King Otto of Greece

Otto of Wittelsbach, Prince of Bavaria and King of Greece (Όθων της Ελλάδας) (Salzburg, June 1, 1815 - Bamberg, July 26, 1867) was made the first modern king of Greece in 1832 under the Convention of London, whereby Greece became a new independent kingdom under the protection of the United Kingdom, France and Russia.

He was born in Salzburg, Austria, the son of King Ludwig I of Bavaria and Therese of Saxe-Altenburg (1792-1854). Through his ancestor the Bavarian Duke John II Wittelsbach, Otto was a descendant of the Greek Imperial dynasties of Comnenos and Laskaris.

Not quite 18, the young prince entered Greece with many Bavarian advisors in a council of regency headed by Count Josef Ludwig von Armansperg, who as minister of finance, had recently succeeded in restoring Bavarian credit at the cost of his popularity. The United Kingdom and the Rothschild bank, who were underwriting the Greek loans, insisted on financial stringency on Armansperg. The Greeks were soon more heavily taxed than under Turkish rule; they had exchanged a hated Ottoman tyranny, which they understood, for government by bureaucracy, which they despised. In addition, Otto showed little respect for local customs. As a staunch Catholic, and thus considered a heretic among the Greeks, he never changed his religion since he was guaranteed, under the constitutional provisions as the first King of a new Greek dynasty, that he could remain a Catholic. His heirs, however, had he had any, would have would have to be Orthodox according to the terms of the 1843 Constitution. 1 The Bavarian royal family was assured, nevertheless, that the Great Powers would guarantee his reign.

King Otto in Nauplia 1833

King Otto and Amalia in Athens, 15.2.1837

In 1837 Otto visited Germany and married the beautiful and talented Princess Amelie of Oldenburg (December 21, 1818 - May 20, 1875). The wedding took place not in Greece, but in Oldenburg, on November 22, 1836; the marriage did not produce an heir and the new queen made herself unpopular by interfering in the government.

An attempt to gain Greek favour by efforts to acquire Crete in 1841 failed to materialize and only succeeded in embroiling him with the Great Powers.

Ioannis Makrigiannis (Memoirs in Greek), Andreas Metaxas (1786 -19-9-1860) first Constitutional Prime Minister, Dimitris Kallergis

Although King Otto tried to function as an absolute monarch, as Thomas Gallant writes, he "was neither ruthless enough to be feared, nor compassionate enough to be loved, nor competent enough to be respected." 2 By 1843 public dissatisfaction with him had reached crisis proportions and there were demands for a constitution. Initially Otto refused to grant a constitution, but as soon as German troops were withdrawn from the kingdom a military coup was launched. On September 3, 1843, the infantry led by Kallerges (Καλλεργης) and Makriyannis (Μακρηγιαννης) assembled in the Square in front of the Palace. Eventually joined by much of the population of the small capital, the rebellion refused to disperse until the King agreed to grant a constitution, which would require that there be Greeks in the Council, that he convene a permanent national assembly and that Otto personally thank the leaders of the uprising. Left with little recourse, now that his German troops were gone, King Otto gave in to the pressure and agreed to the demands of the crowd over the objections of his opinionated Queen. This square was renamed Constitution Square (Πλατεια Συνταγματος) to commemorate the events of September 1843. 3 Now for the first time the King had Greeks in his council and the various Greek factions (mostly denoted as the "French party" or the "Russian party" according to which of the Great Powers' culture they most esteemed) vied for rank and power. The King's prestige, which was based in large part on his support by the combined Great Powers, but mostly the support of the British, suffered by the "Pacifico incident" of 1850, when British Foreign Secretary Palmerston sent the British fleet to blockade the Piraeus port with warships, to exact reparation for injustice done to a British subject.

The "Great Idea" (Μεγαλη Ιδεα), Greece's dream of restoring the Byzantine Empire under Christian rule, led to his entering the Crimean War against Turkey in 1853; the enterprise was unsuccessful. In 1861 a student named Drusios attempted to murder Queen Amalia, and was openly hailed as a hero. While on a visit to the Peloponese in 1862, a new coup was launched and this time a provisional government was set up and summoned a national convention. Ambassadors of the Great Powers urged King Otto not to resist and the king and queen took refuge on a British warship and returned to Bavaria the same way they had come to Greece (aboard a foreign a warship), taking with them the Greek royal regalia which he had brought from Bavaria in 1832. It has been suggested that had King Othon and Queen Amalia borne an heir, then the King would not have been overthrown, as succession was a major unresolved question at the time. 4

The expulsion of Otto King of Greece in 1862 as portrayed in a popular colour lithograph.

King Otto of Greece adopted the native Greek garment the Foustanella which eventually became the official dress of King Otto's court..

King Otto 1865, He is not more a King of the Hellenes.

He died in the palace of the former bishops of Bamberg, Germany, and was buried in Munich. During his retirement, he would still wear the traditional uniform nowadays worn only by the evzones; during the rebellion in Crete against the Ottoman Empire in 1866, Otto donated most of his fortune to support the Cretan rebellion by supplying it with arms.

King of the Hellenes 1832 - 1862
Preceded by: Augustinos Kapodistrias (Governor)
Succeeded by: George I

Notes and References

  1. Clogg, Richard; A Short History of Modern Greece; Cambridge University Press, 1979; ISBN 0521328373
  2. Gallant, Thomas W.; Modern Greece; Oxford University Press, 2003; ISBN 0340763361
  3. Tompkinson, John L.; Athens: The City; Anagnosis Books, 1996; ISBN 9608718600
  4. van der Kiste, John; Kings of the Hellenes; Sutton Publishing, 1994; ISBN 0750921471

King Otto, Gottlieb Bodmer

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