Aspasia was born in Athens on 4 September 1896 and was the eldest daughter of Colonel Petros Manos and his first wife, Maria Argyropoulos.
After her parents divorced, Aspasia left Athens to complete her studies in France and Switzerland, but she returned in 1915 to live with her mother and she later met her old childhood friend, Alexander of Greece and Denmark, at a party. Aspasia was regarded as a beautiful woman and the prince was so smitten with her, he would not leave her alone. Aspasia was wary of the prince’s attentions as he already had a reputation as a playboy and she did not want to become another notch on his bedpost, so she remained coy with him. The difference in their social status was also something to worry about and Aspasia was under no illusions she would be accepted by the Greek royal family as a suitable wife for their heir.
Unconcerned, Alexander continued his pursuit of Aspasia and she finally relented to his overtures, the romance blossomed and the couple got secretly engaged. As the First World War broke out, the political situation in Greece became chaotic as Alexander’s father, Constantine I, was determined to keep the country out of the war. Greece had been embroiled in two wars in the Balkans that had seriously undermined the country’s resources and the king knew they were in no condition to go to war again. However, the king was accused of being pro-German as he has spent some time in the Prussian military courtesy of being married to the sister of Kaiser Wilhelm. As things got worse, Constantine was finally forced to abdicate in favour of Alexander and the Greek royal family went into exile.
Isolated from his family, Alexander turned to Aspasia for comfort and he made the decision to marry her despite protests from the government who wanted him to marry a British princess. Due to the hostile reactions, Alexander and Aspasia decided to get married on the evening of 17 November 1919 in a ceremony conducted by the Archimandrite Zacharistas who was sworn to secrecy. Since Alexander had not requested permission to marry from the Metropolitan Meletius III of Athens, the marriage was deemed illegal and it caused a huge scandal. Although their marriage was eventually recognised by the Church, it was still considered non-dynastic which means Aspasia was never recognised as Queen of the Hellenes.
Aspasia and her mother were allowed to move into the Royal Palace, however when the marriage became public knowledge, they were forced to flee to Paris to escape the scandal. Alexander wasn’t permitted to see her for another six months and they treated the visit as a honeymoon, and by the time the couple were allowed to return to Greece, Aspasia was pregnant.
The couple’s happiness at the approaching birth was marred when Alexander was bitten on the leg and torso by a monkey when he was walking on the grounds of the palace at Tatoi. While the prince’s wounds were cleaned, he failed to have them cauterised and they became infected later that evening. Alexander soon developed septicaemia and his leg was operated on seven times but no one wanted to take the responsibility for an amputation. Alexander, in a great deal of pain, called out for his mother, Queen Sophia, but she was denied permission to return from exile to be by his side. Anxious for her son, Sophia finally got permission for the Dowager Queen to travel to Athens, however she was delayed by bad weather and her grandson was dead by the time she got there.
Aspasia had remained by her husband’s side during his traumatic illness and she was devastated by his death, but she was still carrying his child and she withdrew to the Diadochos Palace at Athens. Alexander’s death raised a number of issues, the most serious being the succession since Aspasia could be carrying a son. However, since their marriage was considered illegal, the child could not inherit the throne. The government, continuing to avoid Constantine and Crown Prince George, approached Alexander’s younger brother, Paul, to become king but he refused and there was no choice but to offer the throne back to Constantine.
The Greek royal family returned to Athens but Aspasia was viewed with suspicion, especially by her sister-in-law, Elisabeth of Romania, who accused the young woman of trying to steal the throne for her unborn child. The birth of a boy could lead to more complications for the royal family, however Queen Sophia could not ignore the fact the child was all she had left of her son and she began to warm to Aspasia.
On 25 March 1921, the family breathed a sigh of relief when Aspasia gave birth to a daughter, Alexandra, who under Salic Law would not be able to claim the throne. Although Constantine and his mother were happy to act as godparents, there was still no royal recognition for the child until Queen Sophia persuaded her husband to pass a law recognising Alexander and Aspasia’s marriage so the child could legally be a Princess of Greece and Denmark. The new decree did not alter Aspasia’s status as a commoner though and she asked Prince Christopher, who had also married a commoner, to intercede on her behalf. With Christopher’s intervention and Queen Sophia’s help, Constantine issued a decree whereby Aspasia was finally given the title of Princess of Greece and Denmark and the style of Royal Highness.
Sadly, Aspasia’s fight for recognition would come at the completely wrong time as the royal family were about to find themselves ousted from the country again. After another disastrous war with Turkey, Constantine was forced to abdicate in 1922 in favour of his son, George II, but he too was soon forced out as Greece declared itself a republic. While Aspasia and her daughter were allowed to remain in Greece, Aspasia had no financial resources of her own, so she took refuge with Queen Sophia in the Villa Bobolina in Fiesole, near Florence. Constantine I had died on 11 January 1923, and Sophia was delighted to have her granddaughter with her and she would soon become a refuge for her daughters as well.
In 1927, Aspasia and her daughter moved to Ascot, Berkshire, where she stayed with her friend, Sir James Horlick and his family. With Horlick’s help, Aspasia bought a villa on the Island of Giudecca in Venice, the former home of Caroline Eden, great-aunt of British Prime Minister Anthony Eden. The villa and its grounds were nicknamed the Garden of Eden. At this time, Aspasia began a romantic relationship with a Sicilian prince but he died of typhoid fever before they could marry.
When the Greek monarchy was restored in 1935, Aspasia chose to remain in Italy, however she did make sure her daughter’s interests were looked after and it resulted in her being alienated from the Greek royals once more. The restoration of the royal family meant the remains of King Constantine and Queen Sophie, as well as those of Queen Olga, were reinterred at Tatoi, but Aspasia was not invited to the ceremony marking the occasion. Worse, she was informed there was no space for her in the royal cemetery next to Alexander.
Aspasia and Alexandra remained in Italy until she was forced to flee the Fascist regime in 1940, after which she returned to Athens and worked for the Red Cross. When Greece was invaded by the Nazis, Aspasia fled to South Africa with the rest of the family, before obtaining permission from George VI and the British government to settle in the United Kingdom with her daughter. In London, Aspasia and Alexandra resumed their work with the Red Cross and were frequent guests of Marina, Duchess of Kent, who was a former Princess of Greece and Denmark.
Alexandra met Peter II of Yugoslavia, also in exile, at an officers gala at Grosvenor House and the young couple soon fell in love. Despite opposition from Peter’s mother, they were married on 20 March 1944 and, shortly after the war ended, Alexandra gave birth to their only child, Alexander. The room at Claridges where Alexandra gave birth was temporarily designated as Yugoslav territory by Winston Churchill for the birth of the heir but it was a moot point since the monarchy was abolished in November 1945.
After the war ended, Aspasia returned to Italy where she set about restoring the damage done to her villa but she was increasingly beset with financial problems which eventually forced her to sell some furniture to clear her debts. Aspasia also became increasingly worried about her daughter whose marital problems were causing her a great deal of mental anguish. Peter, depressed about losing his throne, had become a womaniser and an alcoholic which had left Alexandra suffering from body dysmorphia. Alexandra had already had both of her breasts removed and she made her first suicide attempt in 1950. After years of wandering, Alexandra decided to settle permanently at the Garden of Eden with her mother after Peter’s death.
Broken down by her worry over her daughter, Aspasia’s own health took a sharp decline and she died on 7 August 1972 and she was buried in the Orthodox section of the cemetery of San Michele island near Venice. After Alexandra’s death in January 1933, both mother and daughter were moved to the royal cemetery at Tatoi at the request of Crown Prince Alexander of Yugoslavia.
Father: Petros Manos
Mother: Maria Argyropoulos
Born: 04 Sep 1896
Died: 07 Aug 1972
Spouse: Alexander I of Greece
Born: 25 Mar 1921
Died: 30 Jan 1993
Spouse: Peter II of Yugoslavia