The First Danish King of Greece: Prince William of Denmark Becomes King George I

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Georgios I, King of Greece (1845-1913)

The recently independent Greece chose Prince William of Denmark to be king, and as King George I of Greece he founded a royal dynasty that lasted for over a century.

When the recently independent Greece was looking for a new king, it chose Prince William of Denmark. This young prince proved to be a good choice, but many negotiations had to be made and conditions met before he finally agreed to accept the throne. As King George I of Greece, the former Prince William of Denmark was a great ruler and began a new royal dynasty in Greece that lasted for over a century.

Greece Looks for a New King

After the War of Independence in 1830, Greece decided that it wanted a monarchical government. It needed to appoint a foreign prince to be its new king, because it needed someone who was already royal and yet did not have responsibilities elsewhere. Greece initially appointed Prince Otto of Bavaria to be King Otto I of Greece. Although he was well meaning he was unfortunately weak, and a revolution in 1862 finally forced him to flee.

Greece then needed to start over with a new prince. But it was hard to find a foreign prince willing to come be King of the Hellenes, as the Greeks were known for being a volatile, mercurial, and obviously revolutionary people. No prince wanted to move to Greece only to be deposed or even assassinated.

The provisional Greek government soon elected Prince Alfred of Edinburgh, Queen Victoria’s second son, to be king of Greece. Greece had neglected to tell Prince Alfred of its plans, however, and when told he very quickly informed them that an international agreement prohibited a British royal from being king of Greece.

Greece then looked through the rest of Europe for a willing prince. Great Britain, France, and Russia, the three “guaranteeing” powers of the Greek state, were very eager to put forth candidates, and Greece was eager to please its protecting powers. This was made easier when Emperor Napoleon III decided to put French support behind the British candidate.

Prince William of Denmark Is Chosen to Be King of Greece

History is not entirely clear on why Great Britain chose Prince William of Denmark as its candidate for Greek kingship, but he was a good if not particularly obvious choice. At seventeen, he was a naval cadet at the Danish Naval Academy. As well as being young, Prince William was cheerful, charming, and exuberant, and his light personality did indeed help him weather the problems of ruling such a difficult country as Greece.

Prince William of Denmark was also a politically good choice. As the second son of the future King Christian IX of Denmark, Prince William was not directly in line for a throne but was closely related to one. He was also related to the British throne, as his sister Princess Alexandra had married the future King Edward VII, and Greece hoped that this relationship would ensure even stronger British protection. Prince William would also later be related to the Russian throne, when another sister, Princess Dagmar, married the future Tsar Alexander III.

Prince William of Denmark Becomes King George I of Greece

King Frederick VII of Denmark was in favor of the election, but Prince William’s father, Prince Christian, was worried about his son becoming king in such a volatile nation. So Prince Christian, who became King Christian IX of Denmark in late 1863, insisted on several conditions to make the Greek “crown of thorns” safer. He insisted that the protecting powers promise Prince William £25,000 a year if he were ever deposed. Great Britain also had to promise to give Greece the Ionian Islands, which Greece had long hoped it would do if it accepted the British candidate. And thirdly, Bavaria had to support Prince William’s election, because Prince Christian didn’t want any problems with the former king of Greece’s home country. When these conditions were settled in May of 1863, Prince Christian allowed his son to accept the throne of Greece.

Prince William of Denmark had already been proclaimed King of the Hellenes by the Greek National Assembly on March 30, 1863. An official ceremony in which he formally accepted his kingship was held in the Christiansborg Palace in Copenhagen on June 6, 1863. The new King George I of Greece, as Prince William decided to style himself, then prudently paid courtesy visits to the heads of the three protecting nations of Greece. And in October of 1863, King George I of Greece finally arrived in his new country.

The Royal Dynasty of King George I of Greece

King George I of Greece, born Prince William of Denmark, ultimately had a spectacular reign. He proved to be a good, capable king, and the Greek people appreciated his unpretentious manner and familiarity with his people. He began the Greek royal dynasty of Schleswig-Holstein-Sonderburg-Glucksburg, which reigned for over a century. Unfortunately, his heirs fared less well with the mercurial Greeks, and the dynasty was ultimately deposed in 1973. Nevertheless, the royal dynasty begun by King George I of Greece had a lasting impact on Greece and its people.

Source:

  1. Aronson, Theo. A Family of Kings: The Descendants of Christian IX of Denmark. Cassel & Company Ltd., 1976.