The new wealth of Monte-Carlo and SBM did Monaco good in general. In 1869, Prince Charles III abolished direct taxes on Monegasques’ wealth and income, as SBM ensured that 95 percent of the state’s coffers remained filled. This also offered the Prince the opportunity to turn his country into a modern state which was taken seriously on the international scene. He reformed the judiciary and administration and developed diplomatic relations. Monaco started minting its own coin again (which it had stopped in 1838, during the riot in Menton) and issued its own stamps. After many negotiations, the Prince even managed to convince Pope Leo XIII to give Monaco its own diocese. Monaco’s status was particularly evident in the fact that during the 1889 World Exposition in Paris, the country was given a pavilion at the foot of the Eiffel Tower, the centerpiece of this event held especially for the celebration of the 100th anniversary of the Revolution.
In the same year, the sea road, the so-called basse corniche from Nice to Monaco, over Villefranche and Beaulieu, was finally completed and passable for carriages, further increasing the accessibility of the Principality. Eight years earlier, the moyenne corniche had already been completed.
During the expansive development of Monte Carlo, Charles III kept himself in the background. He lived somewhat reclusively after his wife died in 1864. He also slowly became blind. His sister Florentine was widowed at a young age (of the German prince Wilhelm von Würtemberg) and retired to the Palace. Brother and sister lived there together or also stayed for much of the year on the Marchais estate in northern France, which Charles III had purchased as a new retreat. The SBM, especially François Blanc and his successors, determined what happened in Monaco. When Charles died on September 10, 1889, Monaco was a lot more prosperous than when he ascended the throne. The last showpiece during his lifetime was the completion of the new cathedral on the Rock and the St. Charles Church in Monte-Carlo.
Charles was succeeded by his son Albert I, who was 41 at the time. He already had a special reputation for a Prince, namely that of a scientist. From the age of twenty he was involved in oceanography and wanted to do his own research. He did this mainly in the service of the Académie des sciences, an institute in Paris. He was a true autodidact and was later described by the Monegasque historian Jean Descars as “a hero as only Jules Verne could have conceived”. He studied fish species in the Mediterranean with a submarine specially designed for this purpose. At the Paris Exposition of 1889 he showed these fishes in a special aquarium. As head of state, he would be in charge of 28 expeditions over a period of thirty years, including to the Azores (where he traced a sea plateau under water), to the Cape Verde islands and to Spitsbergen (part of the uninhabited island in the Arctic Circle is named after him), on his own yachts l’Hirondelle and le Pleïad. He also financed archaeological investigations in the vicinity of Monaco, including in the caves of Balzi Rossi (near Ventimiglia), where human skeletons from more than two thousand years BC were found (which can now be seen in the Musée d’Anthropologie Préhistorique, near the Jardin Exotique).
Albert was already married at the age of twenty to the Scottish aristocrat Mary-Victoria Douglas-Hamilton, whom he met at a party at Louis-Napoleon’s palace. Her mother was a daughter of Stéphanie de Beauharnais and thus a stepchild of Napoleon. The couple married within a year of their acquaintance and also soon had a child: Louis. However, this marriage did not last long because during her pregnancy Mary-Victoria already distanced herself from Albert, who mainly paid attention to his scientific research and expeditions. The Princess went to live with her son in Germany at the court of her mother Maria of Baden. In 1880 the marriage was finally dissolved.
A print of Monaco from the early part of the twentieth century, clearly showing the Basse Corniche
Just before his father’s death, Albert secretly married the American Alice Heine, who was the widow of the Duke of Richelieu. She had an interest in the fine arts and would play an important role in the development of cultural life in Monaco by organising concerts, opera and ballet performances. Dignitaries came to Monaco from all parts of the world. Even the German Emperor Wilhelm II and many members of the Russian aristocracy took a gamble in the Casino, which was now managed by Camille Blanc.
Albert had served in the French Navy during the Franco-Prussian War of 1870, but had since behaved like a pacifist and hoped to bring the two countries together to achieve a lasting peace. He wanted to achieve this through his contacts with the German emperor and French presidents (such as Félix Faure and Arnaud Fallières). He even organised the eleventh Congress for Peace in 1902 and during that period also took the initiative in the creation of the Institut National de la Paix, a forerunner of the United Nations. Albert also stands out for openly siding with the Jewish captain Alfred Dreyfus, who was suspected of spying for Germany. Because of the high-profile affair, he made an appointment with President Faure and stood next to Emile Zola, who turned this issue into a national affair. Eventually, this would lead to rehabilitation for Dreyfus.
Albert I was an internationally peace-loving and inquisitive head of state but still ruled Monaco as an absolute monarch. In his own country he faced more and more resistance from the local population, who felt rather ignored and started to demand more participation in politics.
On October 12, 1910, many Monegasques went onto the streets and demonstrated in front of the Palace, even provocatively singing the Marseillaise and the Internationale. The Prince was in Vienna at the time for a scientific meeting. When he was informed of what was going on in his country he sent his son to Monaco. When Louis arrived by train from Paris, he was surrounded by a crowd at the station. Louis promised that he would inform his father and within three months it was decided to introduce a constitution whereby a National Council elected by Monegasques would serve as parliament of 21 members. The local paper spoke of an “evolution” to avoid giving the impression that the angry masses had revolutionary ideas. The Monegasques were not entirely satisfied and were concerned that France would retain too much influence over policy in Monaco.
Albert’s pacifist attitude also led to criticism from French nationalists, who found the Prince of Monaco very idealistic but unrealistic. In the end, all the efforts of the head of state yielded nothing and when the First World War broke out he considered this a personal defeat. He returned to Monaco but preferred to stay on his yacht in the harbour rather than in the Palace on the Rock. Of course, with the outbreak of La Grande Guerre, Monaco’s independent status was again at stake. Officially, the country remained neutral, but actually Monaco was on the French side. In addition, the Crown Prince served in the French army.
The National Council was dissolved (on 8 October 1914) and only reinstated three years later. Albert also signed a secret agreement with the French government, which was only made public after the Treaty of Versailles (on June 28, 1919). It became clear that France would always guarantee Monaco’s independence. Even if the dynasty of Grimaldi were to die out, the dwarf state would live on as an independent republic.
MAIN PHOTO: Monaco’s cathedral, built during the reign of Prince Albert I