The Demonisation of Queen Mother Frederica of Greece During the 1974 Greek Referendum

Poster from the anti-monarchy campaign in the 1974 Greek referendum.

In the chapter on King Constantine II of Greece in Royalty in Exile by Charles Fenyvesi, the author notes on page 181 that “the most effective weapon in the antimonarchist campaign was a poster with Frederika’s picture captioned, ‘I am coming!’

For almost a decade, I was curious as to whether such a piece of propaganda actually existed. I searched for it, but was never successful in finding anything. A couple of months ago, my dear friend Justin Vovk, an academic and royal historian, was able to locate an image of the poster. It has always intrigued me as to how the Greek republican movement managed to weaponise Queen Frederica of Greece to galvanise their turnout in the 1974 referendum on whether Greece should retain the monarchy or become a republic. 

The poster shows a photo of Queen Mother Frederica. The text reads: “ΕΡΧΕΤΑΙ!!! – Η “ΠΟΛΥΑΓΑΠΗΜΕΝΗ” ΤΟΥ ΛΑΟΥ ΒΑΣΙΛΙΣΣΑ-ΜΗΤΕΡΑ Φρειδερίκη” (“COMING – THE “MOST FAVOURITE” OF THE PEOPLE  QUEEN MOTHER FREDERIKA”). 

An article from the Associated Press in December 1974 recalls the way in which the monarchist and republican sides carried out their campaigns ahead of the referendum. “Campaigning has been fierce in the past week. Royalists and opponents have clashed in fistfights, police and civilians have been injured, monarchist headquarters have been stoned. The government consequently banned outdoor rallies. Pictures of the royal family have been plastered with yoghurt and fruit, and caricatures of Queen-Mother Frederika – nicknamed ‘Friki’ or ‘Horror’ – have been circulated with blackened eyes and Dracula fangs. The press for the most part has also carried articles critical of the monarchy’s role in Greece’s turbulent history. For their part, monarchists have undertaken an orderly but expensive campaign, presenting Constantine as a symbol of national unity and tranquility.

Queen Frederica in Rome on a visit to her son King Constantine II of Greece, 1973.
Photograph (c) Associated Press.

By the beginning of her son King Constantine II’s reign, it was no secret that Queen Mother Frederica had become unpopular in Greece. There were a number of reasons for this: her strong personality, her intervention in politics during the time of her husband King Paul, and her patronage of the Queen’s Camps during the Greek Civil War. However, it is worth noting that by the early 1970s, Queen Mother Frederica of Greece had set on a path that would have made it extremely unlikely for her to ever be a public figure again, owing to her own wishes, even in the event that King Constantine II returned to his country as constitutional monarch following the referendum. 

Queen Frederica in Madras, mid-1970s.
Princess Irene in Madras, mid-1970s.

In the 1960s, Queen Frederica had increasingly become drawn towards Hindu philosophy. This was quite evident in the only public volume of the queen’s memoirs, A Measure of Understanding, published in 1971. Together with her youngest daughter Princess Irene, in August 1973 the queen mother began studying at the Center of Advanced Philosophy in Madras. In November 1973, Queen Frederica gave an interview to the Hindustan Standard which gave much insight into the queen mother’s interests and future plans. Frederica let it be known that she had become an adherent of the Advaita Vedanta ideology, a philosophical doctrine of oneness; indeed, Frederica and her daughter Irene had been following this philosophy for some years by then. The queen mother stated that she now owned few material possessions and that she was “convinced that the world and all humanity are indivisibly one.” Frederica said: “I don’t want to merely learn it but to live it. I am willing to be the medium to spread the message of the Shankara, the greatest philosopher that ever lived in the world, to the West… Our happiness is measured by motor cars, refrigerators, air conditioners, and the like. We have absolutely nothing to show the world of lasting value. I would have been here even as a reigning queen. I am on a voyage of discovery, and this voyage does not depend on what a person is or is not.” It was noted in the article that the queen mother was receiving instruction in the Advaita doctrine from Dr. Telliyavaram Mahadevan Ponnambalam Mahadevan,  the head of the Madras philosophy center. Queen Frederica and Princess Irene had first met T.M.P. Mahadevan in 1966. The queen, who had once resided in the Royal Palace in Athens, was then living in one room in the guest-home of a Madras businessman. 

Queen Frederica of Greece on the cover of Time magazine, 1953.

Whatever her faults, it was rather below-the-belt that the republican campaign in the Greek referendum chose to focus its ire on Queen Frederica. By 1974, the queen mother was no longer a public person. Furthermore, her desire to seek a certain way of living made it extremely unlikely that Frederica would ever want to resume duties as the mother of a reigning monarch. Yet, the queen mother was turned into one of the biggest liabilities vis-a-vis a return of the Greek royal family by the republican campaign, and, as we know, their campaign succeeded. As Kingsbury Smith, a European correspondent for Heart Newspapers, wrote in December 1974 in an article entitled “Greek democracy about to dethrone king who risked his life”: “Unless Athens reports and western diplomatic opinion prove way out of line with reality, the 34-year-old Constantine of Greece will be defeated when the Greek people vote next Sunday on whether to recall him as king or maintain the republic established by the military junta that ruled Greece until last summer. A majority of the Greek people, according to the Athens reports, are believed to be opposed to the restoration of a monarchy whose young king lacks Greek blood in his veins and who, along with his strong-willed mother, former Queen Frederica – granddaughter of the Kaiser – were accused of meddling in Greek politics. Nevertheless, it will be ironic if the recently restored democratic system in Greece rejects Constantine who, at the risk of his life, attempted to restore democracy in his country in 1967 by a counter coup against the military junta that seized power in April of that year. When his attempt failed, he fled into exile and refused offers to return if he would accept the military dictatorship led by Col. George Papadopoulos. Constantine said he would never return until parliamentary democracy was restored.

To learn more about Queen Mother Frederica of Greece and her study of Advaita Vedata, please see the following sources:

Meeting with Perfection by Dr. T.M.P. Mahadevan
A Spanish prince in Madras

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