by Effi Pavlogeorgatou (Panteion University, Athens)
King Otto I, the “slow learning” or “noble”, “idealist” or “dangerous”, “authoritarian” or “paternal” ruler, represents an important chapter in the history of Greece, perhaps not so much for his political perceptiveness, nor for the importance of the work he left behind, as for the significance of the role and position represented by the first King of a nation-state that was trying to establish itself and to develop into a modern political entity. Throughout his reign, he was confronted by a recurring series of challenges (rebellion of his Greek subjects, financial uncertainty, and ecclesiastical issues) and he governed his country in an autocratic fashion until he was forced to become a constitutional monarch in 1843. Attempting to expand Greek territory at the expense of the Ottoman Empire, he failed1 and he was finally overthrown by a rebellious opposition in 1862.2 This essay will focus on how the Greek Press dealt with his memory in 1867, the year of his death, in comparison with the attitude of the Press in 1862, the time of his expulsion. 24 newspapers have been studied, dating mainly from July 20, 1867 until August 11, 1867.
During the Ottonian monarchy, attempts were made to muzzle free speech under laws published in the Government Gazette (issue 29, 14 September 1833), but also by subsequent legislation in the coming years (1837, 1844, 1850). Despite the excessive strictness of the legislation, three newspapers dominated during this period: Athena (1832–1862), Aeon (1838–1870 and sporadically for another two decades) and Elpis (1836–1868). These newspapers, despite the limitations set by the laws of 1833–1862, held a clear political stance promoting the fight to implement constitutional principles, to restore normality to everyday life and to expel the foreign Bavarian advisers. All three firmly kept an anti-Ottonian position, yet their stance did not denote that they were in favour of democracy, but only critical of parliamentary monarchy, criticizing not the person of the ruler, but the Regency; they also functioned as party organs, since influences from the policies of the Great Powers were evident after Athena followed the English policy, Aeon the Russian and Elpis the French one. There were also many newspapers in favour of Otto’s governance, as this was not a homogeneous period.
Positive comments on Otto’s death
In 1867 newspapers3 featuring an account of the reign of Otto acknowledged that the King had many advantages, shifting their focus from his political role to his personality. They found him gentle, guileless, moderate, sacrificing his own money (Imera). They said that he was interested in art and science, in poetry and history; that he promoted classical studies and the treasures of the country, and the Athenian university flourished during his days (Sizitisi). Benevolent, merciful, moral (Avgi), tolerant, he never imposed the death penalty for political crimes during his reign.
In almost all newspapers the common belief is that the King loved Greece (Alithia, Imera, Avgi); he did not abandon the city of Athens when a cholera epidemic broke out; he always said that he had acquired instead a new homeland; as a Catholic, he respected the Orthodox faith; he always dressed in Greek outfit; after his expulsion he settled in Bamberg because it was a Greek colony and refused to receive compensation for the loss of his lands (Avgi). He never wanted to blame those responsible for his expulsion (Avgi), and also demonstrated his patriotism when he did not want to return or to cause a civil war (as opposed to the other kings of the last 100 years who had lost their throne). He fell like Caesar, and Greece had not seen anyone like him since the time of Aristides, a leader who at the time of his death wished for the progress of Greece (Imera). Moreover, the cause of his death was his heartache over the situation in Crete (Avgi, Imera). While Otto found Greece in ruins, desolation and despair, he left it prosperous, luxuriant and full of life. He believed that he was the successor of Agamemnon and Constantine Paleologos, and like Prometheus he brought order, laws, culture and freedom (Imera).
Newspapers praised his political administration, also saying that what occurred after his expulsion only confirmed his own prudence, as he had been able to mitigate partisan bickering. He embraced the Great Idea, and that was the reason why Russia supported him (Elpis). Although Greece was a small country, it was free and well-organised (Ermoupolis), while Esperos newspaper of 1874 also praised Otto in contrast to the supposedly constitutional Voulgaris.
Even when newspapers acknowledged the weaknesses of Otto, they attributed them not to the intentions of the monarch, since he always acted in the interest of the people (Avgi), but to the conditions prevailing in Greece in 1833 (Alithia), or to the Greeks themselves, since the King was right in realising that the country could not get on its feet again with a constitutional system (Kleio). However, the King had been criticised many times, but he let the time pass without comments, and those who read his secret correspondence later repented for their judgments (Avgi).
Newspapers justified Otto’s weaknesses and rebutted criticism against the monarch. Among his major weaknesses was the fact that he demanded that the royal rights be respected always (Avgi), that he was slow in pronouncing judgments (Elpis), although this was due to the insistence on working hard to abide by the rules and the dictates of justice (Avgi), but essentially his feelings of compassion prevailed over his political weaknesses (Evripos). Besides, newspapers expressed the wish that, as in the past Kapodistrias had been honoured without his faults being overlooked, the same should happen to Otto; a mausoleum should be erected quickly and his bones should be transferred to his country, because Otto may not have been a perfect King, but he had been a perfect Greek (Avgi, Elpis).
Regarding the political actions of Otto, newspapers are more subdued in their comments and emphasise the need for more accountability in Court, assigning the blame to foreign agents rather than the weaknesses of the monarch himself. According to the press, obstacles were presented by the Great Powers that gave Otto a thorny crown, while the fact that Greeks were constantly divided was certainly not the fault of their monarch (Sizitisi); also, five years after his expulsion, Greece had yet to develop and progress ‒ so maybe he was not the only impediment (Avgi)? Ministers surrounding the King were accountable as well; sometimes they were perceived as flatterers who pursued only their own interest (Merimna), or they were bad advisors (Proinos Kirix) and they formed a swarm of devoted subjects (Paliggenesis), while they could, as Korais said, transform an angel to a devil (Ethniko Mellon). Nevertheless Otto was aware of anti-dynastic activities both on the part of those acting consciously and those who were seduced unwittingly (Avgi), while the sins of the past weighed not the King himself, but the citizens, dead and living, since they caused him so many difficulties (Elpis). Yet one of the great defects attributed to the King was his distrust and suspicion, due to the lack of sincerity by those who surrounded him (Elpis). Equally guilty were the regents during the first three years, in particular two of them (Merimna), and Queen Amalia as well (Proinos Kirix).
Regarding the causes of the King’s expulsion, newspapers are more cautious in their commentary. Unfortunately, the first period of Otto’s reign, marked by idolatry, ended up in 32 riots and total destruction in October, after which the King left in the night, pale and wrinkled (Imera), while another newspaper (Avgi) claimed that there had been unanimous agreement on his expulsion (the newspaper maintains a neutral position as to whether it was in the interest of the country). According to Sintagma newspaper, if the King had listened to public opinion and were not so stubborn he would not have been expelled.
When Otto was finally overthrown in 1862, the press explained that as a result of his personal weaknesses, for which he was openly criticised in newspapers. He lacked perceptiveness and swift decision-making, which were perceived as royal assets, and thus provided less than what Greece demanded, since he lacked the innate talent to govern (Imera). He was expulsed for this reason, though the role played by England should be kept in mind as well (Elpis). But the main issue was that he was not intelligent (Fos), while his incompetence and his distrust were legendary (Mellon).
Criticism of the monarch mainly focused on the violation of constitutional institutions. He was not considered the sole responsible for that, since he was surrounded by small and humble people (Mellon), yet he caused political corruption and anarchy (Merimna, Nea Genea, Fanos), while the constitutional regime was proven harmful, since the King had lacked the genius to provide a political education to the nation (Elpis). The free spirit of Greece rejected the centralist tendencies of the monarch (Evripos).
Other weaknesses of the monarch were the following: he lacked political acumen and concentration (Kleio); he ruled in a whimsical fashion, without promoting the function of the state (Evripos). Otto essentially harmed the nation because the unworthy benefited during his rule and the throne distorted his virtues (Fos). His reign was a serious setback for Greece (Nea Genea), while Greeks suffered a lot as individuals as well (Elpis). After Otto’s expulsion, for which he himself was exclusively responsible (Nea Genea), peace was consolidated (Mellon). Moreover, he did not prepare the nation for the national idea, since the military machine was left idle, on account of the Great Powers and his ministers (Nea Genea); he imposed a system of administration dictated by Austria, while he never supported the arts and the industries (Fos). Newspapers gloated over Otto’s death stating that Greeks would get rid of the scarecrow of his reign (Astir tis Anatolis), while his expulsion was considered fortunate for the nation (Patris) and the people were freed by the subsequent “hibernation” in 1860 (Fanos).
Obituaries in the Press after Otto’s death in 1867 were marked by gratitude and guilt towards the former King. What is striking though is that newspapers in 1862 – the time of his expulsion ‒ had presented a quite different picture, with harsh criticism against him. This change in perspective in the course of just five years cannot be understood without taking into consideration the historical epoch in which it occurred. Articles written at the time of Otto’s expulsion were influenced by the revolutionary turmoil of the era: they hailed the bloodless revolution and especially its leaders, who managed to drive away an unworthy King. Mostly, it was the radical press that started to criticise Otto immediately after his expulsion.4
The newspaper Ethnofylax (“The Guardian of the Nation”) newspaper, following a description of the ship leaving the port, waved a cheery goodbye to the monarch: “Obnoxious tyrant, the nastiest and idiotic ruler sat on the bloodstained throne and certainly could not keep the sceptre of the kingdom unperturbed. But no one could imagine that this national triumph [expulsion] was to end in a bloodless manner and with exemplary fraternity and harmony between the people and the army.” Athena newspaper welcomed with great enthusiasm the political change on October 11, which “needs to be displayed in golden letters in the annals of Modern Greece.” This change, according to the newspaper, which was an essential supplement to the democratic transition of September 3, 1843, was almost peaceful, and its organisers deserved great praise and gratitude.5
But regardless of the fact that a number of anti-Ottonian journalists repented for their attitude towards Otto (for example, Odysseas Ialemos, columnist of Mellon tis Patridas newspaper, Aristomenis Valettas, director of anti-Ottonian Athena and the poet Achilleas Paraschos),6 the fact remains that the Greek Press of that period had misunderstood its mission, instead functioning on the basis of partisanship and bias.7 During Otto’s reign newspapers often spread false information, while their numbers were disproportionate to the country’s population; every Greek citizen had the right to issue a newspaper ‒ “give me a ministry, or else I publish a newspaper”8 was the constant threat against the government.
The democratic deficit characterising the period after the revolt of 1862 revealed that the nation was unable to resolve the question of government. A power vacuum was created again, breeding a state of lawlessness as had been the time before Otto’s reign. This fact undermined the notion that the revolt of 1862 was a step forward. Instead, it led to questioning of the usefulness of the 1862 turmoil, attributing self-interest and other incentives to its initiators.9
A second important factor for the emergence of “guilt” in the attitude of the public towards the exiled former King was the crisis that broke out at the beginning of the Cretan Revolt in 1866. It generated a positive reassessment of Otto’s approach to national issues, as he was full of patriotic passion for the liberation of Greek populations under foreign rule. Within this Romantic environment, emotions after the death of an idealist King helped shape a climate of forgiveness and guilt, restoring Otto’s character and personality on the whole. During that period, his image as a “good” and “patriotic” King became separated from the policy he pursued; he was acknowledged as having noble motives but also political weaknesses. Apart of course from the sentimentality, honouring the exiled former King essentially reflected discontent with the present conditions and criticism against contemporary figures (e.g. King George).
- Κ. Kostis, Τα κακομαθημένα παιδιά της Ιστορίας. Η διαμόρφωση του νεοελληνικού κράτους 18ος– 21ος αιώνας (Spoiled children in History. The shaping of the Modern Greek State 18th – 21st centuries) Polis publications, Athens 2013, pp. 260-264. ↩
- G. Hering, Τα πολιτικά κόμματα στην Ελλάδα 1821- 1936 (Political parties in Greece 1821-1936), National Bank Cultural Foundation, Athens 2004, pp. 353, 358. ↩
- For this essay, excerpts from 19 newspapers were used: Αθήνα (Athena) 20.10.1862; Αλήθεια (Alithia) issue 440, 28.07.1867; Αλήθεια issue 441, 29.07.1867; Αλήθεια issue 441, 29.07.1867; Αυγή (Avgi) issue 1980, 29.07.1867; Εθνικόν Μέλλον (Ethniko Mellon) issue 9, 29.07.1867; Εθνοφύλαξ (Ethnofylax) issue 121, 13.10.1862; Εθνοφύλαξ issue 3185, 10.05.1875; Η Ελπίς (Elpis) issue 1416, 01.08.1867; Ερμούπολις (Ermoupolis) issue 149, 27.07.1867; Έσπερος (Esperos) issue 183, 28.06.1874; Εύριπος (Evripos) issue 107, 05.05.1867; Μέλλον (Mellon) issue 372, 01.08.1867; Μέριμνα (Merimna) issue 623, 01.08.1867; Μέριμνα (Merimna) issue 626, 11.08.1867; Η Νέα Γενεά (Nea Genea) issue 466, 03.08.1867; Η Νέα Γενεά issue 467, 05.08.1867; Η Νέα Γενεά issue 468, 09.08.1867; Ο Αστήρ της Ανατολής (Astir tis Anatolis) issue 494, 29.07.1867; Παλιγγενεσία (Paliggenesis) issue 1217, 22.07.1867; Παλιγγενεσία issue 1220, 27.07.1867; Παλιγγενεσία issue 1221, 28.07.1867; Πατρίς (Patris) issue 75, 22.07.1867; Πατρίς issue 76, 29.07.1867; Πατρίς issue 77, 05.08.1867; Πρωινός Κήρυξ (Proinos Kirix) issue 304 (second period), 20.07.1867; Πρωινός Κήρυξ (Proinos Kirix) issue 305 (second period), 22.07.1867; Πρωινός Κήρυξ issue 307 (second period), 27.07.1867; Σύνταγμα (Sintagma) issue 59, 27.07.1867; Σύνταγμα issue 60, 31.07.1867; Φανός (Fanos) issue 2, 20.05.1875; Φως (Fos) issue 763, 21.07.1867; Φως issue 764, 28.07.1867; Φως issue 765, 04.08.1867; Φως issue 766, 11.08.1867. ↩
- Τ. Evangelidis, Ιστορία του Όθωνος, βασιλέως της Ελλάδος (1832-1862) (The story of Otto King of Greece (1832-1862)), Athens 1893, p. 740. ↩
- Α. Skandamis, Σελίδες πολιτικής Ιστορίας και Κριτικής. Η Τριακονταετία της βασιλείας του Όθωνος (1832-1862) (Pages of Political History and Criticism. The Thirty Years of Otto’s Reign (1832-1862)), Athens 1961, pp. 817-821. ↩
- Skandamis, pp. 271-273; T. Evangelidis, p. 740. ↩
- Skandamis, pp. 271-273. ↩
- Evangelidis, p. 773. ↩
- Ε. Kyriakidis, Ιστορία του σύγχρονου Ελληνισμού (History of Modern Hellenism) 2 vols, Athens 1892-94, in Ιστορία του Ελληνικού Έθνους (History of the Hellenic Nation), vol. 13, Ekdotiki Athenon publications, Athens 2000, p. 199. ↩