Elena Vladimirovna of Russia – A Grande Dame (Part two)

elena vladimirovna
(public domain)

Read part one here.

After many years, they were able to return once more to Greece. Nicholas died in Athens on 8 February 1938 after suffering a heart attack. He said, “I am happy to die in my motherland, in my beloved country.”1 Elena moved into a villa in Athens from where she supported charities and the Russian community. Elena stayed in Greece during the Second World War, much to the worry of her family. She was near her sister-in-law Alice who had also remained behind. Alice wrote to her son Philip, “Even in these anxious times I am full of hope and when I go for walks I look at all the houses to see if there is not a suitable one for us later on, as I am tired of flat and prefer a whole house. Uncle Georgie’s house is very cold now as there is no means of working the central heating. Upstairs there is a room with a fireplace, so happily I have one warm in which to dress and sit and eat. Aunt Ellen (Elena) is well and lunches with me very often. We are the only one here and so we became very close friends…”2

When Elena’s son-in-law The Duke of Kent was killed in an air crash in 1942, Alice wrote, “It was an awful shock and she looks pale and tired. But she is very brave and will not show any weakness.”3 Both Alice and Elena were involved in charity and both were given petrol every month from the Swedish Relief Commission to be able to drive in and out of Athens. However, Elena lived in much more comfortable housing than Alice as reported by Harold Macmillan when he visited them in 1944. She was living in a large and comfortable villa and had been allowed to keep her radio. She also served him an excellent tea. She was also said to have pro-German sympathies. He wrote, “The Princess is a lady of fine presence. She must have been a beauty. The eyes, dark and lustrous, are remarkable. She reminded me of an Edwardian grande dame. Her conversation, though making the conventional references to the faults of the Germans, was more concerned with the dangers of revolution and Communism. EAM (a left-wing party) is, of course, anathema: ‘It must be stopped at once. It is the only chance. I know. It must be stopped.'”4 In contrast, he found Alice “in humble, not to say somewhat squalid conditions…”5

A French diplomat observed, “Princess Nicholas (Elena) was very religious and mystical. She would have gone to the stake for her religion. She had an energy and a will that Princess Andrew (Alice) didn’t have. She thought Princess Andrew did not understand religion. But Princess Andrew later founded the only order of nuns in Greece to do social work. She said, ‘It is all very well for Princess Nicholas forever attending the liturgy, but we must be practical.’ Psychologically Princess Andrew’s balance was frail, she had a German, dreamy philosophical approach to religion.”6

However, as some fighting continued in Athens it was considered safer for Elena to move in with Alice for the time being. Elena had initially resisted this until the driver of one British Major Green had been shot dead as they were heading towards her house. In December 1944, Alice wrote, “I am afraid you will be worrying about us but really we are all right & strongly guarded in our small free area of the town. We get British soldier’s rations which are excellent & Ellen & I especially enjoy the meat rations as we have not had any for many months. I really think we are much better off than we have been for a long time in the way of food. Although there is no electricity, we have a petroleum lamp to ourselves on the first floor, Ellen’s rooms being next to mine is a great convenience. The servants have the ground floor petroleum lamp. Friends come daily to see us & in the evening we play card games & make jokes & try  to forget our tragic circumstances.”7 Elena was able to return home on 21 January 1945.

Elena enjoyed generally good health, though her house was “swarming with cats.”8She would eventually suffer a heart attack. Her two surviving daughters Olga and Marina – Elisabeth had died in 1955 of cancer – rushed to be by her side, arriving the night before her death. Crown Prince Constantine – later King Constantine II of Greece – was also there and she greeted him with a “Hello darling.”9 The news of her impending death was kept from Alice by Queen Frederica. Elena died on 13 March 1957. She was buried at the Royal Cemetery in Tatoi next to her husband.

  1. Grand Duchess Marie Pavlovna by Galina Korneva and Tatiana Cheboksarova p.96
  2. Alice, Princess Andrew of Greece by Hugo Vickers p. 293-294
  3. Alice, Princess Andrew of Greece by Hugo Vickers p. 296
  4. Alice, Princess Andrew of Greece by Hugo Vickers p. 304
  5. Alice, Princess Andrew of Greece by Hugo Vickers p. 304
  6. Alice, Princess Andrew of Greece by Hugo Vickers p. 305
  7. Alice, Princess Andrew of Greece by Hugo Vickers p. 310
  8. Alice, Princess Andrew of Greece by Hugo Vickers p. 356
  9. Alice, Princess Andrew of Greece by Hugo Vickers p. 356

About Moniek Bloks 2765 Articles
My name is Moniek and I am from the Netherlands. I began this website in 2013 because I wanted to share these women's amazing stories.

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