General Richard Church, hailing from Cork, Ireland, renowned as the “Liberator of Greece,” a testament to his adventurous life, was featured in an article written by Brian Maye in The Irish Times. He served in Spain, Egypt, Italy, and Greece, where he played a crucial role in the Greek War of Independence, before his death 150 years ago on March 20th.
Church was born on February 23rd, 1784, in Cork’s North Mall area, the fourth of seven children of Matthew Church, a merchant, and Anne Dearman, originally from Darlington, England. At 16, he ran away from home to join the army, leading to his disownment by the Society of Friends. However, his father purchased a commission for him in the 13th (Somersetshire) Light Infantry. He briefly served in Spain and later fought in the British campaign in Egypt. There, he developed a deep disdain for Ottoman rule, as noted by James Quinn in his entry on Church in the Dictionary of Irish Biography.
After serving in Malta, Church was promoted to lieutenant in early 1803 and was later made captain of the Corsican Rangers. An intrepid and aggressive soldier, he proved his mettle in the defense of Capri, where he was seriously wounded while leading the British force that captured the Ionian islands of Zante, Cerigo, and Ithaca (1809-10). While in Zante, he organized two Greek infantry regiments on British pay, inspiring him with their fighting spirit and fueling his unwavering support for the Greeks’ desire for independence from Ottoman rule. Some of the soldiers from his regiments became leaders in the Greek War of Independence.
Church tirelessly advocated for Greek independence in England and at the Congress of Vienna that followed the end of the Napoleonic Wars, but the British government failed to support his cause, leading them to disband the Greek regiments at the Ottomans’ request. By this time, Church was British military resident with the Austrian armies in Italy, where he received honors from the Bourbon king of Naples and was appointed Companion of the Order of the Bath (CB) by the British War Office in recognition of his distinguished service.
Richard Church’s contributions to a liberated Greece yielded positive outcomes, including the revision of the border established by the Great Powers in the London Protocol of 1830, in favor of Greece, as detailed in his work “Observations on an Eligible Line of Frontier for Greece,” published in London in 1830.
During the reign of King Otto, Church held prominent military positions. He was promoted to the rank of Lieutenant General in the Hellenic Army on October 3, 1833, and became the commander of Continental Greece’s armed forces in January 1835. He served as the Head of the Secretariat of State for Military Affairs (Army Minister) on June 10, 1835, and later as Inspector-General of the Army on October 28, 1836. In 1844-45, he served as a senator. In February 1854, he was promoted to the newly established rank of Full General in the Hellenic Army, and he passed away in Athens in 1873.