Like Winston Churchill after World War II, Greek Prime Minister Venizelos was voted out of office after leading Greece to victory with the Allies Britain and France in World War I, even losing his own seat. His political opponents then voted to bring King Constantine, who had opposed Greece’s entry into the war, back from exile in December 1920. His Royalist supporters celebrated the first anniversary of his return on December 19. “The whole city was finely illuminated; festoons of bulbs being hung across the Stadiou road and so making it look like a kind of gallery of light.”
The Serpieri’s, an Italian family of engineers, had re-opened the ancient Laurion silver mines and became enormously wealthy, building an Italianate mansion in downtown Athens across the street from the mansion of Heinrich Schliemann, the excavator of Troy. Although re-purposed, both mansions still survive today as the head offices of the Rural Bank of Greece and the Numismatic Museum, respectively. Originally a two-storey structure in 1884, the grand entrance of the Serpieri mansion was through the addition on the right side.
Gilbert had met Mme Serpieri at his Royalist friends’, the Skouzes, and she sent an invitation by car to Gilbert to join them for a gala celebration of the anniversary. To Gilbert’s very pleasant surprise, King Constantine was there as the honoured guest and everyone but Gilbert was in formal dress. Gilbert was in his element.
Even before he was introduced Gilbert recognised or knew of many of the royal guests, even referring to the King as “Tino” in his letter. His new Skouzes acquaintances introduced him to the most interesting people present, as he wrote “Few but quality.” He was impressed by an imperious grande dame, Lady Law, the Greek widow of Sir Edward Law, a British tax consultant to many nations including Greece. By coincidence the street in Athens named after him runs by the Serpieri mansion.
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