Part 15 in our History of Monaco series
Monaco had survived the First World War without much material and emotional damage. The country had remained independent thanks to a secret agreement between Albert I and the French government, although in practice it did not behave neutrally. Albert’s son Louis had even served in the French army.
Independence was indeed in question because the Grimaldi dynasty was in danger of extinction. Albert had only one child and the now 48-year-old son remained unmarried. A solution had to be found quickly to find a legitimate heir. If nothing could be arranged, only a son of Charles III’s sister (Florentine), Wilhelm von Würtemberg, would be eligible for the throne. However, a German as head of state in Monaco was unacceptable to the French government.
There was one more alternative. Louis had an illegitimate daughter, whom he had fathered during his service in Constantine (Algeria) with a dancer in a nightclub. He had immediately fallen in love with this emigre Parisienne, who had been married before and had two children from that earlier relationship. Her name was Marie-Juliette Louvet and she would play a crucial role in the survival of the Grimaldi dynasty. The relationship would not last long, but the couple did have a daughter, Charlotte, who was born on September 30, 1898. Louis immediately acknowledged that he was the father of this girl. But when he asked his father for permission to marry his mistress, Albert forbade him to do so. Louis felt responsible for his daughter and placed her with his father in the Palace at the outbreak of the world war. He himself was in Reims as a captain of the cavalry. The liberal Albert took care of his granddaughter, who was twenty years old at the end of the war. He had then given up hope that his son would still provide a legitimate offspring.
French president Raymond Poincaré wanted to be sure that Louis would not be succeeded by a member of the German branch and suggested to Albert that his granddaughter should be recognised as a possible heir to the throne. Albert agreed and gave Charlotte the official title ‘Mademoiselle de Valentinois’ so that the Von Würtemberg branch was excluded. To give Charlotte more status, Albert, in consultation with the French president, arranged for her to marry a French man of nobility: Pierre de Polignac, whose grandfather had been foreign minister. He was a member of a very old dynasty, dating back to the ninth century. This gentleman had to give up his own identity but became a Grimaldi through his marriage and gained Monegasque nationality. Charlotte and Pierre were to be married in Marchais on March 18, 1920. Within a few years they had two children : Antoinette and Rainier. The succession was now guaranteed.
Albert experienced the birth only of his great-granddaughter because he died on June 26, 1922 in a clinic in Paris. “France loses in him a loyal friend and a dedicated scientist. His oceanographic discoveries are among the finest scientific achievements of the past century,” wrote the daily Le Gaulois on the day after his death. Louis learned in Upper Silesia that his father had died. He was there as colonel of a French peacekeeping mission. Albert left behind a country in uncertain times, but the dynasty was saved, at least for the time being.
Louis II became the new Prince of Monaco. He was already 52 years-old and not really liked by the Monegasques, because he had shown himself too little on the Rock. He was clearly a different Prince from his pacifist father. He even went to war in the French army, although he had had a very German childhood. He spent his teenage years in Paris and received training in the navy at St. Cyr (near Toulon). He also served in Algeria and then in northern France. He spent a lot of time in Le Marchais and that would not change when he became head of state. He did have an open telegraphic line with the Palace in Monaco (a revolutionary luxury for the time) to keep abreast of developments in his country. He spoke French with a German accent and that did not make him sympathetic to his subjects.
Louis II took office at a difficult time, because the aftermath of the First World War also included a major crisis in the global economy, which was also felt in Monaco due to a sharp decrease in the number of tourists. SBM’s revenues fell drastically and that was also due to the fact that casinos in France and Italy were suddenly permitted, so that Monte Carlo had to deal with competition from the cities of San Remo, Nice and Cannes. Suddenly Monaco was in danger of having to take a few steps back and it seems to become a provincial city again as it was before the reign of Charles III. The casino lost a third of its business. Suddenly, Camille Blanc felt compelled to sell his majority stake in SBM.
English arms dealer Basil Zaharoff, who had been raised to the peerage by Queen Victoria for his services during the Boer War, threw himself up to save SBM. His goal was actually to seize power. He took over the majority of Camille Blanc’s shares in 1923. He even offered a hefty sum to buy the Palace of Monaco from Louis II and seemed to feel untouchable at the time. He was also the owner of a newspaper in Nice and through this medium he was able to start a campaign against the Prince. This development alarmed the Monegasques, but in 1926 Zaharoff’s wife died and the fun was immediately over for him. He renounced the coup and his shares then returned to the free market. Louis II had been warned in one fell swoop how fragile SBM was if he had no control over the purchase and sale of its shares.
The political situation was unsettled. Every time Louis II came back to Monaco, he had to deal with the resistance of the local population and calls for more participation. This movement was even supported by Princess Charlotte, who lived at the palace with her family and was therefore closer to the people. But Louis II would have nothing to do with demands for change. When he arrived in his country by train on December 8, 1928, he suddenly had to deal with fierce opposition. Under the leadership of Louis Aureglia, a political movement was started under the name l’Union démocratique monégasque.
The Monarch was unpleasantly surprised and reacted angrily. He immediately made it clear that he did not want more participation in the running of the country and even dissolved the National Council. As the protest grew louder – after a secret meeting at Nice’s Negresco hotel – protesters gathered in front of the palace to demand a new constitution.”
They can get the bullet but no constitution,” Louis II responded. The situation remained unsettled, also due to the economic crisis throughout the world, and on December 22, 1930, Louis II was again met by the protesters on arrival by train in Monaco. This time there were riots and the police had to intervene. Five men were arrested and all received six months in prison.
Louis II ruled as an absolute monarch and took harsh measures. Of course, it could not go on any longer and finally in November 1931 the National Council was reinstated. During this period, the Prince signed a far-reaching treaty with France. Here it was stipulated that France would appoint the Minister of State in Monaco, the most important political figure in Monaco after the Prince, and also the chief of police and the highest judge. It had been decided that Monegasques were not allowed to hold the highest public offices.
PHOTOS: Main, in the days before the Fairmont, a train passes at the rear of the Casino, centre, Prince Louis II