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HM George, King of Greece

Spy (Sir Leslie Ward) (1851-1922)



Watercolour and bodycolour with ink on tinted paper

12 x 7 ¼ inches

Vanity Fair, 21 October 1876, Sovereigns no 12

'Chris Beetles Summer Show', Chris Beetles Gallery, London, 2021, no 63;
'The Illustrators. The British Art of Illustration 1871-2022', Chris Beetles Gallery, London, November-December 2022, no 33

Spy’s caricature of King George is a reminder of British, and generally international, involvement in the governance of Greece following its independence from the Ottoman Empire in 1830. At the London Conference in 1832, The ‘Great Powers’ – Britain, France and Russia – recognised the country’s autonomy and established a monarchy in Greece under the Bavarian prince, Otto. He reigned for 30 years, but became increasingly unpopular with native Greek politicians, and was deposed in 1862. He was replaced at the suggestion of the Great Powers by the 17 year old Danish prince, William (1845-1913). He was elected the King of the Hellenes in 1863, and took the regnal name of George. At his urging, Greece adopted a more democratic constitution, and greatly developed its parliamentary process.
In the same year, his sister, Alexandria, married (Albert) Edward, the Prince of Wales and future Edward VII. These personal bonds further strengthened relations between Britain and Greece, and helped maintain George’s reputation among the British people, as exemplified by Spy’s gentle caricature, which was published in 1876.
During the nineteenth century there was a desire in Greek politics to unify all areas that had been historically inhabited by the ethnically Greek people. So, in 1897, the Greek population of Crete rose up against its Ottoman rulers, and the Greek Prime Minister, Theodoros Diligiannis, mobilised troops, which invaded Crete and crossed the Macedonian border into the Ottoman Empire. When Greece lost the war that followed, King George considered abdicating. However, when he survived an assassination attempt in 1898, his subjects began to hold him in greater esteem. In 1901, on the death of Queen Victoria he became the second-longest-reigning monarch in Europe.
In 1912, the Kingdom of Montenegro declared war against the Ottoman Empire, Crown Prince Constantine led the victorious Greek forces in support of the Ottoman Empire, in what became known as the First Balkan War. George planned to abdicate in favour of his son immediately after the celebration of his Golden Jubilee in October 1913. However, while walking in Thessaloniki on 18 March 1913, he was assassinated by the anarchist, Alexandros Schinas. Constantine succeeded to the throne.

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