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Otto was born as Prince Otto Friedrich Ludwig of Bavaria at Schloss Mirabell in Salzburg (when it briefly belonged to the Kingdom of Bavaria), as the second son of Crown Prince Ludwig of Bavaria and Therese of Saxe-Hildburghausen.

His father served there as the Bavarian governor-general. Through his ancestor, the Bavarian Duke John II, Otto was a descendant of the Byzantine imperial dynasties of Komnenos and Laskaris. His father was a prominent Philhellene, and provided significant financial aid to the Greek cause during the War of Independence.

The Great Powers extracted a pledge from Otto’s father to restrain him from hostile actions against the Ottoman Empire. They also insisted that his title be “King of Greece”, rather than “King of the Hellenes”, because the latter would imply a claim over the millions of Greeks then still under Turkish rule.

King Otto of Greece

Not quite 18, the young prince arrived in Greece with 3,500 Bavarian troops (the Bavarian Auxiliary Corps) and three Bavarian advisors aboard the British frigate HMS Madagascar. Although he did not speak Greek, he immediately endeared himself to his adopted country by adopting the Greek national costume and Hellenizing his name to “Othon” (some English sources, such as Encyclopædia Britannica, call him “Otho”).

Otto’s early reign was also notable for his moving the capital of Greece from Nafplion to Athens. His first task as king was to make a detailed archaeological and topographic survey of Athens. He assigned Gustav Eduard Schaubert and Stamatios Kleanthis to complete this task. At that time, Athens had a population of roughly 4,000–5,000 people, located mainly in what today covers the district of Plaka in Athens.

Although King Otto tried to function as an absolute monarch, as Thomas Gallant writes, he “was neither ruthless enough to be feared, nor compassionate enough to be loved, nor competent enough to be respected.”

During 1836–37, Otto visited Germany, marrying a beautiful and talented 17-year-old, Duchess Amalia (Amelie) of Oldenburg (December 21, 1818 to May 20, 1875), Duchess Amalia Maria Frederica was born on 21 December 1818 in Oldenburg to Duke Paul Frederick Augustus of Oldenburg and his wife Princess Adelheid of Anhalt-Bernburg-Schaumburg-Hoym as their first child.

King Otto of Greece enters Athens

She was less than two years old when her mother died, on September 13, 1820. Her father remarried in 1825 to Princess Ida of Anhalt-Bernburg-Schaumburg-Hoym, though she soon died in 1828; his last marriage was with Princess Cecilia of Sweden in 1831.

Due to her father’s marriages, Amalia had 5 siblings, 4 being born as half-siblings: Duchess Frederica, Duke Nikolaus Friedrich, Duke Alexander, Duke August, and Anton Gunther, Friedrich Elimar.

The wedding took place not in Greece but in Oldenburg, on November 22, 1836; the marriage did not produce an heir, and the new queen made herself unpopular by interfering in the government and maintaining her Lutheran faith. Otto was unfaithful to his wife, and had an affair with Jane Digby, a notorious woman his father had previously taken as a lover.

King Otto of Greece in native dress.

When she arrived in Greece in 1837, she at first won the hearts of the Greeks with her refreshing beauty. After she became more politically involved, she then became the target of harsh attacks—and her image suffered further as she proved unable to provide an heir to the throne. She and her husband were expelled from Greece in 1862, after an uprising. She spent the rest of her years in exile in Bavaria.

She acted as Regent of Greece in 1850-1851, and a second time in 1861-1862 during the absence of Otto.

Amalia is attributed to the creation of the “romantic folksy court dress,” which in return became Greece’s national costume.

By 1843, public dissatisfaction with him had reached crisis proportions and there were demands for a Constitution. Initially Otto refused to grant a Constitution, but as soon as Bavarian troops were withdrawn from the kingdom, a popular revolt was launched.

Duchess Amalia (Amelie) of Oldenburg, Queen of Greece

On September 3, 1843, the infantry led by Colonel Dimitris Kallergis and the respected Revolutionary captain and former President of the Athens City Council General Yiannis Makriyiannis assembled in Palace Square in front of the Palace in Athens. Eventually joined by much of the population of the small capital, the crowd refused to disperse until the king agreed to grant a constitution, which would require that there be Greeks in the Council, that he convene a permanent National Assembly and that Otto personally thank the leaders of the uprising.

Left with little recourse now that his German troops were gone, King Otto gave in to the pressure and agreed to the demands of the crowd over the objections of his opinionated queen.

This square was renamed Constitution Square (Greek: Πλατεία Συντάγματος) to commemorate (through to the present) the events of September 1843—and to feature many later tumultuous events of Greek history. Now for the first time, the king had Greeks in his Council and the French Party, the English Party and the Russian Party (according to which of the Great Powers’ culture they most esteemed) vied for rank and power.