June 10, 2010
The Greco-Roman egghead view was that events do not occur at random according to the whims of the Gods, but according to a repetitive cycle. Just as life followed birth and death followed decline, monarchy decayed into tyranny, leading to aristocracy, which decayed into oligarchy, which led in turn to selective democracy, followed by anarchy and finally back to monarchy. However one looks at it, it all begins and ends with monarchy, a very good thing as far as I’m concerned. When I was young and dumb, I flirted with republicanism, but then a very wise Greco-German proved to me that the worst King is better than the best president, at least in the highly politicized climate of the Olive Republic.
Just look at the tranquility of the political situation in Scandinavian countries, in Holland, Belgium (a split in half nation) and right here in merry old England. Even Gordon Brown saw this and retired with his dignity intact. Almost. Most historical people began with a King. Human nature being what it is, it caused decline and eventual barbarism, but then monarchy returned. Monarchy encouraged refined manners, the rise of politeness, and opened up our true nature as rational, social and moral beings. Wise guys like Rousseau praised noble savages, but he was pretty much of a savage himself, starting with his own children.
Though modern Greece has been an intermittent monarchy since 1830, and although the monarchy was abolished by a government in 1974 after a referendum that was rigged in everything but name—King Constantine was called a collaborator with the military junta that ceased power in 1967, yet he was the first to mount a coup against it and left the country as a result—there is no realistic prospect of its restoration. The Greek royal family had to endure endless vilifications while political hacks led the nation to the ruin of today. Greek politicians fear the King and they fear monarchy even more. Presidents can be appointed and expected to pay back, Kings are not and do not.
And it gets worse. Vilification aside, the Greek royal family’s lands were confiscated—lands that had been bought by the family in the early 19th century and not handed to them by a grateful nation—and after judicial review in the highest court of Europe, appraised at one hundredth of their value. The Greek King gave the funds to a Greek charity and has never complained. The fact that the Greek King and his family have always acted impeccably when the nation has been in danger does not seem to matter. Envy is a Greek trait, and the envious among them cheered at the unfairness of it all. Basically, the Greek left never forgave the present King’s father and mother for fighting against the communist guerrillas who tried to take power through force of arms back in the Forties. Greek journalists are, like everywhere, men and women of the left. Punto basta, as they say in the land of pasta.
Which brings me to the present. The King is now planning to move to Greece and last week he celebrated his 70th birthday. His son, Prince Pavlos and his wife, Princess Marie-Chantal, threw a wonderful dinner to celebrate it. Their house is near the river and has a garden to end all gardens. A clear-sided tent had two long tables allowing intimacy, and drinks beforehand were indoors, where some of us could rub shoulders with the royals. And royals were there galore. The Queen and Prince Philip, the Queen of Denmark and Prince Henrik, the Queen of Spain and her son Prince Felipe, the Queen of Greece, of course, and all her family. Princess Anne, the Duke of Gloucester, Prince Michael and Marina of Greece, Princess Alexandra, and Prince Andrew, in a particularly jovial and pleasant mood.
The first speaker was Prince Pavlos, who spoke movingly about his father and the dignity he has kept throughout a volatile period, and I was happy he mentioned that the King as Crown Prince had won the first Greek Olympic gold medal in the post war Rome Olympics. Then came Pavlos’s young son, who in his childish voice told his grandfather how he and his brothers wished him a happy birthday, er—then he got kicked by his sister—and added, and my sisters too. That got a big laugh and I thought to myself, there goes a real Greek. Girls don’t count in the land of macho and moustaches. Queen Anna Maria followed and then it was the King’s turn. Seated next to Queen Elizabeth—on her other side was my very old friend Nicholas Soames—Constantine talked about the “spring of my senility,” and made us all feel included. It was as graceful as it was touching, and he mentioned Princess Chantal of Hanover, who was also celebrating her birthday.
Who else was there? I’ve already done all the name dropping I will ever do, but it’s not every day that a King turns 70 and does it in such style. Bob and Chantal Miller, the Carringtons, the Bismarcks, the Frosts, the Hoares, many Greeks, and little ole me. Afterwards I had a drink with Prince Nikolaos of Greece and as I walked back home I thought what a sign of affection for the Greek King Queen Elizabeth and the rest of the royals showed towards a very nice man who has always deserved better. Oh yes, I almost forgot. I did not see who dropped coffee on the Queen’s dress, but I sure have my suspicions.