Memories of Marina and Wimbledon

  June 20, 2009 at 6:14 pm by

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With the 2009 Wimbledon Championship starting on Monday, all eyes are firmly focussed on Andy Murray but Royal watchers will be surveying the scene for the odd Prince and Princess (and let’s face it there’s quite a few odd ones about these days). Years ago, there was no question of a Royal-less Wimbledon as the long-time President of Wimbledon All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club did her duty by attending and handing out the prizes. Of course, the lady in question is the late Princess Marina, Duchess of Kent. In elegant creations by Sir Hardy Amies (amongst others) Princess Marina became as much a symbol of Wimbledon as the players themselves, and pretty soon Her Royal Highness was taken to the hearts of the crowds as Wimbledon’s most dedicated Royal supporter.

How strange then that such an English sport should have a Greek-born Princess as its patron, but then from the moment she arrived in the UK, Princess Marina was adopted as one of our own. In 1934, the year of her marriage to Prince George (son of George V and Queen Mary), record numbers of baby girls were named ‘Marina’ as a tribute to the beautiful new Princess. As a Princess by birth, Marina was used to good living and due deference. She famously branded the Queen Mother and Princess Alice, Duchess of Gloucester, “Common little Scotch girls” and told a biographer that only she could boast “not one drop of common blood,” and she was right. Her mother was Grand Duchess Helen Vladimirovna of Russia and her bloodline connected to every Royal House in Europe. Yet despite this, Marina very nearly ended up in the poor house.

When Prince George was tragically killed in a plane crash in 1942, Marina was suddenly without income. The 1937 amendments to the Civil List made no provision for a widow of the youngest son of the monarch and as such, all monies paid to the Kent household ceased. The Duchess wrote letters to Sir Winston Churchill, who originally told her that she was eligible for a war widow’s pension but nothing more. In one letter, Marina poignantly wrote; “It is a great worry to Queen Mary”. Whether it was guilt or fear that made Winston change his mind we shall never know but Marina was secured a payment and a permanent residence at Kensington Palace. To Marina, family was everything and she was quick to forget incidents that put the sincerity of her marriage in doubt. Despite knowing that her husband was having a romantic love affair with the playwright and theatre legend Sir Noel Coward, Marina remained devoted to her spouse and after his death captioned photographs of him as “My precious Georgie”.

In her later years, she put her heart and soul into her chosen causes with tennis being a personal passion, hence her patronage of the Wimbledon Championship. She was also chosen to officiate on behalf of the Queen at several independence ceremonies and in her later years divided her attention between the University of Kent at Canterbury (of which she was the first Chancellor), former African colonies and of course, Wimbledon. In 1968, she died of an aggressive brain tumour just hours after being given the news of her terminal illness at the age of 61. After a service at St George’s Chapel Windsor conducted jointly by Dr Michael Ramsey the Archbishop of Canterbury and Archimandrite Gregory Theodorus of the Greek Orthodox Church, she was interred at the royal burial ground at Frogmore next to her husband (whose coffin had been reburied there the previous day after resting in the Royal Vault since 1942). The service was attended by the entire Windsor family, including the former Edward VIII, then Duke of Windsor.

For more information about Princess Marina, see this thread.

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