Tuesday 6 October 2015

Byron, Rebellion, and the Greeks!

It is a pleasure to welcome Caroline Warfield back to the salon today to share the tale of Byron, Rebellion, and the Greeks! The winner of the Kindle copy of the winner’s choice of Dangerous Works or Dangerous Secrets is Judith Arnopp; thanks to all who entered!


Nature abhors a vacuum. The maxim, first postulated by a physicist, Parmenides, in the fifth century BC, is a truism that has been quoted over and over. If nature abhors a vacuum, politics hates it more. Remove great power from a country or region and a dozen smaller forces will flood in vying for power. Witness the current situation in the Middle East.

Napoleon’s rule, once ended, left behind the seeds of rebellion and power vacuums across Europe. One of the first open rebellions, the Greek Revolution, broke out into warfare in 1821 after simmering for years. What were the issues and why on earth was Lord Byron involved? The answers are complicated, colorful, and not always as romantic as they sound, as I discovered researching background for Dangerous Weakness.

Lord Byron at Missolonghi by Theodoros Vryzakis, 1861
Lord Byron at Missolonghi by Theodoros Vryzakis, 1861

In 1821 the Ottoman Empire ruled what we now call Greece, except for the Ionian Islands along the western coast of the Peloponnesian mainland, which were a British protectorate from 1815 to 1864. There was, in fact, no actual governmental entity known as “Greece” or “Hellas” at that time. There was instead a loose group of provinces with large numbers of Greek-speaking people. Among the forces at work in the region were a weakening of imperial administrative control, the spread of western republican ideas, and the influence of the Greek Orthodox Church, which had been a major factor in the preservation of language and culture. Economics played a part also.

There were a number of attempts at rebellion, but the date for the start of the revolution is generally given as March 21, 1821 when revolts broke out in several different places. The rebels managed to take and hold the Peloponnese, the peninsula to the southwest of the Isthmus of Corinth in modern Greece, which in ancient times was dominated by Sparta. They set up a provisional government. Ten long messy years followed before the Sultan recognized Greek independence and the provisional government in 1832. Internal dissention, factions fostered by European powers, and massacres and betrayal by all sides contributed to the drawn out struggle.

Popular support for Greece ran high in some segments of the classically educated British upper/intellectual classes early on. Romantic notions about ancient Greece certainly contributed. The notable figure is, of course, Lord Byron. There is no doubt he knew his history of the Peloponnesian and Persian Wars, of Pericles and of Themistocles and Salamis. He wrote:

 I dream'd that Greece might still be free;
For standing on the Persians' grave,
I could not deem myself a slave.

Lord Byron on his Death-bed by Joseph Denis Odevaere, circa 1826
Lord Byron on his Death-bed by Joseph Denis Odevaere, circa 1826

It is tempting to dismiss Byron as an effete romantic who wandered over to Greece, sickened and died. In truth he had a long history of support for social reform and national independence causes. He gave £4,000 of his own money to refit a Greek navy. He joined Alexandros Mavrokordatos, a Greek political and military leader sympathetic to Britain and participated in arming and training troops he planned to lead himself in a planned attack on Lepanto. Before he could do so, he died at Missolonghi. His death, most likely hastened by the questionable practice of bleeding, touched off mourning in both England and Greece.

Lord Byron on his Death-bed by Joseph Denis Odevaere, circa 1826
The Byron Memorial at Missolonghi,
By Fingalo

Where was the British Government in all this? Initially it discouraged the revolt. They last thing Britain wanted was the rise revolutionary governments on the continent. In 1820, however, Britain’s primary concern was not so much the rights of the Ottomans, or even fear of radicalism, but Russian expansionism. Revolution meant opportunity for Russia. Eventually, popular support for Greece—possibly exacerbated by Byron’s death—and the pragmatic need to thwart Russian influence led to support for Greek Independence. Note that the same pragmatic concern would lead it to support the Ottoman side in Crimea twenty years later, again to thwart Russia.

Britain began to intervene on the side of Greece after the Treaty of London in 1827.  The Ottoman Empire, believing in its own superior navy declined to support the treaty. The combined efforts of the European powers effectively destroyed the Ottoman navy in Battle of  Navarino, but the war continued for five more years. The Treaty of Constantinople gave Greece the victory in 1832. Byron would have celebrated.

For more information see:

Revolution in Greece

Byron and Greece

The Eastern Question in General

And my own interest in the subject

About Dangerous Weakness

If women were as easily managed as the affairs of state—or the recalcitrant Ottoman Empire—Richard Hayden, Marquess of Glenaire, would be a happier man. As it was the creatures—one woman in particular—made hash of his well-laid plans and bedeviled him on all sides.

Lily Thornton came home from Saint Petersburg in pursuit of marriage. She wants a husband and a partner, not an overbearing, managing man. She may be “the least likely candidate to be Marchioness of Glenaire,” but her problems are her own to fix, even if those problems include both a Russian villain and an interfering Ottoman official.

Given enough facts, Richard can fix anything. But protecting that impossible woman is proving almost as hard as protecting his heart, especially when Lily’s problems bring her dangerously close to an Ottoman revolution. As Lily’s personal problems entangle with Richard’s professional ones, and she pits her will against his, he chases her across the pirate-infested Mediterranean. Will she discover surrender isn’t defeat? That might even have its own sweet reward.

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Read an Extract

“We will marry of course,” he told her. “Quickly, but not so abruptly as to cause comments.” He walked toward the door, expecting her to follow.
“I beg your pardon,” she called out to him. “We will what?”
He turned on his heel. “Miss Thornton, you will be the Marchioness of Glenaire. That is far from ideal, and the difference in our state will no doubt cause talk. We will have to endure it.”
“Why?” she demanded. “Why this ‘far from ideal’ demand? Has Lady Sarah refused you?”
“Don’t be coy, Miss Thornton. You have led me into folly at every step. After last night I have no choice. I shall have to marry you. My family—”
“Your family would have kittens if I married you, which I will not.”
“You have respectable, if not the highest, breeding, you will show to advantage when properly dressed, and you will do well as a diplomatic hostess. My family, I was going to say, will have to deal with it.” He stalked away. “So will you.”
“I will not,” Lily shouted after him.

About the Author

Caroline Warfield has at various times been an army brat, a librarian, a poet, a raiser of children, a nun, a bird watcher, an Internet and Web services manager, a conference speaker, an indexer, a tech writer, a genealogist, and, of course, a romantic. She has sailed through the English channel while it was still mined from WWII, stood on the walls of Troy, searched Scotland for the location of an entirely fictional castle (and found it), climbed the steps to the Parthenon, floated down the Thames from the Tower to Greenwich, shopped in the Ginza, lost herself in the Louvre, gone on a night safari at the Singapore zoo, walked in the Black Forest, and explored the underground cistern of Istanbul. By far the biggest adventure has been life-long marriage to a prince among men.

She sits in front of a keyboard at a desk surrounded by windows, looks out at the trees and imagines. Her greatest joy is when one of those imaginings comes to life on the page and in the imagination of her readers.

Find Caroline on:

Written content of this post copyright © Caroline Warfield, 2015.


Kathryn Gauci said...

Thank you for the interesting post. Always good to read something on this period. We should also not underestimate the tragedy of the massacre on Chios,1822, which also contributed in swaying Britain and France towards the Greek cause. Greek/Turkish politics has often seen foreign powers re-evaluating which side to take well until after WWII.

Carol Hedges said...

we learn nothing, do we? Wars encourage other wars...in my writing period (mid Victorian) I discovered TWO Afghan wars, neither of which we won. BTW Byron was less effete Romantic, more disreputable predatory roue

YourMrBumbles said...

Fascinated to find that someone in a lifelong marriage has also been a nun!!

Judith Arnopp said...

Interesting post, hope your book does well.