Greece's former king to be buried as a private citizen

ATHENS, Greece (AP) — Constantine, the former and last king of Greece, will be buried as a private citizen in Tatoi, the former summer residence of Greece’s royals just outside Athens where his parents and ancestors are buried, the government said Wednesday.

A controversial figure in Greek history, Constantine died in a hospital late Tuesday at the age of 82. Greece’s monarchy was definitively abolished in a referendum in 1974, and Constantine spent decades in exile before settling in his home country once more in his waning years.

Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis chaired a ministerial meeting Wednesday morning to discuss details of the funeral, with his office announcing the private burial and saying the government would be represented by the culture minister.

Constantine's family said the funeral service would take place at the Athens cathedral. It said the exact timing of the service and burial, and the duration the former king's body would remain in the church, “will be determined at a later time."

Few in Greece have much nostalgia for the former royal family, but other European royals, many of whom are related to Constantine, are likely to attend his funeral.

His older sister is Sophia, wife of former King Juan Carlos I of Spain, while the Greek-born Prince Philip, the late husband of the United Kingdom's late Queen Elizabeth II, was an uncle. Constantine was one of the godparents of Prince William, the heir to the U.K. throne.

The family, which had ruled Greece from 1863 apart from a 12-year republican interlude during 1922-1935, was descended from Prince Christian, later Christian IX of Denmark, of the House of Schleswig-Holstein-Sonderburg-Glücksburg branch of the Danish ruling family.

Constantine's wife, Anne-Marie, is the younger sister of Denmark's Queen Margrethe. In a statement, the royal palace in Copenhagen said it was “with great sadness” that the queen had learned of Constantine's death.

“The royal family's thoughts are currently with H.M. Queen Anne-Marie and the entire Greek family,” the Danish palace said.

Constantine, an Olympic sailing gold medalist and a keen horseman, was an honorary member of the International Olympic Committee, which on Wednesday expressed grief at his death.

“In King Constantine we have lost a great friend of sport,” IOC President Thomas Bach said in a statement. “He was a fellow Olympic Champion and, whenever we met, we shared our passion about sport and discussed our love of Olympism and the life of an athlete.”

The IOC said that as a mark of respect, the Olympic flag will be flown at half-staff at Olympic House in Lausanne for three days.

Constantine was hugely popular in Greece when he acceded to the throne in 1964 at the age of 23, but much of that support rapidly waned with his active involvement in the machinations that brought down the elected government of Prime Minister George Papandreou.

The episode involving the defection from the ruling party of several lawmakers destabilized the constitutional order and led to a military coup in 1967. Constantine eventually clashed with the military rulers and was forced into exile.

When the dictatorship collapsed in July 1974, Constantine was eager to return to Greece but was advised against it by veteran politician Constantine Karamanlis, who returned from exile to head a civilian government.

After his triumphal win in the November election, Karamanlis called for a plebiscite on the monarchy. Constantine wasn't allowed in the country to campaign, but the result was unambiguous and widely accepted: 69.2% voted in favor of a republic.

To his final days, Constantine, while accepting that Greece was now a republic, continued to style himself as king of Greece and his children as princes and princesses even though Greece no longer recognized titles of nobility.

For most of his years in exile, he lived in London and was said to be especially close to his second cousin, Charles, now King Charles III.

“The eventful course of former King Constantine marked and was marked by turbulent times in the country’s modern history,” Mitsotakis said in a statement. “By wounds that were however healed by the choices, the free conscience and the maturity of our people. But also by his own discreet, it is true, stance throughout the post-dictatorship years.”

Constantine’s death marked the “formal epilogue of a chapter that had definitively closed with the 1974 referendum,” Mitsotakis said, extending his condolences to the former king’s family. History, he said, “will judge the Constantine of public life fairly and strictly. Because the person Constantine is already accompanied by sadness and respect in the face of the loss of life itself.”

While it took Constantine 14 years to return to his country, briefly, to bury his mother, Queen Frederica, in 1981, he multiplied his visits thereafter and, from 2010, made his home in Greece.

There were continued disputes: In 1994, the then socialist government stripped him of his nationality and expropriated what remained of the royal family’s property. Constantine sued at the European Court of Human Rights and was awarded 12 million euros in 2002, a fraction of the 500 million he had sought.

Along with his wife, he is survived by five children, Alexia, Pavlos, Nikolaos, Theodora and Philippos, and nine grandchildren.

Elena Becatoros, The Associated Press