Lord Guilford – The Englishman who wanted to be Greek!

In the beautiful garden of “Boschetto” across the old fortress, we find a smiling statue of a sitting man. He wears a tunic and holds a book. Two things he loved during his lifetime were Greece and literature! Every day, he “smells” the breeze of the Ionian Sea and although seldom passersby stop to look at his statue, the town of Corfu is spread of buildings that house the universities that were established thanks to him. Let’s see who this Englishman was.

Frederick North, 5th Earl of Guilford

Frederick North, 5th Earl of Guilford, sometimes known as Lord Guilford, was a British politician, colonial administrator, and a Philhellene.

He was the youngest son of Prime Minister Frederick North, 2nd Earl of Guilford, and was born on 7th February 1766, in England. For health reasons, he spent most of his childhood in continental Europe. He studied Law at Eton College and Christ Church College at the University of Oxford. He had a strong interest in Greek and Italian culture. He served in the House of Commons from 1792 to 1794, representing the Banbury seat. He was Governor of Ceylon from 1798 to 1805, and when his two elder brothers died, he received the title of Earl of Guilford in 1817. Doctors suggested that he spend more time in a warmer, southern environment due to a health concern, thus he often traveled to the Mediterranean. He started his journey in Spain, then in Italy, with the goal of arriving in Greece. He traveled to many countries and regions in the Mediterranean, including the Adriatic’s eastern shores and the Ionian Islands, that Corfu belongs to.

Around 1789, he met Italian scholar and philologist Francesco Apodini in Dubrovnik, Dalmatia, who gave him Slavic-Orthodox Church scriptures. These scriptures helped him understand the distinctions between the Catholic and Orthodox Churches. He studied the Greek originals of the Old and New Testaments.
He turned to Orthodox Christianity in 1791 and became a devout follower. Guildford was baptized in Corfu with the name Dimitrios in 1792, when he was just 25 years old. When the surprised cleric inquired as to why an English lord would make such a choice, he responded in English, “to be full Greek”. He simply requested that this baptism be done in private and kept hidden, for if it became known in England, he would lose all privileges and political rights. Since then, he’s been considering establishing a Greek-language university on the Ionian Islands.

Guilford traveled to Vienna in 1815, where he met with the Corfiot Count Ioannis Kapodistrias, a diplomat who was working for the Russian Emperor at that time, and later became the first governor of independent Greece. Guilford and Kapodistrias addressed the prospect of the British founding a higher education institution on the Ionian Islands.

The statue of Ioannis Kapodistrias

In 1819, he was appointed chancellor of Corfu, which was administered by the British as part of the Islands. He founded the Ionian Academy in Corfu Town, a higher educational institution that was the first Greek university in modern times, at his own expense in 1824. Theology, Law, Medicine and Philosophy were the four schools that were taught in modern Greek. He sent numerous Greek students to study at universities abroad at his own cost, and he also taught at the Academy.The Academy’s first year was held at Lord Guildford’s apartment, with seven professorships and 150 students enrolled. The following year, a building was provided inside the old fortress, and since 1841, it was housed in the former Venetian barracks building.

Guilford’s House

Lord Guilford had underwritten the Academy’s expenditures, which he continued to pay until his death. After the death of Frederic North of Guilford in 1827, its financial resources were significantly limited and slowly began to decline. The Academy operated until 1864, when it was permanently closed to assist the newly founded University of Athens, that also hired some professors of the Ionian Academy.

Ionian University

Guilford had acquired from his travels a rich personal collection of books, printed matter and manuscripts. He submitted them to the Academy with the hopes of establishing a substantial University Library. The library’s total number of volumes in 1826 was 30,000.

© Enrique Íñiguez Rodríguez

Lord Guilford died childless in London on October 14, 1827, following a protracted illness. After his death, the library, against the will of Gilford, was handed over to his nephew, who sold it in London in seven auctions. A large part of them, fortunately, was bought by the British Museum and today is at the disposal of researchers.

The statue of Lord Guilford

Today’s Ionian University in Corfu opened its doors to students in Corfu in 1985. It consists of six departments: History, Foreign Languages and Translation, Music Studies, Library, Archival and Museum Studies, Audiovisual Arts, and Informatics. To honor Guildford, the Corfiots set up a statue of him in Corfu town and named a street close to the University after him.

© Enrique Íñiguez Rodríguez

Photo credits:Public Domain-Wikimedia Commons