Otto I of Greece

Summary

Otto von Wittelsbach (German: Otto von Wittelsbach, 1 June 1815 – 26 July 1867) was a Bavarian prince of the House of Wittelsbach. He became the first king of the modern Greek state. He was the only monarch of Greece to bear the title of King of Greece, since the next monarchs of the House of Glyxburg held the title of King of the Greeks.

Otto Frederick Louis was born on 1 June 1815 at the Mirabel Palace in Salzburg. He was the second-born son of the philhellene King Ludwig I of Bavaria and Therese, daughter of Frederick, Duke of Saxony-Alteburg. He received the education of a prince, destined for a secondary position within the state. In fact, his father wanted him to pursue a church career and entrusted his studies to the fanatical Catholic priest, Aitel, who later became Bishop of Eichstedt.

Due to the suspicion of the Governor of Greece, Ioannis Kapodistrias, (he was considered a Russophile), in 1830, England, during the signing of the Protocol of Independence of the Greek State, reached an agreement with the Great Powers (“Protecting Powers”) for the change of the constitutional structure of the country, the imposition of a monarchy and the transformation of the Greek state into a kingdom. They also appointed, with the Treaty of London (1832), Otto, then 17 years old, as King of Greece after the final refusal of Leopold of Saxony, son of Francis, Duke of Saxony-Coburg-Zaalfeld. He had originally been chosen as King of Greece and then put at the head of the newly created Kingdom of Belgium.

The protocol for the election (25 April 1832) of Otto as king was signed by Viscount Palmerston (England) and princes Charles Maurice de Talleyrand-Perregaux (France) and Christoph von Leuven (Russia). It was sent for approval to King Louis. He expressed certain demands for the acceptance of the Greek throne by his son Otto: that the boundaries of the kingdom be extended to Volos and Arta and that Crete and Samos be annexed, that a loan of 60 million French francs be granted, that three regiments of the Bavarian army be sent to Greece (3. 500 men), to have a three-member regency until Otto came of age, not to adopt a constitution before the king took office (so that he would not be obliged to suspend it in case of a crisis) and finally, Otto”s title would be “King of Greece”.

The Protecting Powers rejected the first claim and accepted the remaining conditions, stipulating that the requested loan would be paid under their guarantee in three equal instalments. Two months later (17 June 1832), the “definitive” borders of the newly established kingdom were decided, which acquired Acarnania, Aetolia and Fthiotida, with a boundary line starting from Kompoti (Amvrakikos Gulf), passing through the peaks of Othrys and Tymfristos, and ending in Maliaco.

In the address addressed by King Otto to the Greek people on his arrival in Greece, he stressed (excerpts of the speech):

“Greeks! Invited by the trust of the glorious and great-fishy intercessors, through whose powerful help you have gloriously completed the war of destruction, which was too much to expect, …invited, moreover, by your own free election, I ascend to the throne of Greece, to fulfil the obligations I have undertaken in accepting the Royal Crown offered me, both to you and to the Great Powers interceding. …

Because Otho was a minor, a Regency committee was formed. This body consisted of:

Otto”s coming of age took place on 1 June 1835 and was celebrated with cannon firing, a military parade, lighting, games and an official dance. With all the means at their disposal, Athens and its inhabitants commemorated the day: “It became a glorious parade,” writes Makriyannis in his memoirs, “from the church to the palace the street was paved and decorated.”

Despite Otto”s opposition, Louis insisted on keeping Armansperg in a position of responsibility in Greece. In official texts he is referred to by the title of Chief Secretary, while in everyday life and in the opposition press he is called Archchancellor.

Otto”s assumption of the royal duties ushered in a new phase for the establishment of institutions according to which the state would function. In the last half of 1835, four basic institutions were created, the first being the office of the chief secretary, an institution of short duration, as it lasted only as long as Armansperg”s term of office, and ceased to exist with the fall of the archchancellor in February 183. The second institution, which concerned the system of small landed property, though late in its implementation, became in time a basic feature of the Greek social system. The third, which was the establishment of the Council of State, was retained in its original form and in its primary functions until the grant of the Constitution in March, 1844; while the fourth, which provided for the creation of the Greek phalanx, could not reach full development, owing to the financial difficulties which the state was experiencing.

The discontent of the people due to Otto”s policies, but also the interests of the Great Powers demanded the granting of a constitution. In particular, England believed that parliamentarism would better serve its interests, while France did not want to appear to be opposed to the granting of liberties. Finally, Russia sought a change whereby Otto would be forced to abdicate, as it had hopes that a Russian prince would ascend the throne. Leverage for the Powers was the financial obligations of Greece. Thus, Russia demanded the immediate payment of the first two instalments of 1833 and the repayment of the advances of the third. The other powers agreed to this. As a result, discontent grew against Otto, who was forced to resort to unpopular measures (he stopped the execution of works, suspended the payment of salaries and dismissed many civil servants).

The discontent led to the conspiracy of some politicians and officers – led by Makriyannis and Kallergis – who wanted to force Otto to grant a constitution. However, he and the government took no protective measures.

On the night of 2 to 3 September a battalion gathered citizens and marched towards the palace with the cry “Long live the Constitution”. Otto called for an artillery detachment, but the head of the detachment, Captain Eleftherios Schinas (or Schinas), was initiated into the movement and joined the rebels. Makriyannis declared himself the city”s fortress-keeper and took charge of the protection of the palaces and public buildings. Christides” ministry had been dissolved and a new government was formed with Andreas Metaxas as prime minister. A six-member revolutionary committee was presented to the king and forced him to order a National Assembly to be convened to pass a constitution. The revolutionaries were demanding their political rights, not the removal of Otto. Elections were held in October and November and the proxies formed the constitutional National Assembly of 1843.

Otto finally conceded the Constitution of 1844, but the new government demanded from the king not only amnesty, but also a medal for the pioneers of the Revolution. The king did not agree at first, but eventually he was pressured by the Great Powers, relented and was accepted by the people and the army. The night of September 3 marked the end of absolute monarchy in Greece.

The government of Andreas Metaxas had as its mission the convening of the National Assembly of 1843, for the preparation and adoption of the Constitution and the holding of elections. Representatives (“plenipotentiaries”) from regions that had participated in the Revolution but were not liberated also took part in the National Assembly. In March 1844, Panoutsos Notaras was elected president. It was decided to maintain the monarchy, but with constitutional restrictions. This middle way was also preferred by the Great Powers, who were not actively involved in the movement and could now play the role of mediator. Russia, however, was opposed to constitutional concessions.

In the new constitution the position of the king was again dominant, since the National Assembly still considered the monarch to be the holder of constitutional power. The new form of constitution was hegemonic, hereditary, constitutional and parliamentary. The king retained executive power and shared with the House of Assembly and the Senate – whose members were appointed by the king himself – legislative power. He was the supreme ruler of the state: he ratified laws, conferred military ranks, appointed and dismissed civil servants.

With the Constitution of September 3, Orthodoxy was recognized as the predominant religion in Greece, while any other religion was tolerated. Also, the Church of Greece is doctrinally united with the Patriarchate of Constantinople but is autocephalous and independent of any other.

On the issue of indigenous and heterochthonous people there was great tension, since it had been decided earlier that only Greek citizens were admitted to the public professions. The indigenous people demanded the naturalization of the heterochthonous, resulting in the exclusion from public positions of all Greeks from the still enslaved areas. This also caused the reaction of the heterochthons and as a result the decision was included in the Resolutions and not in the Constitution.

On the issue of succession, the Constitution stipulated that any future holder of the Greek throne should be Orthodox, a fact that caused a reaction, since the Treaty of London did not provide for this. Russia, however, had no problem, and England and France accepted the fait accompli.

Many argued that the Senate, provided for by the new Constitution, was an aristocratic and dangerous institution, since the king appointed life senators who, being loyal to him, would limit the work of the elected deputies. Eventually two opposing groups were formed and the supporters of the royal views prevailed.

The constitution was based on European constitutions and the experiences of a few politicians but was not determined by a specific political ideology.

Discontent and anti-dynastic manifestations

After the Crimean War, the leaders of the three parties withdrew from political life and a new period began in which the transformation of modern Greek society included the strengthening of the bourgeoisie. Also, Otto failed to have children and thus the search for a new orthodox prince began.

Also, the liberal spirit prevailing in Italy encouraged the Greeks, who believed that the Italians, after their victory over Austria, would proceed to liberate the Christian populations of the East. The people expected active action from Otto, but he hesitated and was accused of pro-Austrian sentiments.

The press openly turned against the king and the opposition faction was strengthened in Parliament. Otto ordered the reconstitution of the Miaouli government, which held elections in 1859 and won. The opposition reacted to the scandalous interference in favour of government candidates. After the removal of many deputies and unrest, Otto finally dissolved the parliament and held elections in 1861. In these both Otho and the government used all means to ensure that the governing party prevailed. An assassination attempt against Amalia somewhat steered the spirits, but soon the anti-dynastic struggle was again on the rise.

Otto then invited the opposition to form a government, but they demanded it:

While, initially, Otto agreed, he then revoked the order and gave the premiership back to Miaoulis.

Revolutionary movements

The first revolutionary movements appeared in Nafplio. In 1862, the revolutionaries broke down the authorities and sought the abolition of the system and the proclamation of a new one, the dissolution of the illegitimate Parliament and the convening of a National Assembly. The government besieged Nafplio. Otto granted a partial amnesty, on condition that the pioneers should leave Greek territory in two ships.

Revolutionary movements also took place in Syros. The rebels armed a merchant ship, but Otto sent the warship, Amalia, with a sufficient military force and arrested them. He granted amnesty to all those who participated in the revolution except the pioneers.

Revolution and the eviction of Otto

Eventually, Miaoulis resigned and Otto made Ioannis Kolokotronis prime minister.He was secretly making plans with Italy for joint action against the Gate. England, learning of these plans, took appropriate measures to thwart them.

Regal demonstrations prevailed at home. On the night of 10 to 11 October, the Resolution of the Nation for the abolition of Otto”s reign was issued, as follows:

“The sufferings of the Fatherland have increased. All the provinces and the Capital, having united after the Army put an end to them, as a common expression of the Greek Nation as a whole, it is declared and voted: the Kingdom of Otho is abolished. The Regency of Amalia is abolished. A Provisional Government is hereby established to govern the State until the convening of a National Assembly of six citizens: Demetrius Voulgaris, President, Constantine Kanaris, Venizelos Rufus.”

The royal couple saw fit to make a tour of the provinces to restore his popularity. But while the reception seemed enthusiastic, in the meantime a revolution broke out in Aetoloakarnania and reached as far as Athens. The royal couple stayed on board the warship Amalia, while the Great Powers advised them to depart immediately. Otto and Amalia left Greece on 23 October 1862 on the English warship Scylla. They fled to Munich and later to Bamberg, but Otto did not formally abdicate the throne.

King Otto”s last address to the Greek people, shortly before his departure from Greece, stated the following:

“Greeks!

After a period of interregnum, the Greek throne was given to the Danish Prince George. He was proclaimed King of the Greeks as George I.

Some historians say that Otto loved Greece more than anything else, but not the Greeks. He died on 26 July 1867 in Hamburg. He wanted to be buried in the traditional Greek costume, the fustanella. He is buried next to Amalia in the crypt of the Bavarian dynasty”s family tombs in the Church of the Theatines in the centre of Munich.

Foreign language

Πηγές

  1. Όθων Α΄ της Ελλάδας
  2. Otto of Greece