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The Greek Royal Who Said No to 3 European Thrones

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Prince Christopher of Greece and Denmark (1888-1940). Portrait by Philip de Laszlo.

Prince Christopher of Greece and Denmark (1888-1940). Portrait by Philip de Laszlo.

Prince Christopher of Greece and Denmark’s Family Connections

Prince Christopher of Greece and Denmark was born on 10th August 1888 in the Pavlovsk Palace near St. Petersburg, Russia. His Danish-born father, William (Vilhelm), was King George I of Greece and the Hellenes. George was one of the brothers of Alexandra, Princess of Wales, later queen consort, and Marie Feodorovna of Russia, who was tsarina or empress between 1881 and 1894. Christopher’s mother was Grand Duchess Olga Konstaninova of Russia. Her paternal grandfather was Tsar Nicholas I of Russia.

Olga bore seven children between 1868 and 1882; their seventh child Andrew, or Andreas, was the father of Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh (1921-2021). Christopher was the unexpected baby of the family. When he arrived in summer 1888 his eldest sibling Prince Konstantine was 20 years old and attending university in Germany.

1892: Le Petit Journal marks the silver jubilee of Christopher's parents King George I and Queen Olga of Greece and the Hellenes.

1892: Le Petit Journal marks the silver jubilee of Christopher's parents King George I and Queen Olga of Greece and the Hellenes.

The Young Prince Christopher’s Life

The royal children were raised in the Greek Orthodox faith and George I appointed noted scholars and tutors to teach them. Like his siblings, Christopher was multilingual from an early age. He spoke French, English, Russian, Italian, Danish and Greek. Christopher loved music, and following years of tuition he was an accomplished pianist. If he hadn't been royal, he would have probably been a professional musician. That life was out of reach, so from age 18 he served in the Hellenes military, and he saw active duty during the 1912-1913 Balkan Wars.

He fell in love in the early 1910s with his cousin Alexandra of Fife, granddaughter of Edward VII and Queen Alexandra through their daughter Louise. Christopher and Alexandra became unofficially engaged, but there was opposition from their families, and they parted. Alexandra married another royal cousin Prince Arthur of Connaught, in 1913.

Princess Alexandra of Fife and Christopher were secretly engaged until their elders found out and ended the engagement.

Princess Alexandra of Fife and Christopher were secretly engaged until their elders found out and ended the engagement.

Nothing under the sun would induce me to accept a Kingdom. A crown is too heavy a thing to be put on lightly. It has to be worn by those born to that destiny, but that any man should willingly take on the responsibility, not being constrained by duty to do so, passes my comprehension.

— Prince Christopher of Greece and Denmark.

Prince of Greece and Denmark, King of Nowhere

Christopher, amiable and without a full-time occupation, was approached by representatives of Portugal, Lithuania and Albania to see if he would agree to be their king. He declined each offer because he did not want to be a monarch. This was wise as the fates of the men who did accept the roles weren’t ideal.

Portugal deposed King Manuel Il in 1910 and eventually reinstated him in 1919, but his reign lasted for less than a month. Portugal has been a republic since. Manuel spent his two exiles in England. To the Portuguese, he was either “the patriot” or “the unfortunate.”

Albania needed a king in 1914. Prince William of Wied accepted the throne but only reigned for six months before he was forced into exile in the early weeks of World War I. The Albanians officially ended their monarchy in 1925.

The Kingdom of Lithuania was established in 1918 with Duke William of Urach as King Mindaugas II on the throne. A republic was declared within a few months, and the king did not visit Lithuania once during his reign.

Marriage to Nancy Leeds

On New Year’s Day 1920 in Vevey, Switzerland, Christopher married a wealthy American widow and divorcee named Nancy Stewart Worthington Leeds. The couple had become engaged in 1914, but the First World War delayed their marriage. After her conversion to the Greek Orthodox faith, Nancy was formally known as Princess Anastasia. The marriage made him a celebrity in America.

Nancy’s money helped to bankroll the Greek royal family during the war and the seesaw of exiles and brief reigns of various family members. She was diagnosed with cancer within months of their wedding, and she passed away in August 1923 in London.

William Leeds, her son from her 1st marriage, married Princess Xenia Georgievna of Russia; she was Christopher’s niece through his sister Maria.

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Prince Christopher and Princess Anastasia (the former Nancy Leeds).

Prince Christopher and Princess Anastasia (the former Nancy Leeds).

Princess Francoise of Orleans, Prince Christopher's 2nd wife and the mother of Prince Michael.

Princess Francoise of Orleans, Prince Christopher's 2nd wife and the mother of Prince Michael.

2nd Marriage: Princess Francoise of Orleans

Princess Francoise of Orleans met Christopher at her sister Anne’s wedding to the Duke of Apulia.

Christopher and Francoise were married on the 11th February 1929 in Palermo. She did not follow custom and convert to Greek Orthodoxy; she remained Catholic. Their only child Prince Michael of Greece was born in 1939; he was raised in the Greek Orthodox faith.

Christopher’s memoirs were published by Hurst and Beckett, London, in 1938.

He was unimpressed by Anna Anderson, who claimed to be the long-lost Grand Duchess Anastasia of Russia, daughter of Tsar Nicholas II and Tsarina Alexandra Feodorovna. He conceded that her story was believed by several relatives of his, but he noted: “... she was unable to speak Russian, which the Grand Duchess Anastasia, like all the Czar’s children, had talked fluently − and would only converse in German.”

He battled a lung abscess in the last weeks of 1939 into the new year. Francoise was at his bedside when his death came on the 21st January 1940; he was only 51 years old. Their son had just celebrated his 1st birthday.

Prince Michael of Greece and Denmark.

Prince Michael of Greece and Denmark.

Laid to Rest in the Tatoi Palace Cemetery, Near Athens

Christopher's nephew King George II ordered Greek shops to close on the day of the funeral, had flags flown at half-mast, and he attended a service at the Metropolitan Cathedral of Athens. A service was held in New York at the Holy Trinity Cathedral.

The repatriated Prince Christopher of Greece and Denmark was given a full military funeral and buried in the Tatoi Palace's royal cemetery outside Athens.

Francoise passed away in 1953, and from this point, Michael was raised by his uncle Henri, Comte de Paris. Francoise was buried in Athens with Christopher.

Michael returned to Greece in 1959 and he served in the army. He married the renowned artist Marina Kerella in 1965; King Constantine II was his best man. The couple had two children, Princesses Alexandra (b.1968) and Olga (b.1971). The Greek royalty was abolished in 1967.

He is the author of several historical and biographical books, and today His Royal Highness Prince Michael of Greece and Denmark holds the distinction of being the only surviving grandchild of King George I of the Hellenes.

Sources

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2022 Joanne Hayle

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