George, Marina & the 1934 Royal Wedding

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Back in August we covered the premature death of Prince George, the Duke of Kent in 1942 while flying an airplane during World War II, but today we’re going to cover a slightly happier time in his life: his marriage to Princess Marina of Greece. Marina’s introduction to the House of Windsor in 1934 and her continued residence in England with her children during her widowhood meant that when Prince Philip married the future Queen Elizabeth in 1947, there was yet another senior member of the Royal Family with strong ties to the Greek Royal Family.

Glamorous, strong-willed and loyal, Marina was a popular figure in her day, residing in Kensington Palace and carrying out engagements on behalf of the monarch. In her time, she saw four reigns and represented one of the last matches between two “royals” the Windsors saw.

Marina was born on December 13, 1906 in Athens, Greece at Nicholas Palace. Her mother was Grand Duchess Elena Vladimirovna of Russia, a granddaughter of Tsar Alexander II, and her father was Prince Nicholas of Greece, a son of King George I of Greece, who was himself a son of King Christian IX of Denmark and brother to Alexandra of Denmark, wife of the British Edward VII. It was a lofty lineage if there ever was one, making her a relation of nearly every royal house in Europe through blood lines or marriage.

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Nicholas with Marina

Marina was the youngest of three daughters and would be her parents’ last child. Her elder sisters, Olga and Elizabeth, were born in 1903 and 1904, respectively, but it was Marina who ruled the roost. Her biographer, Jennifer Ellis, wrote:

“Like all strong-willed, lively children, she was often in conflict with authority. She had … tremendous force of character. It made her the leader among her sisters and cousins. In her determination not to be left out of anything, she had to take life at a tremendous pace, always trying to catch up with her others, and usually succeeding through sheer willpower. She learnt to swim at three by hurling herself into the swimming pool in imitation of Olga’s dive. She learnt to ride by galloping off on a horse far too big for her in pursuit of Elizabeth.”

She was a bit cheeky, too. Her grandmother, Queen Olga, once asked her why she said her evening prayers in English instead of Greek, and she answered: “I’ve arranged it with God. I told Him I liked to talk to Him in English best, and He said, ‘Please yourself Marina. All languages are the same to me.'” The real answer may well have been that she and her sisters were raised by an English nanny.

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Marina came to England for the first time in 1910 on the occasion of George V’s accession to the throne after the death of Edward VII. Still only a toddler, she had tea at Buckingham Palace and met George and his wife, Queen Mary, who was also her godmother. The same visit also included a trip to Sandringham House in Norfolk to meet her great-aunt, Queen Alexandra.

Unfortunately the passage of Edward VII ushered in a new era of European politics. When World War I swept through the continent it drew firm lines in the sand and put uninvolved countries in the position of choosing sides – Greece was no exception and in 1917, King Constantine abdicated and went into exile with the rest of his family, save  one son left behind to rule. Nicholas, Olga and their daughters moved to Switzerland, dividing their time between Zurich, Lucerne and St. Moritz. While her parents felt the displacement more keenly, Marina enjoyed her time in Switzerland and honed her skills as a painter, spending hours training with a professional art teacher to perfect her water colors.

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Marina with her mother and sisters

The following year the family was touched by the brutal assassinations of Tsar Nicholas II, the Tsarina Alexandra and their five children in Russia, but it was the 1920 death of King Constantine’s son, Alexander, which brought about immediate change. Left behind to rule in his father’s stead, the young man had been miserable for the three years of his reign and died by freak accident when a pet monkey bit him. The crisis prompted an election that brought the Greek Royal Family back home, but it was a short-lived reunion. Constantine was forced to step down once again in 1922 in favor of his son, George II, and died in Palermo, Italy in 1923.

It was during this brief window that Prince Philip was born to his parents, Prince Andrew and Alice of Battenberg. It was also during this time that Marina struck up a correspondence with Princess Juliana of the Netherlands, who would ascend the Dutch throne in 1948. Finally, just a few months before resuming exile, Marina visited England once more in the summer of 1922. Now 15, she was in a far better position to understand the dynamics of her British relations. She once again met George, Mary and Alexandra, but this time she was there just a few months after Princess Mary married Henry, Viscount Lascelles.

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After Constantine stepped down for a second and last time, Nicholas and Olga followed the rest of the family into exile. They took their daughters for an extended stay in Italy, before deciding to spend the 1923 season in England. Reportedly, part of their motivation was the hopes that their eldest daughter, Olga, would catch the eye of George V’s eldest son, David, the Prince of Wales. Indeed, the whirlwind visit was a success for Olga, but not because of David. Instead, she and Prince Paul of Yugoslavia became engaged by the summer and she married him in Belgrade that autumn.

Before a year at finishing school to make up for an uneven education, Marina joined Olga and Paul in England for the birth of their first child in the summer of 1924. Paul was a close friend of Prince Albert, the Duke of York, and it was his wife, Elizabeth, the Duchess of York, who offered them a residence for the season at White Lodge, Richmond. Despite the interlude, Marina spent most of her time in Paris with her parents and sister, Elizabeth.

Nevertheless, she continued to England frequently. Paul and Olga were there again in the summer of 1927 and Marina joined them for yet another season. Now 20, she had grown into a striking, sophisticated and fashionable young woman who was well-aware of her lineage and extremely reserved. The entire effect briefly struck the fancy of the Prince of Wales, which naturally caused excitement for Marina’s family, hopeful she would become the next queen consort, but he moved on quickly and all was for naught.

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Marina and her sisters

In 1933, Elizabeth began a courtship with Count Carl Theodor of Törring-Jettenbach, known as Toto, and it was that summer in which Marina finally met another of the King’s sons, Prince George. It wasn’t an immediate romance – indeed, George was reported to have found Marina too “bossy” at first. Nevertheless, they struck up an easy friendship and met several more times that summer. In the autumn, Elizabeth and Toto were engaged and in January 1934 the two were married.

When Marina was back in town that spring, George called on her at Claridge’s, where she was staying with Paul and Olga. As one of George and Marina’s biographers, Christoper Warwick, wrote:

“At length Princess Paul [Olga] returned to the hotel, but without her sister. Marina, she explained, had gone to the hairdressers. As the hours ticked by, it became abundantly clear that George had no other engagements that day, and was in no great hurry to leave. When at long last Marina did appear, Prince George’s delight was all too obvious, not only to the princess herself but also to Olga and Paul.”

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The romance on, the two went to lunches, dinners, movies, dances and the theatre around London and even visited David at his home at Fort Belvedere. George said at the time:

“She is the one woman with whom I could be happy to spend the rest of my life. We laugh at the same sort of thing. She beats me at most games and doesn’t give a damn how fast I drive when I take her out in the car.”

When Marina’s family spent August in Bohinj (Slovenia), George joined them there for hunting, fishing and relaxing company. It was one night during the holiday that George proposed marriage and Marina accepted. The two immediately told Marina’s family and then traveled straight away to Balmoral to visit King George and Queen Mary, who were delighted. The news was formally announced on August 28 to a British public eager for another royal wedding. With Princess Mary having married in 1922 and the Duke of York in 1923, it had been 11 years since a senior level royal couple had wed and while it was problematic the Prince of Wales remained a bachelor, this was still welcome news.

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George was the brightest of his brothers and in many ways captured many of their best traits. Colorful, social, witty and democratic, he was fond of jazz, energetic and charming. At the age of 14, in the year 1916, he followed his two elder brothers into the Navy against his will, though his mother made a rare intercession on his behalf to get him out of it. Notably, she saw the most of herself in George thanks to their shared passion for the arts. The King prevailed and George was sent to the junior naval college at Osborne on the Isle of Wight. For the next 13 years, George applied himself to a profession he detested so much that it affected his health, causing insomnia and digestive issues. Finally, in 1929, he was allowed to step down and in 1932 became attached to the Foreign Office, the first time a prince took on civil work.

Unlike his future wife, George’s upbringing wasn’t quite as sheltered. In the late 1920s, he took up a relationship with an American socialite named Kiki Whitney Preston who introduced the Prince to heroin, cocaine, morphine and bisexuality. It wasn’t until David confronted her and persuaded her to leave England that the relationship ended, and it was David himself to saw George through his rehabilitation from drug addiction. David wrote to his then-mistress, Freda Dudley Ward:

“The cure has reached a rather tricky stage … I’m carrying out the work of doctor, jailer and detective combined. The old saying ‘Boys will be boys’ is alright until you get too old and should know the form better. He seems to lack all sense of knowing what is so obviously the wrong thing to do.”

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It is also entirely possible that during this period George fathered an illegitimate child. In 1926 a woman named Violet Evans gave birth to a son after a brief relationship with the Prince. The child was adopted and renamed Michael Temple Canfield. In 1953, irony of ironies, he married Lee Bouvier, younger sister of Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy Onassis. After Canfield and Lee divorced, he married Laura Charteris in 1960 and ended up at the same luncheon as David – then the Duke of Windsor – and his wife, Wallis. David couldn’t stop staring at Canfield through the meal until finally Laura asked him what the matter was. “Yes,” answered David. “I am certain your husband is my brother’s son.”

Another notable relationship was with the romance novelist Barbara Cartland, who claimed that he was the father of her daughter, Raine. And Raine, of course, would eventually become Countess Spencer, stepmother to none other than Diana, Princess of Wales.

As worrying as that behavior was for a man in his position, what was perhaps even riskier for public appearances were the homosexual relationships he was conducting. At one point George V had to appoint emissaries to travel to Paris and break into the apartment of one of George’s former lovers to retrieve personal effects that could embarrass the Royal Family.

Such was the man to whom Marina became engaged in 1934, when she was 27 and he was 31. In the short-term, however, Marina became an overnight celebrity. When she returned to Paris she was mobbed by invitations and press attention. She gave interviews from her parents’ apartment, was seen out and about at parties and was photographed smoking a cigarette on the street, causing a micro-scandal since princesses were rarely, if ever, seen smoking. David responded to the furor with:

“It has been my experience that the pleased incredulity with which the public reacts to the elementary demonstrations on the part of royalty that they are, after all, like other people, is matched by the public’s firm refusal to accept them as such.”

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When the couple reunited in England in September, Marina and her family were greeted with total fanfare by the British public. “I am so overwhelmed,” Marina said. “I had not expected this wonderfully generous reception.” It was then, as Marina waved, that everyone got a good first look at the Princess’s engagement ring, a sapphire flanked by diamonds. The public excitement didn’t abate, with cheering crowds following them from Balmoral to London to the countryside. On October 12, the King bestowed on his son the title of Duke of Kent, a title revived from Queen Victoria’s father.

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On the occasion of Marina returning briefly to Paris before the wedding, she issued a brief public statement:

“I would like the people of England to share in some way my great happiness on the occasion of my engagement to Prince George. As you know, my years of exile have taught me how much unhappiness there is in the world. Although I should be happy to think that the preparations for my wedding were in some small measure giving employment to those who need it, I should be more than happy for the unemployed, and particularly for their children, to receive any money which has been intended for the purchase of wedding gifts for me.”

As the wedding loomed, however, there was one person who was wistful and that was David. As the Duchess of Windsor later wrote:

“As I watched the Prince … it seemed to me that a sadness began to envelop him. He and his younger brother were very close, and the bonds of blood were strengthened by an unusual kinship of spirit … Before his wedding, Prince George was [David’s house] almost every weekend. I rather suspected that the Prince, who was to be best man … thought it was just as well to keep a close eye on the bridegroom-to-be until he had been safely led to the altar.”

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It is perhaps notable, then, that 1934 marked not only the year that George and Marina were married, but the year that David began his infamous relationship with Wallis Simpson. He was in need of company and, more to the point, in need of family.

The wedding took place on November 29, a grey and rainy day in London. Even so, crowds gathered along the procession route from Buckingham Palace to Westminster Abbey, where the ceremony was due to take place. At 10:30 in the morning, Marina arrived at the church and was met by her eight bridesmaids, one of whom was the eight-year-old Princess Elizabeth of York, the future Elizabeth II. Marina wore a gown of white and silver covered in embroidered English roses with a long veil and a diamond tiara presented to her by the City of London. After the ceremony, the couple traveled in the Glass Coach from the Abbey back to Buckingham Palace, ecstatic crowds cheering them along the way.

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George and Marina embarked on a long honeymoon in the Caribbean before returning to London in April 1935. They leased a house in Belgravia and, perhaps surprisingly, it was George who took the lead in renovations and decorations. As one guest once reported:

“Once when I complimented the Duchess on the dinner she laughed. ‘I am really a very bad hostess. I must confess that I didn’t know what we were going to eat tonight until the food appeared. My husband chooses the dinner and the win – and the flowers and everything else. He enjoys doing it, and so I always leave the household affairs to him. I let him make all the decisions over furniture and decorations. He has a wonderful sense of color and design.”

In many ways, Marina was perhaps the closest thing her generation of royal women had to a style icon. The Duchess of York was matronly by the 1930s and hardly known as a fashionista, while there was no Princess of Wales to lead the way. Smoking, wide-brimmed hats and trousers all became in vogue thanks to Marina’s influence, while offhand remarks she said about likes and dislikes started trends. It was not unlike the influence of Diana in the 1990s or the Duchess of Cambridge today, however Marina existed without the power of a 24/7 media.

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When Marina returned from her honeymoon she was pregnant and she gave birth to a son, Edward, on October 9. For those of you remember the fanfare that accompanied the births of Prince George and Princess Charlotte in 2013 and 2015, respectively, perhaps you will appreciate the scrum of reporters who camped outside of the Kents’ house in Belgravia. The night before the birth, George came outside to let them know coffee was being served and that breakfast would be available in the morning. “I do hope it’ll be over soon,” he said. “I don’t think I could stand much more of this.”

Just a month after Edward’s birth, Marina was again in public for the wedding of George’s younger brother, Prince Henry, Duke of Gloucester and Lady Alice Montagu-Douglas-Scott, daughter of the Duke of Buccleuch. The marriage brought another royal duchess into the fold alongside Marina and the Duchess of York, but it was still Marina who fascinated the public.

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Marina with Edward

The following year saw near-constant drama with the death of George V in January, the unfortunate reign of David as he became Edward VIII and the Abdication Crisis in December. By the end of the year, George stood witness as David signed an instrument of abdication, David  left England for Austria and the Duke of York ascended the throne was King George VI. Marina, meanwhile, gave birth to Princess Alexandra, on Christmas Day. The Kents had an interesting relationship with David and Wallis – in the two years between the their marriage and the abdication, the couples continued to socialize, even after others in the RF refused to countenance Wallis’s presence. In fact, George and Marina mostly liked Wallis.

It wasn’t until after the abdication that relations soured as David was angered by the RF’s refusal to bestow on Wallis the HRH with her title after their marriage, or when negotiations over money grew tense. Most of that was between David and George VI, as well as Queen Mary, but at the end of the day, George had to side with the family against his beloved brother. In 1937 when the Kents were on holiday in Tyrol, Marina refused to visit Wallis, so George went by himself, only to have Wallis return the insult by staying in her rooms. The brothers socialized alone, and it was the one of the few real incident in their relationship. From then on, the two couples stayed in touch, even as Britain careened towards World War II.

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Marina with Alexandra

In 1939, George was appointed to take over Governor General of Australia and the Kents prepared to move to Canberra. Australia was overjoyed by the prospect of the glamorous couple joining them, as was George for that matter, but Marina was decidedly less so. The idea of being so far away from her family, not to mention Australia in the 1930s wasn’t quite London, Paris or the other European hot spots with which she was accustomed, did little to inspire her. In the end it fell apart when Britain and Germany went to war that September.

As with most European royalty, this meant a painful conflict of loyalty for Marina and her family. Her sister, Elizabeth, and she were on opposing sides of the war, while her mother was in a German occupied town outside of Athens and her sister, Elizabeth, found herself under house arrest in Kenya due to Paul’s role in Yugoslavian politics. Marina dedicated herself to her public role in Britain, including supporting the armed forces and hospitals, and making public appeals for service, while George and his brother, Henry, saw combat.

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In the middle of the war, on July 4, 1942, Marina gave birth to her third child, Michael, and due to the date, they asked President Roosevelt to serve as godfather. Shockingly and tragically, George died in a plane crash only seven weeks later. The circumstances were mysterious and confusing to the public – you can read more about it here.

The entire RF was devastated, but Marina was nearly incapacitated by grief. George VI and Queen Mary were as supportive as they could be, but Marina wasn’t particularly close with the rest of the Windsors, particularly Queen Elizabeth. Even so, the King was kind to his sister-in-law and worked with Winston Churchill for her sister, Olga, to leave house arrest in Kenya and come to England. Though her presence prompted comment in Parliament, it was crucial to helping bring Marina back to life.

She spent all of her time at Coppins, a house in Buckinghamshire that she and George had moved to at the start of the War. It was here where she continued to raise her children and receive guests, and from where she planned her work with the charitable organizations she patronized. Her seven-year-old son, Edward, was now the Duke of Kent, and technically it was he who owned Coppins thanks to British inheritance laws.

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Edward was sent to Ludgrove in 1943 and eventually Eton College in 1951, which he later left for Le Rosay, a boarding school in Rolle, Switzlerland. In typical Windsor fashion, from there he went to Sandhurst and joined the Royal Scots Dragoon Guards. In 1961, at York Minster, he married Katherine Worsley, a commoner of whom Marina didn’t initially approve. After delaying her consent to the match, when she eventually saw the relationship was long-term and serious, she supported the eventual wedding. The couple went on to have four children, three of whom are still living. Edward and Katharine are the current Duke and Duchess of Kent and still carry out engagements on behalf of the Queen.

With Edward’s marriage, however, Marina lost her title. She was no longer The Duchess of Kent, but rather the dowager, and with that came the need to give up Coppins to her son and daughter-in-law.

Her daughter, Alexandra, married another commoner, the Hon. Angus Ogilvy, at Westminster Abbey in 1963. Again, Marina was reportedly disappointed, which points to her rather unique position within the British Royal Family. Unlike her sisters-in-law, Queen Elizabeth (the Queen Mother) and the Duchess of Gloucester, Marina was a princess in her own right and her own marriage had been an actual “royal wedding” in the sense that it was between two royals. Alexandra, pretty and popular, had been discussed as a potential match for various European princes and Marina had been hopeful her daughter would choose one of them. Instead, she married Angus, who declined an earldom from the Queen, and their two children carry no title. To-date, Alexandra is still a working member of the RF who carries out engagements on behalf of her cousin.

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Marina and Alexandra in 1955

Marina’s youngest, Prince Michael, married Baroness Marie Christine von Reibnitz in a civil ceremony in Austria in 1978. Marie Christine is better known as Princess Michael of Kent, who you may have recently seen headlines about given her choice to wear a brooch many deemed racist to the Queen’s Christmas luncheon last month. Marie Christine was both a Catholic and divorced at the time the wedding and as such Michael was forced to give up his place in the succession. This was later reversed in 2015 after the Succession to the Crown Act of 2013. The couple have two children.

When George died in 1942, Marina’s financial situation changed. She was a left a relatively modest inheritance from her husband, but his finances were those of a man expecting to live several more decades. It would be wildly untrue to claim Marina was by any means hard up, but certainly she was not as securely well-off as many of her in-laws. George VI and Queen Mary both gave Marina and her children money to help offset costs, as did Queen Elizabeth when she ascended the throne in 1952. Separate and apart, the annual allowance that she was allocated at the start of the Queen’s reign was enough to live in London comfortably, a situation helped by the grace and favor apartments she received in Kensington Palace. She took over Apartment 1, situated next to Apartment 1A, which Princess Margaret took upon her marriage to the Anthony Armstrong-Jones, Earl of Snowdon, and which is today used by the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge.

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Marina died unexpectedly on August 27, 1968 at the age of 67 in Kensington Palace of a brain tumor. Her funeral was held at St. George’s Chapel at Windsor and she is buried within the royal mausoleum at Frogmore House. Notably, her funeral was the last royal event attended by the Duke of Windsor.

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