Otto of Greece Biography

Otto, the first king of Greece, ruled from 1832 to 1862. Despite some successes in areas like infrastructure, his reign was largely controversial due to his autocracy, staunch religious beliefs, and tendency to please the ‘Great Powers’. He imposed heavy taxes and Roman Catholicism on Greeks, tarnishing his reputation. The queen’s interference in political affairs further fueled public sentiment against him. However, Otto eventually yielded to Greek demands, establishing a constitution and a ‘Greek National Assembly’. Later, he lost support from the ‘Great Powers’ and was forced into exile.

Quick Facts

  • Also Known As: Otto Friedrich Ludwig von Bayern
  • Died At Age: 52
  • Family:
    • Spouse/Ex-: Amalia of Oldenburg (m. 1836)
    • Father: Ludwig I of Bavaria
    • Mother: Therese of Saxe-Hildburghausen
    • Siblings: Luitpold – Prince Regent of Bavaria, Maximilian II of Bavaria, Prince Adalbert of Bavaria, Princess Adelgunde of Bavaria, Princess Alexandra of Bavaria, Princess Hildegard of Bavaria, Princess Mathilde Caroline of Bavaria, Princess Theodelinde of Bavaria
  • Born Country: Austria
  • Died on: July 26, 1867
  • Place of death: Bamberg, Germany
  • City: Salzburg, Austria

Childhood & Early Life

Prince Otto Friedrich Ludwig of Bavaria was born on June 1, 1815, at the ‘Schloss Mirabell’ in Salzburg, Austria, during the brief time when Bavaria owned it. He was the second son of King Ludwig I of Bavaria and Therese of Saxe-Hildburghausen. Otto was a successor of the Greek royal dynasties of Comnenus and Lascaris.

As the King

Before his 18th birthday, Otto arrived in Greece on the British frigate (warship) ‘HMS Madagascar,’ along with 3,500 Bavarian troops called the ‘Bavarian Auxiliary Corps.’ He was accompanied by his advisors, who later formed a ‘Regency Council’ to rule Greece (until Otto acquired the majority), and a personal Bavarian brewmaster, Herr Fuchs, who later introduced the first beer brand in Greece, named ‘Fix.’ Count Josef Ludwig von Armansperg was the head of the ‘Regency Council’ and served as the minister of finance. He also served as the president of the ‘Privy Council’ and was the first representative (or prime minister) of the newly established Greek government. Otto gained a majority in 1835, and Armansperg was named the arch-secretary. However, the Greek press addressed him as the arch-chancellor. In an attempt to please the Greek people, Otto adopted the Greek version of his name, “Othon.” Unfortunately, his efforts proved to be fruitless, and the Greeks highly opposed his strategies and kingship. One of the major reasons for the opposition was Otto’s refusal to adopt the Greek Orthodox faith and give up Roman Catholicism. However, he made it compulsory for his successors to follow the Greek faith according to the terms of the 1843 constitution.

Political Arrangements

The ‘Great Powers’ strictly controlled Otto’s political affairs, and the king let them intervene in order to retain their support. The three legates in Athens, Theobald Piscatory from France, Gabriel Catacazy from Russia, and Edmund Lyons from England, represented the ‘Great Powers.’ The legates would supervise and analyze the activities of the king and his subjects and then duly report to their home governments. The legates also served as advisors to their respective allied parties within Greece. All of Otto’s political endeavors were geared toward making the ‘Great Powers’ more powerful, which hampered his wish of establishing a political party. In an attempt to establish a pro-Othon party and to avoid any conflict, he gave equal powers to all the parties of the ‘Great Powers.’ Additionally, he shared offices equally with the parties. Nevertheless, the parties still remained in authority, controlling the government and maintaining financial stability. The ‘Great Powers’ never curtailed Otto’s increasing absolutism. His Greek subjects never accepted the king’s absolute monarchy. Otto believed that extending the frontiers of the kingdom would pacify Greek sentiments. He thus suggested the acquisition of Crete in 1841, which not only failed in its objective but also got him entangled with the ‘Great Powers.’ He later got involved in constant conflicts with Armansperg, which led to his dismissal as the prime minister (soon after he returned from his wedding in Germany). The dismissal made the Greeks believe that Bavarian rule would finally end, but they were disappointed again by the appointment of the Bavarian Rudhart as the chief minister. It also delayed the formation of a constitution, which was one of the main demands of the Greeks around the time. Otto dismissed the ‘Regency Council’ in 1835 and ruled as an absolute monarch for a few years, until he gave in to the strong uprising of the Greeks demanding a constitution (which led to the coup in September 1843).

Economic Policies

The kingdom was under the grip of immense financial uncertainty, resulting from poverty and the lands being owned by a handful of wealthy landlords such as the Mavromichalis of Mani. The kingdom had also made empty promises of providing huge loans to people. The promise was financed by the ‘Great Powers,’ while the United Kingdom and the ‘Rothschild’ bank endorsed the loans, leading them to have a role in Greece’s internal affairs. Otto had to please the powers to ensure the flow of funds. In order to make Greece a sustainable and prosperous kingdom, Otto imposed heavy taxes, which further infuriated the people. Otto agreed to do this after the bank and U.K. pressurized Armansperg to bring in financial stringency.


In his early reign, Otto constructed several hospitals and educational institutions. Around the same time, he moved his capital from Nafplio to Athens. He began the implementation of his infrastructural projects with a detailed archaeological and topographic survey. The task was assigned to Gustav Eduard Schaubert and Stamatios Kleanthis. Some of the notable constructions under his reign were those of the ‘University of Athens’ (1837, formerly the ‘Othonian University’), the ‘Athens Polytechnic University’ (1837, formerly the ‘Royal School of Arts’), the ‘National Gardens of Athens’ (1840), the ‘National Library of Greece’ (1842), the ‘Greek Parliament Building,’ (1843, formerly the ‘Old Royal Palace’), and the ‘Old Parliament Building’ (1858).

Religious Policies

Otto faced strong opposition due to several religious issues, which included his acts of practicing monasticism and autocephaly (as unilaterally declared by the regents in 1833), appointing himself as the head of the church, and establishing a policy of suppressing the monasteries. The appointment of the king as the church head did not sit well with the church hierarchy and the loyal orthodox defender ‘Russian Party.’ The conservative members of the ‘Russian Party’ believed that if the church went under the control of a Catholic, it would negatively impact the Orthodox Church. Hence, they regarded the autocephaly as non-canonical. Since the Ottoman Empire politically controlled the ‘Patriarch of Constantinople,’ the autocephaly of the Church of Greece was in recognition of the “de facto” political situation. Finally, the ‘Russian Party’ was granted the overall control of the church and education, while Otto was given a “veto” over the decisions of the ‘Synod of Bishops.’ However, the decision was made to present Greece as a progressive and religiously tolerant society. Once Otto dismissed his Bavarian advisors, he allowed the dissolution of monasteries to lapse.

Later Reign

Otto’s absolute monarchy was heavily opposed during his later reign. The Greeks soon demanded a new constitution. After his initial denial to meet the demand, German armed forces were withdrawn from the kingdom, and a military coup was launched. On September 3, 1843, Colonel Kallergis and ‘Revolutionary’ captain Ioannis Makriyannis assembled in front of the palace in Athens. The Greeks eventually joined them and refused to disperse until Otto announced his decision to grant a constitution with the Greeks in the council. They also demanded a permanent national assembly and a personal acknowledgment to the leaders of the uprising for the establishment of the constitution. Otto finally gave in to the coup and agreed to the demands (without the support of his German troops), despite strong objections from his opinionated queen. This square in front of the palace, where the population had assembled for the coup, was renamed ‘Constitution Square’ to commemorate the events leading to the establishment of the constitution. With the Greeks in his council, the control of the ‘Great Powers’ was markedly reduced. The ‘Great Powers,’ who had always supported Otto till then, had to withdraw in 1850, when the ‘Don Pacifico Affair’ led to a massive conflict among the parties. Otto’s plan to join Russia in the Crimean War (1853–1856) against Turkey, which was backed by the other two parties of the ‘Great Powers,’ failed because the British party (the ‘Great Power’ party that supported the Greeks the most) had ordered him to remain neutral. While Otto was in Peloponnese in 1862, a coup was launched in Athens. A provisional government was hence formed. The coup also summoned a national convention and demanded Otto’s deposition. As the ‘Great Powers’ had advised, Otto gave in and went into exile to Bavaria on a British warship. The Greek royal regalia from Bavaria that he had brought in 1832 also accompanied him. He continued to wear his Greek uniforms and secretly donated most of his fortune to the Greek troops in support of the Cretan Rebellion of 1866. During the exile, he lived at the ‘New Palace’ in Bavaria, the palace of the former bishops of Bamberg, Germany, where he eventually breathed his last.

Family, Personal Life & Death

In 1837, Otto visited Germany, where he married Duchess Amelie of Oldenburg in Oldenburg on November 22, 1836. The wedding was expected to help the king earn the support of the Greeks. The people did welcome her initially, but their approval did not last long. The two remained childless. Amelia’s interference in the government and her refusal to give up the Protestant faith earned the royal couple a lot of criticism. Otto had a clandestine affair with the notorious English aristocrat Jane Digby, who had also been in a relationship with his father. Otto died on July 26, 1867, and was buried in his Greek uniform (according to his last wish) at the ‘Wittelsbach Royal Crypt’ of the ‘Theatinerkirche’ in Munich. According to the constitution of 1843, his two younger brothers and their descendants were considered for succession. Otto had specifically requested that his donations to the Greek troops be kept a secret so that the new king, George I, would not face any political issue.

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