Tragic Details About Prince Michael Of Greece And Denmark

Prince Michael (also known as Prince Michel) is a royal family member of Greece and Denmark that is perhaps best known for his endeavors outside of royalty. "To be what I am, to be a prince, what is it?" he said in his 2023 memoir, "Prince Michael of Greece: Crown, Art, and Fantasy: A Life in Pictures." "It is to be exactly like everyone, but not to be considered like everyone." Such quotes point to the philosophical nature of this prince, who respects his roots but has never concerned himself with the typical "royal" life you might see in other European royal families.

Part of Prince Michael of Greece and Denmark's philosophical nature might also stem from the multitude of tragedies he has endured throughout his life, some of which happened before and shortly after he was born. To better understand Prince Michael, it's important to look back on these tragic moments that shaped him into the writer, artist, and historian he later became.

Before Prince Michael was born, his paternal grandfather was assassinated

Prince Michael's father, Prince Christopher of Greece and Denmark, was the youngest son of former Greek King George I. Also known as George I of the Hellenes, he was born in Copenhagen, Denmark, in 1845 and was later elected by the Greek National Assembly to help form a new royal dynasty when he was a teenager, according to Henry Poole & Co. He then moved to Athens, Greece, in 1863. During his nearly 50 years as King of Greece, George I sought to establish a democracy as part of his rule, and he even helped form the modern Olympics.

In 1913, George I decided to abdicate his throne, and his eldest son, Constantine I, took over as King. Tragically, in March of that same year, George I was assassinated by Alexandros Schinas, a reported socialist anarchist. George I was 68 years old at the time of his death, which was caused by a gunshot to his heart. "It is my deep grief to announce to you the death of our beloved king and invite you to swear fidelity to your new sovereign, King Constantine," Prince Nicholas, George I's third son reportedly stated through tears, according to a March 1913 Sausalito News article. While these events happened several years before Prince Michael was born, the assassination of King George I was the first notable tragedy connected to him.

When Prince Michael was a baby, his father died

Prince Michael was born in Rome in 1939 to parents Prince Christopher of Greece and Denmark and Princess Françoise d'Orleans of France. Prince Christopher also had his share of tragedies. Not only was he the youngest son of the late King George I of Greece, who was assassinated, his first wife, May Stewart Worthington Leeds, died of cancer after they were only married for three years. Prince Christopher met Prince Michael's mother, Princess Françoise, after moving to Rome in 1929, according to The De Laszlo Archive Trust.

Tragically, Prince Christopher died after a brief illness in 1940. He was only 51 years old, leaving behind his second wife Princess Françoise to raise his only child, Prince Michael. Prince Christopher was described as popular during his lifetime due to his sense of humor and kind demeanor. Sadly, while Prince Michael likely inherited some of these personality traits, he never had the opportunity to experience his father's himself.

Interestingly, Prince Christopher was also a writer whose focus was history. His autobiography, "Memoirs of HRH Prince Christopher of Greece," was published in 1938, before Prince Michael was born. He also raised some philosophical inquiries about royalty, writing, "Royalty has been hauled over the coals lately by all the press of the universe — perhaps some isolated cases have given cause for this grilling. But is it necessary to attack the whole caste if a few far-strewn members happen to have human weaknesses?"

During World War II, Prince Michael and his mother were forced into hiding

World War II officially began on September 1, 1939, when the Nazis invaded Poland. Prince Michael of Greece and Denmark was just an infant when the war began, but it didn't take long for the conflict to impact him and his family. After the death of his father, Prince Christopher, in early 1940, Prince Michael was under the sole care of his mother, Princess Françoise d'Orleans. While the exact timeline is unclear, Prince Michael described how the events of World War II forced him and his mother to leave their home in Athens, Greece. "We sought refuge in Morocco at my maternal grandmother's home, and then in Andalucia," he wrote on his personal website.

Not only did the events of World War II itself keep Prince Michael and his mother away from their home in Athens, but Greece also broke out into a five-year civil war, from 1944 through 1949. According to The National WWII Museum, the Axis powers had left Athens six weeks prior to this civil war. Like many countries across Europe, civil discontent and subsequent aggression had erupted, and Greece was no exception. Tragically, the country that Prince Michael today considers his home was not safe to occupy during this violent time.

Prince Michael's mother died when he was a teenager

After moving around a lot during World War II, Prince Michael and his mother, Princess Françoise d'Orleans, settled in Paris, Princess Françoise's original home. Tragically, though, she died when Prince Michael was just a teenager, leaving him an orphan. "My mother died when I was 14," Prince Michael wrote on his website. "I was then brought up by my uncle, the Comte de Paris. I passed my baccalaureate and later graduated from the Institut d'Etudes Politiques." 

Despite losing his mother at such a young age, it's evident that Princess Françoise had a great deal of influence on her son. In an interview with Italian journalist Alain Elkann, Prince Michael talked about his passion for writing historical novels. "History is my field," he said in the 2015 interview. "My French grandmother, the Duchess de Guise, spoke about the family as if they all lived yesterday. History has to be taken with passion. My mother made me read books by the French historian George Lenôtre."

Prince Michael was forced to grow up abroad

While he was born in Rome, Prince Michael has long considered Greece his home. However, his residence there was short-lived. He and his mother had to evacuate Athens after his father died, and again when Nazis invaded the country. He lived in Paris for many years at a time when other Greek royal family members were also living abroad. Prince Michael later described having to get to know his own country when he was in his 20s. 

Yet Prince Michael also described that getting to know his home country was difficult at first, despite having such strong connections. "When I came to live here, I was trying to find out what remains of the Greek antiquity," he told Alain Elkann. "It took me a long time to discover that what remains untouched from antiquity is the Greek people." He also described how, despite growing up surrounded by Greek culture, he didn't have the opportunity to learn the Greek language until he was in the army.

Prince Michael could not succeed to the Greek throne

Prince Michael once faced an important decision: marry the woman he loved, or retain his right to the Greek throne. It started when he met Marina Karella, a successful Greek artist. "I found her absolutely charming," he told Fox News in 2023. "She also studied painting in Paris — my mother was French, and I grew up in France. She was just so lovely and gracious with me. It didn't take long to decide that I wanted to marry her." 

As is customary for royals who wed "commoners," Prince Michael renounced his (and his descendants') succession to the Greek throne when he got married. "It sounds medieval, but at the time, the existing monarchy in Greece had a law which said that members of the royal family could not marry without the written consent of the head of the family, meaning the king," Prince Michael explained to Fox News. "I needed his approval ... and I won." 

The two ultimately got married in 1965 and went on to have two daughters, Alexandra and Olga. They also pursued their own creative interests. As Prince Michael wrote on his website, "Our careers continued to develop. Marina has had exhibitions in Paris, New York, Athens, and elsewhere, while I have published historical novels as well as fine arts and photography books."

The Greek monarchy was abolished in 1974

In reflection of a changing sociocultural and political landscape across Europe, the people of Greece voted to abolish the Greek monarchy in December 1974. As The New York Times then reported, nearly 70% of voters chose to end the then-142-year-old monarchy, which ultimately meant that the reigning monarch at the time, King Constantine II, would lose the throne. "I am sad for him, and in some sense, the monarchy can offer services," Prince Michael told Alain Elkann. "I am a monarchist, but it depends on the people who represent monarchy. It is true that in our time monarchy can still offer some services."

Although Prince Michael had renounced his succession to the throne nearly a decade before this, he reflected on how these rule changes made members of the Greek royal family feel like outsiders. "We are not disgusting, but we are uninteresting, unassuming relics of a fabulous past," Prince Michael wrote in his autobiography. Such a statement points to Prince Michael's personal preference of not being a monarch but doesn't entirely reject the concept of a royal family.