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H.M. Christian William Ferdinand Adolphus George, King of Greece '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, 'Greece'

Chris Beetles & Alexander Beetles (eds.) Portraits of Vanity Fair: The Charles Sigety Collection, London: Chris Beetles Ltd, 2023, page 37

'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;
'Portraits of Vanity Fair: The Charles Sigety Collection', Chris Beetles Gallery, London, October-November 2023, no 17

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.

“His Majesty George I, King of Greece, is like his Kingdom, an accident. Fourteen years ago the crown of Greece went a-begging. It had successively been offered to and refused by the Duke of Edinburgh and the Duke Ernest of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha, when it occurred to so some astute persons that there was in the North a family which had recently been taken under the protection of the Powers and protocolised into a place not hitherto belonging to it. For by the Treaty of May 1852, the claims of the House of Augustenburg and three others had been set aside, and the family of Schleswig-Holstein Sonderburg Glücksburg had been designated as the heirs to Denmark and the Duchies-the rights, however, of the line of Holstein-Gottor, represented by the Emperor of Russia, being reserved. A scion of this House seemed therefore a desirable Sovereign for Greece, and from being a Danish Admiral Prince George, then a lad of eighteen, was brought to the Greek throne. Four years later he married the Grand-Duchess Olga, niece of the Emperor Alexander, and thus, as it was presumed, finally assured to his kingdom the protection of Russia, which protection, however, was immediately found insufficient to enable it to wrest Crete from the Turk. The advent of Queen Olga, however, caused, and still causes, the Court of Greece to be one of the most stuck-up and tiresome in Europe; and the countenance of his Imperial relative has not availed to prevent the reign of this unfortunate young man from being one continued series of troubles and anxieties, which have repeatedly driven him to the verge of abdication, Although now one and thirty, he is still but a boy - a good boy, indeed, but poorly brought up, and without anything like sufficient notions of policy to enable him to play any other part than that of an instrument in the destinies of his adopted country. The best thing that can be said of him is, that he is the brother of the Princess of Wales.”

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