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Princess Marina, the Duchess of Kent demystified

Publishing Date : 10 October, 2017


Nowadays, young people have an enquiring minds and I recently came across a post of a young person on social media asking who was Princess Marina and why one of the biggest government referral hospitals was named after her.

It would appear that the person in question was not happy about the naming of the hospital after somebody that Batswana hardly knew. There are institutions all over this country that are named after individuals who have made a mark, one way or another in the history of Botswana. Some of the icons who have had the honour of having institutions named after them include She John Nswazwi of the Bakalanga-ba-ka Nswazwi, the legendary segaba player, Ratsie Setlhako, the first  President of Botswana, Sir Seretse Khama, Kgosi Kgari Sechele of the Bakwena and the celebrated radio announcer, Phillip Moshotle among others. 

As mentioned before, many of these individuals have made an impact in the history of Botswana and but still many have never heard anything about this woman, Princess Marina. Princess Marina was born on November 30, 1906 to noble Greek and Danish families. Her father was Prince Nicholas of Greece and Denmark. Her family was generally poor and forced into exile when she was 11 following the overthrow of the Greek monarchy.

She became a member of the British royal family when she married Prince George of Kent, the fourth son of King George V of the United Kingdom (UK) on November 29, 1934 and became known as Princess Marina, the Duchess of Kent. Princess Marina was the last foreign princess to marry into the British royal family. After her husband’s death, the Duchess of Kent, continued to be an active member of the British royal family carrying out a wide range of royal official assignments on behalf of Queen Elizabeth II.

Princess Marina represented the Queen at the first Independence Day celebration in Botswana which took place on September, 30 1966. This was the second African country she had visited on a royal assignment the first having been Ghana on the occasion of her independence in 1957. This event most certainly made the princess an important part of the history of the country no wonder,  she is one of the few members of the British royal family who has had an institution named after her in Botswana.

One can only guess that while the Queen was somewhere nicer and cooler, it was the Princess who had to bear the unbearable September Botswana heat and dust as she observed the Independence Day proceedings. There is no doubt that as a representative of the Queen, she was afforded all the respect that a royal deserved and that under the sweltering heat, she delivered a message from the Queen herself. Unfortunately, Princess Marina was not able to make a follow-up visit to Botswana because she died on August, 27 1968.  

Interestingly, a local magazine carried a story that gave readers a glimpse into Princess Marina’s Botswana visit when one Trevor Bottomely, a government officer at the time noted that prior to the event, she like other women in Gaborone wondered if she had chosen a suitable dress for the occasion. The same Bottomely, who had been tasked with executing fireworks display at the conclusion of the handing-over ceremony would also note that, “…another rocket, finished, sparking and spluttering under the car which was waiting to take Princess Marina back to her residence.”

A eulogy published in a UK newspaper described Princess Marina’s funeral thus: “Senior members of the Royal Family have attended the funeral of Princes Marina, the Duchess of Kent, Princess marina, 61 died on Tuesday from an inoperable brain tumour, only hours after it was revealed that she was seriously ill.” According to the report, the mourners were led by her niece by marriage Queen Elizabeth II. Although she died only two years after visiting Botswana, it is clear Princess Marina’s legacy will remain in this country for many years to come given the fact that the largest referral hospital in the country was named after her.

Perhaps individuals who have been present at the first Independence Day will be challenged to write a broader article focusing on the princess. We, as a nation need to rewrite our history so that our children and their children get to understand it better.



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