Two 19th-Century Coups That Change the Face of Modern Greece


The Combat of the Giaour and Hassan by Eugène Delacroix (1826, oil on canvas, Art Institute of Chicago). Inspired by Lord Byron’s poem The Giaour. / Art Institute of Chicago, Wikimedia Commons

Since then, the square in front of the Old Royal Palace has been renamed Constitution Square, or Syntagma Square in Greek.


Edited by Matthew A. McIntosh
Journalist and Historian
Brewminate Editor-in-Chief


The Coup of September 3, 1843

Overview

The 3 September 1843 Revolution, was an uprising by the Hellenic Army in Athens, supported by large sections of the people, against the autocratic rule of King Otto. The rebels, led by veterans of the Greek War of Independence, demanded the granting of a constitution and the departure of the Bavarian officials that dominated the government. The revolution succeeded, ushering the period of constitutional monarchy and universal suffrage in Greece.

Background

During the War of Independence, the Greek rebels had passed a series of liberal and progressive constitutions on which the war’s provisional governments were based. With the establishment of the monarchy in 1832 and the arrival of the Bavarian prince Otto as king, however, these liberal institutions were discarded. For the next 10 years, Otto and his mainly Bavarian officials would rule in an autocratic manner, causing large-scale resentment amongst a people that had just been liberated from foreign rule. The “Bavarocracy” (Βαυαροκρατία), as it was called, intentionally recalling the periods of “Francocracy” and “Turcocracy”, even extended to the use of German alongside Greek in the state administration.

Greek politicians constantly demanded an end to this state of affairs. They wished for the Bavarians, above all the much-despised Major Hess, to be sent back to their country and for a constitution to be granted. However, they did not question the monarchy itself or the power of the king. Indeed, they did not wish to impose a constitution, but demanded that the king grant them one. These demands grew ever stronger as time passed, and cut across the political spectrum: all political parties, the French, the English, and the Russian, expressed them.

The Conspiracy

Andreas Metaxas, one of the conspirators. / Wikimedia Commons

The king’s repeated refusals to yield to these demands led to a radicalisation. Therefore, the politicians resorted to conspiracy, which was not a new form of political action in Greece – indeed it had preceded and occurred during the War of Independence. The first Greek governments, such as that of John Capodistria, had had to confront it, and conspiracies had never really disappeared. However, this movement was much more important and came out into the open on 3 September 1843.

The principal conspirators were Yannis Makriyannis, Andreas Metaxas, Andreas Londos, Constantine Zografos [el], Michael Soutzos and Rigas Palamidis [el]. They had managed to convince certain officers to join their side, chief among these being Colonel Dimitrios Kallergis (Commander of the Athens cavalry), Colonel Skarvelis (Commander of the Athens infantry) and Colonel Spyromilios (Commander of the Military Academy). Thus, the conspirators were certain to have army support.

Their idea was to act quickly so as to present the Palace with a fait accompli. A first date was chosen: 25 March 1844, anniversary of the uprising against the Ottomans. The constitution would then appear as the logical and necessary consequence of independence. However, the secret was not well kept. Yannis Makriyannis, for example, spent his time trying to recruit new conspirators and in the process exposed the conspiracy. It was decided to pass more quickly to action, at the beginning of September 1843.

The Coup

The coup. Dimitrios Kallergis on horseback, Otto and Amalia at the windows of the Old Royal Palace. / Wikimedia Commons

On the night of 2 September 1843, it was learned that the names of the conspirators were known to the police. Moreover, incidents took place around Makriyannis’ home. Therefore, Kallergis acted on his own initiative. He went looking for his men in their barracks and headed toward the Old Royal Palace. At the same time, he ordered that the gates of Medrese Prison be opened.

Captain Schinas, who commanded the Athens artillery, received an order to suppress the nascent insurrection, but preferred to join the movement. The soldiers arrived at the Old Royal Palace and shouted “Long live the Constitution!” beneath the king’s windows.

Otto could not but yield to the demands and granted the 1844 Constitution. In fact, the Council of State had already drawn up the constitution in anticipation of the coup. The king then asked Metaxas to form a new government and to summon a new national assembly, which met on 10 November (OS)/20 November (NS). The troops returned to their barracks, acclaiming the king as a “constitutional” one.

The coup was bloodless. France and the United Kingdom accepted these changes without difficulty. For the French of the July Monarchy era, 3 September 1843 could only bring to mind their own Revolution of 1830. As for the British, their Glorious Revolution of 1688 was a liberal model par excellence in the 19th century. Only Russia condemned the movement, for she was autocratic, authoritarian, and consequently anti-liberal. The assembly designated a constitutional commission and a constitution was proclaimed in March 1844.

Since then, the square in front of the Old Royal Palace has been renamed Constitution Square, or Syntagma Square in Greek.

The Coup of October 23, 1862

Overview

The 23 October 1862 Revolution was a popular insurrection which led to the overthrow of King Otto of Greece. Starting on 18 October in Vonitsa, it soon spread to other cities and reached Athens on 22 October.

Background

On 1 February 1862, the first insurrection broke out in Nafplio, led by Dimitrios Grivas [el], Petros A. Mavromichalis [el] and Dimitrios Botsaris.[1] Soon, the revolt started to spread to Santorini, Hydra, Tripoli and Messenia.[2] However, the royal authorities quickly managed to restore control and the revolt was suppressed by 20 March.[3]

The Coup

King Otto and Queen Amalia embarking on HMS Scylla. / Wikimedia Commons

On 16 October, King Otto and his queen left for a royal visit to Peloponnese in order to strengthen the bonds between the Greek people and the crown. However, a new insurrection erupted two days later in Vonitsa, on the Ambracian Gulf, led by Dimitrios Voulgaris, Konstantinos Kanaris and Benizelos Rouphos. Soon, the insurrection spread to Missolonghi and Patras. On 22 October, the insurrection reached the capital Athens and a provisional government was established, with Rouphos as the Prime Minister. On the following day, the revolutionaries proclaimed the deposition of the royal couple, and convened an assembly for the election of a new monarch.[4]

The royal couple was then brought from Kalamata by the Minister of Police and placed under the protection of a British warship, HMS Scylla. At the same time, the property of the royal couple which remained in the Old Royal Palace was inventoried before being returned to their legitimate possessors. Advised by ambassadors of the Great Powers, Otto and his queen then left Greece and went into exile. In spite of everything, the king refused to abdicate and did not envision his departure as being definitive.[5]

Appendix

Notes

  1. Driault and Lhéritier, 1926, p. 473-474
  2. Driault and Lhéritier 1926, p. 474
  3. Driault and Lhéritier 1926, p. 476-477
  4. Driault and Lhéritier 1926, p. 487
  5. Driault and Lhéritier 1926, p. 487-488

Bibliography

  • Brunet de Presle and A. Blanchet, La Grèce depuis la conquête romaine jusqu’à nos jours., Firmin Didot, Paris, 1860.
  • Driault, Édouard; Lhéritier, Michel (1926). Histoire diplomatique de la Grèce de 1821 à nos jours [Diplomatic History of Greece from 1821 to today] (in French). II. Paris: PUF.

Originally published by Wikipedia, 06.24.2007, under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported license.

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