Princess Marina, Duchess of Kent – Britain’s last foreign Princess

As history would have it, the last foreign princess who married into the British royal family was an exceptional figure, the epitome of royal style and beauty. Born in Athens, Greece, on 13 December 1906, Princess Marina was the youngest child of Prince Nicholas of Greece and Denmark, the third son of George I of Greece, and Grand Duchess Elena Vladimirovna of Russia, a granddaughter of Tsar Alexander II of Russia. The Greek Royal family was never famous for wealth or a strict lifestyle, but as a child, Marina had the chance to witness the splendour of the Imperial Russian court during her visits to her mother’s family. It is hard to tell what kind of impression these visits had on the young Marina, but she was definitely a privileged witness of a royal world that was never to be seen again in history.

At home, in Athens, she was educated by an English governess in a simple, down-to-earth manner, that emphasized duty over all other things. Marina spoke English in a rather attractive foreign accent, as sources mentioned, and she was fluent in Greek, Russian, French and German. There are also stories saying that she together with her sisters invented a new language, a mix of Greek and Russian that they were using to tell each other secrets. She loved Greece and always considered it her home, and she remained a devout Orthodox all her life.

In 1917, Marina’s family had to flee Greece, and they settled in Switzerland where they stayed for four years. They returned to Greece in 1921, only to leave again for Paris. The financial situation was difficult, and Marina and her sisters spent their time doing charity work, painting and learning dressmaking. Later on, Marina would become one of the best-dressed royals of all time.

She met her future husband, Prince George, Duke of Kent, the fifth child of King George V and Queen Mary in 1932 while on a visit in London. Prince George’s reputation was a questionable one. The persistent rumours about his homosexuality (including a love relation with Noel Coward) as well as his carefree lifestyle didn’t prevent the marriage. It might have been a marriage of convenience, but the couple emerged as one of the favourite royal couples in the public’s eyes. Obviously, Marina’s personality and elegance contributed a lot to this image. Married in 1934, at Westminster Abbey, theirs was by all accounts a happy union.

 

by Dorothy Wilding, bromide print, October 1934

 

They had three children: Prince Edward, Duke of Kent (born 9 October 1935); Princess Alexandra, The Hon. Lady Ogilvy (born 25 December 1936); and Prince Michael of Kent (4 July 1942) and their London residence, in Belgrave Square, became a popular destination for men and women of arts, stage, and politics.

Sadly, just six weeks after the birth of their youngest child, Prince George was killed when his military plane crashed in Scotland on 25 August 1942. His death was surrounded by much mystery and some said that it was a planned murder (the prince may have been involved in espionage matters and relations with the Germans at a very sensitive time in Britain) rather than a plane accident.

The death of her husband never deterred Marina, and she continued to be one of the most hard-working members of the Royal Family. During the Second World War, she trained as a nurse for three months under the pseudonym “Sister Kay,” rendering service as a civil nurse reserve. In July 1968, Princess Marina spent several days in the hospital, where it was discovered that she was suffering from an inoperable brain tumour. A month later, she died at her home at Kensington Palace, surrounded by her children and her sister.
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The Times praised Princess Marina, Duchess of Kent for her “warm-hearted and generous nature. She was a very loyal friend and a delightful companion, always full of interest and humour, with natural dignity but no self-consciousness of her rank.” A well-deserved praise for Britain’s last foreign princess.

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