Philhellenism has been, without a doubt, an important and multifaceted phenomenon that contributed decisively to the founding of the new Greek state, justifying the struggle of the Greeks for Freedom and Independence. The struggles and the ordeal of the enslaved Greek people moved the western world, and resonated even in remote places of the world, wherever there were similar demands.
Although historians are able to map the influence of the Greek case on specific collective (national or social) groups to a large extent, it remains a fascinating mystery, how the demand for Greek independence affected human lives in a personal level. How far did this influence travel, and which people were affected by it? Could a future historian ever record the vibrations that this rare circumstance individually caused to human souls?
We know, of course, that philhellenism was a dynamic movement that moved different people, regardless of their gender or nationality. Organized philhellenism motivated citizens to adopt classic values and ideals, and take actions and initiatives in this direction. These processes have given many citizens the confidence and maturity for more claims within the societies to which they belonged. A valuable legacy of the philhellenic movement is that it allowed people with different social and national backgrounds to meet on the basis of a common and noble vision. Prominent citizens participated in the philhellenic committees established in Europe and the USA with the power to influence political and economic developments. At the same time, however, people from lower social strata or vulnerable groups also participated in the same committees.
It is particularly interesting to consider the influence of the Greek issue and the philhellenic movement on the participation of women in public, their right to intervene in society, and their claim of an equal role.
In this context, the philhellene women were actively involved in the local committees, collaborating exemplary with their male companions. In fact, in many places they pioneered by claiming the establishment of autonomous, women’s philhellenic committees. These historical developments are very important. Suffice it to say that in year 2021 women are still making their claims in society, which gain more and more public space. Despite the fact that their achievements have reached a better level in the western world, let us not forget that in a large part of the world, women still need empowerment, equal rights and respect.
With this information in mind, it seems easier to think about the social conditions a woman in the early 19th century had to live in. The courageous, philhellene women in the West had to confront conservative political powers, influenced by the spirit of the Holy Alliance. Moreover, they had to face all prejudices against women, in an era of significant gender inequality. At the same time, the enslaved Greek women were experiencing a harsh reality. They and their children were exposed to all kinds of violence and misery; they were often traded in Turkish slave markets, or they had to fatally resist. Let us remember the heroic women of Zalongo, who committed suicide, jumping from a cliff to avoid slavery.
Philhellenism was a supranational movement, which united people of different nationalities. A typical case was the one of the philhellenic volunteers: French, Germans, Poles, Italians, English, Swiss, etc. came and fought together in Greece under the same flag, while a short time ago, these same people had been found in warring factions on the battlefields of Europe. In Greece they achieved a personal and a collective transcendence.
The female philhellenism was also supranational. Thus, Greek women who knew about the existence of philhellenes in parts of the western world, turned to them for help, e.g. the appeal made by 31 Greek women in 1825, under the Greek female intellectual Evanthia Kairis (1799–1866). In this appeal to the “female friends of Greece” in America, they express their relief, that men and women, who understand their sufferings, exist in this world; in contrast to those Europeans who “turn a blind eye” to the massacres, poverty and misery that plague Greece. The experiences of motherhood, the protection of children, the responsibility to secure their future and the Homeland are points of identification for women of different educational level, social and ethnic origin. And women sure have the power to influence situations. Manto Mavrogenous (1796-1848) sends a letter to the Greek women of Paris, asking them to “turn to the deeper truths that govern humanity”, and to influence the men of France. Through the British officer and Philhellene, Blaquiere, she also sends a letter to the English Philhellenes, asking for their intervention to create an asylum for women and orphans in Euboea.
There were many women in the western world, who were moved by the Greek issue. There were definitely much more than the ones, whose names survived up to this day. At this point, we should take a look at the most important Philhellene women and the mark they left on historical developments.
First of all, the attempts to support the Greeks are dated before the outbreak of the revolution in February 1821. Many women with brilliant personalities pioneered their actions during the pre-revolutionary period and familiarized the public with the Greek issue.
A lady of the French High society, who was famous for her dynamic personality and liberal ideas, was Madame de Staël (Louise Germaine de Staël-Holstein, 1766-1817), a French writer and philhellene, who became associated with Lord Byron.
Other important women contributed to the preparation of Greek revolutionary operations against the Ottoman Empire.
Two emblematic Philhellene women are the Greek Cypriot Elisabeth Santi Loumaki-Chenier and Roxandra Stourtza.
The intellectual Elisabeth Santi Loumaki – Chenier (1729-1808) was born in Constantinople. She was married to diplomat and merchant, Louis Chénier, and held a central position in the intellectual world of Paris. Her salon was a meeting point of the intellectual world of the French capital in the early 19th century; the fermentations that led to the establishment of the “Hôtel Hellénophone”, the first secret pre-revolutionary organization aiming at the liberation of Greece, took place under the guidance of Loumaki- Chenier. The president of the Hotel was the great French philhellene, Auguste de Choiseul-Gouffier (1752-1817), ambassador of France to the Ottoman Empire (1784-1792) and author of “Voyage pittoresque sur la Grece”. Athanasios Tsakalov (1790-851), one of the three founders of the patriotic Friendly Society, was trained in this organization. The “Hôtel Hellénophone”, aimed to recruit new members, and even to send weapons to Greece to prepare for the expected revolution. Loumaki -Chenier was the mother of two famous French poets, the neoclassical poet André Chenier (1762-1794) and Joseph Chenier (1764-1811).
Another bright Greek woman of aristocratic origin played a similar role, and ten years later she transformed her own salon into the headquarters, where the developments and strategic decisions of the Friendly Society took place. Her name was Elizabeth Ypsilantis (1768-1866) and was the mother of Alexandros and Dimitrios Ypsilantis. The final decision for the start of the Greek Revolution was made in her salon, and even the emblematic proclamation “Battle for faith and homeland” was drafted there. Before Alexandros Ypsilantis signed it, he asked his mother to dispose of all the family real estate for the support of the Greek Struggle. And when she accepted, he kissed her hand. In fact, she completed the announcement by noting in the text in her honor before signing “I osculate my mother’s hand”.
Many other important Greeks and philhellenes followed.
Roxandra Stourtza (1786-1844), was born in Constantinople. She became the master of ceremonies at the court of the Russian Tsar Alexander I (1777-1825) and his wife Elizabeth (1779-1826). She became associated with Ioannis Kapodistrias, but married, at the tsar´s urging, the German count of Edling (1771-1841), Minister and Marshal of the Grand Duke of Saxony-Weimar, as Alexander did not approve of a marriage with Kapodistrias. The fact did not prevent her from developing an important, intellectual and political relationship with Kapodistrias, following him and the Tsar to the Congress of Vienna (1815). There she met Anthimos Gazis and the Metropolitan of Hungary, Ignatius, and they decided to establish the pro-revolutionary “Philomous Society”. Its targeting by the Austrian Foreign Minister Klemens von Metternich (1773-1859) was a matter of time. Stourtza was not intimidated by Metternich’s decision to disband the Society´s office in Vienna, and she continued her actions by supporting Greek students in the city through collecting fundraisers. With several of her initiatives she tried to mobilize the international public opinion in favor of the Greek Cause. After the outbreak of the Greek Revolution, she treated the persecuted Greeks who arrived in Odessa in Russia, with the valuable help of Elizabeth, who had also offered significant sums as a subscriber of the Philomous (Friends of Music) Society of Vienna.
In the pre-revolutionary time, another woman became associated with the Russian Tsar Alexander I; the brave philhellene from the Baltic, Barbara Julie de Krüdener (1764–1824). Krüdener was a Protestant missionary of aristocratic descent. She became friends with Alexander I and influenced him decisively in establishing the Holy Alliance. It is reported, that the choice of this name was her own suggestion. She supported the establishment of the Holy Alliance, believing that it would protect and support the independence of the Greeks. In 1821, having realized that the attitude of the Holy Alliance was not philhellenic, she went to St. Petersburg in order to influence the neutral Alexander to take a public stance in favor of the Greeks. Alexander’s annoyance by Krüdener’s insistence on persuading him was such, that he eventually exiled her to Crimea. Krüdener’s ardent philhellenism was the reason of losing her social position, her privileges, her wealth – even her personal relationship with the tsar.
Alexander’s wife, tzarina Elizabeth, was not the sole example of a royal member with philhellenic attitude. Caroline von Braunschweig-Wolfenbüttel (1768 – 1821) was the wife of King George IV of the United Kingdom, and a philhellene, who strongly supported the Philomus Society and its aims. She visited Athens in 1816, where she organized archaeological excavations.
Also impressive is the activity developed by Princess Sophia Albertina of Sweden (Sophia Maria Lovisa Fredrika Albertina, 1753 – 1829), the sister of the Swedish king. After the outbreak of the Greek Revolution, she founded a women’s philhellenic committee, turning the palace into a center of philhellenism. Hundreds of women rushed there to give money and support the Greek Struggle for liberation.
Even the princess Louise Marie Thérèse Charlotte Isabelle d’Orléans (1812-1850), and the whole royal house had sided with the Greeks. In a single fundraiser the Princess of Orléans offered 3,000 Francs in favor of the Greeks.
The ladies of the aristocracy in Europe helped the Greek Cause in various ways. Nurtured by classical education, they saw modern Greeks as worthy descendants of Leonidas and Miltiades. In the salon of the Danish artist Karen Margrethe “Kamma” Rahbek (1775-1829), the literary interests of the Danish society intersected with discussions about philhellenism.
The same example was followed by many noble and cultured ladies in many capitals of Europe. They turned their salons into a meeting place for philhellenes, and pioneered various charitable activities. The developments that took place there were crucial for the moral and material support of the Greeks. The philhellenic activity of these bright women was not inferior to that of the men.
Thus, Anna Eynard – Lullin (1793-1868), a Swiss painter and philanthropist, who is better known as the wife of the great politician and banker Jean-Gabriel Eynard (1775-1863), emerged with her own action as a warm philhellene. She founded a philhellenic women’s committee in Geneva. She organized philhellenic performances, receptions and concerts, and systematically raised money and collected various items for the Greek revolutionaries.
The philhellene women were seeking some models of a Greek heroine in the Greek Revolution, and found them mainly in two emblematic Greek women.
The first was the forceful, driven fighter, Laskarina Bouboulina (1771-1825). She was a wealthy woman who had experienced many difficulties. She was orphaned by her father, and was twice a widow. In 1819 she was initiated in the Friendly Society in Constantinople, and took an active part in the Revolution in 1821. She offered a lot of money, ammunition, ships, and even her son, who was killed in a battle with the Turks.
The second was Manto Mavrogenous (1796-1840), who was distinguished by her education, her mental strength and her selflessness. She was born in Trieste, where her family lived. Her father was Nikolaos Mavrogenis, a member of the Friendly Society, in which he initiated Manto in 1820. She donated her property to the Revolution, equipped the Greek forces, while she also participated in operations. At the same time, she sends many letters to Europe, aiming to influence the public opinion and to direct the action of the Philhellenes. The following is a typical excerpt from her letter to English Philhellenes (1824-1825) “It is not enough for us, ladies, to be enthusiastic. The centuries of tyranny have exhausted us financially. Heroism is useless when it lacks the necessary organic means to manifest, money, weapons, ammunition, food, clothes. And if I dare to invoke your sympathy, my purpose is to secure an asylum for the abused women and children in Euboea, which through your mediation we would find a way to regain and dedicate to the memory of the women of England…”.
Interesting is the fact that each one of them has a completely different character. Manto is a young, noble and delicate figure. On the contrary, Bouboulina is a middle-aged woman, with a masculine behavior and harsh characteristics. A common point for them is their wealthy background and the possession of a large fortune. They also shared the same faith in the vision that Greece would be free in the end.
This dynamic dipole is projected as a model in the western public opinion.
Philhellenism is now becoming the dominant “trend” in Europe and the philhellene women are organizing lectures and fundraisers. They also send missions with clothing in Greece. They offer their volunteer work to the committees. They enthusiastically offer, sometimes anonymously, high sums of money for the purposes of the committees, even their jewelry! They sew clothes and flags for the philhellenes who go voluntarily to Greece, in order to support them morally and emotionally, and they develop communication with these men, while they are in Greece.
The very active French philhellene, Madame Delcombre, was the head of the philhellene committee in Paris. She prepares a very nice silk flag (embroidered by herself), which she offers to the French Philhellene cavalry officer, Auguste Michel Marie Étienne Régnault (or Régnaud) de St-Jean d’Angely (and later Marshal of France), during a ceremony. The French Philhellene vows to constantly bring this flag to the battlefields. To Régnault’s great sorrow, the flag is lost in the battle of Karystos.
Another famous, beautiful Lady of the European aristocracy is Madame de Récamier (Jeanne Françoise Julie Adélaïde, 1777 – 1849). She was also a member of the Philhellenic Committee in Paris. Mrs. Recamier corresponds with the Philhellene French officer Olivier Voutier (1796-1877), while he is in Greece.
Récamier collected and published Voutier´s long letters, in which Voutier describes the Greek customs and traditions, historical sites and battle scenes, under the title “Letters for Greece”. Proceeds from the sale of the book, which moved the French in favor of the Greek struggle, were intended for the philhellenic committee. Récamier was an influential figure in the philhellenic movement. Her love for Greece and the Greeks was sparked by her relationship with the romantic writer, politician and philhellene François-René de Chateaubriand (1768-1848), and was maintained throughout the Greek struggle. Récamier supported the Greek Revolution with large financial offers from its own resources, as well as from fundraising revenues.
In France, philhellenism and “graecomania” reach such a level that they influence fashion: “Robes de dame a la Bobeline” are inspired by the heroic Bouboulina. The costume of the philhellenes incorporate Greek scarfs; it does not seem unnatural, when an aristocratic lady appears in a Greek costume during public events. In a concert given in Paris conducted by Rossini himself for the purposes of the Philhellenic Committee (8/4/1826), the musicians decorate the instruments with blue and white ribbons, the gentlemen wear blue and white armbands, the ladies decorate their gowns with the Greek colors. After the concert, the ladies lead the philhellenic fundraiser.
The public manifestation of philhellenic feelings was, to a certain extent, a sign of the level of cultivation or sensitivity of a woman or a man of the time. It would be unfair to assume that the reasons related to a philhellenic stance were of a “superficial” nature. Suffice it to say that the most powerful forces in Europe were, during the first phase of the Greek Revolution, neutral or indifferent towards the Greek issue, while many were influenced by the spirit of Metternich, who was opposed to movements in Europe. Many Philhellenes acted, especially until 1824-1825, under the fear of being followed by the Metternich police. One such bright case is the Polish patriot Emilia Sczaniecka (1804-1896), who acted in the city of Poznan, and was identified with the Greek struggle for Independence from the very beginning. She was the “Bubulina of Poland”. She founded the “Committee for Aid to the Greeks” and organized fundraisers for the orphans of the fighters, as well as for the care of the wounded. The people who were involved in the Greek issue, acted many times at the risk of their lives and with a personal cost.
The buying (thus liberation) of Greeks from slave markets, and the adoption of orphaned children from Greece, were another two difficult fields of action for which the Greek women were interested. They required personal involvement, as well as emotional and material cost. The adoptions of Greek children in particular, who were offered a second life in Europe or the USA, were clearly events that transformed the lives of those involved forever. And for that they are deeply moving to this day.
The presence and participation of women in literary philhellenism is also worth mentioning. Its most famous female representative is none other than the brilliant Mary Shelley (1797-1851) from England, the companion of Percy Shelley (1792-1822) and author of the famous work Frankenstein (1818). Shelley befriended Alexandros Mavrokordatos and the so-called “Pisa circle” around Metropolitan Ignatius. Percy Shelley’s “Hellas”, is dedicated to his “turban-wearing friend”, Alexandros Mavrokordatos.
Shelley was identified with the Greek struggle for Freedom and Independence from the very beginning and had a decisive influence in shaping the philhellenic attitude of her close friend, Lord Byron (1788-1824). She learned Greek and along with her husband envisioned a free Greece, where they planned to move. Having experienced some traumatic events, such as the loss of her children, of her partner, Percy Shelley, from drowning, and a little later, of her close friend, Byron, from illness in Messolonghi, Shelley wrote the philhellenic science fiction novel “The Last Man”. In a nightmarish, dystopian future, the Greeks are trying to retake Constantinople, when an epidemic originating in the city devastates the future world. The author describes a group of Philhellenes who are fighting for the Greek Cause: the work is an allegory for her own people who got lost so early and so unjustly.
The Greek Case inspired many female artists in their work and actions. The English historian, writer and poet, Agnes Strickland (1796-1874), wrote the poem “Demetrios”, inspired by her love for the Greeks.
The poet Amable Tastu (1798–1885) from France wrote a poem about the Psara island, while the poet Delphine Gay or de Girardin (1804-1855) donated money to philhellenic fundraisers.
In Germany, one of the first women to speak out in favor of the Greeks was the author Amalia von Imhoff-Helvig (1776-1831). Imhoff-Helvig was a student of Goethe and Schiller, as well as a friend of the philhellene poet Wilhelm Müller, who belonged to the circle around the Berlin-based literary newspaper Gesellschafter. She wrote and published philhellenic poems from the beginning of the Revolution. In 1826 a volume of poems in support of the Greeks was published in Berlin.
The author Friederike Brun (1765-1835) published philhellenic poems as early as 1821.
The “German Sappho”, Louise Brachmann (1777-1822), wrote and published philhellenic poems under the title “Griechenland”.
In 1824, Baroness Julie Charlotte Dorothea Therese von Richthofen (1785-1840), wrote the philhellenic “Helas und Helianor”, which referred to the vision of the liberation of Greece, the Greeks students in Germany and participation in the Friendly Society. In her work “Graf Branzka”, written in 1829, Wilhelmine von Alben refers to Alexandros Ypsilantis and the uprising in Greece.
The interest in the Greek revolution remained alive also later, during the Cretan Revolt (1866-1869). The German composer, author and educator Johanna Kinkel (Maria Johanna Mockel, 1810-1858), who participated in the 1848 revolution, composed the philhellenic work “Hymne auf den Tod des Marco Botzaris” (Hymn for the death of Markos Botsaris, 1843). She was the wife of the philhellene evangelical theologian, Gottfried Kinkel (1815-1882), author of the philhellenic poem “Schlachtengesang der Kandioten”, which he wrote about the Cretan issue.
During the first years of the new Greek state, the philhellenes tried to support the efforts to create some necessary structures for the new state´s operation. The American-French philhellene, Sophie de Marbois-Lebrun (1785-1854), better known as the Duchess of Plaisance, had supported the military needs of the Greek national struggle. She continued her social contribution in the first years of the Greek state, by taking care e.g. of the education of daughters of revolution fighters.
The creation of educational infrastructure in the emerging Greek state, and the fight against illiteracy in Greece, was the main concern of American, Christian missions in Greece. Emphasis was placed on improving the girls’ education, and their overall level. The American missionary Frances Maria Mulligan Hill (1799-1884), went to Greece in 1839 with her husband, John Henry Hill, and founded schools in Athens.
Emilia Field Brewer founded and ran, together with her husband Josiah Brewer, a Greek school in Izmir, Asia Minor.
The Cretan question inspired the revival of the philhellenic movement, in which women were again present. Anna Eynard – Lullin, who has been on the side of the Greeks since the beginning of the revolution, continued to support the Cretans with the Swiss women’s committee. Julia Ward Howe (1819-1910), wife of the leading American philhellene, Samuel Gridley Howe (1801-1876), co-founded with her husband the „Greek Relief Committee” in Boston and supported the Greek Struggle by raising money, food and clothing, even by writing a poem. She organized a musical event in Boston to support the Cretans, the proceeds of which (amounting to 2,000 thalers) were sent to Greece.
She then came to Greece with her husband and children, and helped distribute money and clothing to Cretan refugees. In fact, one of her daughters married the Greek Anagnostopoulos. The German writer, Baroness Marie Espérance von Schwartz (1818-1899), better known by her pseudonym “Black Hope”, was a personal friend of the Italian national hero, Giuseppe Garibaldi. A significant number of Garibaldians had rushed to Crete to help the local population with their Struggle. In 1868 she located the last Garibaldians in a state of misery and did everything to help them. She wrote books about Crete and translated Cretan songs into German.
Dora d´Istria, known as Elena Ghica (Eleni Ghica – Masalsky, 1828-1888) was born in Bucharest, Romania and was of Phanariotic descent, the daughter of Prince Michael Ghica. Her love for Greece and its culture is evident in her writings. She was interested in the national struggles of the Balkan peoples and was in favor of the Cretans during the revolution of 1866-69. She also supported that the Ionian Islands belonged to Greece, and considered their “Greekness” as indisputable. In a series of articles she opposed Fallmerayer’s anti-Hellenism. In recognition of her valuable services to the Greek nation, Eleni Ghica was declared as a “citizen of Greece”.
Although much emphasis is often put on philhellenism as it manifested during the 1820s, it is worth mentioning once again that its contribution has been timeless. Acts of philhellenism defined historical developments throughout the 19th and 20th centuries. A philhellene who visited Greece at the end of the 19th century was the French Juliette Lambert-Adam (1836-1936), who came there in 1901 and befriended Dimitrios Vikelas. She wrote the play “Contemporary Greek Poets” and translated Greek plays.
As this brief review shows, the presence of women in the philhellenic movement was not superficial at all. In fact it has been very substantial and beneficial to the Greek Cause.
The above mentioned brave women and philhellenes offered a great work for our country. They confronted people with political power and proved themselves as equal companions of the male Philhellenes. They exerted a significant influence on men and women, influencing the course of history and political developments, at a time when women in the western world had gained neither the right to vote nor even equal participation in society with men. They connected with women from other countries and encouraged, morally and materially, the struggling efforts of Greeks. With their thoughts and actions they offered relief, care and hope to the Greeks. They took care of the education and care of girls in Greece, and through adoptions offered a second life to many Greek children, who were deprived of their parents and their future due to war.
For all the “maternal” services of every anonymous or famous philhellene to our Homeland, EEF and the Greeks express their sincere respect and their unlimited gratitude.
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