Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Albert I, the Paternal Prince

It seems to me that many people have a somewhat incomplete or even incorrect view of HSH Prince Albert I, great-great grandfather of the current Sovereign Prince of Monaco. All too often he is viewed as a rather distant and somewhat unfeeling man. However, this is not true. To be sure, he was a man of dignity and restraint and a man of science who could, as many men of science often are, appear indifferent to matters of the heart. However, Prince Albert I cared deeply for his country, his people and their welfare. This was seen from the very start of his reign at his formal enthronement in 1889. Upon the passing of his esteemed father, Prince Charles III, Albert revived an old Grimaldi family custom. He invited the heads of all the native Monegasque families to the Princely Palace. They gathered in the Court of Honor at which point Prince Albert I presented himself to them and asked if there were any who objected to his becoming their Sovereign Prince. Of course, none objected and the new Prince was acclaimed with great enthusiasm by the assembled patriarchs. At that point the gentlemen were ushered into the palace Throne Room where they showed their allegiance and the Prince greeted each one in turn. This was an ancient custom that the earliest Grimaldi rulers had practiced but which had fallen into disuse. Prince Albert I revived it as a way of strengthening the bonds of family loyalty between the people and their Sovereign Prince.

Of course, as we all know, for Prince Albert I, his life, his love and his lady was the sea and he was often absent on his voyages of scientific study and exploration. He was most comfortable on his yacht, dredging the ocean floor rather than mixing with the society elites and crowned heads of Europe who occupied the magnificent salons of Monte Carlo. He was also uncomfortable with the fashionable crowd because of his rather disapproving attitude toward gambling. He had never been enthusiastic about the gaming industry, set up during the reign of his father, yet he did recognize that it generated the income that allowed him to support the charitable and scientific causes he cared about and considered most important. Some of his lesser-known works include dispatching study missions abroad to learn ways of improving medical care in Monaco and adapting modern methods of education for the country. He also famously said that whenever there was any scientific study or research in need of assistance, “I will be there”. This, in part, also stemmed from his dim view of gambling. He knew that the wealthy elites poured money into Monaco by way of the gaming tables and he felt a little troubled by this so he was determined to ‘pay it back’ by advancing causes that would benefit everyone such as his scientific endeavors and his establishment of the Institute for Peace. He always sought to increase the knowledge and to make scientific knowledge more available for everyone in the world.

Prince Albert I was a sincere man of peace, having seen the horrors of war as an officer in the French navy in the Franco-Prussian War of 1870. He had tried to avert the First World War but was obviously unsuccessful. However, he did prevent that massive conflict from possibly starting sooner. Since he was trusted and admired by both the French government and the German Kaiser Wilhelm II, he was often able to act as an unofficial intermediary and calm tensions between the two long-time rivals. One of his greatest successes came over the First Moroccan Crisis in 1905-1906. The German Kaiser had visited Morocco and spoke in favor of Moroccan independence which greatly offended the French and which France and Britain took as an act of hostility on the part of Germany against their colonial empires. Tensions flared between the UK, France, Russia, Italy and Spain on one side and Germany and Austria-Hungary on the other. War seemed eminent as Germany began calling up her reserves and French troops began moving to the eastern frontier and it was into this hostile atmosphere that Prince Albert I of Monaco stepped forward to try to bring about a peaceful settlement. In spite of all the tensions, the Prince got the French and Germans to agree to an international conference where Germany found she had scant support and was forced to back down and go along with France resuming her position of dominance in the region. During the Second Moroccan Crisis, Prince Albert I played no part at all as he viewed it as a simple grab for spoils and would not be part of it. The result of that conflict was another set-back for Germany and Morocco becoming a formal protectorate of France.

This was but one example of the many times Prince Albert I helped to smooth Franco-German relations. Most controversial, probably, was his role in the “Dreyfus Affair” in which he did play a part, defending the innocent Jewish officer and assisting several of the other victims of the wave of anti-Semitism that swept France in the aftermath of the sad episode. This should all serve to illustrate that Prince Albert I was more than just the "Sailor Prince" or purely interested in the science of oceanography and nothing else. He was a paternal, caring monarch, interested in "giving back", improving the lives of his people, furthering world progress and working for peace. He was a good guy.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...