Blog 64 23/03/2018 Women of the Greek War of Independence: Manto Mavrogenous and Moscho Tzavela
Women of the Greek War of Independence.
Manto Mavrogenous and Moscho Tzavela
Women played a huge role in the decades leading up to and during, The Greek War of Independence in 1821, and their heroism is highly regarded in Greece. At the time, there was a huge gulf between the women of the affluent, upper echelons of society, and the poorer classes. Many women in the villages and mountains knew how to use a weapon, especially those in the area of the Mani or Souli, because they were constantly defending themselves, but women of the upper classes led a much different life. As young girls, it was one of seclusion until they married. Most were well-educated and could read and write, both in Greek and other languages. The change came when they married and had to learn to look after the family and run the household, which naturally meant taking care of the finances. If they became widowed, then they became the head of the household and used their financial and economic knowledge to their advantage: quite a powerful position to be in. Like most of the ruling families, they were politically motivated and gave their allegiance to the Greek cause, and the women in particular organized committees and cultivated the support of other European women of influence; women such as the daughter-in-law of Goethe, and Mary Shelley, wife of Percy Bysshe Shelley. Because of this background it was common for several generations of one family to be involved in politics and economics.
On a previous blog, (see below) I wrote about Laskarina Bouboulina, who after being widowed twice, first to Dimitrios Yiannouzas and later the wealthy shipowner and captain, Dimitrios Bouboulis, whose name she took, ended up funding her own fleet of ships. At the time she took over Bouboulis’ fortune and trading business, Bouboulina was 40 years old. In support of The War of Independence, she had four more ships built at her own expense, including the large warship Agamemnon.
Manto Mavrogenous was another important heroine of the Greek Revolution. She was born in 1796 in Trieste, Italy, which was at the time part of the Austrian Empire, and she moved to Paros with her family in 1809. Manto joined the Filiki Etaireia in 1820 when she learned from her father, who was already a member of the organization, that they were preparing a revolution. ‘La bella Greca’ as she was called in social circles, was a wealthy and well-connected woman, and she convinced her equally wealthy friends as far away as Paris to support the Greek cause and donate their money to purchase more weaponry for the Greeks fighting in the revolution.
After her father’s death she went to Tinos and then to Mykonos to invite leaders to join in the revolution. At her own expense, she equipped and manned two ships to pursue pirates who attacked Mykonos and other islands of the Cyclades. In October 1822, under her leadership, the Mykonians repulsed the Ottoman Turks who landed on the island. Following this success, she then equipped 150 men to campaign in the Peloponnese. At the same time she sent men and financial support to the island of Samos as it was being threatened by the Turks. Fifty of her men took part in the Siege of Tripolitsa which fell to the Greek rebels. She also spent money on the humanitarian aspects of the war, especially for the relief of the soldiers and their families.
So great was her influence and power that she put together a fleet of six ships and an infantry consisting of sixteen companies, with fifty men each, and took part in the Battle in Karytos in 1822, and funded a campaign to Chios but was unable to prevent the massacre which took place there. Another group of men was sent to reinforce Nikitaras in the Battle of Dervenakia.
Soon after, she left her family in 1823 and moved to Nafplio to fight at the heart of the conflict. It was at this time that Manto met Demetrios Ypsilantis, and the pair became engaged. Ypsilantis was a member of the prominent Phanariot Greek Ypsilantis family and had been a dragoman of the Ottoman Empire before serving as an officer in the Imperial Russian Army. He was the brother of Alexander Ypsilantis, a leader of the Filiki Etaireia. By this time she had become a famous figure in Europe for both her beauty and bravery. In May of the same year, tragedy struck. Her home was totally burnt and her fortune stolen. As a result she went to Tripoli to live with Ypsilanti. The engagement was opposed by several powerful politicians who saw the unification of two powerful families which held pro-Russian affiliations as a threat and they conspired to break the pair up. They succeeded and she returned to Nafplio, where she lived, deeply depressed, in destitution because the money she had given for various battles was never repaid. After Ypsilantis’s death, she was exiled from Nafplio and returned to Mykonos, where she occupied her time writing her memoirs. After the war, Manto was granted the rank of Lieutenant General by Ioannis Kapodistrias, one of the most distinguished politicians and diplomats of Europe and who was elected the first head of state of independent Greece, He also offered her a house in Nafplio where she resided until after his assassination.
She then moved to Paros in 1840 and lived in a home which still stands as an historical monument. Manto died on July 1848, alone and impoverished, having spent all her fortune for the War of Independence. A tragic end to a woman who had given so much.
Moscho Tzavela, 1760-1803, was a Souliote and the wife of Lambros Tzavelas, a famous Souliot leader during the struggles against Ali Pasha of Ioanina. Described as being “a slight woman, with a beautiful face and a sparkling glance”, she commanded a band of several hundred female rebels and took part in winning the Battle of Kiafa against Ali Pasha on July 20, 1792. Miraculously only 74 Greeks were killed whereas Ali Pasha’s lost between 2,000- 3,000 men. Moscho and Lambros had a son, Fotos, who took the role of leader after his father’s death. Their grandson, Kitsos Tzavela, played an important role in The Greek War of Independence, later becoming an Army General and then Prime Minister of Greece from 1847-48.