Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Monarch Profile: King Otto of Greece

Today, May 20, marks the anniversary of the day in 1835 when Prince Otto Friedrich Ludwig of Bavaria was first named King of the recently liberated country of Greece. The choice of Prince Otto, a German Roman Catholic, as first monarch of modern Greece certainly presented a great many problems to overcome and given how things turned out for him, he could not, in practical terms, be considered a success. Yet, his reign also represented a vision for future greatness that one cannot help but be attracted to; and rather sorry that the Greeks were not able to achieve it. He was only 17 when he was elected King of Greece in cooperation with the 'Great Powers' of Europe which were sympathetic to Greek independence but also worried about a major war with the Ottoman Empire to which many Greeks in the un-liberated areas were still subject.

Almost as soon as he set foot on Greek soil King Otto faced considerable discontent and many, many problems. For one thing, although he agreed that any future heirs of his would be raised Greek Orthodox, Otto refused to abandon Roman Catholicism which earned him the wrath of many Orthodox Greeks. He also had to built a new country almost from scratch and that required a considerable increase in taxes to staff new positions, build infrastructure and things like schools and hospitals to put Greece on the road to becoming a modern country rather than the underdeveloped Turkish vassal it had been. This also aroused discontent as did the number of Bavarians that Otto brought with him to help get things up and running. His wife, whom he married in 1837, was not terribly popular either.

One thing that no one can deny is that King Otto cared about Greek greatness. Despite the opposition of the major European powers he almost immediately began to call for the restoration of traditionally and ethnically Greek territories but was thwarted at almost every turn. Religious problems were myriad with the Greek Patriarch still living in the Ottoman Empire, Russia backing up the Orthodox position and other European powers sending in Protestant missionaries along with the resentment of the King's Catholicism. One camp portrayed the new regime as determined to destroy the Orthodox heritage of the country while the other portrayed Greece as primitive and religiously intolerant. The threat of revolution was never far and as soon as the King sent his Bavarian troops home there was a mutiny which forced Otto to grant a constitution. The King was also thwarted in his efforts to expand Greece by entering the Crimean War against Turkey to annex those areas populated by Greeks into a restored Byzantine Empire. The British took swift action to prevent such a conflict and the King's prestige dropped further.

In 1862, while away from the capital, there was another coup which declared the King deposed and a new provisional government established. The major powers somewhat sympathized and urged King Otto to accept the situation, which he reluctantly did, taking a British ship away from Greece and going into exile in his native Bavaria. He wore traditional Greek costume for the rest of his life and died in Bavaria in 1867.


  1. I am sure he sincerely cared for Greece and it is a pity his efforts were unsuccessful, although it was probably inevitable given all the factors operating against him.

  2. It's a pity that the overthrow of the Turks didn't produce more immediate political blessings. However, wishing for a successful dynasty to begin with a foreign king who follows an unfamiliar religion requires more faith than most any can offer.

    Glad I found your blog. God bless.

  3. Imported monarchs tend to be those not in direct line for a throne in their own country and thus are often among the most zealous and hard-working of monarchs, eager to show what they can do. It has been done successfully in Britain, Belgium, Spain and elsewhere but has also failed on a number of occasions. In Greece it seems there were too many squabbling divisions for anyone to reasonably be able to overcome.

  4. And just think of that: an imported monarch couldn't make thinks in earth could do so a Greek one, with so many divisions? King Otto was realy a caring king, but i think the fact that his wife wasn't able to give him children, was a very serius problem.

  5. I don't think I understand the point you are trying to convey but let me just say that, for me, it's not whether you win or lose, or even really how you play the game, but rather the team you're on that matters.

  6. I was referring to those that say that Greece never had a Greek King, and i say that it was better that the origin of the Greek royal Family was from another country. I don't think that things would have been better if there was a real Greek for Monarch.


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