Friday, June 10, 2011

When the British Invaded Monaco

The Principality of Monaco had suffered a lot because of the French Revolution. The Grimaldi family were overthrown, Monaco annexed to France, property was confiscated and the small communities lingered in neglect and poverty, isolated from the government in Paris more concerned with fighting the Revolutionary and Napoleonic wars. However, ultimately, the Emperor Napoleon was defeated, forced to abdicate and the Principality of Monaco was restored to independence by the Congress of Vienna. After the regency of Prince Joseph, his nephew Prince Honore V was on his way to Monaco, a country he had not set foot in since he was four years old, when he came across his old commander, the “Little Corporal” himself, on his way north after escaping from Elba. Their meeting was cordial enough but certainly not friendly. Prince Honore V had never forgiven the whole revolutionary era for what it had done to his family, he had never forgiven Napoleon for his treatment of Empress Josephine (a dear friend and former employer) and it rather irritated him that he, a Prince of a centuries-old dynasty, was treated condescendingly by a Corsican upstart who could not even speak French properly.

After going their separate ways an annoyed Prince Honore made a point of stopping in Nice to inform the authorities that Napoleon had returned. While the Emperor went on to reestablish his rule and plan the campaign that ended at Waterloo the Monegasque turned out to welcome their long absent Prince. However, news of his brief meeting the French Emperor traveled fast and on March 13, 1815 only ten days after his arrival in Monaco word was passed along that a British warship full of soldiers was heading toward Monaco. Prince Honore V was outraged by this invasion and ordered the gates of the port closed but, of course, this was only a symbolic act and there was nothing he could do to stop them. One Colonel Burke of the British army landed and called on Honore V at the Princely Palace who received him in the throne room. Colonel Burke handed him a letter from the representative of King Victor Emmanuel I of Piedmont-Sardinia.

The letter stated that, due to his meeting with Napoleon, and the threat posed by his return to France, Monaco was to be occupied by the British. Prince Honore was outraged at this violation of Monegasque sovereignty. The independence of Monaco and her status as a French protectorate had been restored by the Congress of Vienna after the restoration of the Bourbon monarchy in France. However, with the small country still impoverished and the Prince having only a guard of about 35 half-trained cadets on duty there was nothing he could do. As British redcoats came ashore and marched down the streets of Monaco the Prince saw the King of Piedmont-Sardinia behind it all and assumed this was only a pretext for annexation. Part of this was because he doubted that anyone in Turin could have learned of his brief meeting with Napoleon and reacted so rapidly. He was certain that the occupation had been planned all along.

With no other recourse available, Prince Honore V and Colonel Burke signed a statement bearing witness to the fact that Monegasque sovereignty had been violated, what the British orders stated and reiterating the fact that the Prince was constrained to acquiesce in light of his inability to resist such an occupation. The Prince also noted that even as the document was being signed he could look out his window at the palace and see hundreds of British troops taking up station around Monaco. Given this fact, the Prince did something that was very difficult for him to do and turned to the newly restored Emperor Napoleon in Paris for help. Reminding him that France had the sole right to garrison troops in Monaco he asked for Napoleon to have the British evicted and to stress the rights of Monaco as a sovereign state to the governments in London and Turin.
However, as much as Napoleon would like to have attacked the British wherever he found them, he was no great friend of Honore V. The French Emperor had learned that it had been the Prince of Monaco who had reported him to the Sardinian authorities and alerted the Allies to his presence on the continent and he was not about to do the Monegasque any favors, regardless of the fact that Prince Honore IV, young Prince Florestan and Prince Honore V had all served in his army. There would be no help coming from Paris and Napoleon himself, with all the powers of Europe arrayed against him, would not be around forever. Like the cut flower in a vase he was fair to see yet bound to die. He did not die of course but met his ultimate defeat at Waterloo and then went into permanent exile on St Helena. In Monaco, the redcoats remained until the summer when they finally marched down to the port and boarded their ships bound for home, replaced by an Anglo-Italian regiment that took up their duties. It was the end of the French protectorate over Monaco that had lasted since that first agreement between Prince Honore II and King Louis XV 173 before and it was the beginning of the period of the protectorate of Piedmont-Sardinia under the House of Savoy.

Some may have a hard time understanding how nervous this made the Princes of Monaco. After all, Italian had, before the French annexation, been the official language of the principality and throughout their history, even up until World War II, if pressed on the subject the Monegasque would identify themselves more with the Italians than the French. However, there had also been no more constant antagonist for Monaco than the Genoa from which they had come and the fear always remained that Piedmont-Sardinia would ultimately annex Monaco as well and the principality would go the way of other formerly independent states, such as the Republic of Genoa, in losing their sovereignty as part of the growing dominions of the House of Savoy. In the end, such fears were not entirely unfounded. Monaco was saved, thanks to the intervention of another Napoleon but Menton and Roquebrune were lost in the process and there were those in Italy who continued to claim Monaco as part of the “Greater Italy” or “Third Rome” they wished to create, and briefly did during the early years of World War II. Happily, that situation was only temporary and the comfortable fit with France returned. But, it was a rough road that began on that fateful day in 1815 when the British invaded Monaco.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...