My grandfather, King George I of Greece, was partial to his sister Alexandra. She had married the Prince of Galles, the future King Edward VII of England: the origin of the close ties between the royal families of Greece and England.
In 1910, George I attended the funeral of King Edward VII in London, along with many members of his family, including his son Prince Christopher. After the ceremony, Prince Christopher remained in England in the company of his widowed aunt, Queen Alexandra.
He would recount his stay in his memoirs: “The World and its Lessons: Memoirs of H.R.H. Prince Christopher of Greece.”
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After the funeral I remained in London for a few weeks and then went to stay with my aunt Queen Alexandria in Sandringham. I arrived on a hot July day, and feeling tired, I retired to my room after tea.
My bedroom was in one of the modern wings under the clock tower, a bright room with cream-colored walls and furnished with bright and showy blue and white chintzes. In the alcove formed by the clock there was a dressing table with a square mirror. My bed ran along the opposite wall. At first sight one would have imagined it impossible to associate anything of the supernatural with so cheerful a setting. I put on my dressing gown, got into bed with a book, and read until I fell asleep.
I did not wake again until my valet came to lay out the clothes I was to wear for dinner. I talked to him for a few minutes and then returned to my book.
Suddenly, the feeling that I was being watched made me turn around. Framed in the dressing table mirror was the head of a woman. She stood so still that I was able to take in every detail of her appearance in a detached sort of way. I saw that she was young and very beautiful; she had curling brown hair and a soft dimpled chin rising out of a square décolletée. A little black mask covered the upper part of her face. Through it her eyes stared straight into mine with a depth of sad entreaty. She looked so completely real, so much a creature of flesh and blood like myself that my first thought was that she had somehow entered the room and I was only looking at her reflection in the mirror. I turned around to reassure myself.
There was no one there except my valet who was bustling back and forth carrying towels and a dressing gown into the bathroom. Much to my amazement, he walked right over to the mirror to fetch something from the dressing table, passing within a few inches of the mirror without any sign of having seen her.
It was like some ghastly nightmare; the pleasant room still full of July sunshine, the homely, everyday sounds of bath water running, of drawers being opened and shut, the valet with his unconcerned rubicund face, and yet that strange presence, those haunting eyes fixed on me in some unfathomable grief.
I felt literally rooted to the bed. I tried again and again to call out, but my throat seemed paralyzed. The valet took no notice, and went on with what he was doing, while seconds that seemed like hours passed.
Then, as suddenly as she has come, the woman vanished and the spell was broken. I turned indignantly to my man: “Didn’t you hear me speaking to you? Why didn’t you answer me?”
He looked round in blank astonishment. “I am sorry, Your Royal Highness, I did not know you were speaking.”
“Did you hear nothing?” I asked, trying to speak casually, though my heart was thumping unpleasantly.
“No, Your Royal Highness.”
I dressed for dinner and went downstairs where I joined my sister Marie and Princess Victoria. While we were waiting for the others I told them my experience. They were frankly unimpressed. Marie laughed at me after the manner of sisters and Princess Victoria said firmly that I was exhausted and ought to take a tonic. And there the subject was dropped.
I slept soundly that night and in the light of morning I began to persuade myself that the whole thing must have been a dream.
After lunch, Queen Alexandra suggested that we should visit Houghton, Lord Cholmondeley’s place, as she wanted to see it. When we arrived we found out that the Cholmondeleys were away, but the butler offered to show us around.
I was in the little chapel, absorbed in some exquisite carving, when my sister and Princess Victoria came hurrying out of the picture gallery. They were pale with excitement as they seized hold of me and dragged me into the gallery where they stopped in front of a picture. “Look! Do you recognize her?”
I stood staring at a portrait of the woman I had seen in my room at Sandringham the day before. She wore the identical dress in which she had appeared to me. In one hand she held the little mask in which I had seen her so that this time her enchanting face was fully revealed. The artist had caught something of the sad appeal in her eyes.
Princess Victoria turned to the housekeeper who was accompanying us through the gallery: “Do you know who this is?” she asked. The woman hesitated: “Well, yes. But we never speak of her here.”
After a little hesitation she told us that the lady was the family ghost and that her portrait had always hung in one of the big guest rooms which had been so haunted that no one could ever sleep there, until the father of the present Marquis had it removed to the picture gallery. After that her apparitions had ceased…
“I believe no one has seen her for about seventy years,” the housekeeper concluded.
So that was the origin of my ghost! But still I could not understand why she should have left her own surroundings to appear to me, who has never heard of her, at Sandringham, several miles away.
Weeks later I heard the explanation, or at least a possible explanation, from my mother’s lady-in-waiting who was interested enough to make inquiries.
She discovered that the lady had been in her lifetime the wife of an ancestor of the Cholmondeleys, who had treated her very badly. Having no legal redress in those days, her one hope had been to intercede with the King, and for a long time she had tried in vain to escape from her miserable home and go to London. But her husband had seen to it that she had no chance of getting her liberty. Towards the last years of her life, he literally kept her under lock and key. In the end she died of a broken heart, her one object still unattained.
Since then, the story goes, she appears from time to time to anyone in the vicinity who happens to be connected with the King, pleading with her sad eyes for them to intercede on her behalf.
Prince Christopher was my father.