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THE MAKING OF MONACO
The Rock of Monaco's strategic and easily defensible position on the French coast made it a small but pivotal element in the ongoing dynastic power politics that ravaged this area of Europe in the pre-Renaissance era. Though archaeological evidence exists of human occupation dating back to 400,000 BC, little exists in the way of definitive written records. It's likely that the name Monaco derives from a tribe known as the Monoïkos, colonists of Greek descent, who occupied the area in the sixth century BC.
Occupation is a tenuous concept at best, because for many years this area notionally belonged to the Romans, who erected the Tropaeum Alpium — also known as the Trophy of Augustus — in nearby La Turbie during the summer of 6 BC. This monument to Octavius, Julius Caesar's nephew and the future Emperor Augustus, today stands partially intact at what was the border between Rome and Gaul (ancient France). Restored in the 1930s, the monument is believed to have stood at nearly 50 meters (164 feet) high when first built; a stone, transcribed by Pliny the Elder, lists the forty-four Ligurian tribes that Octavius forcefully prevailed upon to cease and desist from interrupting lucrative trade routes through the region. Even then, it seems, this area of the coastline had a reputation for banditry.
Following the collapse of the Western Roman Empire, this region lapsed into chaotic squabbling. What is now known as Italy was a loose and frangible network of constantly maneuvering city-states and republics — one of which, Genoa, absorbed Monaco and its surrounding areas as it expanded aggressively between the tenth and fourteenth centuries. Trade and sea power extended Genovese influence east wards as far as northern Egypt and what we now know as Israel and Lebanon, as well as into the Black Sea and onwards to Crimea; westwards along the French coast into the Iberian peninsula; and southwards to Carthage and other pockets of the north African coastline.
Though the Holy Roman Emperor (a title invented by Charlemagne three centuries after the fall of the empire itself, and the subject of considerable ongoing political dispute and outright warfare) notionally ruled over Genoa, with the city's Bishop acting as president, in practice the real power resided with elected consuls — a system imitating the glory days of Rome. And, just as it had in Rome, this system enabled wealthy trading families to access, wield, and extend power for themselves. Fault lines naturally developed between these families, including the Adorno, the Fieschi, the Spinola, the Doria, and the Grimaldi, as they sought to maximize their own wealth and influence at the expense of the others.
Over the course of centuries, control of Genoa swung between these plotting dynasties, and occasionally tensions between them and their wider allies would reach the point where swords were drawn. Thus, it was that in 1271 the Grimaldis and their allies were expelled from Genoa, and although five years later the Pope brokered a peace enabling them to return, not all of them did, and the factional rancor continued.
The fragmented nature of historical records at this time means the actual evidence for Monaco's official origin story is patchy. Nevertheless, officially, modern Monaco's history begins on the night of January 8, 1297, when Franceso Grimaldi and his cousin Rainier launched a sneak attack on Spinoza-held Monaco. Gaining free admittance to the castle while disguised as a Franciscan monk, Grimaldi drew his sword once inside, threw the door open for his men, and overpowered the garrison.
The moment is enshrined in the Monegasque coat of arms, which features two monks bearing swords.
Swashbuckling, sneaky, and with a flair for the dramatic — whether Monaco's preferred narrative of its origin is true or not is almost beside the point. Barring a few interruptions, for over seven centuries Grimaldi and his anointed successors (not all biological) have clung to the rock. After the family were forced to flee in 1301 by Genovese forces, Rainier's son Charles spent thirty years plotting to acquire Monaco once more; having done so, he took advantage of territorial disputes between Genoa and the Crown of Aragon (now part of Spain) to extend Grimaldi rule to neighboring Menton and Roquebrun.
Monaco's growing power — not to mention a growing reputation as a haven for pirates — drove the Genovese to invade it again in 1357. Charles and his son Rainier II were driven out and never returned.
Yet, still the Grimaldis coveted their rock, growing their wealth through trade until Rainier's sons Antoine, Ambrose, and Jean bought Monaco, by then owned by the Crown of Aragon, in 1419. It was Jean who enshrined in the Principality's constitution that the royal title's succession would pass to the reigning prince's born male child — an article that would require considerable fudging through the years as various princes failed to deliver legitimate male heirs.
Small and economically fragile, yet strategically important to trade, Monaco was defensible thanks to the castle on the rock, but not invulnerable. Neighboring powers coveted it as they consolidated their own territory and warred with each other; Genoa faded, but Gaul completed its transformation into what we now know as France under a succession of ambitious monarchs. Likewise, the Christian reconquest of the Iberian Peninsula, followed by some strategic dynastic unions, led to states such as the Crown of Aragon coalescing into what we now know as Spain, ambitious to conquer worlds both old and new. To survive, the Grimaldis had to hustle, strategically divesting themselves of Menton and Roquebrun to forge allegiances with their neighbors. Until the seventeenth century, Grimaldi rulers would not dare adopt royal nomenclature, styling themselves as lords rather than princes.
In 1489, the King of France officially recognized Monaco's independence, but this was just a small victory in the state's ongoing struggle to assert its identity. Perhaps it was for the best that its rulers had acquired a reputation for hot blood, combative temperament, and always carrying a sword in hand ...CHAPTER 2
THE PRINCE SANCTIONS A RACE
INDEPENDENCE AND REBELLION
Popular folklore has it that when Honoré II died in 1662, forcing his grandson Louis I and free-spirited wife Catherine Charlotte de Gramont to depart the French king's court and return to Monaco, Catherine Charlotte cried throughout the journey while one of her lovers shadowed the couple south wearing heavy disguise. For all the rich artworks within the castle, it still had the austere external aspect of a fortress, presiding over a plain-looking harbor village that numbered but a handful of streets.
Over the following two hundred years, Monaco changed almost be state of perpetual redevelopment. It was an unashamedly wealth-driven transition from sleepy harbor town surrounded by groves of lemon and olive trees, the hillside studded with villas occupied by European gentry enjoying privacy and the winter climate, to an altogether more hard-edged domain. Ordinary Monégasques began to grow disenchanted as their home changed around them, a disposition that hardened into rancor with the growing perception that foreigners were enjoying a disproportionate share of the proceeds.
Monaco's tendency towards mild winter weather had always encouraged the privileged to shelter from less favorable climates; now tax breaks enabled them to shelter their wealth from scrutiny. This corner of the Riviera became rather less genteel, but while this discouraged some visitors, there were plenty of others cut from less discriminating cloth, eager to try their luck at the tables and sample the stock of the wine cellar at the Hôtel de Paris, famed for having a kilometer of rack space occupied by rarefied vintages.
Prince Albert I already had one an nulled marriage behind him when he ascended to the throne in 1889, age forty. His first wife, a product of the Scottish gentry, had fled back to her homeland while Albert was fighting in the Franco-Prussian War, and the an nulment required papal dispensation for their son Louis to retain his legitimacy. This, and the not entirely happy marriage that followed — Albert mar ried the Dowager Duchess de Richelieu in 1889, but they separated in 1902, providing no male issue — has subsequently provided further fuel for those who choose to believe in the curse of the Grimaldis. So too did the memoirs of the Spanish dancer and courtesan Carolina "La Belle" Otero, who claimed to have enjoyed close enough relations with Albert to record that he suffered from erectile dysfunction.
Of perhaps more import to the well-being of the principality was Albert's growing distance from the people he ruled absolutely. In the years immediately before and after the dissolution of his second marriage, Albert immersed himself in the relatively new science of oceanography, undertaking expeditions to locations as distant and varied as the Azores and the Arctic Ocean (in which an archipelago is now named after him).
Meanwhile, the gulf between citizens and visitors widened and deepened. The mathematics were indisputable: Monégasques were barred from gambling in the casinos or working for the monopoly company that owned them, and there was very little industry or agriculture elsewhere in the domain, so while they paid no tax they also earned very little. And while existing in this state of penury, they shared the same tiny patch of seaside real estate with foreign citizens — predominantly French — who took the best jobs and flaunted the rewards. And, year on year, the wealth the Monégasques did not share resulted in rising prices that exacerbated their state of poverty.
Petitions circulated, to little effect. In March 1910, a man called Suffren Reymond set in motion what is now known as Le Réveil Monégasque (The Monégasque Awakening), sufficiently revving up a huge crowd at a public meeting for eight hundred of them to accompany him to the palace and hand an ultimatum to the prince himself. With unctuous words, Albert and his chief of staff accepted the ultimatum, but then did little enough to put it into practice that the citizens of Monaco continued to protest noisily and with increasing frequency. Within weeks, Albert was appealing to France to keep troops on hand in case the lingering specter of armed revolt became a reality. Guns were stockpiled in the wine cellar of the Hôtel de Paris to guard against the prospect.
Events in Monaco were significant enough to warrant being mentioned in dispatches as far afield as the US. An editorial in the New York Times on December 11, 1910, headlined "Is Monaco Doomed? Other Nations Want It," outlined the scenario: "At first sight one would imagine the Monégasques had every reason to be satisfied, since, thanks to the money paid by the gambling syndicate into the princely exchequer, the people are exempt from all taxation. But although they may not actually pay rates and taxes, they earn next to nothing. The principality has no industrial or agricultural resources. It lives on its visitors. But the very people who thrive and fatten upon the visitors are themselves strangers, namely, Frenchmen, who are favored every way by the reigning Prince, and by the gambling syndicate, all the employees of the latter being French. The natives do not share in the spoils and are in the position of a starving man, tantalized by the tempting sight of a well-spread table to which he is not invited . . . If the Monégasques have their way, they will put an end to the agreement existing between this malodorous gambling hell concern and Prince Albert on the ground that the contract is invalidated by immorality, according to the jurisprudence of every civilized country, and also because, they argue, that no sovereign, be he absolute monarch or constitutional ruler, has the right to turn over control of his dominions to a public gambling hell concern against the wishes of his people, or to sacrifice the good name of the latter and to cover it with world-wide infamy for the sake of his own selfish personal gain."
The piece painted Monaco as a thoroughly dissolute and degenerate destination in comparison with "respectable" neighbors such as Nice, and reserved its most sneering tone for a brief history of the Grimaldi family line, alighting upon Prince Florestan (Albert's grandfather), who had been a theatre actor during Napoleon's reign and married the daughter of a Parisian butcher. "This actor Prince and his plebian wife are about the only occupants of the throne of Monaco who seem to have ever lived happily together. The matrimonial experiences of all the others have been most unfortunate."
And, as the New York Times editorial alluded, neighboring powers — France, Italy, and Germany — coveted Monaco's wealth and strategic location and were eying each other suspiciously. Europe would not go to war until 1914, but all the preconditions existed for it. Prince Albert gave ground, granting concessions such as freedom of the press, but he was unwilling to give up his rich source of income to a braying mob who seemed determined to re-enact the temple and evicting the money changers. Neither could he easily satisfy their desire for autonomy, since Monaco was committed to remain a monarchy under a secret provision within the terms of the 1861 treaty with France that had granted it independence.
When protesters stormed the palace in October that year, forcing Albert to flee over the border to France for safety, it crystallized the issue. Fearful that Germany was machinating to foment rebellion and install his cousin as prince, with a view to establishing Monaco as a German naval base, Albert drew up a constitution in which he retained his executive powers while a hierarchy of advisory councils composed of elected Monégasques (including Suffren Reymond) took care of day-to-day government. It was ratified on January 5, 1911.
The days of Monaco as an absolute monarchy were over — in theory.
A THOROUGHLY IMPRACTICAL EVENT
Contemporary readers will probably take ownership of a motorcar for granted. In the late nineteenth century, it was anything but everyday transport.
It epitomized a certain kind of pushiness and ostentation that did not sit well with ordinary folk across Europe — in many countries there were those who saw the "auto-car" as a fiendish and terrifying invention and an unwelcome presence on the roads. Many pressure groups argued that car owners should be preceded on the highway by a person carrying a red flag, so that livestock and persons of a nervous disposition could be alerted to its approach.
So, to many, the car's challenge to the preeminence of the horse and cart was a nonstarter. But not to the moneyed set in Monaco, who were early adopters of this novel form of transport. In 1890, just four years after Karl Benz publicly unveiled his Patent-Motorwagen, Alexandre Noghès — a descendent of the commander of the Spanish garrison installed by the regent in 1605 — founded the Sport Vélocipédique Monégasque, a sporting club for owners of cars and bicycles.
The principality itself, though roughly half the size of New York's Central Park and blessed with few truly flat roads, became a showcase for high-class automobiles (adding somewhat to the angst of the relatively impoverished ordinary Monégasques). For the kind of person who liked to travel individually, rather than swaying several people deep on the train, the horse-and-carriage was so last century. Rolls-Royces, Daimlers, Argylls, Packards, Loziers, De Dion-Boutons, and their ilk displaced equine transport from the prime spots outside the casino and hotels.
While Monaco attracted a relatively continuous flow of gambling traffic, tourism was largely seasonal, apart from the established regulars from around Europe who liked to "winter" in the principality's relatively mild climate. Noghès and his club's grandees hit upon the notion of showcasing this virtue with an event that would draw like-minded car enthusiasts from across Europe during the winter months. The Monte Carlo Rally was born.
By practical necessity, the Rally, first held in 1911, hot on the heels of the promulgation of Monaco's constitution, was more of a test than a race. Other circular or point-to-point road races such as the Targa Florio were already established in the calendar. The roads both within Monaco itself and connecting to it from without were considered unsuitable for such an event. So, the first Monte Carlo Rally would be a contest of elegance and quality over speed, with no set route.
There were twenty-three entries, of which twenty started, hailing from as far afield as Paris, Berlin, Vienna, and Geneva. Participants had to drive their road car from their place of origin to Monaco carrying a prominent identification plate announcing their participation in the "Rallye Automobile Monaco." It was influencer marketing long before that term was coined.
On arrival, and having no doubt enjoyed the transition from foul weather to beatific winter sun as the Monégasque vista opened up before them, they received a score according to a points system that encompassed distance traveled, the elegance of the car, its state upon arrival, and the state of the passengers and their luggage. As you might expect, this subjectivity led to the results being hotly disputed. Henri Rougier, an automobile dealer and racer, was judged the winner.
Entries swelled in subsequent years as the event grew in popularity. In March 1925, the Sport Vélocipédique Monégasque voted to change its name to the Automobile Club de Monaco (ACM), with a sporting committee overseen by Noghès's son Antony, who had played a prominent role in the first rally's organization and its evolution into a preeminent annual event.
Antony Noghès had even greater ambitions to establish Monaco as a fixture on the international sporting calendar. First, though, he would need a mandate. To be a national car club in more than just name, the ACM had to be recognized by the Paris-based Association Internationale des Automobile-Clubs Reconnus (International Association of Recognized Automobile Clubs), the ancestor of what we now know as the Fédération Internationale de l'Automobile (FIA), the governing organization of world motorsports. This august body sent Noghès on his way with a resounding non, on the grounds that Monaco's rally didn't take place on its sovereign territory, so the ACM didn't merit the status of a national sporting authority.
This presented a hurdle Noghès could only vault by committing to running an international motor-racing event on the narrow, twisting, rutted streets of Monaco itself. A lesser individual might have balked at the task, but Noghès was nothing if not ambitious. And he would have a high-profile ally in making it happen: none other than Prince Louis II himself.
Louis had a vested interest in polishing Monaco's status. The product of Albert I's annulled first marriage, he had been legitimized by the Pope as a constitutional fudge since Albert sired no further male heirs. He was not particularly close to his father, having left his mother. While the principality had remained neutral in World War I under the rule of his father, Louis served in the French army.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "The Life"
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Table of Contents
Preface: Monaco 6
Chapter 1 The Making of Monaco 14
Chapter 2 The Prince Sanctions a Race 22
Chapter 3 Dancer, Racer, Soldier, Spy 46
Chapter 4 Racing Against the Reich 62
Chapter 5 Back on Track 84
Chapter 6 Drivers and Duels 106
Chapter 7 Stars and Cars 162
Chapter 8 Goodbye to the Gasworks 174
Chapter 9 Monaco After Dark 192
Chapter 10 In the Presence of God 198
Chapter 11 Racers Who Ride 202
Chapter 12 All the Pretty People 208
Photo Credits 240