The Kingdom of Greece (Greek: Βασίλειον τῆς Ἑλλάδος, Vasíleion tīs Elládos) was a state established in 1832 at the Convention of London by the Great Powers (the United Kingdom, France and the Russian Empire). It was internationally recognized by the Treaty of Constantinople, where it also secured full independence from the Ottoman Empire. This event also marked the birth of the first, fully independent, Greek state since the fall of the Byzantine Empire to the Ottomans in the mid-15th century.
The Kingdom succeeded from the Greek provisional governments after the Greek War of Independence, and lasted until 1924. In 1924 the monarchy was abolished, and the Second Hellenic Republic was established.
1914–1924: World War, crises, and first abolition of Monarchy
In March 1913, an anarchist, Alexandros Schinas, assassinated King George in Thessaloniki, and his son came to the throne as Constantine I. Constantine was the first Greek king born in Greece and the first to be Greek Orthodox. His very name had been chosen in the spirit of romantic Greek nationalism (the Megali Idea), evoking the Byzantine emperors of that name. In addition, as the Commander-in-chief of the Greek Army during the Balkan Wars, his popularity was enormous, rivalled only by that of Venizelos, his Prime Minister.
When the World War broke out in 1914, despite Greece's treaty of alliance with Serbia, both leaders preferred to maintain a neutral stance. But when, in early 1915, the Entente asked for Greek help in the Dardanelles campaign, offering Cyprus in exchange, their diverging views became apparent: Constantine had been educated in Germany, was married to Sophia of Prussia, sister of Kaiser Wilhelm, and was convinced of the Central Powers' victory. Venizelos on the other hand was an ardent anglophile, and believed in an Entente victory.
Since Greece, a maritime country, could not oppose the mighty British navy, and citing the need for a respite after two wars, King Constantine favored continued neutrality, while Venizelos actively sought Greek entry in the war on the Entente side. Venizelos resigned, but won the next elections, and again formed the government. When Bulgaria entered the war as a German ally in October 1915, Venizelos invited Entente forces into Greece (the Salonika Front), for which he was again dismissed by Constantine.
In August 1916, after several incidents where both combatants encroached upon the still theoretically neutral Greek territory, Venizelist officers rose up in Entente-controlled Thessaloniki, and Venizelos established a separate government there. Constantine was now ruling only in what was Greece before the Balkan Wars ("Old Greece"), and his government was subject to repeated humiliations from the Entente. In November 1916 the French occupied Piraeus, bombarded Athens and forced the Greek fleet to surrender. The royalist troops fired at them, leading to a battle between French and Greek royalist troops. There were also riots against supporters of Venizelos in Athens (the Noemvriana).
Following the February Revolution in Russia, however, the Tsar's support for his cousin was removed, and Constantine was forced to leave the country, without actually abdicating in June 1917. His second son Alexander became King, while the remaining royal family and the most prominent royalists followed into exile. Venizelos now led a superficially united Greece into the war on the Entente side, but underneath the surface, the division of Greek society into Venizelists and anti-Venizelists, the so-called National Schism, became more entrenched.
With the end of the war in September 1918, their was serious fear the nation was ready to be carved up amongst the victors, and Greece now expected the Ottoman Empire to annex them. In no small measure through the diplomatic efforts of Nikolaos Politis, Greece remained independent but lost 3,968 km of Eastern Macedonia and half of their Aegean Islands in the Treaty of Lausanne in June 1919. But at the same time as the negottiations, a nationalist movement had arisen in Turkey, led by Mustafa Kemal Pasha (later Kemal Atatürk), who set up a rival government in Ankara and was engaged in fighting the Sultan.
At this point, nevertheless, the fulfillment of the Megali Idea seemed impossible. So deep was the rift in Greek society that an assassination attempt was made on Venizelos by two royalist former officers. Even more surprisingly, Venizelos' Liberal Party lost the elections called in November 1920, and in a referendum shortly after, the Greek people voted for the return of King Constantine from exile, following the sudden death of Alexander. But the royalist restoration had dire consequences: many veteran Venizelist officers were dismissed or left the army, while Italy and France found the return of the hated Constantine a useful pretext for not inviting Greece to renegotiate their peace settlement with the Turks.
The catastrophe deepened the political crisis, with the army rising up under Venizelist officers and forcing King Constantine to abdicate again, in September 1922, in favour of his firstborn son, George II. The "Revolutionary Committee", headed by Colonels Stylianos Gonatas (soon to become Prime Minister) and Nikolaos Plastiras engaged in a witch-hunt against the royalists, culminating in the "Trial of the Six". In October 1923, elections were called for December, which would form a National Assembly with powers to draft a new constitution. Following a failed royalist coup, the monarchist parties abstained, leading to a landslide for the Liberals and their allies. King George II was asked to leave the country, and on 25 March 1924, Alexandros Papanastasiou proclaimed the Second Hellenic Republic, ratified by plebiscite a month later.
Restoration of Monarchy and the 4th of August Regime
On 10 October 1935, a few months after he suppressed a Venizelist Coup in March 1935, Georgios Kondylis, the former Venizelist stalwart, abolished the Republic in another coup and declared the monarchy restored. A rigged plebiscite confirmed the regime change (with an unsurprising 97.88% of votes), and King George II returned.
King George II immediately dismissed Kondylis and appointed Professor Konstantinos Demertzis as interim Prime Minister. Venizelos meanwhile, in exile, urged an end to the conflict over the monarchy in view of the threat to Greece from the rise of Fascist Italy. His successors as Liberal leader, Themistoklis Sophoulis and Georgios Papandreou, agreed, and the restoration of the monarchy was accepted. The 1936 elections resulted in a hung parliament, with the Communists holding the balance. As no government could be formed, Demertzis continued on. At the same time, a series of deaths left the Greek political scene in disarray: Kondylis died in February, Venizelos in March, Demertzis in April and Tsaldaris in May. The road was now clear for Ioannis Metaxas, who had succeeded Demertzis as interim Prime Minister.
Metaxas, a retired royalist general, believed that an authoritarian government was necessary to prevent social conflict and, especially, quell the rising power of the Communists. On 4 August 1936, with the King's support, he suspended parliament and established the 4th of August Regime. The Communists were suppressed and the Liberal leaders went into internal exile. Patterning itself after Benito Mussolini's Fascist Italy, Metaxas' regime promoted various concepts such as the "Third Hellenic Civilization", the Roman salute, a national youth organization, and introduced measures to gain popular support, such as the Greek Social Insurance Institute (IKA), still the biggest social security institution in Greece.
Despite these efforts the regime lacked a broad popular base or a mass movement supporting it. The Greek people were generally apathetic, without actively opposing Metaxas. Metaxas also improved the country's defenses in preparation for the forthcoming European war, constructing, among other defensive measures, the "Metaxas Line". Despite his aping of Fascism, and the strong economic ties with Nazi Germany, Metaxas followed a policy of neutrality, given Greece's traditionally strong ties to Britain, reinforced by King George II's personal anglophilia. In April 1939, the Italian threat suddenly loomed closer, as Italy annexed Albania, whereupon Britain publicly guaranteed Greece's borders. Thus, when war broke out in August 1939, Greece remained neutral.