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On this date in History: March 30, 1863. Prince Wilhelm of Denmark was elected as King of the Hellenes (Greece).

George I (born Prince Wilhelm of Schleswig-Holstein-Sonderburg-Glücksburg; 24 December 24, 1845 – March 18, 1913) was King of the Hellenes (Greece) from 1863 until his assassination in 1913.


George was born at the Yellow Palace, an 18th-century town house at 18 Amaliegade, right next to the Amalienborg Palace complex in Copenhagen. He was the second son of Prince Christian of Schleswig-Holstein-Sonderburg-Glücksburg (Christian IX of Denmark) and Princess Louise of Hesse-Cassel. Although his full name was Prince Christian Wilhelm Ferdinand Adolf Georg of Schleswig-Holstein-Sonderburg-Glücksburg, until his accession in Greece, he was known as Prince Wilhelm the namesake of his paternal and maternal grandfathers, Wilhelm, Duke of Schleswig-Holstein-Sonderburg-Glücksburg, and Prince Wilhelm of Hesse-Cassel.

Although he was of royal blood, his family was relatively obscure and lived a comparatively normal life by royal standards. In 1853, however, George’s father was designated the heir presumptive to the childless King Frederik VII of Denmark, and the family became princes and princesses of Denmark. George’s siblings were Frederik (who succeeded their father as King of Denmark), Alexandra (who became wife of King Edward VII of the United Kingdom and the mother of King George V), Dagmar (who, as Empress Maria Feodorovna, was consort of Emperor Alexander III of Russiaand the mother of Emperor Nicholas II), Thyra (who married Prince Ernest Augustus, 3rd Duke of Cumberland and Teviotdale) and Valdemar.

King of the Hellenes

Following the overthrow of the Bavarian-born King Otto of Greece (son of King Ludwig I of Bavaria and Therese of Saxe-Hildburghausen) in October 1862, the Greek people had rejected Otto’s brother and designated successor Leopold, although they still favored a monarchy rather than a republic. Many Greeks, seeking closer ties to the pre-eminent world power, Great Britain, rallied around Prince Alfred, Duke of Edinburgh, second son of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert. British prime minister Lord Palmerston believed that the Greeks were “panting for increase in territory”, hoping for a gift of the Ionian Islands, which were then a British protectorate.

The London Conference of 1832, however, prohibited any of the Great Powers’ ruling families from accepting the crown, and in any event, Queen Victoria was adamantly opposed to the idea. The Greeks nevertheless insisted on holding a plebiscite in which Prince Alfred received over 95% of the 240,000 votes. There were 93 votes for a Republic and 6 for a Greek.King Otto received one vote. Prince Alfred was also the designated heir to his uncle, Ernst II, Duke of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha should the Duke remain childless.

With Prince Alfred’s exclusion, the search began for an alternative candidate. The French favored Henri d’Orléans, duc d’Aumale, while the British proposed Queen Victoria’s brother-in-law Ernst II, Duke of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha, her nephew Prince Leiningen, and Archduke Maximilian of Austria, among others. Eventually, the Greeks and Great Powers winnowed their choice to Prince William of Denmark, who had received 6 votes in the plebiscite.


Aged only 17, he was elected King of the Hellenes on March 30, 1863 by the Greek National Assembly under the regnal name of George I. Paradoxically, he ascended a royal throne before his father, who became King Christian IX of Denmark on November 15 of the same year. There were two significant differences between George’s elevation and that of his predecessor, Otto. First, he was acclaimed unanimously by the Greek Assembly, rather than imposed on the people by foreign powers. Second, he was proclaimed “King of the Hellenes” instead of “King of Greece”, which had been Otto’s style.

His ceremonial enthronement in Copenhagen on 6 June was attended by a delegation of Greeks led by First Admiral and Prime Minister Constantine Kanaris. Frederick VII awarded George the Order of the Elephant, and it was announced that the British government would cede the Ionian Islands to Greece in honor of the new monarch.

King George I is the paternal grandfather of HRH The Duke of Edinburgh, husband of HM Queen Elizabeth II of the United Kingdom and born Prince Philip of Greece and Denmark.