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Constantine Kanaris

Constantine Kanaris or Konstantinos Kanaris (or Canaris, Greek: Κωνσταντίνος Κανάρης) (1793 or 1795 – September 2, 1877) was a Greek Prime Minister, admiral and politician who in his youth was also a freedom fighter, pirate, privateer and merchantman.[1]

Early life
Constantine Kanaris during the Greek War of Independence.

Signature of Konstantinos Kanaris

He was born and grew up on the island of Psara, close to the island of Chios, in the Aegean. His exact year of birth is unknown. The official records of the Hellenic Navy indicate 1795 but modern Greek historians believe that 1793 is more probable.

Constantine was left an orphan at a young age. Having to support himself, he chose to became a seaman like most members of his family since the beginning of the 18th century. He was hired as a boy on the brig of his uncle Dimitris Bourekas.
Military career

Constantine gained his fame during the Greek War of Independence (1821–1829). Unlike most other prominent figures of the War, he had never been initiated in to the Filiki Eteria (Friendly Society), which played a significant role in the revolution against the Ottoman Empire, primarily by secret recruitment of supporters against the Empire.

By early 1821, it had gained enough support to declare a revolution. This declaration seems to have surprised Constantine, who was absent at Odessa. He returned to Psara in haste and was there when the island joined the Revolution on April 10, 1821.

The island formed its own fleet of ships and the famed seamen of Psara, already known for their successful naval combats against pirates and their well-equipped ships, proved to be effective at full naval war. Constantine soon distinguished himself as a fire ship captain.[2]
The destruction of the Ottoman flagship at Chios by Kanaris.

Notably at Chios, where on the night of June 6/June 7, 1822 forces under his command destroyed the flagship of the Turkish admiral Nasuhzade Ali Pasha (or Kara-Ali Pasha) in revenge for the Chios Massacre. The admiral was holding a celebration, while Kanaris and his men managed to place a fire ship next to it. When the flagship's powder store caught fire, all men aboard were instantly killed. The Ottoman casualties comprised 2000 men, both naval officers and common sailors, as well as Kara-Ali himself.

Constantine led three further successful attacks against the Turkish fleet in 1822–1824. He was famously said to have encouraged himself by murmuring "Konstantí, you are going to die" every time he was approaching a Turkish warship on the fire boat he was about to detonate.

Egypt was technically a province of the Ottoman Empire at the time but its viceroy Mohammad Ali (1769–1849), had earned enough power to act independently from the Sultan and had formed his own army and naval fleet. It was headed by his adoptive son Ibrahim Pasha (1789–1848). The latter had hired a number of veteran French officers - who had served under Emperor Napoleon I and were discharged from the French army following his defeat - to help organise the new army. By 1824, it counted 100,000 men and was both better organised and better equipped than the Sultan's army.


Sultan Mahmud II offered to the viceroy the command of Crete, if he agreed to send part of this army against the Greeks. They quickly reached an agreement. The Egyptian army, under the personal command of Ibrahim Pasha, started a campaign in both land and sea against the Greeks.
The musket of Kanaris.

The Egyptian fleet managed to capture Psara on June 21, 1824. A part of the population managed to flee the island, but those who didn't were either sold into slavery or slaughtered. The island was deserted and surviving islanders were scattered through what is now Southern Greece.

After the destruction of his home island, Constantine continued to lead his men into attacks against the Turks, until the Battle of Navarino of October 20, 1827. Then the Turkish-Egyptian fleet was destroyed by the combined naval forces of Britain, France and Russia.

Following the end of the war and the independence of Greece, Constantine became an officer of the new Greek Navy, reaching the rank of Admiral, and later became a prominent politician.

Political career
Constantine Kanaris (1790-1877); Photographic Archive of Hellenic Literary and Historical Museum, Athens.

Constantine Kanaris was one of the few with the personal confidence of Ioannis Kapodistrias the first Head of State of independent Greece.[3] Kanaris served as Minister in various governments and then as Prime Minister, in the provisional government, from March 11-April 11, 1844. He served a second term (October 27, 1848 – December 24, 1849), and as Navy Minister in Mavrokordatos' 1854 cabinet.

In 1862, he was one of the few War of Independence veterans that helped in the bloodless revolution that deposed King Otto of Greece and put Prince William of Denmark on the Greek throne as King George I of Greece. Under George I, he served as a prime minister for a third term (March 17 – April 28, 1864), fourth term (August 7, 1864 – February 9, 1865) and fifth and last term (June 7 – September 14, 1877).

Kanaris died on 2 September 1877 whilst still serving in office as Prime Minister. Following his death his government remained in power until September 14, 1877 without agreeing on a replacement at its head. He was buried in the First Cemetery of Athens, where most Greek prime ministers and celebrated figures are also buried. After his death he was honored as a national hero.

To honour Kanaris, the Hellenic Navy named, in 18 December 1941, a Hunt III type destroyer after him. The Kanaris L51, the former HMS Hatherleigh, was transferred to Greece from the Royal Navy on July 1, 1972. A destroyer, the HNS Kanaris (D-212) (formerly USS Stickell (DD-888)), and on November 29, 2002 a frigate FFG Kanaris (F 464) (an Elli (F 450) class frigate) were also named after him.

Monument of Constantine Kanaris in Kypseli, Athens.

In 1817, he married Despina Maniatis, a Maniot woman. They had seven children:

Nikolaos Kanaris, (1818–1848) - a member of a military expeditionary force to Beirut, killed there in 1848.
Themistocles Kanaris, (1819–1851) - a member of a military expeditionary force to Egypt, killed there in 1851.
Thrasyvoulos Kanaris, (1820–1898) - Admiral.
Miltiades Kanaris, (1822–1899) - Admiral, member of the Greek Parliament for many years, Naval Minister three times in 1864, 1871, and 1878.
Lykourgos Kanaris, (1826–1865) - Lawyer
Maria Kanari, (1828–1847) - married A. Balambano.
Aristides Kanaris, (1831–1863) - officer killed in the uprising of 1863.

Wilhelm Canaris, a German Admiral, speculated that he might be a descendant of Constantine Kanaris. An official genealogical family history that was researched in 1938 showed that he was unrelated and that his family was from Italy.[4]

^ Woodhouse, p. 129.
^ Woodhouse, p. 138.
^ Woodhouse, p. 152.
^ Bassett, Richard (2005). Hitler's Spy Chief: The Wilhelm Canaris Mystery. Cassell. p. 65. ISBN 978-0304367184. "His name was of Italian origin, as was later shown in an elaborate family tree"


Woodhouse, "The Story of Modern Greece", Faber and Faber (1968)

External links

Listed among other Major Figures of the Greek War of Independence
The History of the Grand Lodge of Greece Explains the Origins of the Philiki Etairia
Short profile of Mohammad Ali, Viceroy of Egypt
Short Profile of Ibrahim Pasha
Statue of K. Kanaris in Park on Chios Island, Greece

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