Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Amalia of Oldenburg, Queen of Greece

Queen Amalia was the first queen of Greece. She was born a Princess of Oldenburg on December 21, 1818, the eldest daughter of Augustus, Grand Duke of Oldenburg and Princess Adelheid of Anhalt. Princess Adelheid died when Amalia was only two years old. Her father remarried, this time to Amalia's maternal aunt. She was a loving stepmother to her niece/stepdaughter, but unfortunately she also died after only three years of marriage. Augustus' third wife was a Swedish princess, Cecilia. She did not get along well with her stepchildren, and so Amalia was raised by her governess. From an early age, Amalia exhibited a keen intellect. She was taught in foreign languages, painting, music, and dancing, but she showed more interest in theater, dancing, horseback riding and hunting.

Amalia was 17 years-old when King Otto of Greece made a trip to Germany. Born a Prince of Bavaria, he was chosen to become the first King of Greece when he was only 18 years old. He had been king for three years when he decided to visit his homeland. He made a trip to Oldenburg, where he met the beautiful and talented Amalia. It was a love-match. The marriage of the Catholic Otto and the Protestant Amalia took place in Munich in 1836.

Amalia's arrival in Greece caused so much sensation, as well as curiosity among the people. Her fair hair and complexion were a novelty in Greece. The Greek people were fascinated of her. With her beauty, charm and robust, well-made figure, she brought a spirit of smart fashion and progress to the impoverished country. She created the Amalia dress, a sort of romantic-folksy dress that became the Greek national costume. She actively labored towards social improvement and the beautification of Athens. A keen horticulturist, she was determined to create gardens in Athens despite its novel concept, and the scarcity of water and adverse climate conditions. The gardens were commissioned in 1836 and developed in the next 25 years. The gardens (now the National Garden of Athens) with its shady green spaces and alleys and its romantic hideaways has been an attraction ever since the 19th century. Amalia's efforts were greatly appreciated  in Greece, and the town of Amalias and the village of Amaliapolis were named after her.

As for her personality and physical appearance, Amalia was generally described as beautiful, but she became plump as she got older. Bremer described her manners as "lively and extremely agreeable", and she was charmed by the Queen's friendliness and her lively conversation. As she is agreeable in private, Amalia is equally pleasant in public. Tastefully dressed in expensive Parisian crinolines, an able dancer excelling especially in waltzes, fluent in French and Greek, she was a delightful conversationalist who neglected no one at the ball  - "her eyes, full of the joy of life, emulated in brightness the diamonds around her head and neck". She was, as Bremer exclaims, after Queen Caroline Amalie of Denmark, "the handsomest queen I have seen...a real Semiramis, a queenly figure captivating all eyes". She was also extremely vivacious and a daring horsewoman. She liked to ride wearing the Amalia dress, and visited the whole of Greece in horseback, down to the very last village.

When she became more politically involved, she became the target of harsh attacks and criticism. Her image suffered further when she became unable to provide an heir, and chose to remain a Protestant in an almost universally Orthodox country. She also became a target of an assassination attempt. The would-be assassin was a student. He was sentenced to death but he was pardoned due to Amalia's intervention.

While to royal couple were on a visit to the Pelopennese, an uprising took place in Athens. King Otto was urged not to resist the uprising and his reign came to an end. He and Amalia left Greece aboard a British flagship. They arrived in Bavaria where they settle down and spent their remaining years as exiles.

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