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Letters to Lord Byron

  • Stephen Minta

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  • Stephen Minta
    University of York

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It is well known that Byron’s road to commitment in Greece was a long one. He first begins to talk about the possibility of going there a few months after the outbreak of the Greek Revolution, almost two years before he finally left Italy for Kefalonia in the Ionian Islands. He was finally convinced of the potential value of a journey to Greece by Edward Blaquiere and Andreas Louriotis, who visited him in Genoa on 5 April 1823. Subsequently, Blaquiere had attempted to maintain the enthusiasm which that visit had raised. From Zakinthos, on 28 April 1823, for example, he wrote to Byron:

From all that I have heard it would be criminal in me to leave this, without urging your Lordship to come up as soon as possible—your presence will operate as a talisman, & the field is too glorious,--too closely associated with all that you hold dear, to be any longer abandoned…
 The Cause is in a most flourishing state: I hope to be able to give your Lordship the result of the new elections in a few days…

The effect of mentioning that Byron was intending to join the cause had been, Blaquiere wrote, ‘quite electric’; and he concluded: ‘Anxious to see your Lordship in the Land of Heroes…’ [1]

Byron had expected Blaquiere to meet him in the Ionian Islands, but Blaquiere left for England via Corfu before Byron reached Kefalonia on 3 August 1823. [2] Shortly after his arrival in Argostoli, the island capital, Byron was visited by John Kennedy, secretary to the British Resident of Kefalonia. The Ionian Islands were then under British protection and so outside the Greek war zone. Byron was told that ‘little was known…of the internal concerns of Greece’ (Gamba 18). Even after Colonel Charles Napier, the British Resident, called on them, they remained much in the dark about what was happening on the Greek mainland, some forty kilometres away. Napier, a true philhellene and the author of the earliest work in English on the Greek War, [3] nevertheless ‘gave us little insight into the state of affairs in Greece’ (Gamba 19).

This was an unpropitious context. Having left Italy with a sense that he might do some good in Greece, Byron realised from the moment he reached Kefalonia that the situation on the mainland was unfavourable and that the Greek cause was as much threatened by lack of internal unity as by Turkish aggression: ‘the Greek news is here anything but Good’, he wrote in his letter to Blaquiere of 3 August. He also quickly understood that he was seriously disadvantaged by his lack of knowledge about contemporary developments. He was to spend the next weeks and months seeking information, as the necessary prelude to judging how best to deploy his energies, his name, and his fortune. His bad luck was that the situation in Greece was changing rapidly, and for the worse; his stay was to coincide with a relatively brief period in which there was no centralised, undisputed authority. The ‘Greek Government’ migrated frequently from one place to another and was divided between an Executive, largely under military control, and a Legislative body (or Senate), in civilian hands. The two bodies were on increasingly bad terms and, within three months of Byron’s arrival, the country had descended into civil war.

Byron had famously written, in a Journal entry for 28 September 1823: ‘I did not come here to join a faction but a nation’ (BLJ 11: 32). In the short run—and that was all he was to have in Greece—this position was untenable, though he would never abandon his sense of the importance of constitutional propriety. [4] In order to be able to act at all, Byron would eventually have to choose between support for a military faction, identified most prominently with Kolokotronis, and a civilian ‘westernising’ group, associated with Alexandros Mavrokordatos, among others. It took Byron many weeks, however, before he was able to pose the choice in these terms. To begin with, there was simple confusion, of names and places, while, later, Byron’s natural approach was to see whether the choice could be avoided in the name of a possible reconciliation between the parties—a reconciliation which, at various points, he seems to have believed he might personally have influenced.

The letters considered here were sent to Byron either from Tripolitza, modern Tripoli, in the central Peloponnese, or from the Argo-Saronic island of Hydra. Both places are significant. Hydra was a base for the westernizing Greeks, closely identified with Greek maritime interests. Tripolitza, on the other hand, was a Kolokotronis stronghold. It had been the site of a massacre of the Turkish and Jewish population by Greek forces under the command of Kolokotronis in October 1821, an early indication of the lawlessness of the Revolution which had done serious damage to the image of Greece abroad.

The first of the letters, from Mavrokordatos to Byron of 2/14 July, was sent to Genoa, but could not have reached Byron there, since he left Italy in late July 1823. The fact that the letter is preserved in the London Greek Committee papers suggests that it was among a batch of letters subsequently sent on to Kefalonia. It is, almost certainly, the first letter Mavrokordatos ever wrote to Byron.

The connection with Mavrokordatos would be the most important political relationship of Byron’s life. [5] In this first letter, the Greek leader began the long process of co-option, attempting, from the opening sentence, to enlist Byron on the side of those whom Byron himself would come to call the ‘Western Greeks.’ (BLJ 11: 80). Mavrokordatos writes in French. He was a brilliant linguist, but, though he had had lessons from Mary Shelley while in exile in Pisa, English was never his strongest language. In any case, French was a natural lingua franca in the Levant, as elsewhere. This is clearly demonstrated in a letter Andreas Louriotis wrote to Mavrokordatos on 17 February 1824:

Mon cher ami,
 Excusez, je vous prie, de ce que je ne vous écris pas en grec, le besoin du temps m’oblige de me servir du français…[6]

Lines 1-18 of the letter are duly in French, after which he switches to Greek for lines 19-29.

Mavrokordatos begins his letter to Byron with a rhetorical flourish, flattering, as he judged was appropriate for a man of Byron’s international standing:

Les immortels ouvrages attesteront à la postérité, même la plus reculée, combien vous avez essentiellement contribué à la régénération de la Grèce. [7]

Such language came naturally to Mavrokordatos. Before going into self-exile in Europe, he had been a diplomatic servant of the Turkish state. That such a style should have raised suspicions of insincerity and duplicity, among both Greeks and foreigners, is unsurprising, but, amongst the Phanariot class from which Mavrokordatos came, it was a mark of high distinction.

After the opening flourish, Mavrokordatos appears to come closer to the business in hand, but his language remains slippery. He says that the ‘Provisional Government’ of Greece has charged him with conveying its feelings of gratitude towards Byron. The phrasing sounds innocuous, but the implications are far-reaching. Mavrokordatos had been president of the first Greek National Assembly and the chief architect of Greece’s first ‘provisional’ constitution (January 1822);[8] in the political manoeuvrings during the second National Assembly (February/March 1823), however, he lost ground and was rewarded with the diminished rank of ‘Secretary of State’. He duly signed his letter to Byron of 2/14 July ‘Secrétaire d’État’. Had Byron received the letter before leaving for Greece, he would have been under the impression that a Provisional Government existed there and that Mavrokordatos held a responsible position within it.

That was, technically, true of the position at the beginning of July 1823. By then, however, Mavrokordatos had only a short time left in Tripolitza and the fiction of a constitutionally secure ‘Greek government’ was about to be fully exposed. By the end of July, Mavrokordatos was out of office and in exile on the island of Hydra, having fled the Peloponnese in fear of Kolokotronis. The latter, for his part, subsequently told James Hamilton Browne that, had Mavrokordatos not taken flight and thus ‘eluded his vengeance’, he would have tied him backwards on an ass and thrown him out of the Peloponnese (Browne 404).

By the time Mavrokordatos’s letter arrived in Kefalonia, Byron had some intuition of all this. Gamba noted:

Various rumours reached us of the affairs of the Peloponnesus; amongst the rest, that Mavrocordato was killed. We learned, however, afterwards, that he was only obliged to abandon the Morea, and quit public affairs. It was added, that Colocotroni was stronger than the government.

Gamba 27-8

While Byron himself, in a letter to John Cam Hobhouse of 11 September 1823, confirmed the sense of confusion:

[I] am here in a very pretty village [Metaxata, Kefalonia] between the Mountains and the sea—waiting what Napoleon calls the “March of Events”.—These Events however keep their march somewhat secret,--but it appears nearly certain that there be divisions—and that Mavrocordato is out (some say in again) which were a pity—since he is the only civilized person (on dit) amongst the liberators.

BLJ 11: 22-3

This explains Byron’s polite refusal to work with Mavrokordatos in Byron’s first surviving letter to him of 1 October 1823 (BLJ 11: 36-9).

From the outset, the letter Mavrokordatos wrote to Byron on 2/14 July is charged with possibilities of false readings. His language is invariably insulated against the threat of truths directly expressed. ‘I am particularly happy’, he writes, ‘to have been entrusted [by the government]’ to convey its feelings of gratitude. The language suggests normality, order, a chain of command in which Mavrokordatos is the loyal, dependable link. The impression is a world away from the political chaos of Tripolitza.

Mavrokordatos goes on to say that he has heard from Blaquiere and Louriotis about Byron’s plans to come to Greece. This is interesting, since the Metropolitan Ignatios, then in exile in Pisa, appeared to believe that it was he who was instrumental in bringing Byron and Mavrokordatos together. Byron’s ship had touched at Livorno on the way to Greece, partly in order to ‘procure information and letters from the venerable Archbishop’ (Gamba 13). Ignatios had sent his secretary with ‘several letters of introduction to the principal Greek chiefs, and to the government’, and had ‘recommended [Byron] particularly to Prince Mavrocordato’ (Gamba 14).

Ignatios himself wrote to Mavrokordatos on 29 June 1823: ‘The noble Lord Byron is coming to see how things are in Greece and to lend a helping hand. He has the means. He is a member of the London Greek Committee. He also has influential friends’ (IAM III: 355). While on 29 July, Ignatios reminded Mavrokordatos: ‘I recommended Lord Byron to you, who must by now have arrived in Zakinthos’ (IMO II :162). Mavrokordatos, however, had evidently taken matters into his own hands before either of these letters reached him.

In his letter of 2/14 July, Mavrokordatos sometimes appears on the point of alerting Byron to the problems he might face in Greece. He says, early on, that he must not conceal the fact that ‘Greece will need…the greatest degree of indulgence on your part, if you are absolutely decided on coming personally to her rescue’. But there is no hint of the disunity which was to present Byron with his greatest problems in Greece. Instead, there is simply the reiteration of a conscious platitude: Greece is involved in a long and difficult war, and so ‘nous avons très souvent les plus grandes fatigues à endurer, les plus grandes privations à souffrir’. [9] No observer could have detected from his letter the degree to which, in July 1823, he was fighting a war for his political life, rather than a war against the Turks.

By the following month, however, there was no possibility of further concealment. On 15/27 August, three letters were sent to Byron from Hydra. All written in French, they came from Spiridion Trikoupis, Andreas Louriotis, and Mavrokordatos himself. Reading them as a group, it is easy to see why Byron hesitated for so long in Kefalonia. All the letters refer, however vaguely, to recent events, but they seek, in subtly different ways, to turn the subject away from unpalatable truths towards what they implied might be achieved with Byron’s help.

The letter from Mavrokordatos of 15/27 August refers to another letter he had recently sent from Tripolitza in which ‘je ne vous ai point dissimulé l’état des choses’ (‘I did not hide from you the state of things’). He says that his private secretary Giorgios Praïdes is on his way to Byron in Kefalonia to explain what has been going on. Byron could play an essential role in the salvation of Greece, Mavrokordatos wrote, and, perhaps more in hope than anything else, he added: ‘I believe that you will not be diverted from your noble and generous resolution by the circumstances’. He said he hoped soon to meet with Byron.

The letter from Andreas Louriotis, which accompanied the letter from Mavrokordatos, takes a different line:

I learned with the greatest satisfaction of your arrival in Kefalonia. I would have learned with even greater pleasure of your arrival in the very heart of Greece, and I suppose that you were held back by rumours which must doubtless have alarmed you. I must not conceal from you, My Lord, that there have been disturbances among us (‘des désordres chez nous’), of the kind that one normally sees in all revolutions, even among the most civilised of Nations.

The sense is that what is happening is nothing out of the ordinary, simply the natural product of disturbed times, and he goes on to say: ‘You have arrived, My Lord, at the most favourable moment to save Greece’. Money is all that is required. He, together with Ioannis Orlandos have been charged by the ‘Greek Government’ to go to London to seek a loan for Greece. The implication is that some kind of national Government exists, is taking decisions, and that Byron will have a role to play in future events.

The letter from Trikoupis stresses the difficulties Greece is facing, but scarcely addresses the internal political situation. Blaquiere, on his departure, he says, gave him the task of giving Byron the news ‘which at this moment is far from satisfactory’. But he is referring here to the military context. The Peloponnese, he says, is more exposed and vulnerable than ever. Attica awaits an attack at any moment. The gravity of the situation is due to lack of money, rather than Turkish strength. He goes on to speak of Mesolongi, one of the earliest references to the town in letters to Byron. [10] Mesolongi, he writes, gives great cause for concern, vulnerable as it is by both land and sea. The town is the key to Continental Greece and, so long as it resists, the Peloponnese is secure. Mavrokordatos, he tells Byron, has given up his official government position as President of the Legislative body [11] and is waiting in Hydra, as a simple volunteer, to go to Mesolongi with the Greek fleet. In a reference to Mavrokordatos’s earlier career in Mesolongi, Trikoupis calls the town ‘le théâtre de sa gloire’. Here already is a link in that complex chain of events that would lead Byron himself to Mesolongi at the end of the year.

There is no sense at all of the storm gathering over Mavrokordatos in his letter to Byron of 2/14 July. His dominant concern there is simply to win Byron over. His account warns of generalised, unspecified difficulties but, above all, seeks to place before Byron a role that would be worthy of a saviour of Greece. That, in the position in which Mavrokordatos found himself, was not easy. His solution, the role he identified for his correspondent, might seem surprising, but it had a history and a kind of logic. Mavrokordatos introduced his proposal by expressing frustration that the Greeks were unable to act offensively in the war, for lack of resources. Four-fifths of the land of Greece belongs to the state, he wrote, but we cannot profit by it in the current circumstances. This was an area of controversy, since the projected loan would take the national lands of Greece as security, opening the western Greeks, who favoured the loan, to the charge that they were selling Greece to the English. But that is not Mavrokordatos’s concern here. What he says to Byron is that there can be no profit from the lands of Greece until Greece controls Thessaly.

That Thessaly was scarcely essential to the project of Greek independence is demonstrated by the fact that it became part of Greece only in 1881. With its capital at Larissa, Thessaly lies in North Central Greece, bordering Macedonia, Epirus, Continental Greece, and the Aegean Sea. There were early risings against the Turks here, but they were almost entirely suppressed by April 1822. The province could have been taken for Greece later, during General Church’s campaign of 1828-29 (Dakin 267), had Church received adequate support, but in the context of Mavrokordatos’s letter to Byron in 1823, the project is a curious one.

The way Mavrokordatos talks of it, however, gives an insight into his position and his long-standing dilemma. He writes: ‘It is…only by transferring the theatre of war far from the centre of our country that we can seize all the advantages which the wealth of our Country, its position, and its commercial relations promise us’. The Provisional Government, he went on, has already done all it can to ensure the success of this project (‘entreprise’), ‘the only one which can ensure the future destiny of Greece…The entire population of Thessaly awaits only the opportune moment to join with our national armies’. He finally brings in Blaquiere, as one to whom he might have supposed Byron would listen. Blaquiere, he says, has been ‘entièrement pénétré de la nécessité d’une entreprise immédiate sur la Thessalie’ (‘entirely convinced of the necessity of an immediate venture into Thessaly’) and has returned to England precisely to make representations on the subject to the London Greek Committee. Mavrokordatos hoped that Blaquiere would do much to enlighten English public opinion about the Greek cause and to refute ‘the slanders which have so unjustly been heaped upon us’.

One wonders what Byron could have made of all this. Confusion, no doubt. The vague reference to slanders, with which the letter closes, hints at problems that the letter never elsewhere clarifies; and that Blaquiere could have been suddenly seized with the idea of returning to England to argue support for a campaign in Thessaly is only modestly plausible.

What is interesting is that Mavrokordatos talks of ‘transferring the theatre of war far from the centre’. A Phanariot of Constantinople, he was an outsider in Revolutionary Greece, with no local power base, and he attracted, like many of the Phanariots, intense suspicion. There is an immense gulf between the position of Mavrokordatos and that of military leaders such as Kolokotronis in this respect. When the latter began dictating his Memoirs in the summer of 1836, he began: ‘I was born in 1770, on the third of April, Easter Monday…on a mountainside, under a tree, in old Messenia, in the place called Ramavouni’ (Kolokotronis I: 239). There is no better image of his rootedness in the Peloponnese or of his distance from Mavrokordatos, the privileged son of a famous line.

For Mavrokordatos to succeed in his political ambitions, he needed a role outside the heartland of the Revolution, and so outside the Peloponnese. Mesolongi, in Akarnania, had been an early attempt to establish himself at the periphery in this way—he was involved politically there from August 1821. But already on 8 October 1821 he had written that if all the political options in Akarnania were exhausted, a military expedition into Thessaly would be the logical next step (IAM I: 69). In the summer of 1823, he clearly hoped that Byron would rescue him from political failure by giving international prestige to his essentially marginal project. The shape and context of Byron’s intervention in Mesolongi are already foreshadowed.

Byron himself, on the other hand, quite logically spent most of the early months in Kefalonia trying to see what role might be available to him in the Peloponnese. That is the context in which the other letters to be discussed here should be understood--the letters of September 1823 from Edward John Trelawny and James Hamilton Browne, along with Browne’s two enclosures.

Browne and Trelawny had both accompanied Byron on the journey from Italy to Kefalonia. As one response to the confusion he found on his arrival in Greece, Byron had agreed that they should go to the Peloponnese, with ‘a letter to the government, communicating the intentions of the London [Greek] Committee, and his own’ (Gamba 32).[12] Byron continued for a long time to subscribe to the existence of a ‘Greek Government’, though he became increasingly aware of the illusion of so doing. Browne and Trelawny left Kefalonia on 6 September and made the brief crossing of the Ionian Sea to Pyrgos on the western coast of the Peloponnese. Browne noted, in an article he published many years later, in Blackwood’s Edinburgh Magazine, that the custom-house station of Pyrgos was occupied by a ‘creature of Colocotroni; from which I deduced an unfavourable augury to the stability of the government, with whom that turbulent chief was at variance’ (Browne 399).

In the same article, Browne gave details of their journey from Pyrgos to Tripolitza, where they arrived on 11 September. They were welcomed by Mavrokordatos’s treasurer, who had stayed behind following the events of July and the flight of Mavrokordatos to Hydra. They also met Kolokotronis, whom they found sitting in his apartment, ‘cross-legged, on a splendid ottoman of crimson velvet and gold’ (403). He denounced Mavrokordatos as ‘a cowardly plotter’. Learning that they were carrying letters from Byron to the Executive branch of the Greek government, he asked them to hand them over, which they refused to do. He then told them of a congress about to be held at Salamis [13] to which two members of the Executive, together with the majority of the Legislative branch, had already gone and to which Kolokotronis also intended to go. He offered them horses for the journey to Salamis and a guide. They sought to decline the offer—to accept would have been to compromise their political neutrality as envoys of Lord Byron--but to no avail. Kolokotronis believed Greece needed neither a loan, which would give Great Britain ‘an undue preponderance in Greece’, nor Phanariots such as Mavrokordatos; Greece was ‘competent to her own liberation’ (404).

One of the two enclosures in Browne’s letter to Byron of 13 September 1823 was an account of his audience with Kolokotronis, the other of his meeting with a small group of Mavrokordatos’s allies. Kolokotronis argued that the dissensions among the Greeks had arisen entirely from the intrigues of the Phanariots who, perceiving that they lacked influence and did not have the confidence of the people, had turned to intrigue in an attempt to secure power by creating division. Mavrokordatos, he said, had used his position as Secretary of State to correspond with foreign Courts, without informing ‘the Government’ about many of his communications. He had conspired to get himself elected President of the Legislative body and had continued to intrigue, even after promising Kolokotronis that he would not attempt to secure the office. Kolokotronis told Mavrokordatos that ‘he would mount him upon a donkey and have him whipped out of the Morea’, after which Mavrokordatos had gone secretly to Hydra, ‘to endeavour to gain a party in his favour in the Islands’, and thereby to create conflict between the Islands and the Peloponnese. Kolokotronis said that he and the other Chiefs of the Army were in favour of a democratic government with a deliberative Assembly, from which the executive would be chosen. He hoped the forthcoming congress at Salamis would support this. And he said that he hoped that Byron, or any other British Philhellene, would give support only to the ‘General Government of Greece’. Finally, Kolokotronis told them he believed that Mavrokordatos wanted to introduce a monarchical form of government.

The ‘Substance of a conversation…with the Officers of Mavrocordato’ is a short enclosure, but full of interest. Browne was told that the recent dissensions in Greece had been the result of jealousy, on account of Mavrokordatos’s European ‘and especially British’ connections; that Mavrokordatos courted the British connection because Britain was a great maritime power, and because the Ionian Islands were in British hands. It was very unlikely that Mavrokordatos would go to the Salamis congress, but would go, instead, to Western Greece. ‘[T]heir opinion is that the theatre of the war will be now in upper Greece and upon the Western frontier, and that in the Morea there will be little more fighting’. The informants were convinced that, had measures proposed by Mavrokordatos been followed earlier, all Macedonia would now be in Greek hands and Albania would form the Northern frontier of Greece. ‘They expressed great anxiety for us to go to Hydra before proceeding to Salamis’. Finally, they hoped that Byron would act not as a simple mediator, but ‘avec une main de fer’ (‘with an iron hand’). They expressed the view that only Britain could effectively aid Greece and they confirmed that Mavrokordatos believed a monarchy was the only way forward for the country.

The two letters from Browne and Trelawny add some further detail to the above, but they also give a sense of place. Tripolitza for them was exotic, the centre of Revolutionary Greece, a vision of another age. Browne noted that Kolokotronis’s residence was full of armed men, ‘resembling that of some Chieftain of ancient days’. The town was ‘greatly delapidated’, the Seraglio ‘one mass of ruins’. Kolokotronis impressed them by his presence, even though both he and his son were ill with fever. Living in Tripolitza was cheap. ‘[A] harem…might be formed on reasonable terms’, Browne wrote, or, in Trelawny’s words, ‘maidenhead as plentiful as blackberries’. Both correspondents were unenthusiastic about the position of Mavrokordatos. Browne said that ‘from all I ever heard’, he was ‘an honourable and estimable man’. However, he went on, ‘I should think that he ventured too far at once, calculating upon support which failed him in the hour of need, and however much it is to be regretted, it is but too true, at least it appears so, that he has lost the confidence of the people in the Morea…since our arrival in the Peninsula we have not once heard his name mentioned with respect, but as one who wished to deliver Greece to a foreign power’.

Trelawny, for his part, was more direct. He said that Mavrokordatos had ‘lost his influence in the Morea’ and that he was trying to gather together his ‘Minions’ with the idea of going on the offensive in Western Greece. Crucially, from Byron’s point of view, he said that Mavrokordatos was ‘seperating [sic] himself and followers and acting independantly [sic] of the Government here’, and that, in his view, it was ‘out of the question’ for the London Greek Committee to act with Mavrokordatos. He confirmed that Mavrokordatos would not be going to the congress at Salamis, proof, he said, that ‘he has lost the confidence of the people as every other individual of consequence is to attend’. He also confirmed that Mavrokordatos ‘gave the preference’ to a monarchical form of government for the future Greek state.

Reading these letters and enclosures alongside the letter of Mavrokordatos of 2/14 July is to begin, with all the advantages of hindsight, to give some clarity to the confusion that dominated Byron’s early months in Greece. He had been recommended to Mavrokordatos before leaving for Greece and it is with him that he would naturally have chosen to work. Mavrokordatos offered a coherent vision of the Greek Revolution, one that Byron could share. It was a vision that stressed the importance of constitutional, centralised government, with a shrewd sense of the priority of foreign policy to the success of the Revolution, within a European context that was largely hostile to revolutionary projects. Mavrokordatos, for his part, saw the possibility of co-opting Byron’s international prestige and, in the slightly longer term, the material advantages of a loan on the London market, as a counterweight to the entrenched power of military chiefs such as Kolokotronis.

It was natural for Kolokotronis to perceive Mavrokordatos as someone for whom the international context mattered more than the local. The patria chica was a world in which Mavrokordatos would always be at a disadvantage. His personal future, and, so his allies believed, the future of Greece itself, lay precisely in what was anathema to Kolokotronis and which the latter easily defined as the selling of Greece to foreign interests.

It was also inevitable that the question of monarchism should have divided Mavrokordatos and Kolokotronis. As Kaltchas points out, neither royalism nor republicanism were part of the political consciousness of the Greeks during the Revolution. The conviction that a monarchy was the best means of achieving national unity grew, as Kaltchas suggests, ‘with the attrition and deterioration of native leadership’ (Kaltchas 37). The choice between the two forms of government was, then, not ideological, but pragmatic. [14] For Mavrokordatos, it linked diplomatically with his cultivation of foreign support for Greece. Since the European powers would need to consent to any future monarch, it was a means of legitimising the Greek Revolution in foreign eyes and improved the chances of securing a favourable territorial settlement for the new Greek state.

But if by temperament and political choice, Byron favoured Mavrokordatos, it must have seemed throughout those early months in Kefalonia as if backing Mavrokordatos would be to side with the losers in Greek internal politics. It would have been clear to Byron that while Mavrokordatos’s side were seeking mediation, Kolokotronis was not, and that mediation is ever the refuge of the weaker party. With his reputation as a successful military leader against the Turks [15] and control of the Peloponnese, Kolokotronis had no interest in promoting anyone but himself, and those around him who shared his sense of a revolution that was home-grown and self-driven. He had humiliated Mavrokordatos and, so far as Browne and Trelawny could gather, had done so with complete impunity. The situation would turn out to be very different by the middle of 1824, but Byron faced a position in which the military party looked overwhelmingly predominant within whatever might be described as a ‘Greek Government’.

In such a situation, Byron’s natural response was to wait for matters to be clarified. With hindsight again, it is clear that no foreigner, no Greek, was going to prevent, through diplomatic intervention, the descent into civil war. At the same time, Byron was fully aware of his own capacity for inertia. He sought a role and mediation, for a time, appeared to be the only one on offer. Both Browne and Trelawny encouraged him strongly to come to the Peloponnese. Trelawny pressed him to come to the congress at Salamis:

I wish you could attend in person—it does not open for ten days—their [sic] is no difficulty in landing where you please—and the government here will make every arrangement—for your accomodation [sic]…

Browne was more circumspect, but he still wanted Byron to act. He hoped that a reconciliation could be effected between the two sides, though he feared it would be difficult. ‘Mavrocordato’s people’ said that the Prince had already written, ‘proposing either to meet you [Byron] at Missolunghi, or for you to go to Hydra’. But he added that he was ‘pretty sure’ Byron would not have responded to Mavrokordatos’s invitation, ‘as it would annoy much the actual Govt., and make Your Lordship be supposed a favourer of his party, but you are the best judge’. Mavrokordatos had in mind shortly to march overland to Mesolongi, ‘where his presence will I have no doubt be very useful, it would however be most desirable for the Greek cause that a reconciliation were first effected, and I both hope, and think, that Your Lordship might bring it about and render an essential service to the cause’.

The prospect was enticing, and Byron came close to leaving Kefalonia for Tripolitza. Had he done so, it is difficult to see what might have achieved, easy to imagine failure. The exact chronology of the developments that nearly brought him to the Peloponnese is unclear, but the representations of Browne and Trelawny were clearly influential.

The letters from Browne and Trelawny took at least a couple of weeks to reach Byron in Kefalonia. He had moved to the village of Metaxata on 6 September and Gamba wrote that ‘[w]e remained a month in that village, without any letters’ from them (Gamba 36). Then the letters arrived. Gamba believed, on their evidence, that ‘[t]he state of affairs was not so desperate as reported’. His summary of their contents, however, was scarcely positive: ‘Power had certainly fallen into the hands of a faction without talent, and the views of its chiefs were circumscribed and selfish. Great indolence and a total disorganization prevailed’. But he added that the ‘nation…was beginning to discover the incapacity and low views of the chiefs’, and this must have seemed to open space for the intervention of a foreigner.

Gamba noted that Browne and Trelawny had been well received in Tripolitza and that ‘the existing government’—whatever he or Byron may have understood by the term—‘invited his Lordship to set out without delay.’ Along with the letters from Browne and Trelawny came ‘pressing letters of solicitation’ from both the Executive and Legislative bodies. Even so, ‘Lord Byron still deemed it prudent not to move’ (Gamba 38). By remaining in Kefalonia, Gamba says, Byron’s influence was increasing daily, ‘and he could employ it more independently in raising the credit of any government which might be fairly called national’. He did, however, send word for Browne and Trelawny to go on to Hydra.

This playing for time frustrated a number of Byron’s associates, butit continued to make political sense. On 15 September, he had written to Hobhouse:

The Government at Tripolitza are so divided at present and so jealous of foreigners that if I were to land without their directions at any particular place—as “one in authority”—it would form a cause or pretext for taking umbrage, since Mavrocordato is out of office.—

BLJ 11: 26

On 6 October, he wrote again to Hobhouse, saying that he intended to wait on ‘till things are either better or hopeless’ (BLJ 11: 42). He insisted that he would serve ‘the Cause—and not individuals or parties.’ By 16 October, in another letter to Hobhouse, his frustration, or sense of realism, is reflected in his comment that ‘We want a military foreign force –and a military man to head them’ (BLJ 11: 50). The impact of Browne and Trelawny’s visit, however, became clearer as the month went on. On 23 October, he wrote to Col. John Duffie: ‘The Greek provisional government has sent over one of their agents to conduct me to the residence of the said government’ (BLJ 11: 52). Byron was still suspicious. Browne and Trelawny, ‘having been better treated than others, probably give a much more favourable account than we have yet had, from other quarters, of the state of the government and country’. Nevertheless, he now proposed, finally, to move:

I shall endeavour to judge for myself, and expect to set out early in November, according to the desire of the President and his brethren’. [16]

Gamba reports unambiguously that Byron ‘resolved to go’ to Tripolitza (Gamba 47), and that by the middle of November they were within two days of setting out. ‘The accounts sent by…Browne and Trelawny, the repeated solicitations of the government, led to his determination: he hoped that his influence on the spot might produce a general reconciliation’ (Gamba 47-8). Suddenly, however, Gamba’s narrative strikes a different note. Following the arrival of Browne from Hydra, with the Greek deputies who were to negotiate the loan in London, he says that Byron changed his mind about going to the Peloponnese. The Legislative body, who, Gamba now believed, were ‘the real representatives of the nation’ (Gamba 50) had sent word that Byron should ‘turn all his thoughts to western Greece’; accordingly, ‘he was obliged to abandon going to Tripolizza’. Kolokotronis’s envoy was sent back ‘with letters to the government, stating the reasons of Lord Byron’s change of resolution’.

This represents a plausible scenario. However, there are problems with this linkage between the arrival of the deputies and Byron’s apparently sudden change of heart. Byron concluded a deal with the Greek deputies on 28 October/9 November, under which he provided funds for a fleet to sail to the relief of Mesolongi. But as late as the end of November, he was still expressing a determination to leave for the ‘Greek Government’ in the Peloponnese. Having learned that the Executive had removed itself to the town of Nafplio, it was to Nafplio, rather than to Tripolitza, that he resolved to go. He mentions this course of action on 25 October (BLJ 11: 53), he repeats it on 29 October (BLJ 11: 57), and again on 29 November (‘It is my intention to proceed by sea to Nauplia di Romania’, BLJ 11: 65). Nafplio had been taken by Kolokotronis in January 1823. In the autumn of that year, it was a complete wreck of a town, but Byron was hoping, even at that late stage, to play the mediator. The Greek ‘internal dissentions still continue’, he wrote on 29 November. ‘On arriving at the Seat of Government—I shall endeavour to mitigate or extinguish them—though neither is an easy task’ (BLJ 11: 65).

The ‘Seat of Government’. It is unclear what Byron meant by this formula. Whether it was a simple, conventional, and convenient shorthand; whether it was politically motivated, because of the dangers for the Greek cause in any implication that there was no functioning government; whether, against all the mounting evidence, he yet clung to the possibility of some representative body with whom he might negotiate. Whatever the mix, during the first days of December, he withdrew from the idea of going to the Peloponnese. On 29 November, his decision to go to Nafplio looks unassailably clear. By 11 December, he wrote to Charles Barry: ‘I expect Mavrocordato daily—I hear that I am joined in commission with him by the Gov[ernmen]t…But this is merely rumour—for I have no information of the report’ (BLJ 11: 75).

The letters to Byron discussed here provide detail for a context that is often articulated in very general terms. Byron’s hesitations, which were, and have been, so regularly misunderstood, were a shrewd response to an ambiguous position which he consistently attempted to clarify. On the one hand, he was unable to track precisely the decline in the Greek internal situation. The intelligence that reached him in Kefalonia was always going to be some days or weeks out of date. On the other hand, he knew enough to understand that he was confronting a situation with no immediate issue. The Greek party that he would have chosen to support appeared to have been completely marginalised by the military element; and, in any case, he long remained wedded to the idea that he would not move until factionalism among the Greeks had ceased. Nevertheless, pressures on him to intervene were intense. Frank Hastings, generally a good judge of Greek affairs, wrote Byron a long letter on 20 October. At the end, he said:

I shall conclude with a wish that ere long we may have the honour of seeing your Lordship at [Nafplio] where you are so anxiously expected by all men of information and patriotism who look up to your Lordship as likely to be the interior pacificator of the country—the liberator of Greece. [17]

Pacificator and liberator: it is not surprising that Byron was drawn by the idea of intervening in Greek internal affairs. Mediation might provide both the glorious vindication of his decision to come to Greece and the only way out of a closed circle. In political terms, it was his bad luck that he arrived in Greece when he did. It was, doubtless, his good luck that he did not, in the end, risk his reputation among the ruins of Nafplio.

Appendices