Friday, October 8, 2010

Rebellion in Monaco

Although not a pleasant subject, nor one most today like to talk about, there was, at one point, at least something of a rebellion in the idyllic Principality of Monaco. This was not, as some might expect, during the years when Monaco was a relatively poor and isolated country when the House of Grimaldi had to take dowries seriously into account when arranging marriages to pay off a seemingly immovable deficit. It was, rather, in the Twentieth Century, after the opening of Monte-Carlo and the boom in tourism that came with the principality being a chic place for royals and the well-to-do to vacation. However, despite all of the glamour on the surface, the principality had very real problems and that was the extent to which the native Monegasque felt left out of all of the opulence that had descended upon their tiny country along with the horde of well dressed foreigners dripping with jewels and gaining and losing fortunes at the gaming tables.

The municipal council was made up entirely of foreign investors and included not a single native-born Monegasque. Their monarch, HSH Prince Albert I, was not unpopular and certainly not a tyrant or a harsh man, but he was seldom at home and preferred sailing and pursuing his oceanographic studies to economic reports, business models or the lack of civic care for the sick and infirm or the lack of schools for local children. The Sovereign Prince was a generous man but most of his charity went to foundations, mostly of a scientific nature, while investment at home was overseen by Camille Blanc who preferred to spend on tourist oriented luxuries that would earn a better return. The Monegasque paid no taxes it was true but neither could they earn a living by any but the lowest paying jobs; carrying luggage, cleaning rooms and the like for their wealthy visitors. Discontent grew and finally approached the breaking point.

It was on April 4, 1910 that a crowd of about 600 men organized themselves and marched on the palace demanded to speak to their Prince and present him their complaints. They wanted something done about all the foreign workers who were occupying all of the better paying jobs. Efforts had been made to raise this issue before but had been put off to be dealt with at a later date. Finally the Monegasque would wait no longer and appeared ready to make trouble. Their farms and orchards were gone, converted to villas, and yet there was high unemployment and few opportunities for the local people. Prince Albert I was greatly alarmed, as was Camille Blanc though more about what the upset might cause the coming tourist season. In Marseilles French troops were put on the alert and 300 British sailors from a flotilla off Villefranche to be placed at the disposal of the prince to secure British lives and property if there should be an outbreak of violence. The Hotel de Paris was stocked with wine cases filled with guns and ammunition and strategic points were designated for the British sailors to defend in the event of trouble.

Thankfully, unlike other countries, there was no violence. When presented with the grievances of his people Prince Albert I took action. He agreed to grant his subjections representation in the government and on June 19, 1910 the Monegasques, for the first time, participated in the democratic process, electing four Monegasque men to the municipal council. However, Albert I still feared that his people were unhappy and there was, it must be said, no shortage of agitators, oftentimes from outside of Monaco, demanding that the country “progress” with the times. As a result, on October 16, Prince Albert I agreed to the drafting of a constitution; the first in the history of Monaco. The work was done in Paris with input from French jurists, the four representatives of the Monegasque people, Prince Albert I and Hereditary Prince Louis II. As a result, on January 5, 1911 Monaco, officially at least, became a constitutional monarchy and Albert I was no longer an absolute monarch. However, from that day to this, the Sovereign Prince of Monaco remains effectively an absolute monarch in all but name.

Still, it was a benevolent rule that Albert I and successive Princes of Monaco held over their people. As part of the changes brought about by the confrontation was the right of the people to have a say in government, to have their views and concerns represented and given voice. Furthermore, their welfare was greatly improved as Prince Albert I ceded some of his own financial holdings to establish a public domain and the budget was reorganized to include funding for public education, public health services and humanitarian assistance for the poor and elderly. Today, as then, the Monegasques are still a small minority in their own country, but they have very happy and comfortable lives with virtually no poverty or unemployment at all. This is due to the care and generosity of the Sovereign Prince, the House of Grimaldi and also because of their system of government. That first constitution did not last very long but the history of constitutional monarchy in Monaco started with that march on the palace on April 4, 1910 and the action taken by the scholarly “Sailor Prince” Albert I.


  1. Most of your posts show only the wonderful and happy side of Monaco, with the exception of a few sad Royal family anniverseries. It is nice to know that they have had their domestic issues too. Your website paints a very different picture from one run by someone named Edinger. He says that the people of Monaco are still unhappy and very disappointed in Prince Albert and his Government. He claims that the Prince's ties to the mob elements are very strong and influences his actions even when his words says he is against them. Is any of this true?


  2. I do try to be objective and give a full picture of things -but I also do not deny that I *like* Monaco and I *like* the Grimaldis, even ones who've made me slap my head at times. As for public opinion, I can assure you the vast majority of people in Monaco are quite happy and content (though like people anywhere there are ups and downs). It is true that there has been some grumbling about Prince Albert II, for his constant travels, rather obesessive focus on global warming and such rather than issues of more immediate concern and not being much at home. All that said, the vast majority still basically like the guy.

    Most of the criticism I have heard (which is more like grumbling that serious discontent) is due to comparisons of Prince Albert with his late father. That, of course, is unfair in my view because Rainier III was exceptional and I think will go down in history as one of the greatest princes Monaco has ever had. Albert could never pass a bar that high. Also, he had to deal with issues his father never had to deal with -which is part of the reason for his constant travels. He's trying to maintain Monaco's public profile to attract tourists and investment. Now, as to mob ties, that is a totally baseless rumor. One thing Rainier III worked very hard for was keeping organized crime out of Monaco and Albert would never deal with such people, if for no other reason than it is simply not in his character. Probably the most unsavory characters Albert has dealt with is the oil industry which is pretty far from a crime syndicate but which would not look very good considering the Prince's environmental stance.


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