Childhood & Early Life
Born on July 19, 1890, at the royal villa at Tatoi, near Athens, George was the eldest son of Crown Prince Constantine of Greece and Princess Sophia of Prussia. He had two younger brothers, Alexander of Greece and Paul of Greece, and three sisters, Princess Helen of Greece and Denmark, Princess Irene of Greece and Denmark, and Princess Katherine of Greece and Denmark.
George wanted to serve in the military. When he was 18 years old, he received training from the Prussian Guard and subsequently took part in the Balkan Wars as part of the 1st Greek Infantry.
His grandfather and namesake, George I, was assassinated in March 1913, after which his father, Constantine I, became the king of Greece, and George, being his eldest son, was named the crown prince.
In June 1917, a coup overthrew Constantine. George subsequently left Greece with his father, and his younger brother, Alexander, was made the king by Prime Minister Eleftherios Venizelos, a staunch Republican.
In October 1920, Alexander passed away after an infection due to a monkey bite. In November, Venizelos was removed from power following his loss in the general election. This prompted the return of Constantine and George.
During the Greco-Turkish War (1919-22), George held the posts of a major and later a major general. After Greece’s defeat in the war, the military compelled Constantine to step down.
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On September 27, 1922, George II became the king of Greece. However, his first reign did not last long.
An unsuccessful coup took place in October 1923, after which the Revolutionary Committee requested him to leave Greece. George did so, and while he did not abdicate the throne, the newly-formed Second Hellenic Republic formally removed him from his position as the head of the state in March 1924, revoked his Greek nationality, and seized all his property.
Thus, his second exile began. He spent some time in Romania before permanently relocating to Britain.
Greece was in utter political turmoil between 1924 and 1935. Ultimately, General Georgios Kondylis, a former Venizelist, joined forces with the monarchists and overthrew the government in October 1935. Subsequently, a plebiscite was held, and the monarchy was restored.
George II came back to Greece on 25 November. In the ensuing few months, with the deaths of several key political and military figures in Greece, including Kondylis, there was more political uncertainty in the country.
This troubling period led to the emergence of Ioannis Metaxas. On August 4, 1936, George supported the formation of dictatorship or the "4th of August Regime".
The king ran a right-wing regime together with Prime Minister Metaxas, which put many political opponents in jail, and strict censorship was implemented. The parliament was dismissed, the constitution was scrapped, and books were burned.
The Greek public did not already like the aloof and cold George II that much. After his endorsement of the Metaxas regime, he was downright hated.
Although Greece had important economic and military relations with Germany, George harboured strong pro-British sentiments. Then World War II broke out, and Italy invaded Greece in October 1940.
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Greece was able to defend its territories against the Italians, and even took control of the southern half of Albania. However, the Italian retreat prompted Germany to enter the war and attack Greece in April 1941 through Bulgaria, which had also joined the Axis Powers.
The Greeks and the British Expeditionary Force were overwhelmed by the German invasion. Greece surrendered to Germany on 20 April and later to Italy, and the country subsequently came under the control of German, Italian, and Bulgarian forces.
Two days before the Greek surrender, on 18 April, Prime Minister Alexandros Koryzis committed suicide. This effectively made George the de facto leader of the government.
George II could have established a broader government of national consensus and terminate the highly-despised dictatorial regime. Instead, he chose to become the dictatorial leader of the government. Finally, the erstwhile governor of the Bank of Greece, Emmanouil Tsouderos, was appointed the prime minister on 21 April 1941.
The king moved from mainland Greece to Crete on 23 April 1941. However, following an air raid by the Luftwaffe on the island, the king relocated to Egypt. Later, he went back to Britain. His departure from Egypt was apparently requested by King Farouk of Egypt and Farouk's pro-Italian ministers.
George II maintained his position as the internationally recognized head of state of Greece. He had the support of the exiled government and Greek forces serving in the Middle East.
On October 28, 1941, during a radio broadcast, George made a reluctant proclamation that the "4th of August Regime” had been abolished. In February 1942, he announced that articles 5, 6, 10, 12, 14, 20 and 95 of the 1911 constitution would be reinstated.
He had always been a paranoid and anxious man and thought that the British were planning not to let him go back to Greece. While this was clearly not the case, the Greeks themselves, especially with the Communists in charge, did not particularly want him back.
Following the general election of March 1946, the monarchist parties came to power. They subsequently held a plebiscite on 1 September in which apparently 68.4% voted for the restoration of the monarchy on an 86.6% turnout. However, it is widely believed that this referendum was rigged. George II returned to Greece on September 26, 1946, and reigned for the next few months until his death in April 1947.
Death & Succession
George II was found unconscious in his room at the Royal Palace in Athens on April 1, 1947. He died the same day, at the age of 56, due to arteriosclerosis. After the news was made public, many believed that this was an April Fool's Day joke. His funeral was organised at the Orthodox Metropolitan Cathedral of Athens on 6 April. He is interred at the royal burial grounds near the Tatoi Palace.
As George died childless, his brother Paul ascended the Greek throne after him. The last Greek king was Paul’s son Constantine II, who was removed from power in June 1973, and the monarchy was subsequently abolished.