A Kingdom in a London Hotel Room September 22, 2010Author: Beach Combing | in : Contemporary , trackback
Over the last weeks Beachcombing has offered a collection of posts from his Forgotten Kingdoms file. And he thought that today he would add to this with the smallest recognised state known to him: Suite 212 at Claridge’s.
First a little background. Claridge’s has long had a reputation as the most exclusive London hotel. And it was only natural that blue-blooded exiles would come there as, in the Second World War, the various Continental monarchies were being knocked down by the Germans like coconut shies.
Indeed, at some points the hotel had the king of Norway, the Queen of the Netherlands, and the royal family of Yugoslavia and Greece in residence. A Claridge’s joke from the period has it that when someone would telephone asking for the ‘king’ the reply would inevitably come ‘Certainly, but which one?’
Beachcombing trembles to think of the havoc that one German bomb could wreaked on Europe’s royal bloodlines…
The most tragic of these families was without question that of Yugoslavia. The Yugoslavs had been placed in an impossible situation in the spring of 1941 when Germany had threatened and cajoled the Balkan power into the Axis. It is one thing to have a pistol levelled at you and stand your ground: another to have a German Luger caressing your temple with Hitler’s finger on the trigger…
Regent Paul of Yugoslavia did the impossible. He won extraordinary concessions from the Germans that would have consigned Yugoslavia to effective – perhaps a better word given the Nazis’ respect for the letter of their treaties would be ‘theoretical’ – neutrality. But Paul’s officer corps were having none of it and led a palace coup d’état in the name of the young King Peter II, then almost 18. Hitler’s trigger finger squeezed: within days Yugoslavia had been overrun by the master-race.
Peter II managed to escape to the UK where he set up royal shop in Claridge’s and it was there that he would eventually bring his wife Alexandra, a scion of the Greek royal line – the two married in March of 1944.
By then things had really gone very wrong for the Yugoslav royal family. Indeed, when Beachcombing thinks of the Yugoslav royalty in the war and afterwards one line flits through his head: ‘as flies to wanton boys are we to th’ gods, They kill us for their sport.’
Certainly the ‘gods’ and the Allies would treat the relicts of Yugoslav royalty with appalling almost republican callousness. The Allies made one of several critical mistakes in 1943 by switching support from the Yugoslav royalists to the communist partisans: a decision that they and that many in the Balkans would come to regret in the next decades.
However, when Queen Alexandra prepared to give birth in July 1945 Churchill did make one small concession. The suite where she was staying, suite 212, was ceded to Yugoslavia for the day so that any heir could be said to have been born on Yugoslav soil. As the royalist cause was by then all but lost in the homeland the hotel room can be said – however, briefly – to have been the last Kingdom of Yugoslavia.
Legend has it – Beachcombing would love to substantiate this: drbeachcombing AT yahoo DOT com – that a sod of Yugoslav soil was put under the queen’s bed as she began her labour. It would be wonderful if this were true. But, while Claridge’s had extraordinary influence even in wartime, Beachcombing wonders which WW2 wholesaler could have supplied them.
July 17 1945 ‘the Once’ and perhaps, many Serb royalists hope, ‘the Future King’ of Yugoslavia, Alexander was born on Yugoslav territory in a hotel room in Mayfair.
On the midnight chimes the Kingdom of Yugoslavia became a pumpkin: out in the darkness Tito was preparing his revolution – the foibe and the death camps beckoned.