Otto of Greece

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

He was the son of King Ludwig I of Bavaria and his wife, Therese of Saxe-Altenburg.

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. Great Britain and the Rothschild bank, who were underwriting the Greek loans, insisted on financial stringency and 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. Otto showed little respect for local customs. A staunch Catholic, and thus considered a heretic among the Greeks, he never considered changing his religion.

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 at 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 ill-advised attempt to engage Greek sentiment by efforts to acquire Crete in 1841, failed to materialize and only succeeded in embroiling him with the Great Powers.

Initially Otto refused to grant a constitution, but was forced to do so after a military coup, which occured as soon as German troops were withdrawn from the kingdom, in 1843. Now for the first time he had Greeks in his council. His prestige suffered by the "Pacifico incident" of 1850, when British Prime Minister Palmerston caused the British fleet to blockade the Pireus with warships, to exact reparation for injustice done to a British subject.

The unrealistic "Great Idea", his dream of restoring the Byzantine Empire under Christian rule, led to his entering the Crimean War against Turkey; the enterprise was unsuccessful. In 1861 a student named Drusios attempted to murder the queen, and was openly hailed as a hero. After another coup in 1862, a provisional government was set up and summoned a national convention. The king and queen took refuge on a British warship and returned to Bavaria, taking with them the Greek royal regalia which he had brought from Bavaria in 1832.

Otto was born in Salzburg, Austria, son of Ludwig I of Bavaria and his wife Therese of Saxe-Hildburghausen (1792-1854). He died in the palace of the former bishops of Bamberg, Germany, and was buried in Munich. In his retirement he had become convinced that the throne of Greece was his by divine right and refused to accept the election to the throne of Prince George of Denmark.

Preceded by:
Autonomous Greek
Republic under Russia
Kings of Greece Succeeded by:
George I

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