The French Revolution brought great suffering to Monaco, the displacement of the Grimaldi dynasty and the loss of Monegasque independence. Considering that, it is no wonder that the Princely Family, like many, looked with cautious optimism on the coming to power of Napoleon Bonaparte. He did, after all, end the Reign of Terror, restore law and order and through his victories restored something of the pride in the glory of France that had been lost. The Grimaldis, with their personal fortunes all but gone and their country annexed to France, had little choice but to try to make themselves acceptable to the French emperor. They had opposed the revolution and must have longed for the old days of the ancien regime when Monaco was independent and the House of Grimaldi was a prominent family in the French nobility. The situation under the former artillery corporal wasn’t ideal but they would try to make the best of it.
There was necessity but also the call of glory. The House of Grimaldi had distinguished itself on numerous battlefields over the centuries in the service of France and the Napoleonic Wars would be no different. With the passing of Honore III the throne of Monaco passed to his son Prince Honore IV, or at least it would have if Monaco still existed, which it did not and as things stood the idea of a Grimaldi restoration seemed as impossible a dream as a Bourbon one. Given that, in 1806 Prince Honore IV joined the French army and was attached to the staff of Joachim Murat, Marshal of France and Prince of the Empire, as an aid-de-camp. Honore IV rode with Murat in Napoleon’s epic invasion of the Russian Empire and was severely wounded at the battle of Friedland; a French victory. For his service, which had cost him most of the use of one arm, Honore IV was awarded the Legion of Honor.
The Monegasque prince also fought with Murat in Spain as the French moved against Portugal. However, his health turned bad and his wounds gave him much trouble and he was sent back to Paris with little more than a medal and a miniscule pension to show for his service. Prince Honore IV mostly stayed away from the glittering social events of the French Empire, leaving those obligations to his brother Prince Joseph who was also trying desperately to keep the family financially afloat. Eventually Honore IV became completely paralyzed on one side of his body and had to depend on his brother and son for his survival. That son, Honore-Gabriel, the future Prince Honore V of Monaco, also saw extensive service in the Napoleonic Wars.
Honore V joined the army when he was 20 years old, serving in the guard and the cavalry where he worked his way upward to become a staff officer to Marshal Grouchy as a captain. He saw combat in Germany and Poland and even in Spain under Marshal Murat where his father was his superior officer. Honore V was an exemplary soldier and was cited for bravery many times. He was wounded in the arm at the great Napoleonic victory at the battle of Hohenlinden which prevented him from seeing action at Austerlitz. He did, however, serve with great distinction at the battle of Jena and in a number of fights with Marshal Murat’s cavalry corps. Marshal Grouchy was impressed with him and related that the Monegasque prince had taken a handful of cavalry and forced the surrender of an entire enemy battalion; for which he was recommended for the star of the Legion of Honor.
Nonetheless, Honore V was rather offended that all of his exception services had advanced him no farther than captain and in 1808 he left the army and went back to Paris where he became an equerry to Empress Josephine. He was proud of this position and became very fond of the Empress, staying with her to manage her household even after Napoleon divorced her. Following the downfall of Napoleon Honore V was quick to reassert his rights to the throne of Monaco. When his ailing father named him regent for the principality to rule on his behalf he quickly made his way to the coast. Along the way he met the deposed Emperor Napoleon on the afternoon of March 1, 1815. That very day the Emperor had landed at Cannes and was on his way to Paris to retake power. Honore V was stopped by Bonapartist soldiers when a general he had served under recognized him and took him to see Napoleon.
The French Emperor greeted the Prince of Monaco as if they were old friends and the two stood around a fire talking. Many stories have been told since about what words exactly were exchanged during that famous meeting. One tale is that Napoleon asked Honore where he was headed and the prince responded, ‘home to Monaco’ to which the Emperor replied that he too was going home -to the Tuileries. When the Emperor stated his intention of reclaiming his empire Honore V warned him that the odds would certainly not be in his favor. Napoleon wanted to know what had been happening in Paris and if conditions looked good for his restoration. Honore thought it would be risky but the two parted with apparent friendliness. However, Honore was not too pleased with the situation.
In order to maintain security the Bonaparte forces held up Honore for about an hour while Napoleon traveled on before they would let him pass. This annoyed Honore V who was, once again, a Prince of Monaco and thus superior in rank, at least for the time being, to the deposed Emperor. Honore V was also still upset with Napoleon for leaving his family in the lurch after they had given so much in his service as well as for his callous treatment of his ex-wife Josephine who was a dear friend of Honore. As soon as the Prince was allowed to continue on his way he stopped at Nice to inform the Sardinian authorities to spread the word that Napoleon had returned from exile and was moving to retake power. The next day he also sent a letter to the French Minister of War Marshal Soult warning him of Napoleon’s arrival.
Once word reached London about the return of the Emperor a British troop ship was dispatched to Monaco. Honore V ordered the gates of the port closed, entirely as a gesture of displeasure, and he was rather offended that a mere colonel was sent to deal with him. He was told that Monaco would be occupied though he insisted that it be made clear that Monaco was independent and that Honore V was prevented from opposing the move only because of the lack of an effective garrison in the principality. Several hundred British redcoats arrived and when Prince Honore V appealed to Paris for help he received none as Napoleon had learned how the Prince had reported his return to the royal authorities. The occupation force stayed until summer when they were replaced by a British organized Anglo-Italian regiment and the end result was the end of the long standing relationship between Monaco and France and the principality being transferred as a protectorate into the Sardinian sphere of influence.
The last of the Princes of Monaco to have been directly involved in the Napoleonic Wars was Prince Florestan who had a hard time in his youth. His passion was the theatre but to please his mother he joined the French army though he was always upset that, unlike his princely predecessors, he never advanced beyond the rank of corporal. He saw dreary service at garrison duty on Oessant, at Neort, Bordeaux and Toulon before taking part in the invasion of Russia. Prince Florestan did not adapt well to the army, his upbringing made him less than amenable to taking orders, he was unaccustomed to the rough diet and harsh conditions. He was indignant and not being elevated in rank and fell into depression. Death and misery were all around him and he came down with dysentery before being taken prisoner on September 7, 1812 at the battle of Borodino. Life as a prisoner of war was certainly grueling but he was eventually sent to a hospital and finally freed after Napoleon was defeated.
The only other Prince of Monaco closely associated with Napoleon was the soldierly Prince Louis II. He gathered an impressive collection of Napoleonic artifacts and memorabilia with items ranging from his many battles, his time as Emperor and exile to St Helena as well as a set of clothes that belonged to Napoleon’s son the young “King of Rome”. This extensive collection was organized as the Napoleon Museum at the Princely Palace and is now open to the public.
(photo of Honore V and Napoleon meeting from the Wax Museum of the Princes of Monaco)