(1776 – 1831)
Count Ioannis Capodistrias was the most distinguished of Corfiot politicians, and also the founder of the State of Greece. He was born in 1776 in Corfu, studied Medicine in Padua (1794 – 1797) and subsequently became a government official in the Septinsular Republic (1800 – 1807). In 1808, he was invited to Russia by Czar Alexander, where he soon rose to prominence in the ranks of European diplomacy, playing an important role in the political history of 19th century Europe. In 1822, a short while after the Greek Revolution erupted, he resigned from the Russian diplomatic corps in order to support the struggle of Greeks for independence from the Ottoman Empire. In April 1827, the Greek National Assembly unanimously elected him as first Governor of Greece, and in January 1828 he arrived first in Nafplio, and afterwards in Aegina, where he was sworn in and assumed his duties.
He was murdered in Nafplio on September 27th, 1831, at the age of 56, by Greek political rivals. Six months later, his body was transported to Corfu by his brother Avgoustinos. He is buried in the Monastery of Platytera in the city of Corfu, side by side with other members of his family.
1798Antonios – Maria Capodistrias is arrested by the Republican French, who have conquered the island. The family moves to Koukouritsa.
1800The defeat of the French by the Russian-Turkish alliance and their subsequent retreat from the Ionian Islands leads to the founding of the Septinsular Republic, where Ioannis Capodistrias’s political star begins to rise, through his very active involvement in the administration of the first formation of the State of Greece.
1804Ioannis Capodistrias enters the ranks of Russian service as Collegial Counsellor (equivalent to the rank of Colonel).
1814Ioannis Capodistrias is dispatched to Zurich in order to settle the Swiss affair. This is where he becomes acquainted with J. G. Eynard.
1816Czar Alexander I appoints Capodistrias as Foreign Minister of Russia, making him third in command in the administrative hierarchy of the Russian Empire, as acknowledgement of his invaluable services at the Congress of Vienna – Paris. He shares this office with K. V. Nesselrode.
1821Ioannis Capodistrias participates in the Congress of Laibach as member of the Russian delegation.
1822Ioannis Capodistrias is granted permission to resign from the Russian diplomatic corps, after his inability to turn the Czar’s politics in favor of the Greeks. He settles in Geneva until 1827 and coordinates the philhellenic movement using the city as his base of operations.
1827On March 30, Ioannis Capodistrias is unanimously elected Governor of Greece by the Third National Assembly of Greece.
1828Ioannis Capodistrias disembarks in Aegina and assumes the task of putting together a European state from the ruins of war.
1829Ioannis Capodistrias institutes the orphanage at Aegina in order to house the orphans of war.
1830The London Protocol – The Protocol of Independence: The first official diplomatic act acknowledging the independence of Greece.
1832Due to the civil conflict that broke out after the assassination, Avgoustinos Capodistrias, who temporarily succeeded his brother in the office of Governor, is forced to resign and returns to Corfu, this time with the Governor’s dead body.
Ioannis Capodistrias was born in 1776 in Corfu, during the period of Venetian Rule. Along with his other eight siblings, he was raised in a strict patriarchal and religious family. The Capodistrias family is one of the oldest families on the island; it is said that its ancestors arrived in Corfu at the end of the 14th century for the city of Capo d’ Istria, which was situated in today’s Slovenia. Although their family name was Vittori, it wasn’t long before their dominant name became the one that indicated their place of origin: Capodistrias.
Ioannis, like many other young noblemen of his time, studied Medicine in Padua, Italy (1794 – 1797); after completing his studies, he returned to his home country, where he practiced medicine. He returned at the time of the end of the Venetian Rule ended and its subsequent replacement by the arrival of the Republican French in the island, who attempted to enforce a drastic change in the island’s social structures. In 1799, after a four-month siege of Corfu by powerful joint Russian and Turkish military forces, the Republican French left Corfu. In 1800 was the Septinsular Republic was founded – the first Modern Greek State formation, under the principal control of the Russians. Ioannis Capodistrias became actively engaged in politics. As Secretary of State on Foreign, Naval, and Trade Affairs of the Septinsular Republic, he worked systematically for the implementation of the Constitution, the education of administrative officers, the building of new schools and the defense of the Republic. However, in 1807 the Septinsular Republic was terminated and the Ionian Islands were ceded to the Imperial French with the Treaty of Tilsit.
In 1808, Czar Alexander I invited Ioannis Capodistrias to Russia, to serve in Russia’s Foreign Ministry. This was not unusual for the time; the Russian Empire was acceptant of capable men of noble origin regardless of ethnicity – men who would be devoted to the Supreme Ruler and would faithfully serve the Empire. During the course of his political career in Russia, Capodistrias rose to become a key figure not only of Russian diplomacy, but also of European diplomacy.
In 1813, he was appointed head of the first Russian diplomatic mission in Switzerland, which would contribute to the formation of the Swiss Federation and the drafting of the new Swiss Constitution. Soon afterwards, in 1814, Capodistrias became a close associate of Alexander I at the Congress of Vienna, assembled to arrange the post-Napoleonic order in Europe. It was in this Congress that Capodistrias gained the reputation as a speaker equal to the great diplomats, such as Metternich, Talleyrand and Castlereagh. In 1815, he was tasked with carrying out, on behalf of Russia, the final peace negotiations with France, and he signed the Treaty of Paris. During the same year, Capodistrias aided Alexander I in his decision to grant a Constitution to the Kingdom of Poland.
In 1816, Capodistrias, as close associate of Alexander I, was appointed joint foreign minister of Russia, along with Karl Nesselrode. He remained in this office until 1822, when he resigned from his post and retired to Switzerland following a disagreement with Alexander I over the Greek affair. In 1827, he officially resigned from Russian service.
GOVERNOR OF GREECE
Upon arrival in war-torn Greece, Capodistrias was determined to reform the country on the basis of a very specific plan – and in order to implement this plan, he had to practice a concentration of powers. Initially, he managed to safeguard the cooperation of representatives from all leading groups; thus, he won domestic peace, provided a rudimentary organization of government, operated the mechanism of government with some degree of adequacy, and also provided care for orphans and generally for all his fellow countrymen left with no protection. The country gained security and Capodistrias set the foundations for a stable course. For the Governor, the top priority was to drive the Turkish and Egyptian armies out of the Peloponnese and mainland Greece, and also to ensure the wider possible borders for the long-term survival of the newly-formed State.
In Capodistrias’s view, Greece in 1828 was not yet ready for a constitutional regime. It was more important to liberate the country and gain its international recognition, to define safe borders and to distribute lands to farmers. Capodistrias’s policies prioritized the expansion of basic education through mutual teaching schools, and also the creation of a Central School for the education of future teachers.
In his effort to create a State modeled on European standards, Capodistrias gained many potical rivals. This came as a result of many factors; the new reality brought to the forefront new politics and social powers with opposite interests. Many hopes held by the revolted Greeks were crushed by the bitter reality of a small, poor country forced to take its first steps dependent on the aid of European Powers. Capodistrias also maintained a centralized system of governance that displeased those who believed in the power of democratic procedures.
Reaction against Capodistrias was made flesh in the members of the Mavromichalis clan. On a Sunday morning on September 27th, 1831, the Governor was assassinated on the steps of the church of Saint Spyridon by the son of Petrobeys Mavromichalis, aided by Petrobeys’s brother. A chapter closed for the new State of Greece. The Governor’s body would be handed to Ioannis Capodistrias’s brother Avgoustinos, who, in April 1832, brought it back to Corfu for burial in the Monastery of Platytera, next to the grave of Ioannis’s father, Antonios Maria Capodistrias.