Thursday, April 8, 2010

The Glory Days of Monte Carlo

Perhaps at no other time in the history of Monaco were there so many elite and royal visitors to the principality as during the reign of HSH Prince Albert I, particularly during the years of his marriage to Princess Alice who first tried to make Monaco as famous for its cultural attractions as for gambling. One of the most prestigious visitors was HRH the Prince of Wales, the future King Edward VII. Arriving aboard the royal yacht Britannia the Prince was a frequent feature at the gaming tables. He usually came with Alice Keppel though he would also have friendly visits with his former flame, the famous actress Lillie Langtry who had a villa in Monte Carlo. He came incognito of course though there were precious few who could possibly have been fooled.

Some of the most prominent guests, and among the most lavish spenders, were the Russian nobles, notably HIH Grand Duke Michael (uncle of Czar Alexander III). The future King Gustavus V of Sweden also turned up. King Leopold II of the Belgians was a regular visitor and each time he came the (generally unsavory) monarch would go to the Princely Palace to pay his respects to Princess Alice. There were Arab sheiks, French aristocrats, German princes and even a Prince of Nepal who was restricted by his Hindu faith to only gambling five days each year. One of the more prominent royals to call was the German Kaiser Wilhelm II, a close friend of Prince Albert I, who would sail his yacht Meteor into Monaco harbor and have long talks with the Sovereign Prince on subjects from oceanography to archaeology.

However, the presence of the Russians and the King of the Belgians probably did not help the cause of attracting the one royal visitor most unsuccessfully sought after; HM the Queen-Empress Victoria of Great Britain. Princess Alice especially longed for a visit from Queen Victoria but the British monarch was adamantly against it. The Prince of Wales tried to convince her that she would enjoy meeting the new Princess of Monaco but Queen Victoria disapproved of the gambling that went on (particularly that of her son) and the most that ever came about was when Prince Albert and Princess Alice were invited by the Queen to tea at her hotel near Nice. It was, however, not an especially friendly visit and was kept short.

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