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General History

History > General History

submitted by George N Leontsinis on 27.11.2005


National and Capostrian University of Athens
Faculty of Arts
S. Saripolos' Library

A thesis submitted for the degree of
in the School of Modern Languages and European History
at the University of East Anglia, Norfolk, England.
August, 1981.

Chapter 1: Introduction.

Part B.

In the course of the eighteenth century, open conflict broke out between the middle class and the nobles. From 1780 to 1818, when the British-devised constitution came into force, there occurred a series of overtly rebellious acts which reflected the overall pattern of the decline of the Venetian Republic and the political and social changes sweeping across Europe at that time. By the last years of the eighteenth century, it had become obvious that the Venetian régime was crumbling socially and politically. This was apparent in the inefficiency of the local admini­stration and in the anachronistic policies of the Community of Nobles. The latter appeared oblivious to the need for the inclusion of dynamic, progressive middle-class elements into its ranks. By mid-eighteenth century, however, the local administration had begun to allow members of the middle class to be appointed to certain government posts in a bid to pacify their strong feelings, but so far from abating the class conflict this action served only to intensify it, because the Council of Nobles had begun to be ineffectual; firstly, because active dissension had broken out among its members; and secondly, because they continued to refuse to admit new members to the Community to keep it at full strength.
What ultimately happened was a combined uprising of the burgesses and peasants in 1780. The islanders’ rebellious spirit was strengthened during the brief period of French occupation (1797- 1798) and events came to a climax during the Russo-Turkish occupation, when a second revolt of the burgesses and peasants broke out (1798- 1800). This revolt enabled the peasants to gain control of the Government for the next two years. During this short period the revolutionaries administered the island in accordance with a charter of their own, drawn up by a revol­utionary committee. Russia’s protectorate over the Septinsular Republic provided Kytherean liberals (including émigrés and local residents) with an opportunity to take active steps to change the existing social stratifi­cation. During this period the Ionian islanders made three attempts at constitutional government but a series of local rebellions proved abor­tive. ~
The two-year French occupation promised an immediate end to Venetian oppression, so the Ionians began to view the French revolutio­naries as liberators.1 i Consequently, an undercurrent of opposition deve­loped, encouraged by the ideas of the Enlightenment in Western Europe and by the subsequent rise of nationalism within the Greek-speaking world.i2
The rebellions on Kythera might also be explained partly as the result of the degree of liberalism which Admiral Ushakov displayed in the Ionian Islands and partly as a concomitant of Russian political thou­ght at the beginning of the nineteenth century, which is reflected in the constitutions of the Septinsular Republic. These foreign influences and the concurrent collapse of the Ottoman Empire were viewed with appre­hension by the Powers of Europe for fear that Russia would exploit the situation to make important inroads in Southeastern Europe. i3
The unsettled political situation in the Ionian Islands during the period of their occupation (1807- 1809) by the forces of the French Empire and the provisional British occupation (1809- 1815), coupled with the imposition of a new constitution by the British Protectorate, helped to perpetuate class conflict on the island, leading to another rising, this time of the peasants only (1812). During the provisional Briti­sh occupation the lower classes were able to resist the conservatives’ at­tempts to reintroduce features of the ancien régime,’4 and thus they succeeded in consolidating certain gains they had made during the succession of previous foreign occupations. Under the British Protectora­te (1817- 1863) these gains formed a solid foundation for the new régime, which had come about as a result of the rivalry between the Great Powers.’5 The Charter of 1817 was given the political aims of the British presence and the military background of Sir Thomas Maitland, the first Lord High Commissioner of the Ionian Islands, and many elements which may appear novel on the programme of the Commission had their root in the earlier three Russian Constitutional Charters. In fact, the period of the British Protectorate (1817- 1863) and the long period of Venetian domination are the two salient features in the historical framew­ork of the period covered by this study.
Between 1780 and 1817 the Kythereans who travelled outside Greece and lived in émigré communities abroad made their influence felt by means of remittances to their relatives and friends in the island. Indeed, many self- made businessmen and even scholars displayed political aspi­rations as soon as they returned to Kythera. They often tried to obtain posts in the government and exercise political influence. But even before the French Revolution, conservatives and liberals had already begun to clash over the questions of social awakening, national aims and the modernisation of education.
From the last decades of the eighteenth century onwards, the bourgeoisie were engaged in a concerted campaign with the twofold objective of improving their own social and political standing and resuscitating the Greek nation. As long as social conditions kept them confined within a circumscribed social milieu they directed their efforts at undermining the nobility. Then, as those conditions altered and the supporters of social change started to gain a foothold, they broke down the barriers around them and embarked on an active class struggle against two adversaries, who joined forces to form a united front: the local land-owning oligarchy and the foreign rulers. The fierce opposition of the adherents of the ancien régime and the introduction of a constit­utional charter eventually proved too much for the unity of the bourge­oisie, which lasted only until 1799. The upper middle class then went over to the alliance of landowners and foreign overlords, while the lower middle class made common cause with the lower class. Their alliance lasted for the duration of the struggle, one of their aims now being the reintegration of the islands with the Greek state, which came about in 1863 as a byproduct of the Radical European movements from 1848 onwards.
The middle class was never recognised as a separate class by the government except during the brief revolutionary period (1797- 1802), when first the French and then the Russo - Turkish administration al­lowed representatives of all three classes to participate in the government.’6 Even so, the activation of the bourgeoisie of Chora and Potamos from the eighteenth century onwards was a factor to be reckoned with. It was because of the gradual emergence of the middle class that the opposition to the nobility was pushed into devising a form of “constitutional nobili­ty” as mentioned above, and that the voting for delegates was in the hands of an electoral college which accounted for three per cent of the local population. Obviously the new status quo could not neutralise poli­tical and social conflict, which by now had spread to the rural popula­tion, which was divided under the constitution into “constitutional nobles” (a high-sounding title which, in effect, simply meant those with the right to vote) and ordinary peasants. And so in 1850, after thirty years of precarious stability, a radical movement for the union with mainland Greece, already in existence in the order Ionian Islands, emer­ged on Kythera. This political development delivered the coup de grace to the nobility with the result that the middle class finally emerged victo­rious, as it had in mainland Greece and other European countries.


1. D.A. Zakythinos, ~Ai iotoptKai tüxat t~ç ‘E7rtav1~oou)) (“The Historical For­tunes of the Heptanese”) in rlpaKrtKd F’ Hctvioviou 2vv&5piov (Proceedings of the third Panionion Congress), vol. 2, (1965) Athens, 1969, pp. 359-80.
2. G. Pojaco, Le Leggi Municipali delle Jsole Ionie, Corfu, 1848, vol. 3, pp. 1-64; Kytherean Code, a collection of the Laws, Decrees and Privileges in force in the Com­munity of Kythera, in A.H.E.S., No. 91, hereafter referred to as Codex.
3. G. Pojaco, op. cit., pp. 34 ff.; E. Lunzi, FIepi Tfic HoRüri,aic Karauráuecoç ri~ç ‘E7rrav4oov ~zri ‘Evcui3v (Political Conditions in the Heptanese under the Venetians), Greek translation by A. Lunzi-Nikokavoura, Athens, 1956.
4. The Greek word Chora, which means “a country”, is also applied by common usage to the chief town of most of the Greek islands including Kythera.
5. Codex, op. cit., p. 8.
6. Ch. N. Karapidakis,

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