Ionian Islands

The Ionian Islands (United States of the Ionian Islands), were a British possession from 1815 – 1864.

In 1809, the British defeated the French fleet in Zakynthos (October 2, 1809) captured Kefallonia, Kythera and Zakynthos, and took Lefkada in 1810.
The French held out in Kerkyra until 1814. The Treaty of Paris in 1815 turned the islands into the “United States of the Ionian Islands” under British protection (November 5, 1815).
In January 1817, the British granted the islands a new constitution. The islanders elected an Assembly of 40 members, who advised the British High Commissioner.
The British greatly improved the islands’ communications, and introduced modern education and justice systems. The islanders welcomed most of these reforms, and took up afternoon tea, cricket and other English pastimes.

Once Greek independence was established after 1830, however, the islanders began to resent foreign rule and to press for enosis – union with Greece.
The British statesman William Ewart Gladstone toured the islands and recommended that they be given to Greece. The British government resisted, since like the Venetians they found the islands made useful naval bases. They also regarded the German-born king of Greece, King Otto, as unfriendly to Britain. However, in 1862, Otto was deposed and a pro-British king, George I, was installed.

The United States of the Ionian Islands was a state and amical protectorate of the United Kingdom between 1815 and 1864. It was the successor state of the Septinsular Republic.
It is located in modern Greece, to whom it was ceded as a gift of the United Kingdom to the newly enthroned King George I, at the end of the protectorate.
Prior to the French Revolutionary Wars, the Ionian Islands had been part of the Republic of Venice.

Ionian Islands Map

The Ionian Islands

With the dissolution of that polity under the 1797 Treaty of Campo Formio, it was annexed into the French Republic, created into the French departments of Greece. Between 1798 and 1799, the French were driven out by a joint Russo-Turkish force. The occupying forces founded the Septinsular Republic, which enjoyed relative independence under nominal Ottoman suzerainty and distant Russian control from 1800 until 1807.

The Ionian Islands were then occupied by the French following the treaty of Tilsit. In 1809, the United Kingdom defeated the French fleet off Zakynthos on 2 October, and captured Kefalonia, Kythira, and Zakynthos. The British took Lefkada in 1810. Corfu remained under French rule until 1814.

The Congress of Vienna agreed to place the Ionian Islands under the exclusive “amical protection” of the United Kingdom. Despite British military administration, the Austrian Empire was guaranteed commercial status equal to the UK. The arrangement was solidified with the ratification of the “Maitland constitution” on 26 August 1817, which created a federation of the seven islands, with Sir Thomas Maitland its first “Lord High Commissioner of the Ionian Islands”.

On 29 March 1864, the United Kingdom, Greece, France, and Russia signed the Treaty of London, pledging the transfer of sovereignty to Greece upon ratification; this was meant to bolster the reign of the newly-installed King George I of Greece. Thus, on 28 May, by proclamation of the Lord High Commissioner, the Ionian Islands were united with Greece.

Greek was the primary official language, in contrast to the situation in the Septinsular Republic. Italian was still in use, though, mainly for official purposes since the Venetian Republic.
The only island in which Italian (Venetian) had a wider spread was Cephalonia, where a great number of people had adopted Venetian as their first language.


 

Government

The government was organised under the leadership of a Lord High Commissioner, appointed by the British monarch on the advice of the British government. In total, ten men served in this capacity, including William Gladstone as a Lord High Commissioner Extraordinary.
The Ionian Islands had a bicameral legislature, titled the ‘Parliament of the United States of the Ionian Islands’ and composed of the Legislative Assembly and the Senate.

State
Capital
Members elected
Corfù
Corfù
7
Cephalonia
Argostoli
7
Cerigo
Kythira
1 or 2
Ithaca
Vathy
1 or 2
Paxò
Gaios
1 or 2
Santa Maura
Lefkada
4
Zante
Zakynthos
7

 

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