George II (1890–1947)

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GEORGE II (1890–1947)


King of Greece from 1922 to 1923 and from 1935 to 1947.

George II was the successor and eldest son of King Constantine I and Queen Sophia. After the defeat of the Greek army in the Asia Minor campaign (1922) and the expulsion of 1.5 million Greeks from Turkey, King Constantine was deposed and succeeded by his son George II. In 1923 King George was allegedly involved in an abortive military coup and was forced to leave the country. The parliament declared the country a republic, and in a plebiscite on 13 April 1924 Greeks voted for the abolition of the monarchy. The question of monarchy and the clash between republicans and royalists continued to dominate the political life of Greece in the interwar years. After the defeat of Elefterios Venizelos in the 1932 elections, the royalists came to power. After two abortive military coups organized by republicans, in 1935 the royalists organized a coup with the view to reinstate the king. General Kondylis seized dictatorial powers and abolished the republic. After a rigged plebiscite on 3 November 1935 King George was restored.

The elections in January 1936 did not give any party the majority and the small Communist Party held the balance of power in the parliament. In March 1936 King George appointed as new prime minister General Ioannis Metaxas, who was the leader of a minuscule party that had polled only 4 percent in the elections. The political deadlock and exaggerated fears of a communist danger drove King George to consent to the establishment of dictatorship by General Ioannis Metaxas on 4 August 1936, using as a pretext a general strike that was scheduled for the following day. The fact that King George consented to the abolishment of democracy and shared the power with a ruthless but weak dictator for more than four years marked his reign, questioned his legitimacy, and deepened the division between republicans and royalists.

King George was a loyal ally of Great Britain and the outbreak of the Second World War did not change that. Greece remained firmly on the side of the Allies and fought first against Italy (October 1940) and then Germany (April 1941). However, King George did not attempt to restore democracy in Greece, not even when Metaxas died in January 1941. He appointed Alexander Koryzis as prime minister, giving continuity to the dictatorial regime. After the capitulation of Greece to the Axis powers (23 April 1941), King George and the new prime minister Emmanuel Tsouderos (Alexander Koryzis committed suicide on the day of capitulation) fled first to Alexandria, then to Cape Town, and from there to London. During the war King George stayed in London while the Greek government-in-exile moved to Cairo.

During the Second World War the constitutional question and the return of the king after the end of the war dominated political discussions in the government-in-exile in Egypt as well as in the resistance movement in occupied Greece. King George tried to dissociate himself from the General Metaxas dictatorship and declared that after the end of the war there would be a new government based on free elections. The political leaders believed that there should be a plebiscite on the question of the return of the king. In the discussions with the government-in-exile King George had the steady support of Great Britain, which saw in him a guarantor of British interests in the region and a bulwark against the powerful leftist resistance. However, there were strong objections to his return, and finally in the Lebanon conference (May 1944) between representatives of the Greek government-in-exile and the resistance organizations it was decided that after the liberation there would be a plebiscite on the question of the monarchy.

After the liberation and during the fighting between the communist resistance and government forces in Athens (December 1944) King George surrendered to British pressures and appointed Archbishop Damaskinos as regent with the view to unify the bourgeois parties against the communists. The Varkiza Agreement (12 February 1945) that concluded the defeat of the communists provided for a plebiscite on the question of monarchy. In the growing polarization that led to the outbreak of the Greek civil war (1946–1949) the most conservative and royalist forces prevailed in the bourgeois camp, and King George became their icon in the battle against communism. The royalist Populist Party won the elections of 31 March 1946 and swiftly moved to reinstate monarchy in Greece. The plebiscite was held on 1 September 1946 and 69 percent voted for the return of King George. The landslide victory of the royalists was a result of the polarization between nationalists and communists, terror, and several falsifications. King George returned to Greece on 28 September 1946. He died a few months later, on 1 April 1947, and was succeeded by his brother Paul.

See alsoGreece; Turkey; Venizelos, Eleutherios; World War I; World War II.


Hondros, John L. Occupation and Resistance: The Greek Agony, 1941–44. New York, 1983.

Iatrides, John O., ed. Greece in the 1940s: A Nation in Crisis. Hanover, N.H., and London, 1981.

Papastratis, Procopis. British Policy towards Greece during the Second World War, 1941–1947. Cambridge, U.K., and New York, 1984.

Polymeris Voglis

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George II (1890–1947)

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George II (1890–1947)