Joseph Hansen

Joseph Hansen

How Britain Established the Monarchs in Greece

(20 January 1945)

Source: The Militant, Vol. IX No. 3, 20 January 1945, p. 4.
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Is the Damaskinos regency set up by the British in Greece the first of its kind? The New York Times on December 16 stated that “a regency in this realm has no historic precedent and requires a constitutional amendment.” The Times is either lying or grossly ignorant of Greek history. The truth is, the appointment of the Damaskinos regency is only the latest application of an imperialist policy consistently followed by Britain in Greece since the disintegration of the Turkish empire.

A century and a quarter ago, British imperialism, then consolidating itself as the world’s leading power, looked greedily at the holding of the sick Turkish empire. When the Greeks in 1821 began their war for independence from Turkey, the political heads of Britain recognized a favorable opening. In 1827 they pulled a Pearl Harbor type attack. Taking advantage of the fact Britain was at peace with Turkey, the British navy anchored its ships among the Turkish and Egyptian ships at Navarino. Then the British opened fire, virtually annihilating the Sultan’s fleet.

Together with the Russians and French, the British sent troops to Greece. Britain’s attitude toward Greece was not cast, however, in the mold of disinterested benevolence. Although the Greek people had established a republic with a president, the imperialists in London were arguing among themselves whether to establish a British Dominion in the Balkans or to utilize an indirect form of control.

They decided to set up a monarchy in Greece. They did not consult the Greek people at all. Britain’s success against Turkey was held justification enough for her concern over Greece’s form of government. And so they passed word along the European monarchical grapevine they had an opening for an unemployed king.

They offered the crown of Greece to Leopold of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha. Leopold sized up Greece as too small and too unstable to suit his royal ambitions. He turned the offer down. Leopold’s later career, however, proved his astuteness. When the Belgians revolted in 1830–31, the British set him up as king of Belgium.

After Leopold’s refusal, the British offered the kingdom of Greece to Otto of Bavaria. Otto was too young to exercise the independent judgment of a Leopold. But his father thought the post not bad and accepted in behalf of his son.

Kings and Regents

As a concession to the Greek revolutionists, who had been inspired by the great French Revolution, the British promised that Greece would be provided with a constitution as sugar coating for the bitter pill of monarchy. Since the king was too young and inexperienced to draw up a suitable constitution, however, they announced that it was best to wait until he came of age. Meanwhile a regency of three men would rule with dictatorial powers.

In token of their concern over the healthy development of the newly created dynasty, the British granted it a loan of some 60 million francs. This loan was guaranteed by the regency and payment of interest on the loan was made the primary obligation of the Greek treasury. 300,000 francs of this interest was given the king as yearly subvention. Besides anchoring their Mediterranean lifeline in Greece, the British thus laid the basis for the profitable national debt now amounting to $400,000,000 held by London capitalists.

Otto produced no constitution when his personal rule began. Instead, he ruled with a hand of iron. Graft, corruption, terror became notorious. By 1854 [1] the discontent of the people became so great open resistance flared up. Time for the constitution, suggested the British overlord. King Otto produced the constitution but continued his rule without softening in the least its autocratic characteristics. However, he began to deviate the straight and narrow path of Britain’s interests in favor of those of France. He even slipped up on payment of interest to Britain. The British straightened out the situation by sending a war fleet to collect the interest due on the outstanding loan.

In 1862, revolt again burst into the open. The Greek people have a long tradition of militant struggle. They wanted to end the hated monarchy.

But the British again intervened. They succeeded in charming the heads of the revolt with the British pound. The charm worked so well that these interim heads, who had first offered the throne to Duke Nicholas of Leuchtenberg, now proffered it to Prince Alfred of England. Prime Minister Palmerston, however, followed the line of policy laid down in 1832 – no direct British rule. He vetoed Alfred as a possible candidate.

Crowned Puppets

Far from renouncing the principle of monarchy, however, Palmerston planned to start a new dynasty in Greece which would serve the British as loyally as had the Bavarian prince. He took a keen personal interest in finding the right man for the job. Checking the stock in the royal stables of Europe, he settled on a young blueblood carrying pedigree papers of the House of Glucksburg. A Danish prince, thought Palmerston, would serve British imperialism best on the vacant throne. The new king, The Encyclopedia Britannica informs us, was William George “whom the British Government had designated as a suitable candidate.” The title of the crowned puppet was changed from King of Greece to “King of the Hellenes.”

The British agents heading the interim regime met in council and voted unanimously to petition the Danish house for a new king, their only condition being that his heirs embrace the Greek Orthodox faith. They sent a three-man delegation to Denmark to offer the throne to the Glucksburgs, who royally accepted this “democratic” expression of the will of the Greek people.

The discarded puppet, Otto, was not forgotten by the British. In 1868 the new monarch, George I, accepted as an added foreign obligation of Greece the payment of 4,500,000 drachmas to the heirs of King Otto in grateful remembrance for services rendered.

The new king was given four thousand pounds annually as a personal allowance from each of three “protecting powers,” Great Britain, France and Russia. In 1864, a new constitution – the sixth in this brief history – was written to refurbish the democratic façade of British domination.

The new dynasty sat well in the saddle. By 1893 the country had been bled so white national bankruptcy was declared. After a disastrous war with Turkey, Greece was still further squeezed. She was forced to pay a huge indemnity to the Turks. Great Britain, France and Russia set up an International Finance Commission which was given absolute control over the collection and employment of the revenues of Greece in order to pay this indemnity “without prejudice to the interests of her creditors.”

Thus history reveals that long before the First World War British imperialism ruled Greece as a sphere of influence, setting up puppet regimes directly on the British payroll and intervening with armed force in internal affairs whenever the masses grew too restive. Churchill, in sending troops to Greece today, is simply following the traditional policy of the government he heads.


1. Inprinted version “1884”, but this is chronologicallyimpossible.


Last updated on: 22 June 2018