King George II of Greece
George II (Greek: Γεώργιος Βʹ, 1890–1947) was the eldest son of Prince Constantine of Greece and his wife, Princess Sophia of Prussia. George pursued a military career, training with the Prussian Guard at the age of 18, then serving in the Balkan Wars (together with Metaxas) as a member of the 1st Greek Infantry. When his grandfather was assassinated in 1913, his father became King Constantine I and George became the crown prince.
During the Greek invasion of Asia Minor, Crown Prince George served as a colonel, and later as a major general in the war against Turkey. When the Turks defeated Greece at the Battle of Dumlupinar, the military forced the abdication of Constantine, and George succeeded to the Greek throne on 27 September 1922.
However, a republic was proclaimed in Greece in 1924 and he was officially deposed and stripped of his Greek nationality, and his property was confiscated. Yet in autumn 1935, General Georgios Kondylis arranged a plebiscite both to approve his government and to bring an end to the republic. 98% of the votes supported restoration of the monarchy, so George returned to Greek soil on November 25.
Almost immediately he and Kondylis disagreed over the terms of a general amnesty the King wanted to declare, and George appointed an interim Prime Minister, Konstantinos Demertzis. New elections were held in January, which resulted in a hung parliament with the Communists (who were naturally anti-monarchist) holding the balance of power. A series of unexpected deaths among the better-known politicians (including Kondylis and Demertzis), as well as the uncertain political situation, led to the rise to power of veteran army officer Ioannis Metaxas.
Metaxas had seized power after asserting that the nation was on the verge of being taken over by the communists, and George II gave him carte blanche to suspend parliament and rule by decree, effectively establishing a dictatorship – the Fourth of August regime.
In fact, George’s second reign was marked by the ascendancy of Metaxas. George signed decrees that dissolved the parliament, banned political parties, abolished the constitution, suspended constitutional rights and aided Metaxas to establish a quasi-fascist regime in which political opponents were arrested and strict censorship was imposed.
The regime almost functioned as a duumvirate of King George II and General Metaxas. “We need the Royal throne as a symbol and guarantee of national unity”, Metaxas always said. And the King needed Metaxas for his formidable leadership abilities. Although the King’s support of Metaxas put the throne in a controversial position, George thoroughly condoned the dictatorship and worked closely with the Archigos throughout the years of the dictatorship.
Despite the strong economic and military ties of the Metaxas government to Nazi Germany, King George had pro-British feelings at the start of World War II. On 28 October 1940 Metaxas rejected an Italian ultimatum demanding the stationing of Italian troops in Greece, and Italy invaded, starting the Greco-Italian War. The Greeks mounted a successful defense and eventually occupied the southern half of Albania (then an Italian protectorate).
Metaxas died in January 1941, yet the King did not dissolve the 4th of August regime. On the contrary, the regime survived under the King’s auspicies until April, when the Germans invaded Greece. On April 23 George and the government left the Greek mainland for Crete, but after the German airborne attack on the island he was evacuated to Egypt. Once again he went into exile to Great Britain.
Although the King would later effectively renounce the Metaxas regime in a radio broadcast, a large section of the people and many politicians rejected his return on account of his support of the dictatorship, and he was soon succeeded by his younger brother, Paul. On account of his many exiles, he is said to have remarked that “the most important tool for a King of Greece is a suitcase.”