The funeral of the last Greek king, Constantine II, held in Athens | Greece

HI have been a king without a crown, a monarch without a kingdom, for longer than most remember. But for a few hours in Athens on Monday, Constantine II, the ruler who reigned for barely three years before being forced into exile, was once again king of the Hellenes – or at least thousands of his former subjects.

From just before dawn, six days after his death at the age of 82 was announced, Greek monarchists, young and old, rich and poor, lined up patiently to pay their last respects.

They were not alone. From the royal house of Windsor to the royal homes of Denmark, Spain, Norway, Holland, Sweden and Belgium came: kings and queens, princes and princesses, all crammed into the metropolitan cathedral in Athens, in a gathering that talked with Constantine connections with the historical thrones of Europe. His sister-in-law, Queen Margaret II of Denmark; his sister Sofia, former Queen of Spain; and his second cousin Princess Anne were among those who attended the Greek Orthodox service led by the country’s spiritual leader, Archbishop Jerome II of Athens.

It was an assembly of royalty not seen in Greece for decades, in the republic from which Constantine – at least to his admirers – was unceremoniously ousted nearly 50 years ago.

“Immortal!” they cried amid rapturous applause and a rendition of the national anthem as a line of vans and limousines gathered outside the cathedral. “Constantine, you will never die.”

Constantine's coffin is moved to the cathedral.
Constantine’s coffin is moved to the cathedral. Photo: Nicholas Kominis/REKS/Shutterstock

In a nation where memories of his initial support for the regime of right-wing colonels still run deep, the royal figure remains a deeply divisive figure.

The seizure of power by junior military officers on April 21, 1967, would plunge the country into seven years of military dictatorship, a dark era in which leftist opponents were killed, tortured and exiled to distant Aegean islands. The young monarch’s failed counter-coup came too late, ending an episode in which he would forever be associated with self-interest and political meddling. Exile followed.

“It was terrible what happened to him,” said Natalia Tripotto, 13, who was allowed to take the day off school to see her relatives for the royal arrival. “They took away his citizenship, but when you are born Greek, you die Greek.”

She traveled from the capital’s southern suburbs to film scenes straight from the pages of Hello!. Others traveled from all over Greece to say goodbye. Others still traveled from the farthest corners of Europe.

Spiros Lalos, who traveled from Essen, Germany to pay his last respects to Constantine.
Spiros Lalos, who traveled from Essen, Germany to pay his last respects to Constantine. Photo: Helena Smith/The Guardian

“I flew in from Germany just for this,” said Spiros Lalos, a banker dressed in a black suit and matching black tie as he stood in line to bow his head before Constantine’s flag-draped coffin that lies in a chapel next to the cathedral. “My family were guest workers [guest workers] The Greeks and the great royalists. My uncle, also named Constantine, had a portrait of the king in his home, and on their name day he would decorate it with flowers. We all think he was treated very unfairly. He is part of our history and history cannot be erased.”

Maria Koulouri, a seven-year-old who got up at 5 a.m. to line up outside the chapel, agreed. “What they did to him was not right,” she said, posing with a Christmas card signed by the former monarch and his wife Anne-Marie, who was born a Danish princess. “It was wrong that they sent him into exile and took away his passport and denied us a king.”

Koulouri, who admitted she did not tell her closest relatives she had reached the church “because they will never understand”, was among many who bowed when, after several hours of waiting, she reached Constantine’s casket. Others patted the casket while others hugged it and wept as they kissed the icon that adorned it.

Maria Koulouri
Maria Koulouri, aged 71, holds a Christmas card from the former royal family. Photo: Helena Smith/The Guardian

By 8 a.m., police estimated that around 5,000 supporters had gathered at the chapel.

From the beginning, the funeral of the former king was a sensitive matter. Fans wanted an official send-off befitting a former head of state. Critics were against any such idea. In the end, the center-right government ruled that in a presidential republic the former monarch should be buried as a private citizen. His coffin was able to lie in state for five hours, starting at 6 a.m., but neither Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis nor any other party leader attended.

The decision by the Greek political class to stand aside highlighted the enduring controversy surrounding Constantine.

Despite the decades of exile he spent mostly in London, Constantine would not move to Greece until 2008, living modestly in a villa in the Peloponnese. For many, however, his return was tainted by his decision to take the Greek state to the European Court of Human Rights in a battle over expropriated palaces and estates, which would ultimately end with him receiving a fraction of what he sought in compensation. .

Constantine’s casket traveled to the Tatoi estate outside Athens on Monday. The former king had a final wish to be buried next to his parents, Paul and Federico: a wish that the republic granted.

And so shortly after 3 p.m., his casket, carried by his three sons and grandson, Constantine, the last king of the Hellenes, was taken to the place believed to have been chosen by him and descended into the newly dug-out lands of Greece.

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