Many biographies paint Prince Philip's father as a serious, distant figure who spent his life in exile as a playboy. But according to his great-niece, Queen Alexandra of Yugoslavia, he was "a tall genial, smiling gentleman, a truly lovable figure." He "was a connoisseur of all the good things in life." According to his son, he was a cheerful man who enjoyed pranks and practical jokes.
Born in Athens on February 2, 1882, one of the first babies of Tatoi, he was the fourth son of King George I of the Hellenes and Queen Olga. He grew up in the Palace of Athens with his four brothers and two sisters. A family of many languages, his parents spoke German to each other, English to their children. The children spoke Greek to each other. Devoted to the country of his birth, Andrea, who would only speak Greek to his parents, insisted on sticking to Greek as his first language, speaking it more fluently than English. But like his son Prince Philip, he was not really Greek at all. Through his mother he was Russian and on his fathers side two parts Danish, one part Dutch and five parts German.
Tall, good-looking, quick witted and intelligent, Andrea was short-sighted and wore spectacles in early life, later adopting a monocle, which added an aura of distinction. Andrea was brought up to be a soldier and was passionate about his military career. At the age of fourteen he became a cadet at the Military School in Athens and in 1901 he was commissioned a subaltern in the calvary. In that year he met Princess Alice of Battenburg (daughter of Victoria, Marchioness of Milford Haven ). They became engaged the following year and were married (in one civil and two religious ceremonies) in Darmstadt on October 6th & 7th 1903.
After their wedding, the couple lived in Greece, first in the Palace of Athens and later at Mon Repos, the Greek royal residence on Corfu. They had four daughters: Margarita (1905-1981), Theodora (1906-1969), Cecile (1911-37), Sophie (1914-2001), and one son, Philip, Duke of Edinburgh in 1921.
In 1912-13 he took part in the Balkan Wars, during which his father was assasinated. His brother Constantine became king but he was forced to abdicate because of his neutral stance in the First World War. Prince Andrew and his family were banished with him and for three years they lived in exile in Switzerland. When Constantine was reinstated, they returned to Greece in 1920.
In 1922 he took command of the 2nd Army Corps in the war in Asia Minor. The Greeks were heavily defeated by the Turks and the King was once again deposed. Prince Andrew was allowed to remain in Greece, provided he stayed on Corfu, but he was summoned before the revolutionary court, charged with treason for his part in the disastrous Asia Minor campaign, imprisoned and sentenced to death. Princess Alice appealed to King George V for help. The British government intervened and negotiated Prince Andrew's release. He left Greece aboard the HMS Calypso, picking up Princess Alice and the children in Corfu.
The family settled in Saint-Cloud, on the outskirts of Paris. Prince Andrew wrote a book, Towards Disaster - his account of the campaign against the Turks. He returned to Greece briefly for the installation of his nephew as King George II in 1935, but the rest of his life would be spent in exile. The family drifted apart and eventually he moved to Monte Carlo where he settled with his lady friend the Countess Andrée de La Bigne.
He died of a heart attack in the Hotel Metropole in Monte Carlo, on December 3rd, 1944. According to his great-niece, "he got out of bed and donned his dressing-gown, slipped his monocle in his right eye, seated himself in his armchair and quietly died, meeting death itself like the great gentleman he always was." He was taken to rest in the Russian Orthodox Church in Nice. Two years later his body was returned to his own country and buried in the gardens of Tatoi, the royal residence to the north of Athens.
His gravestone reads:
Andrea Vasilopais (Son of a King)
Prince of Greece
Prince of Denmark
© Marilyn Braun 2008