Prince Wilhelm of Denmark Arrives In Athens as King George I

October 30 marks the anniversary of the arrival of King George I of Greece from his native Denmark.

Prince William (Vilhelm in Danish) of Denmark, of the House of Schleswig-Holstein-Sonderburg-Glücksburg, the second son of the future King Christian IX and Queen Louise of Denmark, had been proclaimed King of the Hellenes on March 30, 1863, and adopted the name George, in the Amalienborg Palace in Copenhagen.

Prince William's journey to become Greece's king had not been easy. Since the overthrow of the Bavarian-born King Otho the previous year, the Great Powers (Britain, Russia and France, who had been instrumental in helping secure Greece's independence after its prolonged, bloody struggle to break free from the Ottoman Empire) anxiously scoured Europe for a suitable candidate for the Greek crown. Initially, the Hellenes clamored overwhelmingly for Prince Alfred, the second son of Queen Victoria, to become their new king. Queen Victoria, however, was not keen on sending her son to the restless young kingdom, and in any event the Great Powers agreed that, in order to avoid one country from holding more influence than the others in Greece, no prince from their respective royal families would be chosen.

Prince William was an ideal candidate. He was young (just seventeen years of age), and, perhaps most importantly, he had useful family connections -- his father was the heir to the Danish throne, while his elder sister Alexandra had recently married the Prince of Wales and would one day become queen consort of Great Britain. He did not come from a major power, and since he had an elder brother, Frederick, to succeed to the Danish throne, he was not immediately in line to inherit any other crown. However, his father Christian was reluctant for his son to take up a life in Greece. Not without reason, Prince Christian felt the country was far too unstable and the task of becoming its king an arduous one, whereas his son would at least enjoy a life of peace and security if he stayed in his native Denmark. Nonetheless, Christian's misgivings were overlooked, and with the approval of the Greek National Assembly, Prince William of Denmark became King George I. 
Drawing of King George I's arrival in Athens.

After paying visits to the courts of London, Paris, and St. Petersburg, George I and his entourage sailed down the Mediterranean to Athens. He came ashore on October 30 and was greeted by an eager and rapturous crowd. It took hours for the young king to make his way from the harbor to his new palace; according to his great-grandson, King Constantine II, during the procession he had to stop in a small hut so that he could relieve his bladder, and his first night in Athens he went to bed hungry as all the cooks in the city had come out to see their new king. 

King George I set himself up in the Royal Palace, nowadays the Parliament Building. In 1868, he married Grand Duchess Olga of Russia, and with the births of eight children they founded the Glücksburg dynasty in Greece. George's reign lasted fifty years - the longest of any other Greek monarch - until his assassination in March 1913. The monarchy was abolished in 1973 under his great-grandson, Constantine II. King George and Queen Olga's living descendants include their grandson, Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh, the husband of Queen Elizabeth II (which means the future British kings will be descendants of the Greek royal house). King George's great-great-grandson is King Felipe VI of Spain, and the deposed royal houses of Romania and Yugoslavia are also his descendants. 


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