Tuesday, July 19, 2016

A gentleman of the old school

Post-sunset sky. 9:07 PM. Photo: JH.
Tuesday, July 19, 2016. Very warm in New York Real Feel in the low 100s, with a late afternoon rainfall that dropped temps about ten degrees - but in the upper 80s just before midnight. The weatherman is predicting this to continue at least for another week.

Today we are running the obituary from the London Daily Telegraph of Prince Alexander of Yugoslavia who died in Paris at 91 on May 12th. Prince Alexander is of particular interest to many New Yorkers (and Americans) because he was the father Prince Dimitri, a longtime resident of the Big Town where he has long had a thriving jewelry business on 57th Street, and his twin brother Prince Michel who once lived here but now lives full time in Europe. Dimitri and Michel through their father, and through their mother, are directly related to almost all of the royal families of European history.
Prince Alexander in his Paris apartment.
Prince Alexander of Yugoslavia, who has died in Paris aged 91, encapsulated in his life both the advantages and the pitfalls of being born into a royal house at a time of intense political upheaval.

In his early life, he lived partly in Belgrade, but was forced into exile with his family, finally settling in Paris. He was well connected to many royal houses in Europe with an ancestry both formidable and piratical. He was variously described as a gentleman of the old school and a playboy prince.

Alexander was the elder son of Prince Paul of Yugoslavia who, following the assassination of King Alexander in 1934, was obliged to serve as Regent, when he would have preferred the life of connoisseur and patron of the arts. On his father’s side, he descended from the Karadjordjevics, Serbian peasants who rose to be princes and later kings.
Prince Alexander and his parents Prince Paul of Yugoslavia and Princess Olga of Greece and Denmark, c. 1924.
Alexander’s mother was Princess Olga of Greece and Denmark, the beautiful if austere eldest daughter of Prince Nicholas of Greece and Grand Duchess Helen of Russia. Princess Olga was a sister of Princess Marina, Duchess of Kent, which made Alexander a first cousin of the Duke of Kent, Princess Alexandra and Prince Michael, and a first cousin once removed of the Duke of Edinburgh.

Therein lay another problem. Prince Paul, being essentially a scholar, was frequently out of sympathy with his somewhat laid-back elder son, greatly preferring the younger son, Prince Nicholas, who was diligent and shared his artistic interests, while also not always on good terms with his occasionally tearaway daughter, Princess Elizabeth. Prince Alexander got on better with his cousin, King Alexander I: they shared a fondness for trouble-making.
Prince Alexander and his mother, c. 1926. Prince Alexander and his brother Prince Nicholas.
Following their marriage in 1923, Prince and Princess Paul were living in Belgrade, but keen to get away, with Prince Paul equally keen that their child be born in Britain. The Duchess of York (later Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother) was a close friend of Prince Paul and offered them her then home, White Lodge in Richmond, for the summer.

There Prince Alexander entered the world as a 9½lb baby on August 13 1924. He was christened at White Lodge under the rites of the Greek Orthodox Church, his godparents including the Duke of York (later George VI), King Alexander of Yugoslavia, and the Infanta Beatrice of Spain (a granddaughter of Queen Victoria). In the family, he was nicknamed “Quiss”.
Prince Alexander's parents, Prince Paul of Yugoslavia and Princess Olga of Greece and Denmark, on their wedding day, 1923.
He soon began the peripatetic life which from now on would dominate. In October his parents had to vacate White Lodge; they took him to Claridge’s and then to the South of France. He then accompanied them on their travels to Serbia, Florence, Paris and back to London.

Aged nine, he was sent to Ludgrove where, having been the source of much irritation to both parents owing to his cavalier approach to learning, they noted something of an improvement in his character. This was not sustained at Eton, where he was beaten for inattention.
From left: Duke of Kent, Prince Tomislav of Yugoslavia, Queen Marie of Yugoslavia, Prince Andrej of Yugoslavia, Crown Prince Peter of Yugoslavia, Princess Paul of Yugoslavia, Prince Nicholas of Yugoslavia, Duchess of Kent, and Prince Alexander of Yugoslavia.
August 1939 found the family at Brdo in Serbia, hoping to have a holiday, but fearing war, Princess Olga sent them straight back to Britain with her sister, Princess Marina. The following year they were back in Serbia, where Alexander found in his cousin King Peter a companion in his favourite pursuits of reckless driving, baiting tutors and picking up not entirely suitable girls.

When Prince Paul reluctantly allied himself with Germany and Italy, he was forced to leave Yugoslavia for a prolonged exile and his family went with him. They went to Kenya and South Africa, where Alexander was at first content to enjoy the outdoor life.
Prince Alexander and King Peter II of Yugoslavia.
But his ambition was to join the RAF and his father’s status in the eyes of the British looked likely to confound this. He was sent to an agricultural school, where he was bullied for being his father’s son. But he was rescued by his uncle, Prince George, Duke of Kent, who secured his entry into the RAF, where he served as Flight Lieutenant.

After the war, Alexander found himself without notable qualifications. He wanted to become a pilot with BEA, and despite his father’s resistance and attempts to find him more suitable employment, achieved this ambition in 1951.

The next years found him competing frequently in air races, for example coming third in the Norton-Griffiths Challenge Cup at Southend-on-Sea in June 1953, at a speed of 147mph in a Percival Proctor.
Prince Alexander of Yugoslavia accompanying Princess of Alexandra of Kent (CREDIT: REX).
He was also something of a playboy, enjoying to the full the hedonistic pleasures offered by Commandant Paul-Louis Weiller at his villa in the South of France, and noted for courting the beautiful actress, Zena Marshall, who would later star as Miss Taro, an exotic double agent seduced on screen by James Bond in the 1962 film, “Dr No.” At one time he seemed likely to marry Princess Elisabeth of Luxembourg.

Tragedy hit the family when Prince Nicky was killed in a road accident at Datchet in 1954. Alexander very nearly followed suit when, within the year, his car skidded off the road at Corringham in Essex, somersaulting and causing him minor injuries while his passenger went unconscious to hospital.
Prince Alexander in his Paris apartment in front of a portrait of his grandmother, Grand Duchess Helen Vladimirovna.
In August 1954 he was on the famous Agamemnon cruise, arranged as a matchmaking exercise by Queen Frederika of the Hellenes, and there he met his bride. On February 12 1955 he married Princess Maria Pia, daughter of King Umberto of Italy and his estranged wife, Queen Marie José, daughter of King Albert of the Belgians. The wedding took place at Cascais in Portugal, where King Umberto was living in exile.

Among the 2,000 guests, of whom 100 were members of European Royal families, were Princess Marina, the Duke of Kent and Princess Alexandra, along with King Simeon of Bulgaria, his mother, Queen Giovanna, and the Count and Countess of Paris. The ceremony took place in the Nosso Senhora da Assunção Church at Cascais, 16 miles west of Lisbon. The couple then honeymooned in Madeira.
Prince Alexander and Princess Maria Pia of Savoy on their wedding day, February 12th, 1955.
Being related to so many royal families, Prince Alexander was frequently travelling to royal weddings and funerals. In August 1956 he was a sponsor (alongside the Duke of Edinburgh) at the wedding of Princess Christina of Hesse to his cousin, Prince Andrej.

He was present at the weddings of Prince Tomislav in 1957, and the Duke of Kent at York Minster in 1961, and likewise the funeral of Queen Marie of Yugoslavia in London the same year. With Prince Charles and Prince Michael of Kent, he was one of the eight princes in attendance holding crowns during the wedding of King Constantine of the Hellenes and Princess Anne-Marie of Denmark in Athens in 1964.

In June 1958, his wife gave birth to twins, Prince Michel and Prince Dmitri (the latter now running a well-known jewellery company). However, the birth to his wife of a second set of twins in 1963 heralded the end of the marriage, Prince Alexander requesting King Umberto’s permission to divorce. This he did in 1967.
Princess Olga, Prince Alexander, Princess Maria Pia holding Dimitri and Michel, and Queen Marie José of Italy.
On November 2 1973, Alexander married Princess Barbara of Liechtenstein, and they had a further son, Prince Dushan, born in 1977. Prince Alexander was well cared for by his second wife, and they enjoyed a rich social life in Paris, Palm Beach and elsewhere, while he pursued various business interests.

They were both present at the reburial of Prince and Princess Paul at Oplenac, Serbia, in 2012, when the Prince was already in frail health. He was himself laid to rest at Oplenac, near his parents and brother, in the presence of the Crown Prince, Crown Princess and the President of Serbia. His coffin was carried by fighter pilots of the Serbian Air Force.

He is survived by Princess Barbara.

Prince Alexander of Yugoslavia, born August 13 1924, died May 12 2016
Princess Barbara and Prince Alexander.
 

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