succession. His quest for a bride quickly led him to the homeland of his late mother, Princess Sophie of Prussia.

The former imperial family of Germany, ca. 1918 (L-R): Prince Georg Wilhelm of Hanover, Princess Friederike of Hanover, Kaiserin Augusta Viktoria of Germany, Kaiser Wilhelm II of Germany, Prince Ernst August of Hanover, and Princess Viktoria Luise, Duchess of Brunswick

The world of the German royal family had been equally rocked by the first quarter of the twentieth century. Just before the outbreak of World War I, Paul's uncle, Kaiser Wilhelm II, had celebrated at the marriage of his only daughter, Princess Viktoria Luise of Prussia, to Prince Ernst August of Hanover, Duke of Brunswick. The 1913 wedding -- held just two months after the assassination of King George I of Greece -- had brought together two branches of German royalty, but the couple also asserted that it was a love match. The Duke and Duchess of Brunswick had five children: four sons (Ernst August, Georg Wilhelm, Christian Oskar, and Welf Heinrich) and one daughter, Princess Friederike.

Friederike, born in 1917, was barely a year old when the end of World War I bounced her family from their German thrones. Her father lost his Brunswick dukedom, and her grandfather was sent into Dutch exile. As a young woman, Friederike was sent to boarding school at North Foreland Lodge in Kent. For a time, the press seemed convinced that Friederike was destined for a bigger life in England, as she was rumored to be a prospective bride of the Prince of Wales (later the Duke of Windsor) in the 1930s. Indeed, Adolf Hitler apparently approached her parents about the possibility of such a match in 1934, keen to forge stronger ties between Britain and Germany, but they balked at the idea. Instead, Friederike continued her education in Germany and then in Italy. There, she caught the attention of Crown Prince Paul's exiled sisters, Princess Helen and Princess Irene, who apparently nudged him in the direction of the young princess.

Crown Prince Paul is photographed on his arrival in Berlin for the Olympic Games, July 1936; with him, in traditional costume, is Spyridon Louis, who won the marathon event at the first modern Olympic Games in Athens in 1896 (Wikimedia Commons)

In 1936, a major event brought together Greece and Germany on a world stage: the Summer Olympics. Held in Berlin, the event was used as propaganda by Hitler's regime. For the first time, a torch relay was staged between Athens and the host city, and royals like King George II, Crown Prince Paul, King Peter of Yugoslavia, and King Boris of Bulgaria were included in the spectacle. Paul arrived in Berlin in July 1936 and attended the opening ceremony of the games. While in Germany, 34-year-old Crown Prince Paul proposed marriage to 19-year-old Princess Friederike, who was his cousin twice over (first cousins, once removed on their maternal German line, second cousins on their paternal Danish line). She accepted.

Princess Friederike and Crown Prince Paul's official engagement portrait, ca. 1938 (Wikimedia Commons)

The couple's official engagement announcement was delayed by a year. Greece was in the midst of yet another political upheaval. As Paul was proposing in Germany, his brother and Prime Minister Metaxas were busy installing a totalitarian regime back in Greece, suspending parliament and ushering in a wave of cultural, social, and economic controls. Before publicly announcing their betrothal, Crown Prince Paul also represented his family at the coronation of King George VI and Queen Elizabeth in May 1937 in London. In August, the restless press reported that Paul was secretly engaged -- to a wealthy 22-year-old Greek commoner, Catherine Koumandarou. (She vehemently denied the reports. "It isn't true, any of it," she told the Associated Press. "It simply didn't happen. I don't even know the prince well. I have met him a few times on social occasions, but we certainly have never even talked alone; there is absolutely nothing more than that.")

In September 1937, Paul flew from Athens to Vienna to join Friederike and her family at their hunting lodge, Schloss Cumberland, in Gmunden. They were there to celebrate their engagement, which was officially announced from Athens on September 29. "A picturesque hunting chalet high in the Upper Austrian Alps houses to-night two happy young people," one British paper reported breathlessly. In their official engagement portraits, Friederike wore the Prussian Tiara, a gift from her mother, and a diamond necklace.

In November 1937, the wedding date was officially set for January 9, 1938. Because Friederike was born a British princess, and was subject to the Royal Marriages Act of 1772, she had to have permission from King George VI of the United Kingdom to go forward with her marriage. On the day after Christmas 1937, King George convened a fifteen-minute privy council meeting at Sandringham, where the royal family had gathered to celebrate the holiday. In the presence of the Duke of Gloucester, the Duke of Kent, and the Earl of Athlone, the king gave his formal assent to the marriage. The Duke of Kent and his Greek royal wife, Princess Marina, were tapped to officially represent the British royal family at the wedding in Athens. They arrived in the Greek capital on January 7, greeted at the train station by King George II and Prime Minister Metaxas.

Crown Prince Michael of Romania, ca. 1937 (Wikimedia Commons)

As holiday celebrations wound down across Europe, more royals began to gather in Athens for the nuptials. One prince had a particularly harrowing trip to Greece. Crown Prince Michael of Romania, a nephew of Crown Prince Paul, boarded a destroyer, the Queen Maria, in Constanza to sail to Athens. Fifty miles into their journey across the Black Sea, the ship encountered a sudden and terrible winter storm, which left the destroyer floating helplessly without power. The Associated Press reported that "huge waves and chunks of ice broke" over the ship's decks, breaking a mast, damaging the rudder, and knocking out the radio. A general alarm was raised about the future of the Romanian throne when the ship sent out a distress call. Sixteen-year-old Michael reportedly handled the situation quite bravely, even trying to convince the crew to allow him to help as they worked to save the ship. Ultimately, the future monarch and his entourage shivered in darkness for 36 hours while they waited for another ship to come to their aid. When Michael returned to Constanza, he admitted to his father, King Carol, that he'd been terrified by the entire ordeal, but he quickly boarded a train that took him on to Bucharest and then Athens in time for his uncle's wedding.

Crown Prince Michael wasn't the only royal who arrived somewhat emotionally battered for the wedding. Prince Andrew of Greece and Denmark, Crown Prince Paul's uncle, flew to Athens from Rome for the wedding with his son, Prince Philip, and two of his daughters, Princesses Margarita and Theodora. Six weeks before, the family had buried their daughter and sister, Princess Cecilie, who had died with several members of the Hesse family when their airplane had tragically crashed in Belgium. Prince Nicholas of Greece and Denmark, Andrew's brother, had represented the royal family at the funeral in Germany. (No one could have known at this point that Nicholas's days were also short. He died suddenly of a heart attack a month after Paul and Friederike's wedding.)

Princess Friederike (Wikimedia Commons)

In Greece, however, the mood was ebullient ahead of their new princess's arrival. In Austria, Princess Friederike and her parents and brothers had boarded a special train to Athens which took them through numerous Greek towns and villages along the way. Newspapers reported that "scenes of enthusiasm" greeted the bride all along the way to her new home. In Athens, the train station was decorated elaborately in blue and white, Greece's national colors, and the streets were festooned with flags and colorful lights. Crown Prince Paul had traveled to the Greek border with Yugoslavia to meet his fiancee aboard the train and travel with her to the capital. The snowstorms that nearly sank Crown Prince Michael delayed the train journey in Macedonia, too, putting them hours behind schedule. But crowds were still present in the freezing cold on January 7, 1938, to cheer the arrival of the train, which was pulled by a bright white engine with the letters P and F emblazoned in gold. As Paul and Friederike stepped on to the platform, a 21-gun salute was fired from Mount Lycabettus.

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A whirlwind of celebratory events engulfed the couple as they arrived in Athens. A glittering state dinner was held on the night of Friday, January 7, followed by a second gala dinner and theater performance on Saturday evening. Members of both families had descended on Athens for the festivities. The Greek royal contingent included Crown Prince Paul's sisters, Princesses Helen, Irene, and Katherine, as well as his nephew and niece, Crown Prince Michael of Romania and Princess Alexandra of Greece. Greek uncles and aunts in attendance included Prince George and Princess Marie (with their children, Princess Peter and Princess Eugenie), the aforementioned-Prince Andrew and his children, and Prince and Princess Nicholas (with their daughters, Princesses Olga, Elizabeth, and Marina, and their husbands, Prince Regent Paul of Yugoslavia, Count Carl Theodor of Toerring-Jettenbach, and the Duke of Kent, respectively). Grand Duke Dmitri Pavlovich, one of Paul's cousins, was there as well. 

The German royal party included Friederike's parents and brothers, as well as her Prussian uncles, Prince Oskar and Prince August Wilhelm, and her Hanoverian uncles and aunts, the Grand Duke and Grand Duchess of Mecklenburg-Schwerin and the Dowager Margravine of Baden. Berthold, the Margrave of Baden, was there as well; he was married to Crown Prince Paul's cousin, Princess Theodora of Greece and Denmark. Princes Wilhelm and Hubertus of Prussia were there, too. Two more of her cousins, Princess Cecilie and Princess Herzeleide of Prussia, were among her bridesmaids. (Of course, all of these guests were related to both the bride and groom.) The Danish representatives included Prince Axel, Prince Knud, and Princess Caroline-Mathilde.

Sueddeutsche Zeitung Photo/Alamy

On the day of the wedding, Princess Friederike dressed in a gown fit for the grandest '30s-era bride. The Observer reported that the gown, "made in Munich, is of simple cut, accentuating the beauty of the material, a shimmering silver lame. The eighteen-foot train is ornamented with a circle of applique flowers, also in lame, and is bordered with a roll of self-material which outlines the V neck of the gown and falls away over the shoulders. The sleeves are full length to the wrist." Her bridal bouquet, a spray of orange blossoms, was a gift from her grandfather, Kaiser Wilhelm, who sent them from the orangery at Doorn. Tucked inside was a sprig of myrtle brought specially from Queen Victoria's myrtle bush at Osborne House in England for her by the Duchess of Kent.

Sueddeutsche Zeitung Photo/Alamy

On her head, Friederike wore her mother's long lace veil, which was secured with a diamond tiara that had belonged to her late mother-in-law, Queen Sophie of Greece. She also wore the small diamond Hanoverian nuptial crown, which belonged to Queen Charlotte of the United Kingdom and was returned to the Hanoverian royals by Queen Victoria after she lost a legal suit. Friederike's other bridal jewels included a cross on a long chain and the diamond necklace she wore in her engagement portraits. She also wore the star and sash of the Royal Family Order of Saints Olga and Sophia, which had been created in 1936 by King George II in memory of Queen Olga and Queen Sophie.

The Duke and Duchess of Kent arrive at the cathedral in Athens

It was pouring rain and sleet on the morning of Sunday, January 9, as the guests arrived at the Metropolitan Cathedral in Athens for the first of the couple's two wedding ceremonies. Newsreel cameras captured the guests, including the Duke and Duchess of Kent and Prince Paul and Princess Olga, hurrying from their cars into the cathedral.

Paul and Friederike stand beneath wedding crowns during their Greek Orthodox wedding ceremony (screencapture)

Following Greek Orthodox tradition, they were married by the Archbishop of Athens, who was supported by dozens of bishops in gold and white robes. The couple stood beneath traditional Greek Orthodox wedding crowns during the ceremony, which were held by the groom's supporters: his uncle, Prince George of Greece and Denmark; his cousin, Grand Duke Dmitri Pavlovich; his nephew, Crown Prince Michael; his cousins, Prince Peter and Prince Philip; and Friederike's brothers. The crowns were the same ones used at the wedding of Paul's parents. Friederike was supported by four pink-gowned bridesmaids: her new sister-in-law, Princess Katherine of Greece and Denmark; her husband's cousin, Princess Eugenie of Greece and Denmark; and two of her German cousins, Princess Cecilie and Princess Herzeleide of Prussia. Paul and Friederike exchanged gold wedding rings made from melted down coins dating to the reign of Alexander the Great.

Paul and Friederike ride through the streets of Athens after their wedding

After the ceremony had finished, Paul and Friederike rode through the rain-soaked streets back to the palace, cheered on by Athenians who had braved the cold, wet weather to see the newlywed couple in person. Back at the palace, the couple had a second, Lutheran wedding ceremony and signed the civil registration paperwork.

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The couple posed with their royal guests for a set of formal portraits after the official ceremonies were completed.

Sueddeutsche Zeitung Photo/Alamy

These pictures allow us to see some of the outfits and jewels worn by their guests. Hats, not tiaras, were worn for this daytime ceremony. The Duchess of Brunswick wore a necklace with a cross pendant. The large brooch she has pinned to her order sash is a special one: she wore it on her own wedding day in 1913.

Sueddeutsche Zeitung Photo/Alamy

You'll spot the Duke and Duchess of Kent standing behind King George II in this picture. Marina wore pearls for the occasion. The dresses worn by Marina, Princess Olga, Princess Helen, Princess Irene, Princess Nicholas, and Princess Marie were all made in Paris by Molyneux.

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You'll be able to spot several Greek royals in this picture, including Princess Katherine, Princess Helen, Princess Marie, and Princess Irene, as well as Crown Prince Michael of Romania, the Duke of Brunswick, and Princess Friederike.

Crown Princess Friederike of Greece, the Duchess of Brunswick, and the future Queen Sofia of Spain, ca. 1939 (Wikimedia Commons)

After the wedding, the couple settled in their new villa at Psychiko, a wedding gift from the Greek government. They spent a month-long honeymoon abroad. In November 1938, they welcomed their first child: a daughter who later became Queen Sofia of Spain. Two more children, King Constantine II of Greece and Princess Irene of Greece and Denmark, followed after her. The couple reigned as King and Queen of the Hellenes from 1947 until Paul's death in 1964.