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Sir Thomas Lawrence. Joannes, Count Capo D'Istria (1776-1831). 1818-19. Oil on canvas. 130.8 x 174 cm. Windsor Castle, Royal Collection, UK. More. [Order a Print][Order a Hand-Painted Reproduction]

Sir Thomas Lawrence. Joannes, Count Capo D'Istria (1776-1831).

Count Ioannis Kapodistrias (1776-1831), Greek statesman, Russian diplomat and eventually first President of independent Greece. Ioannis Kapodistrias is the Greek spelling of his name. In Italian (and consequently some English-language sources), it is Giovanni Capo d’Istria, while in Russia he was known as Ioann Kapodistriya.

Though a Greek national, he was born on Corfu, then administered by Venice, and so was a Venetian citizen by birth. He began his diplomatic career in 1802, in the service of Venice, but in 1803 became one of the governing ministers of the Ionian Islands (“The Septinsular Republic”). The politics of the republic were complicated -- they had formally gained independence from Venice in the end of the 18th Century with the help of the French Revolutionary forces. In 1799, the Russian Empire allied with the Ottoman Empire to drive the French out, and the Ionian Islands, though nominally independent, came under the joint administration of Russia and Turkey. In practice, government was conducted by two ministers, selected from among the Islands’ nobility Ioannis’ father -- Antonios Kapodistrias -- was one of these ministers, and stepped down in favor of his son in 1803.

In 1807, after the defeat of Russia and Prussia at the hands of the French in the War of the Third Coaltion, the Ionian Islands were ceded to Napoleon and Kapodistrias instantly became persona non grata there. In 1809, he entered the Russian diplomatic service instead, and made a successful career. In 1815, he accompanied the tsar Alexander I to the Congress of ViennaĘ By 1816, he had become Foreign Minister. However, when the Greek Revolution began in 1821, Kapodistrias found himself in disagreement with the Russian Empire’s position on the issue, which sided with Austria and Turkey in opposing the Greeks. In 1822, he tendered his resignation and moved to Geneva, Switzerland, where he was bestowed an honorary citizenship.

Though Kapodistrias was politically inactive in the next few years, his fame and international stature was undiminished, and it was for these reasons that the newly-established Greek National Assembly invited him, in 1927, to become the first President of the independent Greek state, a position that he accepted. During his tenure, he conducted several important reforms, and did a lot to consolidate the various Greek factions, who, though united against Turkey were often at bitter odds against themselves. It was these internal Greek politics that proved Kapodistrias’’ downfall. In 1931, while on his way to church, he was assassinated by the followers of one of his political opponents.

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