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Ionian Islands Celebration Day 2016

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Davyboy View Drop Down
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Direct Link To This Post Topic: Ionian Islands Celebration Day 2016
    Posted: 21 May 2016 at 10:12am
The 21st May marks the date in 1864 when the Ionian islands were reunited with the rest of Greece.Thumbs UpBeer
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Direct Link To This Post Posted: 21 May 2016 at 11:44am

On June 2nd, 1864, General Sir Henry Storks, Lord High Commissioner, formally handed over the Ionian Islands to the Greek monarchy. Only six years earlier, William Gladstone had been sent out as Extraordinary Lord High Commissioner to create a constitution that would give British rule a new lease of life in what were considered to be islands of great strategic importance.

Britain had acquired the islands from the French during the Napoleonic Wars: beginning in 1809, Zante, then Cephalonia, Ithaca, Kythira and finally Lefkada (1810) were occupied, though the main prize, Corfu (along with Paxos), only came with Napoleon’s defeat. Britain’s possession of the islands was ambiguous from the outset, as it had to be sanctioned at the Congress of Vienna. They were, therefore, a ‘protectorate’ and not a colony, deemed to be a ‘free and independent state’, reflecting their ‘liberty’ since the ending of Venetian occupation in 1800. Together with the acquisition of Malta (but not Sicily –  they established Britain’s presence in the Mediterranean.

In 1817 the then Lord High Commissioner, Sir Thomas Maitland, granted the islanders a constitution which the Ionians presented to the Regent at the Royal Pavilion, Brighton in August of that year. It consisted of a senate and an assembly, filled by a combination of nominations and a restricted franchise. Although it gave some powerful families a degree of importance (and generous remuneration), the constitution was a façade; real power rested with the Lord High Commissioner. Yet this was not abused and British rule was largely beneficial. Educational provision, which had been neglected by the Venetians, was improved and by 1850 there were 200 schools up and running, as well as the islands’ first university. There were extensive public works providing prisons, hospitals, marsh clearance, a road network and a water-supply system that still operates in Corfu Town. Yet, despite these benefits, the islanders came to resent British rule.

Matters were complicated by the outbreak in 1821 of the Greek Revolt against the Ottomans. British policy on this was ambivalent. There was some sympathy for the Greeks (engendered by the British elite’s grounding in the Classics), but also concern that any collapse of Turkish power in the Balkans would lead to a growth of Russian influence. Once Greek independence had been assured by the early 1830s, the islanders clamoured for union (enosis), but there was no question of the British handing over the islands: the Duke of Wellington for the Tories and Lord Palmerston for the Whigs were united on this. Moreover, relations with the new Greek kingdom deteriorated: King Otto proved to be tyrannical and Russian influence in Athens grew, although matters were not helped by Britain claiming two more islands (Sapienza and Cervi) in 1839.

In order to curb unrest, the High Commissioner Lord Seaton passed a number of reforms and granted a new constitution in 1849. Far from placating the islanders, the concessions only made them more defiant (an insurrection in Cephalonia took six weeks to put down) and, with the collapse of the influence of old, pro-British families, overall British authority was considerably undermined. Still Britain would not consider relinquishing the protectorate. Palmerston’s logic was that, if Britain evacuated Corfu, the Russians would occupy it and he formally rejected enosis in 1850, at a time when the Don Pacifico affair had marked a new low in Anglo-Greek relations. Matters got even worse with the outbreak of the Crimean War, as Otto adopted a pro-Russian stance. Similarly the Ionians supported Russia as fellow Orthodox Christians and were appalled by Britain’s support for Muslim Turkey. By the end of the war Britain had forfeited any sympathy the Ionians might have had for the protectorate and with the collapse of civic administration – roads were not repaired and taxes not collected – the British government had to take drastic measures to restore its authority. It is in this context that Gladstone’s (only) foreign mission occurred.

The Conservative government sought out a special commissioner to investigate grievances and suggest remedies. As a philhellene, a liberal and a statesman of note, Gladstone was the ideal candidate. Before his arrival it had been mooted that a solution to the Ionian problem might be for Britain to annex Corfu (and Paxos) outright and give the troublesome southern islands to Greece. Corfu was the only island of any real importance – it was fortified, not actually adjacent to Greece itself, the aristocracy was largely Italianate and co-operative and, although the British had not conquered Corfu, their presence had taken firmer root there than anywhere else. This proposal created some confusion, as it was thought Gladstone had been sent to announce this policy, but he had not; he would be making up his own mind about a suitable solution.

Within a few weeks he had concluded that the situation was discreditable to Britain and disagreeable to the Ionians. Clearly the Maitland system had worked, but it was not possible to go back to such an illiberal arrangement. The Seaton reforms had saddled the Ionians with a popularly elected assembly, stymied by an autocratic executive. Gladstone’s solution was to give the Ionians real power by granting the assembly greater influence over the executive and thereby restricting British power. His proposals were rejected by the Ionians and he returned to Britain disillusioned.

The new commissioner, Sir John Storks, tried to make the existing system work. He did a reasonable job, touring the islands and conciliating the populus. However, the protectorate had become a political and moral liability. The only solution was union, but still Palmerston did not wish to give the islands up, despite the fact that their cost exceeded that of either Gibraltar or Malta and they were much more vulnerable. Then in October 1862 an event occurred that gave Britain a way out: a coup d’état in Athens deposed Otto (who was ‘saved’ by the Royal Navy, which transported him to Corfu). If a more reasonable monarch could be found, then the islands could be relinquished. Incredibly the Greeks nominated Prince Albert, Queen Victoria’s second son, but the queen was opposed to his accepting such an insecure throne.

In December 1862 the Cabinet agreed on cession and in March 1863 a Danish prince, William of Glückenburg, was accepted as George I of Greece. Disraeli denounced the handover as he felt it would reduce British influence in the Mediterranean, though generally it was met with indifference in Britain and rejoicing in the islands. The last British troops left on June 2nd, 1864. Unlike the present populations of Gibraltar and the Falkland Islands, the people of the Ionian Islands did not wish to be British. Yet the voluntary cession of territory by a great power to accommodate the wishes of the people was an unusual occurrence in the mid-19th century. The islands were better off in 1864 than in 1815 and richer than any other provinces of the kingdom of Greece, but there was little gratitude for this and the Saturday Review summed up Britain’s departure well when it stated: ‘In the eyes of the Ionians nothing in our protectorate has become us like our leaving it.’


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Direct Link To This Post Posted: 26 Nov 2019 at 4:48pm
I have read what you have written about the new country which you have visted in this year newly and that is amazing experience which you have gotten in awhile with your friends though and I must share the same post with my friends soon.
Even I would like to go somewhere new where i can explain to my friends what I had how I had fun but as I am a essay writer for the students online then I hardly gets time to off but this winter I can surely go and enjoy myself with my girlfriend anyway
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