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Britain’s forgotten European empire Corfu became a laboratory of Victorian contradictions

Guards outside the Palace of St. Michael and St. George in Corfu City, Corfu, Greece, circa 1965. (Photo by Hy Simon/Pictorial Parade/Archive Photos/Getty Images)

Guards outside the Palace of St. Michael and St. George in Corfu City, Corfu, Greece, circa 1965. (Photo by Hy Simon/Pictorial Parade/Archive Photos/Getty Images)


July 10, 2023   10 mins

When King Charles ascended the throne to the sonorous chants of a Greek Orthodox choir, the compelling fusion of British and Byzantine ceremony struck onlookers as a strange and mysterious novelty. But in one sense, it was the natural result of a now-disregarded byway of British imperial history. For half a century, British rule in the Ionian Islands off Greece’s western coast created an appealing hybrid society with all the romantic unlikeliness of a Crusader kingdom. On holy days, red-jacketed British soldiers would escort Corfu’s mummified patron saint through the streets in clouds of incense, with the garrison’s senior commanders bearing the ceremony’s giant candles. So impressed were locals by the spectacle that, even today, the island’s village marching bands play Holy Week’s funeral dirges in colourful uniforms and glittering helmets copied from the long-dead British garrison.

Even now, Corfu’s crumbling rotundas and bandstands, its British barracks, hospitals and palaces, are monuments to a vanished imperial culture, as lost and romantically stirring as that of Rome. Yet recent research born from this faded grandeur is more than just romantic marginalia: it offers a certain nuance currently absent from Britain’s own tiresomely propagandistic discourse on empire. As the Corfiot historian Maria Paschalidi notes, torn between strategic realpolitik and liberal idealism, “Britain suggested a variety of forms of government for the Ionians ranging from authoritarian
 to representative
 to responsible government.” Yet none worked, creating a “failed colonial experiment in Europe, highlighting the difficulties of governing white, Christian Europeans within a colonial framework”. But if things had worked out differently, Corfu might today be as British as Gibraltar. And the fact that it is not tells a micro-history of London’s always-ambivalent attitude to Empire.

Analysis of Britain’s lost Greek empire opens up new and productive pathways for interpreting the imperial past, keenly studied by a young generation of Greek historians even as it is ignored in the former colonial metropole. As the historian Evangelos Zarokostas observes, the half-century Ionian interlude took place at a formative time, “a period of transition between the collapse of old structures and the establishment of new ones”, in which “British officials were ambivalent about the place of the protectorate in the empire from its very beginning.” From the very start, Britain ruled the islands as a crown colony, but under the legal fiction they were an independent state under British protection. This ambiguous settlement would prove fatal to British rule, but it also provided a template for later British governance in Cyprus, Egypt, Mandate Palestine and Iraq. The islands were a laboratory for later imperial adventures, and would soon prove just as onerous a burden. In this sense, the bloody and still-unresolved conflicts of today’s Middle East were born on the verdant islands of the Ionian. Similarly, the failed Ionian experiment, abandoned just as Britain began to acquire hegemonic status, was to be Whitehall’s first experience of decolonisation — a first draft, in colourful mid-Victorian style, of Britain’s 20th-century decline. 

In 1815, when Britain won the Ionian Islands from a vanquished Napoleon, the world looked very different. The island chain off Greece’s western coast commanded the entrance to the Adriatic, and seemed to offer mastery of the Mediterranean. In the 20 years preceding the raising of the Union flag over Corfu’s medieval fortress, the islands had rudely entered modernity after 400 years as a sleepy colony of Venice, passing from French to Russian hands and back to France again in a wearying succession of sieges and conquests. Desperately poor, they presented London with a complex society to govern: centuries of Venetian rule had left a Greek-speaking peasantry living in feudal squalor, lorded over by an absentee class of Italian-speaking nobles. In the regional capital, Corfu Town, all classes spoke Italian of one form or another, including the many Jews, confined to their ghetto by the vigorous antisemitism of their neighbours. As European Christians for the most part, the islanders were an anomaly in Britain’s expanding empire. How, then, were they to be governed? 

The Treaty of Paris which granted them to Britain asserted that Whitehall’s rule was merely a benevolent guardianship of the first independent Greek state since the Middle Ages. The reality was rather different: fresh from negotiating Haiti’s handover to its new black rulers, the Ionian Islands’ first British Lord High Commissioner, Sir Thomas Maitland, or “King Tom”, ruled with a rod of iron. A Scottish nobleman, described by his new Ionian charges as “dirty” and “frequently drunk”, Maitland began his decade as “conquistador” by erecting imposing monuments to himself, and ensured that, whatever the constitution said, absolute power rested with his own person. Feared by the locals as a volatile and abusive autocrat, whose secret police penetrated every level of Ionian society, Maitland’s absolute rule established the basis for later British governance. An enlightened despot, and a devotee of Adam Smith’s latest, fashionable theories, Maitland encouraged trade and imposed a sense of British order to Corfu’s teeming, overcrowded streets. Finding the locals disinclined to work, Maitland imported Maltese labourers to build his imposing regency palace of St Michael and St George, in the process reviving Corfu’s dwindling Catholic community. Correctly assessing the local nobility as easily swayed by glittering baubles, Maitland invented a chivalric order to dazzle them, still awarded today, in the absence of Greeks to bribe, to British diplomats — by themselves.

For a while, in the early decades of the 19th century, British rule was accepted by Corfiot society, if not by the more rebellious inhabitants of the southward islands. As Aggelis notes, there were even “popular demands from many Ionians to be ‘modernised’ by the British”. So, with all the lost confidence of Victorian Britain, Corfu was duly gifted the Foucauldian novelties of a Panopticon prison in Benthamite style, and a high-walled lunatic asylum, still occupied today. New Macadamed roads, also still in use, linked the villages to the capital, and a sturdy aqueduct brought water to its population. The expansion of new law courts, coupled with stiff sentences for carrying knives — at the time the British arrived, the Ionians had the second-highest murder rate in Europe — transformed a previously violent society into the most pacific, if now litigious, in the region. Handsome villas, their sober Regency neoclassicism softened by pastel-coloured limewash, sprung up around the town and its prosperous new suburb of Garitsa to house the garrison’s officers and their wives in British comfort. They are still lived in today by Corfu’s upper-middle class professionals — indeed, Prince Philip was born in one, Mon Repos. Banks and stock exchanges, hotels and sewers, street lamps and bandstands transformed the medieval walled city into a Balkan simulacrum of Cheltenham.

The eccentric Lord Guilford — whose erratically-spelled name is still commemorated by Corfu’s central square — founded modern Greece’s first university on the island, after being dissuaded from situating it on a goat-haunted mountain peak on Ithaca. A network of “Lancastrian schools” provided public education, including the first ever schooling for girls; British sentries guarded the ghetto during Holy Week, ending the local custom of stoning Jews who dared venture outside. And amid all this reforming zeal, garrison life drifted along with a sleepy, romantic charm, where red-coated officers and their crinolined companions hunted scented paper in lieu of foxes, and enjoyed champagne and oyster picnics on the island’s beauty spots, surrounded by peasants toiling in the olive groves. For Mrs Gaskell, imagining the life of an officer’s wife, enjoying “music and dancing” in her “house with its trellised balcony,” the daily round was one long summer holiday. For the ordinary squaddies, happily acquiring “local connections with women” and “local habits” and serving in the only British posting where wine was the ration drink, the only hazards were drunkenly falling from the ramparts or being snatched by sharks while swimming. A soldier’s life here was distinctly less onerous than in the Empire’s more spartan outposts. 

But the holiday atmosphere would not last long. The outbreak of the Greek Revolution aroused nationalist passions which would ultimately make British rule untenable. The exiled Corfiot nobleman Ioannis Kapodistrias, Russia’s foreign minister and a fervent opponent of British rule, complaining that the islanders were treated “like indians”, became the new Greece’s first head of state, complaining that the islanders were treated “like Indians”, until he was assassinated by his volatile mainland charges. When a Turkish ship carrying Muslim refugees landed on Zakynthos, the passengers were murdered by the islanders, causing Maitland to impose martial law and disarm the Ionian population. Agrarian rebellions would rumble on in the southern islands, with British officials occasionally murdered, and reprisals exacted. The Ionians were the only British territory where the revolutionary fervour of 1848 was successful: the liberal Tory Lord High Commissioner Lord Seaton, fresh from his experience governing Upper Canada, widened democratic participation and permitted a free press, recasting the Ionians as a white dominion fit for Canadian-style responsible self-government. Indeed, under Seaton the Ionian islanders were granted greater democratic rights than the people of Britain itself. When, the following year, British troops put down a peasant uprising in Kefalonia, burning villages and hanging rebels to the applause of the local nobles, his reactionary successor Sir Henry Ward blamed Seaton’s naive idealism for the disturbances, proroguing the Ionian parliament and exiling journalists in an abrupt return to authoritarian rule.

This constant oscillation between Liberal and reactionary Tory proconsuls introduced tensions into Ionian governance that would soon make British rule untenable. The expansion of education, of the legal system and of employment in the British administration created a new Ionian bourgeoisie who rejected the pro-British sympathies of the islands’ aristocracy in favour of radical nationalism: a pattern that would be repeated in more exotic colonies. In stirring Italian prose (though the British had reintroduced Greek as the language of law and government for the first time since the 13th century, Italian remained the language of choice for the educated classes) nationalist radicals with names such as Dandolo, Padova and Lombardo demanded union with the Greek fatherland. Enraged by Ward’s repression of the Kefalonian rebellion, the moderate reformists, who had previously sought closer integration within the empire on more favourable terms of trade and access to imperial sinecures, ceded power to the radicals.

When the Crimean War broke out, and the islands became the supply base for Britain’s defence of the hated Ottoman Empire against the islanders’ Orthodox co-religionists, even the formerly-pliable clergy began to publicly pray for the Tsar’s health and success, while islanders celebrated Russian victories over their colonial overlords. The end was looming. Local government was deadlocked as the radicals frustrated British rule, but the heightened repression angered liberal sentiment in London. In the dying decade of British rule, as at the beginning, Whitehall’s sole concern with the islands became keeping them out of Russian hands. Nervously, London discussed gifting the islands to Austria, though feared the international response. A proposal was made by Ward’s successor, Sir John Young, a former MP for Cavan who consistently likened the increasingly unruly Ionians to the now equally troublesome Irish, proposed to annex Corfu while ceding the more volatile islands to Greece.

In a justificatory British correspondence, the placid Corfiots were now characterised as “half-Venetian and half-Albanian” and thus barely Greek at all. As Paschalidi notes, Young insisted that “Corfu was perfect for ‘British capital and enterprise’ and “would be ‘completely Anglicised’ in a few years.” Yet the initially convenient legal fiction of the Protectorate prevented Britain from either fully annexing Corfu or handing the problem to a friendly power. The publishing of Young’s stolen correspondence just as Gladstone arrived in Corfu to find some workable solution forced London to reassure wary European powers it had no intention of creating a Balkan Gibraltar. At a loss for how to rid itself of its now unwanted Greek dependency, the British government began to search for a way out. That way out was to be King Charles’ great-grandfather, Prince William of Denmark.

In 1862, Greek revolutionaries overthrew their unpopular Bavarian king Otto, and the country voted for a successor. When the votes were tallied, the winner, with more than 95% of votes cast (still the greatest democratic mandate in Greek history) was Prince Alfred, Queen Victoria’s second son. Both Alfred and Victoria immediately declined the offer — the throne of an impoverished Balkan country in the throes of revolution was hardly a prize — but the Greeks refused to listen: Alfred-mania had entirely swept the country. The Greeks believed that choosing Alfred would guarantee British protection for their weak and unstable new state, with the still-unliberated Ottoman possessions of northern Greece thrown into the bargain. Struggling to convince them that the Alfred option was impossible, British officials feared the disappointed Greeks would choose a Russian king in a fit of pique, swinging the country into the orbit of London’s greatest rival. After much haggling, British officials settled on a safely pliable king for Greece, Prince William of Denmark — King Charles’ great-grandfather. But to seal the deal, London needed a handsome gift to woo the Greeks: and what better option than Corfu and the Ionians, no longer strategically valuable and now impossible to govern?

And so, on June 2, 1864, the last British troops marched out of Corfu’s Old Fortress and the Union flag was lowered for the last time. The final Lord High Commissioner, Sir Henry Storks, gave a tearful speech in Italian while island notables gathered round him, “embracing him and conferring upon him not infrequently those salutations which Englishmen generally reserve for the other sex”. The frosty atmosphere of Britain’s last decade of rule had evaporated with their looming departure, as soldiers marched along streets “strewn with flowers”, “fĂȘted in the taverns with free beer”. Now it was over, Corfiots had already begun to feel a certain nostalgia for their brief episode of Britishness. “Sono bono genti [they are good people],” a British correspondent quoted an old man waving his straw hat at the departing ships, wiping tears from his eyes: “’Adesso siamo liberi!’ [Now we are free!], said a young man, as he lit a cigarette by way of inaugurating the new order of things.” The young man was not quite correct: in relinquishing Corfu, Britain won a far greater prize, a quasi-colonial dominance over Greece itself, which would remain an effective British protectorate until London was supplanted by Washington following World War Two. For this exact reason, once Britain finally agreed to cede the Ionians, Ionian radicals who had long demanded union futilely began to campaign against it, as the historian Eleni Calligas shows: after experiencing “the corruption, intrigue, and clientelism permeating Greek politics” they soon retired from public life altogether, entirely disillusioned.

British rule in the Ionians is often seen, in Britain, as a curious backwater in the long imperial record, but the romantic but ultimately failed Ionian experiment set the scene for later imperial trends. Oscillating between Liberal and Tory proconsuls, tensions in British internal politics introduced a wild incoherence to Ionian governance: Tory repression inflamed local passions; Liberal idealism created a native nationalist bourgeoisie who would make the islands ungovernable. But young British administrators who cut their teeth in the failed Ionian project would later move on to the equally ambiguous annexation of Egypt, which established a precedent for British mandate Iraq: British governance in the Ionian would shape later failures in the Middle East. Similarly oscillating between liberal idealism — tempered by the nationalist enthusiasms of a bourgeoisie British rule had created — and harsh oppression, Britain repeated the same cycle in the Middle East as it did in the Ionian, ending in bloodier and less romantic failure. In the end, British patronage of independent Greece ended as that of its rule in the Middle East did, a rule supplanted by America, now being supplanted in turn..

Cycling through an incoherent policy mix of authoritarian repression and liberal idealism, benevolent modernisation and indirect rule through feudal elites, British rule in the Ionians ended in the empire’s first bitter taste of decolonisation, even as Britain stood on the brink of world hegemony. But far from the black-and-white moral certainties of today’s demagogic historiography, the Ionian islanders themselves always felt ambivalent about their status as semi-Britons, as often pleading for greater incorporation into the imperial fold and the right to send an MP to the Commons as demanding independence. 

London, too, always felt more ambivalence than cupidity for its Greek possessions, searching for the least painful way to relinquish them and finally doing so according to the unsentimental demands of realpolitik. Far from the Ionians’ union with Greece being the inevitable result of nationalist fervour, London chose the moment of decolonisation, just one of many potential outcomes, and did so with relief. “I wish them joy of the association,” Storks wrote bitterly, “Ionia will be the Ireland of Greece.” When the British left, they were mourned only by Corfu’s nobility, its Jews (whose “situation would be very pitiable, if the English did not take them under their protection”), and its women, who, Storks observed, were “universally opposed to the cessation of British protection”. But in the end, aside from the residual Anglophilia of Corfiot elites, the only living result of this brief and romantic Anglo-Hellenic synthesis is our own philhellene King, and a lingering Corfiot taste for cricket and ginger beer, the last ghostly echoes of Britain’s lost Greek empire.


Aris Roussinos is an UnHerd columnist and a former war reporter.

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Kirk Susong
Kirk Susong
10 months ago

Like others, I applaud the author’s efforts here – what a lively, succinct synthesis of complex issues, people, movements, stretching over several decades.
It strikes me that essays like this are absolute successes, yet seem to generate a lot less engagement in the comments section, than anything vaguely connected to immigration or trans activism. That’s understandble – obviously hot button political issues generate the greatest emotional response. But essays like this provide an awful lot of food for thought and deserve greater attention.

O Thomas
O Thomas
10 months ago
Reply to  Kirk Susong

Yes, had exactly the same thought (and wasn’t going to comment myself!). It’s unfortunate that everything is so measured and engagement-optimised (no idea how things are run at Unherd, but I would be surprised if any modern media enterprise is an exception)– we might get more of this sort of writing otherwise.

Excellent essay.

O Thomas
O Thomas
10 months ago
Reply to  Kirk Susong

Yes, had exactly the same thought (and wasn’t going to comment myself!). It’s unfortunate that everything is so measured and engagement-optimised (no idea how things are run at Unherd, but I would be surprised if any modern media enterprise is an exception)– we might get more of this sort of writing otherwise.

Excellent essay.

Kirk Susong
Kirk Susong
10 months ago

Like others, I applaud the author’s efforts here – what a lively, succinct synthesis of complex issues, people, movements, stretching over several decades.
It strikes me that essays like this are absolute successes, yet seem to generate a lot less engagement in the comments section, than anything vaguely connected to immigration or trans activism. That’s understandble – obviously hot button political issues generate the greatest emotional response. But essays like this provide an awful lot of food for thought and deserve greater attention.

J Bryant
J Bryant
10 months ago

This is the type of essay where Aris Roussinos shines, imo. An impressively erudite essay on a subject most people probably haven’t considered.
He was also good in an early experiment by Unherd which I think they called “Edgelands”. He interviewed people who were arguably on the fringe of society. I recall he interviewed several members of Extinction Rebellion. They came across as real people, not monsters. But they did all seem to be slightly marginalized, perhaps a little lost and in search of a reason to get out of bed in the morning. Hopefully Unherd will commission him to do more of those types of interviews.

J Bryant
J Bryant
10 months ago

This is the type of essay where Aris Roussinos shines, imo. An impressively erudite essay on a subject most people probably haven’t considered.
He was also good in an early experiment by Unherd which I think they called “Edgelands”. He interviewed people who were arguably on the fringe of society. I recall he interviewed several members of Extinction Rebellion. They came across as real people, not monsters. But they did all seem to be slightly marginalized, perhaps a little lost and in search of a reason to get out of bed in the morning. Hopefully Unherd will commission him to do more of those types of interviews.

Caroline Ayers
Caroline Ayers
10 months ago

Wonderful essay! I knew nothing about this! Thank you thank you! I find the essay to be a really helpful “European” lens through which to view all of Britain’s colonial adventures. I had a peripatetic childhood with my father working for Shell, and living in Indonesia, Borneo and Nigeria. I am fascinated by our colonial past and also feel a great interest in and love for other places and other peoples (whilst absolutely loving England above all, since it is home, and a wonderful home at that.) I have always thought that British colonialism was a mixed bag, but overall did much more good than harm. It’s difficult to say that these days without being shouted down. And so many writers and activists seem to equate slavery (which really was HORRENDOUS) with British colonialism, which was not the same thing at all! This essay was FASCINATING, eye opening and also chimed with my own view of how the British approached their colonies. Thank you UnHerd! It would be fabulous if we could have more in depth UnHerd essays about British Colonialism and Empire generally, as there is not enough balanced, nuanced writing on this topic, and it would be a fascinating historical source to tap.

Last edited 10 months ago by Caroline Ayers
Charles Hedges
Charles Hedges
10 months ago
Reply to  Caroline Ayers

Do you know what cause the Biafran War ?
Nigerian Civil War – Wikipedia
1966 anti-Igbo pogrom – Wikipedia
Once Britain banned slavery, involvement in Africa was reducing slavery, reducing conflict between groups which developed into colonial administration.Reading Arthur Bryant reveals how many in Britain were against developing our influence overseas. The Liberals provided moral support for Livingstone to reduce slavery in East Africa and also develop the region economically. In Africa, expanding British influence was partly achieved through missionaries , especially those who were medics.
I would not say there is lack of nuanced or balanced writing, there is lack of writing by people who were actually there. Most anti Empire types are suburban academics who ahve neverrun a construction site, mine, oil rig, farm etc in former colonial countries and do not come from a family with such experience. I am talking about someone with J Master’s experience
John Masters – Wikipedia
The reality is that as we we ran down Empire , The Foreign Office deliberately ran down Colonial Support, especially after Suez in 1956 and became very pro EEC. Heath and Crispin Tickell were anti Empire and pro- EEC. A Ghanian in his 70s said to me a few days ago the British should have stayed another 15 years to train up more engineers, scientists and doctors. The reality as that in Africa and Pakistan the largest roup of trained middle class professionals were in the Army with very few outside of it, which was why there were so many coups. If Britain had stayed another 15 years and trained up a group of cvilian engineers, scientists, doctors, lawyers and business people, greater in number than Army officers, there would have been less coups.

Colin Elliott
Colin Elliott
10 months ago
Reply to  Charles Hedges

As far as old India (and therefore Pakistan) is concerned, there was a close connection between engineers and doctors, and the army. My grandfather was in the IP, and had 7 brothers, of whom 1 was in the Indian army in a regiment which still exists, 1 in the PWD, and 5 in the IMS.
The last all had military rank, because as well as tending to the army, civilian government employees, and public health (one became famous for mass surgery on cataracts), they also served the army.
The engineer was also associated with the military through mapmaking, and constructing railways, canals, roads and forts, as well as hospitals and other public buildings.

Last edited 10 months ago by Colin Elliott
Colin Elliott
Colin Elliott
10 months ago
Reply to  Charles Hedges

As far as old India (and therefore Pakistan) is concerned, there was a close connection between engineers and doctors, and the army. My grandfather was in the IP, and had 7 brothers, of whom 1 was in the Indian army in a regiment which still exists, 1 in the PWD, and 5 in the IMS.
The last all had military rank, because as well as tending to the army, civilian government employees, and public health (one became famous for mass surgery on cataracts), they also served the army.
The engineer was also associated with the military through mapmaking, and constructing railways, canals, roads and forts, as well as hospitals and other public buildings.

Last edited 10 months ago by Colin Elliott
Charles Hedges
Charles Hedges
10 months ago
Reply to  Caroline Ayers

Do you know what cause the Biafran War ?
Nigerian Civil War – Wikipedia
1966 anti-Igbo pogrom – Wikipedia
Once Britain banned slavery, involvement in Africa was reducing slavery, reducing conflict between groups which developed into colonial administration.Reading Arthur Bryant reveals how many in Britain were against developing our influence overseas. The Liberals provided moral support for Livingstone to reduce slavery in East Africa and also develop the region economically. In Africa, expanding British influence was partly achieved through missionaries , especially those who were medics.
I would not say there is lack of nuanced or balanced writing, there is lack of writing by people who were actually there. Most anti Empire types are suburban academics who ahve neverrun a construction site, mine, oil rig, farm etc in former colonial countries and do not come from a family with such experience. I am talking about someone with J Master’s experience
John Masters – Wikipedia
The reality is that as we we ran down Empire , The Foreign Office deliberately ran down Colonial Support, especially after Suez in 1956 and became very pro EEC. Heath and Crispin Tickell were anti Empire and pro- EEC. A Ghanian in his 70s said to me a few days ago the British should have stayed another 15 years to train up more engineers, scientists and doctors. The reality as that in Africa and Pakistan the largest roup of trained middle class professionals were in the Army with very few outside of it, which was why there were so many coups. If Britain had stayed another 15 years and trained up a group of cvilian engineers, scientists, doctors, lawyers and business people, greater in number than Army officers, there would have been less coups.

Caroline Ayers
Caroline Ayers
10 months ago

Wonderful essay! I knew nothing about this! Thank you thank you! I find the essay to be a really helpful “European” lens through which to view all of Britain’s colonial adventures. I had a peripatetic childhood with my father working for Shell, and living in Indonesia, Borneo and Nigeria. I am fascinated by our colonial past and also feel a great interest in and love for other places and other peoples (whilst absolutely loving England above all, since it is home, and a wonderful home at that.) I have always thought that British colonialism was a mixed bag, but overall did much more good than harm. It’s difficult to say that these days without being shouted down. And so many writers and activists seem to equate slavery (which really was HORRENDOUS) with British colonialism, which was not the same thing at all! This essay was FASCINATING, eye opening and also chimed with my own view of how the British approached their colonies. Thank you UnHerd! It would be fabulous if we could have more in depth UnHerd essays about British Colonialism and Empire generally, as there is not enough balanced, nuanced writing on this topic, and it would be a fascinating historical source to tap.

Last edited 10 months ago by Caroline Ayers
Ian Cooper
Ian Cooper
10 months ago

AR gives the impression that the mistakes made in Corfu were to be later repeated by Britain in the Middle East much more seriously, as if Britain and then America are in some way mainly responsible for the more recent disasters in that region. But might it not be better to point to the centuries of Ottoman imperial rule as to being the main cause of the lack of coherent political communities who could deal with the modern world rather more peacefully and successfully. My gripe is the West gets blamed for the whole mess of the Middle East rather just some of it.

Charles Hedges
Charles Hedges
10 months ago
Reply to  Ian Cooper

When Baghdad was sacked in 1258 by the Mongols. Ibn Taymiyyah said ijtihad- reasoning was dead. Most of the arabic knowledge was stored in the House of Wisdom was destroyed. The sack of Damascus by Timur the Lame in 1400 and then rule by the Ottoman Empire resulted in the decay of Arabic/Muslim knowledge. The arabic /Muslim World was more technically advanced in 950 AD than 1850 AD.
The Ottomans were superb at running an empire , they were ruthless and understood divide and rule. The modern arabic world was based on splitting the Ottoman Empire into components which could be run competently by those living within the boundaries. Boundaries are a problem where people are nomadic.

Emre S
Emre S
10 months ago
Reply to  Charles Hedges

Ottomans themselves suffered at the hands of the Mongols for many centuries – much like their ancestors the Seljuk Turks before them. This is likely one of reasons for the so-called brutality of their ways.

Emre S
Emre S
10 months ago
Reply to  Charles Hedges

Ottomans themselves suffered at the hands of the Mongols for many centuries – much like their ancestors the Seljuk Turks before them. This is likely one of reasons for the so-called brutality of their ways.

Emre S
Emre S
10 months ago
Reply to  Ian Cooper

The grievance of former Ottoman territories (such as the Balkans and Arabia) is the original victimhood story by the way. Long before Wokeism was a thing, people such as the Greek, Serbians and Arab nationalists have been tying everything bad in their country to the Ottoman occupation.
Nowadays white people like to complain that they’re the only ones getting the blame for their past imperial misadventures, but it’s only a continuation of what’s been happening for quite a while.

Last edited 10 months ago by Emre S
Charles Hedges
Charles Hedges
10 months ago
Reply to  Ian Cooper

When Baghdad was sacked in 1258 by the Mongols. Ibn Taymiyyah said ijtihad- reasoning was dead. Most of the arabic knowledge was stored in the House of Wisdom was destroyed. The sack of Damascus by Timur the Lame in 1400 and then rule by the Ottoman Empire resulted in the decay of Arabic/Muslim knowledge. The arabic /Muslim World was more technically advanced in 950 AD than 1850 AD.
The Ottomans were superb at running an empire , they were ruthless and understood divide and rule. The modern arabic world was based on splitting the Ottoman Empire into components which could be run competently by those living within the boundaries. Boundaries are a problem where people are nomadic.

Emre S
Emre S
10 months ago
Reply to  Ian Cooper

The grievance of former Ottoman territories (such as the Balkans and Arabia) is the original victimhood story by the way. Long before Wokeism was a thing, people such as the Greek, Serbians and Arab nationalists have been tying everything bad in their country to the Ottoman occupation.
Nowadays white people like to complain that they’re the only ones getting the blame for their past imperial misadventures, but it’s only a continuation of what’s been happening for quite a while.

Last edited 10 months ago by Emre S
Ian Cooper
Ian Cooper
10 months ago

AR gives the impression that the mistakes made in Corfu were to be later repeated by Britain in the Middle East much more seriously, as if Britain and then America are in some way mainly responsible for the more recent disasters in that region. But might it not be better to point to the centuries of Ottoman imperial rule as to being the main cause of the lack of coherent political communities who could deal with the modern world rather more peacefully and successfully. My gripe is the West gets blamed for the whole mess of the Middle East rather just some of it.

Charles Stanhope
Charles Stanhope
10 months ago

An interesting essay.
‘We’ should have learnt our lesson but didn’t.
In 1878 we grabbed Cyprus, yet another pestilential nest of Greek nationalism, that would turn very nasty with EOKA*, Grivas & Co.

Perhaps Mr Roussinos could give us the gory details?

(*1956-1960.)

Kirk Susong
Kirk Susong
10 months ago

I think one of the main takeaways of this essay is that there is no clear lesson to learn. There is no course in human affairs, including foreign affairs, which is not rife with difficulty – none of the options pursued by the British over the course of the decades was ‘right,’ all of them had major problems. The pendulum keeps swinging back and forth, back and forth, for all of us.

Charles Stanhope
Charles Stanhope
10 months ago
Reply to  Kirk Susong

The renowned Spanish philosopher George Santayana* thought the British, and in particular the English, were the greatest and most benign rulers since Ancient Rome.

I tend to agree with him.

(*1863-1952.)

Nicky Samengo-Turner
Nicky Samengo-Turner
10 months ago

Now replaced by Darren, Kevin , LeRoy and their equally vulgar, bovine, drunken doped- up violent and tattooed distaff free copulists Sharon, Kourtenay, and Tracy Dyan

Nicky Samengo-Turner
Nicky Samengo-Turner
10 months ago

Now replaced by Darren, Kevin , LeRoy and their equally vulgar, bovine, drunken doped- up violent and tattooed distaff free copulists Sharon, Kourtenay, and Tracy Dyan

Charles Stanhope
Charles Stanhope
10 months ago
Reply to  Kirk Susong

The renowned Spanish philosopher George Santayana* thought the British, and in particular the English, were the greatest and most benign rulers since Ancient Rome.

I tend to agree with him.

(*1863-1952.)

Albert McGloan
Albert McGloan
10 months ago

Nothing that wouldn’t have been solved with a well-prosecuted policy of decimation, old boy. What far-flung part of the Empire would you have enjoyed lording it over?

Charles Stanhope
Charles Stanhope
10 months ago
Reply to  Albert McGloan

Weihaiwei.

james goater
james goater
10 months ago

A splendid choice — and a far simpler task than lording it over the other British colony further down the coast, I would imagine.

james goater
james goater
10 months ago

A splendid choice — and a far simpler task than lording it over the other British colony further down the coast, I would imagine.

Charles Stanhope
Charles Stanhope
10 months ago
Reply to  Albert McGloan

Weihaiwei.

Kirk Susong
Kirk Susong
10 months ago

I think one of the main takeaways of this essay is that there is no clear lesson to learn. There is no course in human affairs, including foreign affairs, which is not rife with difficulty – none of the options pursued by the British over the course of the decades was ‘right,’ all of them had major problems. The pendulum keeps swinging back and forth, back and forth, for all of us.

Albert McGloan
Albert McGloan
10 months ago

Nothing that wouldn’t have been solved with a well-prosecuted policy of decimation, old boy. What far-flung part of the Empire would you have enjoyed lording it over?

Charles Stanhope
Charles Stanhope
10 months ago

An interesting essay.
‘We’ should have learnt our lesson but didn’t.
In 1878 we grabbed Cyprus, yet another pestilential nest of Greek nationalism, that would turn very nasty with EOKA*, Grivas & Co.

Perhaps Mr Roussinos could give us the gory details?

(*1956-1960.)

Chris Amies
Chris Amies
10 months ago

This is a bit of history I literally had not heard about until reading Jules Verne’s “Islands on Fire.” Where he notes the British mania for erecting statues to the governors of Corfu.

Chris Amies
Chris Amies
10 months ago

This is a bit of history I literally had not heard about until reading Jules Verne’s “Islands on Fire.” Where he notes the British mania for erecting statues to the governors of Corfu.

Milton Gibbon
Milton Gibbon
10 months ago

Cracking essay. Up there with Mr Roussinos’ best.

Milton Gibbon
Milton Gibbon
10 months ago

Cracking essay. Up there with Mr Roussinos’ best.

Ian McKinney
Ian McKinney
10 months ago

Lovely piece.

Ian McKinney
Ian McKinney
10 months ago

Lovely piece.

edward coyle
edward coyle
10 months ago

Great essay. I believe they still play cricket on the island, with a pitch in the middle of the town. This is a slight variation on the considerations of Denis Healy, when as Defence Minister in the 60s implementing the East of Suez withdrawal of British troops, and the British High Commissioner in Aden as they watched an impromptu game of football of squaddies on the dockside as the navy prepared to move them out.
They agreed on two things as the lasting legacy of the British Empire; the game of association football, and the general understanding throughout the world of the expression ‘f**k off’.

edward coyle
edward coyle
10 months ago

Great essay. I believe they still play cricket on the island, with a pitch in the middle of the town. This is a slight variation on the considerations of Denis Healy, when as Defence Minister in the 60s implementing the East of Suez withdrawal of British troops, and the British High Commissioner in Aden as they watched an impromptu game of football of squaddies on the dockside as the navy prepared to move them out.
They agreed on two things as the lasting legacy of the British Empire; the game of association football, and the general understanding throughout the world of the expression ‘f**k off’.

Neil Ross
Neil Ross
10 months ago

After reading this only conclusion is that Corfu got the best possible option after 1815 compared to the alternatives!!

Last edited 10 months ago by Neil Ross
Neil Ross
Neil Ross
10 months ago

After reading this only conclusion is that Corfu got the best possible option after 1815 compared to the alternatives!!

Last edited 10 months ago by Neil Ross
Emre S
Emre S
10 months ago

Reminds me of that Fawlty Towers episode where the Germans gasp how did they ever win the war. I read this and wonder how the British ever had an empire.

Last edited 10 months ago by Emre S
Emre S
Emre S
10 months ago

Reminds me of that Fawlty Towers episode where the Germans gasp how did they ever win the war. I read this and wonder how the British ever had an empire.

Last edited 10 months ago by Emre S
O F
O F
10 months ago

Any chance of providing your contributors with a thesaurus ir employing a sub-editor to take out the constant repetition?

O F
O F
10 months ago

Any chance of providing your contributors with a thesaurus ir employing a sub-editor to take out the constant repetition?

Peter Kwasi-Modo
Peter Kwasi-Modo
10 months ago

I am not sure what the author meant by saying “British rule in the Ionians ended in the empire’s first bitter taste of decolonisation.” A century earlier, the American colonies “decolonised” themselves. And there are even earlier examples of decolonisation, such as Darien.

Peter Kwasi-Modo
Peter Kwasi-Modo
10 months ago

I am not sure what the author meant by saying “British rule in the Ionians ended in the empire’s first bitter taste of decolonisation.” A century earlier, the American colonies “decolonised” themselves. And there are even earlier examples of decolonisation, such as Darien.

Nicky Samengo-Turner
Nicky Samengo-Turner
10 months ago

And now full of drunken tattooed British sub pond life….

Nicky Samengo-Turner
Nicky Samengo-Turner
10 months ago

And now full of drunken tattooed British sub pond life….

Melissa Martin
Melissa Martin
10 months ago

Loved this. Guildford Street in Corfu Town & Garitsa have indeed a ‘crinoline’ charm. The Frenchies left their mark with the distinctively Gallic numbers on the houses.