I should preface this by saying this chapter is very different from what I usually write. I tend to write my parts in a top down style, taking the perspective of a historian analyzing events. Here I opted to look at these events from Diadochos Constantine's point of view as I felt the moment would be more poignant that way. I'm not the best at dialogue, but I hope you all enjoy this chapter as I'd like to do more of these in the future.
Chapter 96: The End of the Beginning
The Last Moments of King Leopold of Greece
Having weathered the fallout of his disastrous love affair with Fotini Mavromichalis, King Leopold of Greece and his advisors would begin strategizing for his eventual return to prominence in the Winter of 1863. However, he would find that he had lost much of the goodwill that he had strove so hard to build over the last 30 years. His sons despised him, his wife was distant towards him, the people were furious with him. Even his own supporters recommended that he refrain from making unnecessary public appearances for some time to allow animosity towards him to diminish.
Ever the cautious man, Leopold acquiesced and retreated to the confines of his lush palace for the next few months. His only escapes from this self-induced solitude were a number of letters to his family, friends, and political allies as well as a few public excursions to attend Mass on Easter Sunday and Pentecost. Meanwhile, his sons would take over most of his public duties, with Alexander overseeing that year’s Independence Day festivities, whilst Constantine sat in on meetings of the Cabinet, the General Staff, and Vouli in place of his father. Officially, the King’s absence from these events was given as some illness which laid him low, but all knew the truth. Leopold was ashamed, he was humiliated, and he dared not harm himself further at this time.
By the beginning of Autumn, public interest had turned away from the King’s love affairs to other, more important matters; namely those of the economy and foreign relations with the Turks, both of which were always tumultuous. Sensing that the time was right to formally begin rehabilitating his image, Leopold began making more and more appearances in public. Most of these outings would be for charitable purposes, giving alms to the poor, food to the hungry, and shelter to the homeless. Although never a truly pious man, Leopold began attending church weekly where he made sure to continually seek the absolution from his sins. Although no one can say how genuine these initiatives were, it would appear that his efforts were starting to make some inroads with the people. Sadly, it was not to be.
On the 21st of December 1863; King Leopold I of Greece was out making his rounds throughout Athens as he usually did. The weather was particularly cold that day and snow was seen falling in some places. He dispensed with whatever coin he had on hand, giving it to the needy as he went. He even parted with his great coat which he donated to a freezing beggar in threadbare rags. As his company made their way through the streets, he encountered Fotini Mavromichalis’ brother Petros, her uncle Georgios, and a number of their Maniot followers. Although the meeting started well enough given recent events, their conversation soon grew heated as shouts and implied threats were hurled at Leopold. Though he attempted to press onward stoically, Leopold's blank expression soon turned that of a pained grimace as he began clutching at his chest and gasping for air. After a few staggered steps, he collapsed.
Panic immediately gripped his attendants who quickly rushed to their king, finding him in a terrible state. Despite the cold he was sweating immensely, his speech was slurred, and he was gripped with a horrible fever. Frantic, some men tried carrying Leopold back to the Palace upon their shoulders with all the speed they could muster, only to stop as his condition continued to deteriorate. Even the Mavromichali men feared for the King and rushed away in search of help, returning moments later with some Gendarmeries and a doctor to tend to the King. Setting him down, the doctor quickly treated him for shock, wrapped him in warm blankets, and provided him with water to quench his parched lips. Eventually, a litter would be prepared for the King, and he would be placed upon it ever so gently, where upon he was carefully carried back to his home. Over the ensuing two weeks King Leopold would drift in and out of consciousness, his constitution continuing to decline.
It was clear to all that he was dying.
The 3rd of January 1864
The Royal Palace in Athens
Diadochos Constantine sat outside his father’s chambers. At first, he did not believe it. He did not want to believe it. He refused to believe it. The old man, his father was dying. He had been sick before, deathly ill at times, yet he had recovered. He always recovered. So why was this time any different. Why now of all times. Why had not he chosen to die sooner, before this wretched scandal had emerged. Why not die later, after he had finished redeeming himself.
Why, why, why?!?
It didn’t matter anymore. The doctors said his father was dying and nothing could stop that now. Now here he was waiting outside his father’s personal chambers. Here to see him one last time before the end. Yet even still, he did not want to see him.
He hated him, he despised him, he abhorred him. And yet, he could not help but feel a tinge of sadness and regret. The man that lay dying in the other room was his father, his own flesh and blood. When he was still a beardless youth, he had hoped that he might reach some sort of understanding with his father, that some sort of accord could be reached between them. That they may make amends with each other and come to love one another as a father should his son and a son should his father. These were the foolish hopes of a child, yet even then he still hoped for it. Even now at the end of it all, he still hoped for it. Vainly and foolishly.
Now his father was dying and he hated him all the more for it as he had deprived him of any chance at reconciliation, any chance at love. The very though of this caused his breathing to quicken, his teeth to clench, his eyes to burn, and his hands to shake. He was becoming lost in his anger.
It was his wife, Anna
"Anna, I...I don't know what to do."
"It will be alright my Darling. You will be alright. We will be alright and no matter what happens, the children and I will always love you."
Grasping her husband’s trembling hands within her own, Anna cradled them and kissed them. Her words were soothing and her touch gentle. The sweet smile on her face calmed his fraying nerves and settled his boiling rage. Although they were not as close as he had wanted them to be, he still cherished his wife. She had borne him five beautiful children (two sons and three daughters) for which he was forever grateful. She was loyal and gentle and kind towards him when few had ever been so tender hearted. He endeavored never to treat her the way that his father had treated his own mother for his children deserved that much if nothing else.
Turning his gaze towards them, he saw his youngest, a son named Michael in the arms of his wet nurse cooing at everything that happened around him with such awe and wonder in his small blue eyes. Though he was little more than a newborn babe, he was already so aware, so bright.
Next, he turned to his daughters Maria, Elena, and Sophie. All three were charming young girls who delighted all who knew them, though he still had trouble connecting with them himself. Perhaps it was some sort of subconscious guilt that he had, having once desired sons instead of daughters. Even still, he still loved them in his own way and tried his best with them.
Yet it was his second child, his eldest son Constantine that brought him the greatest pride. He was barely seven years, yet he was different from himself in almost every way. Young Constantine was incredibly outgoing, striking up conversations with everyone about anything be they man, woman, or child. He was already quite tall for his age, with a crown of golden hair atop his head, and bright blue eyes lighting up his face. He had a great love for the outdoors and a zest for life. His son would make a fine King someday, of that Diadochos Constantine was sure.
After what seemed like an eternity of waiting, one of his father’s aides – a young officer finally opened the door and bid Constantine to enter with him. Though he was reluctant to do so, he understood what this moment meant. Constantine was there to bear witness to the King’s - his father’s last moments. Rising from his seat in the hall, he passed through the wooden doors into his father’s personal office, his wife and children following close behind.
He had dreaded this room in his youth as almost every week, young Constantine and his siblings would be ushered in here, before their domineering father. There, he would grade them on their ongoing education and training, rewarding them or punishing them as necessary.
First, he would wax poetically about sister Katherine’s great intellect and skill. A prodigy he called her. He often gifted her new books or dresses or dolls for her great efforts.
Next, he would adorn brother Alexander with accolades for his triumphs and trophies. Talented and strong was he, yet still possessing room for improvement.
Last, was Constantine, but for his eldest all Leopold offered was disappointment for his many failures and inadequacies. Average at best, his father called him. Perhaps he expected more from his eldest son and heir. Perhaps in his own way, it was an attempt at encouraging improvement. Instead, it only worsened their relationship and ruined his self-confidence. Once he was King, this room would be locked shut and never again would he enter it.
A stern voice echoed out.
It was man from before, Major Vassos, his father’s aide de camp. He was a lean fellow, with a quizzical look upon his brow and a whimsical mustache above his lips. Constantine remembered him from the Academy, he was a few years behind him, in brother Alexander’s class if he recalled correctly.
“They’re ready for you your Highness.
” Major Vassos stated solemnly
Constantine nodded and after a moment’s pause to prepare himself, he and his family would enter Leopold’s bedchamber.
Inside he would find a finely decorated room, albeit in keeping with his father’s “distinct” tastes. The floor was made of marble which was mostly covered with a massive rug in various shades of blue. The walls were adorned with paintings, some of which depicted his vainglorious father in his youth. In the corner was a great armoire and beside it a giant mirror. Looking further, Constantine would see around thirty people scattered throughout the room, some sitting, others standing. He recognized most, a few were servants of his house, others were courtiers, and some were military men or politicians.
Prime Minister Constantine Kanaris was there, as was his Deputy Panos Kolokotronis and a number of their aides. Both men respected his father and though they had distanced themselves from him following his recent scandals, they still found it within themselves to be here at his end. Alongside them was Panos’ son and Diadochos Constantine’s companion, Theodoros. Tall and strong, he was a mountain of a man. They had been together since childhood, brothers in arms at the Academy and now he was here to pay his condolences to his friend and soon to be sovereign on the looming death of his father.
Lastly, he saw his mother and brother sitting beside the bed. Dread upon their faces and sadness in their eyes. Even after everything his father put her through, she was still here and had barely left his side since they had brought him back to the palace all those days ago. Tending to him, changing his sheets, and giving him wet sponges to drink from. She was too good for him.
Unable to avoid it any longer, Constantine now looked to the bed - his father’s bed where he saw his father. Yet what should have been his childhood tormentor – strong and proud, was instead a sickly old man - frail and weak. He had lost weight, a lot of weight. His breathing was heavy and labored. His eyes sunken and hollow. What was left of his hair was greying and withered. His face and hands were pale, and his bed sheets drenched in sweat. Every now and then whispers spewed forth from his parched lips, but what he said, Constantine could not understand.
Here he was, his oppressor, his tormentor lying broken before him and yet, instead of jubilation and triumph, Constantine felt …sadness? Pity? Did seeing his mighty father in this weakened state sadden him?
Certainly not. That man deserved this agony, this suffering after all he had done to his family. All he had done to him! Yet no sooner had that thought come to mind, did he instantly regret it.
At this all his hate for his father vanished and in its place was sadness and regret.
Taking his seat beside his mother and brother, Constantine would look on in dazed silence as his father’s private chaplain, a middle aged priest named Nikos entered the room, an attendant by his side here to record every word that escaped his father’s lips. At a predetermined time, the Priest began reciting a number of prayers before making the sign of the cross. He offered the King his last rites and then beseeched him to make one last confession of his sins and to seek the forgiveness and mercy of the Savior Jesus Christ. With his condition as it was, Leopold just continued to murmur aimlessly; his once great mind having succumbed to delirium and rot. Finally, after a few more moments, his mind cleared, his strength returned and his arms shot forth, flailing desperately as he let forth one last cry.
Did he mean That
Charlotte? His first wife from nearly 50 years before? The one he had loved with all his heart and all his soul. The one that had been snatched away from him in a cruel twist of fate.
Whoever she was, it mattered not, because no sooner had he uttered her name, did his strength finally fail him. His arms which reached vainly for the sky now fell limp to his sides. His labored breathing gradually slowed and then stopped completely. His listless eyes grew dark. At a little after two in the morning on the 4th of January, King Leopold of Greece was pronounced dead.
Dread and silence hung over the room for several lingering moments. Barely a soul in the room offered him any tears. There were no weeping women, no bawling children. There were only a few hushed comments by those in attendance and a few words of condolence to the now Dowager Queen Marie over the loss of her husband.
Soon, however, the stillness of the air was broken by one of Leopold’s courtiers who quietly mouthed some words. At first, Constantine couldn’t make out what he was saying. Then slowly, this chant was taken up by those in the room, one after the other. Louder and louder this hymn grew until everyone in the room was rising to sing it aloud. At this he finally understood what they were saying.
“God Save the King!”
“God Save the King!”
“God Save the King!”
Only Diadochos Constantine remained silent as a stream of tears poured down his cheeks.
Next Time: A Marble King