Princess Cecilie of Greece and Denmark was born on 22 June 1911 as the third daughter of Prince Andrew of Greece and Princess Alice of Battenberg. Her elder sisters were Margarita and Theodora. Her younger siblings were Sophie and Philip (later Duke of Edinburgh as the consort of Queen Elizabeth II of the United Kingdom).
As her birth fell on the date of King George V’s coronation, her mother asked the British King to be one of Cecilie’s godparents. The other godparents were her great-uncle Ernest Louis, Grand Duke of Hesse and by Rhine (coincidentally also her future father-in-law), her uncle Prince Nicholas of Greece and her great-aunt Vera Konstantinovna, Duchess Eugen of Württemberg. Her baptism took place on 2 July, and the ceremony was performed by the Metropolitan of Athens. Her grandmother later said of her that she was a “pretty, healthy & most cheerful little soul, smiling & cooing when awake, in fact as Mr Patterson once said ‘good enough to be a poor man’s child.'”1
Cecilie and her siblings were in the care of a governess, who taught them English and Greek. They also did gymnastics in a long corridor of the palace. In 1917, the family was forced into exile for the first time. Cecilie’s uncle King Constantine I of Greece abdicated in favour of his second son Alexander and Andrew and Alice went to live in St Moritz in Switzerland. Their main base became the Grand Hotel in Lucerne. By 1919, the four daughters were being well-educated but divided into two groups – the older pair and the younger pair. In the summer of 1919, during a holiday break in Vulpera, Cecilie’s great-uncle Ernest Louis came to stay with his sons George Donatus and Louis, and the two made friends with Cecilie and her sisters. At the beginning of 1920, Alice left Margarita and Theodora with their grandmother Queen Olga, while she and Andrew took Cecilie and Sophie to Lugano to recover from influenza, which all four had. On top of that, Cecilie also had a mild case of scarlet fever, but she recovered.
Life changed again when King Alexander died in 1920 and Constantine was restored as King. Cecilie and the family settled at Mon Repos, where Prince Philip was born. In 1922, Cecilie and her sisters were invited to be bridesmaids at the wedding of Edwina Ashley to their uncle Louis (later 1st Earl Mountbatten of Burma). Cecilie said of her soon-to-be-aunt, “We have never had such a pretty aunt in the family.”2
More trouble was to come as King Constantine abdicated for a second time in 1922, now in favour of his eldest son George. It was arranged that the King and Queen would leave with Andrew, but he was not with them when they left. Alice and Andrew remained in Corfu with the children for now. Andrew was eventually arrested, leading to much worry. He was banished from Greece, and he gathered the family from Corfu, where Alice had hurriedly packed a few belongings. Baby Philip was carried in a cot made from an orange box. Margarita and Theodora were left in the care of their grandmother in England, while Alice took the younger three siblings to Paris into the care of Andrew’s sister-in-law Princess Marie Bonaparte, the wife of Prince George of Greece and Denmark. She loaned the family a house in France, where they would eventually live with the entire family.
Andrew often took the children for trips to Paris or walks around the Bois de Boulogne. They also enjoyed playing tennis and enjoyed a family lunch with Marie on Sunday. In 1924, the five siblings were all sent to the seaside as Alice recovered from a treatment for varicose veins. In the summer of 1926, Cecilie and Sophie were sent to Kensington Palace, where their grandmother lived. At the end of June 1928, Alice arrived in London to launch Cecilie – now 17 years old – into English society. In early July, the two attended the Countess of Ellesmere’s ball at Bridgewater House and later that summer, Cecilie went to Scotland where she “got spoilt by the King and Queen.”3The family were all back in France in October to celebrate Alice and Andrew’s silver wedding anniversary. After this, Alice’s mental health deteriorated, and she would miss the weddings of all four of her daughters.
Sophie, the youngest of the four daughters, was the first to marry. On 15 December 1930, she married Prince Christoph of Hesse. Cecilie was the next to marry. She was only 18 when she became engaged to her 23-year-old first cousin once removed, George Donatus, Hereditary Grand Duke of Hesse and by Rhine. Cecilie happily wrote to her mother, and her mother replied, “Don is such a sensible, dear boy & you also have so much sense & judgement that the latter will always be able to help you with your rather sensitive & capricious temperament, sometimes in very high spirits & sometimes low & depressed & so I think you too will not allow misunderstandings ever to disturb your married happiness seriously.”4
Cecilie and George Donatus were married on 2 February 1931. People lined the streets of Darmstadt, and eventually, such a crowd was around their car that they were forced to walk to the church – shaking hands and hearing cheers of “Hoch der Herr Papa” on their way. It was an unusual outpouring of love for the couple who would have been the heirs to the grand duchy had it not been abolished in 1918. Young Prince Philip was allowed to leave school for a few days to attend Cecilie’s wedding. Margarita married Prince Gottfried of Hohenlohe-Langenburg on 20 April 1931, while Theodora married Berthold, Margrave of Baden on 17 August 1931. Cecilie and George Donatus made their home in Wolfsgarten.
Cecilie fell pregnant almost immediately, and their first child – a son named Ludwig – was born on 25 October 1931. A photo of Ludwig and Cecilie was sent to Alice at the Sanatorium in Kreuzlingen, where she had been forcibly admitted, and Alice tore it up angrily.5 A second son – named Alexander – was born on 14 April 1933. A daughter – named Johanna – was born on 20 September 1936. This time photos of little Johanna and Philip were well-received by her mother, Alice. She wrote, “Your little daughter is so sweet and chubby. Philip I barely recognized, he is so changed. Give him my love please.”6
In April 1937, Cecilie and her husband took Philip to see Alice in Bonn. This was their first in-person meeting since 1932. They were “delighted” and found Alice “affectionate, bright & cheerful.”7 In July, Alice was in Salem en Cecilie went to see her mother. She later wrote to her grandmother, “I must write and tell you how well I found Mama in Salem. She seemed to enjoy everything so much and is so interested in anything to do with the family.”8
- Alice, Princess Andrew of Greece by Hugo Vickers p.91
- Alice, Princess Andrew of Greece by Hugo Vickers p.158
- Alice, Princess Andrew of Greece by Hugo Vickers p.197
- Alice, Princess Andrew of Greece by Hugo Vickers p.206
- Alice, Princess Andrew of Greece by Hugo Vickers p.233
- Alice, Princess Andrew of Greece by Hugo Vickers p.256
- Alice, Princess Andrew of Greece by Hugo Vickers p.257
- Alice, Princess Andrew of Greece by Hugo Vickers p.268