Olga Russia
Queen consort of the Hellenes
Olga Russia
Grand Duchess Olga Constantinovna of Russia, later Queen Olga of the Hellenes, was the queen consort of King George I of Greece and, briefly in 1920, queen regent of Greece. A member of the Romanov dynasty, she was the daughter of Grand Duke Constantine Nikolaievich and his wife Princess Alexandra of Saxe-Altenburg. She spent her childhood in Saint Petersburg, Poland and the Crimea, and married King George I of Greece in 1867 at the age of sixteen.
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  • 1926
    Age 74
    Her funeral was held on 22 June 1926 at the Orthodox Church in Rome and the next day she was laid to rest in the crypt of the Russian church in Florence.
    More Details Hide Details After the restoration of the Greek monarchy in 1935 she was re-interred at Tatoi on 17 November 1936. As much of her property had been confiscated by the Soviet Union and the Greek republican government, most of her estate comprised jewelry reported in The Times to be worth £100,000 (equivalent to more than £ today). This was shared between her children and the children of Constantine I. Traumatized by the events of the Russian Revolution, Olga wished to sever all ties with the country in which her family had been massacred. Before dying, she made her grandson, King George II, swear to repatriate the ashes of her daughter Princess Alexandra, buried in the Peter and Paul Cathedral in Saint Petersburg. Her wish was fulfilled in 1940 after his restoration to the Greek throne.
  • 1923
    Age 71
    Increasingly dependent, Olga finally settled with her youngest son, Prince Christopher, shortly after the death of his first wife, Princess Anastasia, in 1923.
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  • 1922
    Age 70
    Following a coup by disgruntled military officers, Constantine I abdicated for a second time on 27 September 1922.
    More Details Hide Details With several other members of his family, including Queen Olga, he went into exile in Italy and his eldest son succeeded him for a few months on the throne as George II. Within months, Constantine died in Italy. One of Olga's sons, Prince Andrew, was among those arrested by the new regime. Many defendants in the treason trials that followed the coup were shot, including senior politicians and generals. Foreign diplomats assumed that Andrew was also in mortal danger, and George V of the United Kingdom, Alfonso XIII of Spain, the French president Raymond Poincaré and Pope Pius XI sent representatives to Athens to intercede on his behalf. Andrew, though spared, was banished for life and his family fled into exile aboard a British cruiser, HMS Calypso. Unlike her children and grandchildren, Olga was given a pension by the government of the Second Hellenic Republic, but she maintained so many of the faithful old servants who had fled Greece with her that she was usually left with no more than 20 pounds sterling per month (worth about £ in 2010 prices) to meet her own expenses. She could, however, count on the support of her family, scattered throughout Western Europe. In the United Kingdom, she shared her time between Spencer House, London, the residence of her youngest son, Prince Christopher; Regent's Park, where her daughter, Grand Duchess Marie, rented a mansion; Sandringham House, the home of her sister-in-law, Queen Alexandra; and Windsor Castle and Buckingham Palace, where her nephew, King George V, lent apartments.
  • 1919
    Age 67
    After several months of appeals for help, the Danish legation in Russia issued Olga a passport, which she used to enter Germany on the eve of its defeat, eventually joining her eldest son and his family in Switzerland in early 1919.
    More Details Hide Details Other members of the Russian imperial family did not escape. Among those killed were the Tsar, Tsarina and their five children; Olga's brothers Grand Dukes Nicholas and Dmitri Constantinovich; three of her nephews Princes John, Constantine and Igor Constantinovich; and the Tsarina's sister Grand Duchess Elizabeth Feodorovna. In Switzerland, Constantine I and his family found themselves isolated and without an income. The Greek government under Venizelos did not pay pensions to former rulers and prohibited any contact between the exiles and King Alexander. Already in fragile health, the former king became gradually more depressed. The Russian Revolution and the National Schism deprived Olga of her immovable property and she was forced to live a much less lavish lifestyle than in the past. She did, however, enjoy spending more time with her sons and grandchildren, from whom she had been long separated by the war.
  • 1917
    Age 65
    On the collapse of the Tsarist regime in February 1917, Olga's sister-in-law left Pavlovsk with her family, but Olga stayed, soon to be almost alone except for a single young domestic named Anna Egorova. (After the Revolution, Egorova entered the service of Prince Christopher of Greece and became the governess of his son, Michael.) Short of food, the two women were limited to eating a little dry bread soaked in poor quality oil.
    More Details Hide Details Their safety was far from assured, and a few days after the October Revolution, Bolsheviks invaded and ransacked the palace. Olga was physically unharmed. She accepted the need to leave Russia, but the Bolsheviks refused to let her go and diplomatic help from Greece was not forthcoming in the aftermath of the National Schism. In June, Constantine had been deposed and exiled to Switzerland. As the Allies did not wish to establish a Greek republic or see Crown Prince George succeed his father, Constantine was replaced on the throne by his second son, Alexander, who was thought to be more favorable to the Allies and more malleable than his older brother. Venizelos held power and the supporters of the deposed king were arrested or executed.
  • 1916
    Age 64
    As the war continued, Olga became aware of the growing crisis in Russia, and attempted to warn Tsarina Alexandra in 1916 of the danger of revolution but the Russian empress refused to listen.
    More Details Hide Details A few weeks later, Olga attracted the fury of the Tsarina after signing a petition asking for a pardon for her grandson, Grand Duke Dmitri Pavlovich, who had been exiled to the Persian front for his involvement in the assassination of Alexandra's favorite mystic, Grigori Rasputin. In contrast to Olga, her eldest son, King Constantine I of Greece, was determined to follow a policy of neutrality. His maternal relations were Russian, and his wife was the sister of Kaiser Wilhelm II of Germany. His policy brought him into conflict with Prime Minister Eleftherios Venizelos, who favored the Allies. Constantine was soon accused of being a Germanophile and the Athenian government was regarded with suspicion in London and Paris. In what became known as the National Schism, Venizelos established a parallel government in Thessaloniki in opposition to Constantine.
  • 1914
    Age 62
    In August 1914, Olga was in Russia at the outbreak of World War I, in which the Allied or Entente Powers including Russia, Britain and France fought against the Central Powers including Germany, Austria-Hungary and the Ottoman Empire.
    More Details Hide Details She decided to stay in Saint Petersburg and establish a military hospital to support the Russian war effort. Olga created a clinic at Pavlovsk Palace where she cared for wounded soldiers with her sister-in-law, Grand Duchess Elizabeth Mavrikievna. Other members of the imperial family, such as Princess Helen and Olga's granddaughter Grand Duchess Maria Pavlovna founded field hospitals at the front.
  • 1913
    Age 61
    On the assassination of her husband in 1913, Olga returned to Russia.
    More Details Hide Details When the First World War broke out, she set up a military hospital in Pavlovsk Palace, which belonged to her brother. She was trapped in the palace after the Russian Revolution of 1917, until the Danish embassy intervened, allowing her to escape to Switzerland. Olga could not return to Greece as her son, King Constantine I, had been deposed. In October 1920, she returned to Athens on the fatal illness of her grandson, King Alexander. After his death, she was appointed regent until the restoration of Constantine I the following month. After the defeat of the Greeks in the Greco-Turkish War of 1919–22 the Greek royal family were again exiled and Olga spent the last years of her life in the United Kingdom, France and Italy.
  • 1901
    Age 49
    In February 1901, the translation of the New Testament from Koine into Modern Greek that she had sponsored was published without the authorization of the Greek Holy Synod.
    More Details Hide Details The price was set at one drachma, far below its actual cost, and the edition sold well. To mitigate opposition to the translation, both the old and new texts were included and the frontispiece specifically stated it was for "exclusive family use" rather than in church. At the same time, another translation was completed by Alexandros Pallis, a major supporter of a literary movement supporting the use of Demotic in written language. Publication of the translation started in serial form in the newspaper Akropolis on 9 September 1901. Purist theologians denounced this version as "a ridiculing of the nation's most valuable relics" and Ecumenical Patriarch Joachim III of Constantinople denounced the translation. A faction of the Greek press started accusing Pallis and his Demoticist supporters of blasphemy and treason. Riots, peaking on 8 November, were started by students of the University of Athens, partly motivated by conservative professors. They demanded the excommunication of Pallis and anyone involved with the translations, including Olga and Procopios, the Metropolitan bishop of Athens, who had supervised the translation at her personal request.
  • 1897
    Age 45
    Shortly after Greece's defeat in the Greco-Turkish War of 1897, shots were fired at Olga's husband and daughter by disgruntled Greeks in 1898.
    More Details Hide Details Despite the failed assassination, Olga insisted on continuing her engagements without a military guard. Her son Nicolas wrote in his memoirs that one day he spoke of the importance of public opinion to his mother, and she retorted, "I prefer to be governed by a well born lion rather than four hundred rats like me." Olga's interest in political and public opinion was limited. Although she favored Greece's Russian party, she had no political influence over her husband and did not seek political influence in the Greek parliament. An Orthodox Christian from birth, Queen Olga became aware, during visits to wounded servicemen in the Greco-Turkish War (1897), that many were unable to read the Bible. The version used by the Church of Greece included the Septuagint version of the Old Testament and the original Greek-language version of the New Testament. Both were written in Koine Greek while her contemporaries used either Katharevousa or the so-called Demotic version of Modern Greek. Katharevousa was a formal language that contained archaicized forms of modern words, was purged of "non-Greek" vocabulary from other European languages and Turkish, and had a (simplified) archaic grammar. Modern or Demotic Greek was the version commonly spoken. Olga decided to have the Bible translated into a version that could be understood by most contemporary Greeks rather than only those educated in Koine Greek. Opponents of the translation, however, considered it "tantamount to a renunciation of Greece's 'sacred heritage'".
    For their work for the wounded, Olga and her daughter-in-law Crown Princess Sophia were awarded the Royal Red Cross by Queen Victoria of the United Kingdom in December 1897.
    More Details Hide Details Before Olga's arrival in Greece, there were no separate prisons for women or the young, and she was instrumental in the establishment of a women's prison in the capital and, with the support of wealthy philanthropist George Averoff, one for juvenile delinquents.
    Olga also supported the establishment and funding of hospitals during the conflicts between Greece and its neighbors, including the Greco-Turkish War of 1897 and the First Balkan War (1912–13).
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  • 1867
    Age 15
    Olga and George married at the chapel of the Winter Palace in Saint Petersburg on 27 October 1867.
    More Details Hide Details After five days of festivities, they spent a brief honeymoon at Ropsha, south-west of Saint Petersburg. Over the following twenty years, they had eight children: The Tsar told Olga "to love her new country twice more than her own", but she was ill-prepared for her new life. Aware of her youth, she chose to retain the services of her governess to continue her education. On arrival at Piraeus, Olga wore blue and white, the national colors of Greece, to the delight of the crowd. On the way to the capital, popular unrest was such that Olga, who was not accustomed to such demonstrations, was close to tears. Unable to speak Greek, and with little time for rest, she attended official functions over several days. Overwhelmed, Olga was found sobbing under a staircase cuddling her teddy bear a few days after her arrival in the kingdom while she was expected for a formal event. In less than a year, she learnt Greek and English. On the advice of her mother, she took an interest in the archeology and history of Greece to gain public support.
    A member of the Romanov dynasty, she was the daughter of Grand Duke Constantine Nikolaievich and his wife, Princess Alexandra of Saxe-Altenburg. She spent her childhood in Saint Petersburg, Poland and the Crimea, and married King George I of Greece in 1867 at the age of sixteen.
    More Details Hide Details At first, she felt ill at ease in the Kingdom of Greece, but she quickly became involved in social and charitable work. She founded hospitals and help centers, but her attempt to promote a new, more accessible, Greek translation of the Gospels sparked riots by religious conservatives.
  • 1863
    Age 11
    The young King George I of Greece visited Russia in 1863 to thank Olga's uncle Tsar Alexander II for his support during George's election to the throne of Greece. Whilst there, George met the then twelve-year-old Olga for the first time. George visited Russia again in 1867 to meet with his sister Dagmar, who had married Tsarevitch Alexander (later Alexander III) the year before.
    More Details Hide Details He was determined to find a wife and the idea of an alliance with a Russian grand duchess, born into the Eastern Orthodox Church, appealed to him. Olga fell in love with George, but she was nevertheless anxious and distraught at the thought of leaving Russia. Her father was initially reluctant to agree to their marriage, thinking that at the age of fifteen she was too young and, being close to his daughter, concerned by the distance between Greece and Russia. For her part, Grand Duchess Alexandra was much more enthusiastic than her husband and, when some members of the imperial family noted the extreme youth of her daughter, she replied that Olga would not always be as young. Eventually, it was decided that Olga and George would marry when she had reached her sixteenth birthday. Meanwhile, she would continue her schoolwork until her wedding day.
  • 1851
    Olga was born at Pavlovsk Palace near Saint Petersburg on 3 September 1851.
    More Details Hide Details She was the second child and elder daughter of Grand Duke Constantine Nikolaievich and his wife, Grand Duchess Alexandra, a former princess of Saxe-Altenburg. Through her father, Olga was a granddaughter of Tsar Nicholas I, a niece of Tsar Alexander II and first cousin of Tsar Alexander III. Her childhood was spent at her father's homes, including Pavlovsk Palace and estates in the Crimea. Her father was a younger brother of Alexander II, and her mother was considered one of the most intelligent and elegant women of the court. Olga was particularly close to her older brother, Nicholas, and was one of the few members of the imperial family to keep in touch with him after he was banished to Tashkent. As a child, Olga was described as a simple and chubby little girl with a broad face and big blue eyes. Unlike her younger sister, Vera, she had a calm temperament, but she was also extremely shy. For example, when interrogated by her tutors during lessons, she burst into tears and ran from the classroom.
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