Royalty At Play by Eliot Gregory
Story type: Essay
Few more amusing sights are to be seen in these days, than that of crowned heads running away from their dull old courts and functions, roughing it in hotels and villas, gambling, yachting and playing at being rich nobodies. With much intelligence they have all chosen the same Republican playground, where visits cannot possibly be twisted into meaning any new “combination” or political move, thus assuring themselves the freedom from care or responsibility, that seems to be the aim of their existence. Alongside of well-to-do Royalties in good paying situations, are those out of a job, who are looking about for a “place.” One cannot take an afternoon’s ramble anywhere between Cannes and Mentone without meeting a half-dozen of these magnates.
The other day, in one short walk, I ran across three Empresses, two Queens, and an Heir-apparent, and then fled to my hotel, fearing to be unfitted for America, if I went on “keeping such company.” They are knowing enough, these wandering great ones, and after trying many places have hit on this charming coast as offering more than any other for their comfort and enjoyment. The vogue of these sunny shores dates from their annexation to France,–a price Victor Emmanuel reluctantly paid for French help in his war with Austria. Napoleon III.’s demand for Savoy and this littoral, was first made known to Victor Emmanuel at a state ball at Genoa. Savoy was his birthplace and his home! The King broke into a wild temper, cursing the French Emperor and making insulting allusions to his parentage, saying he had not one drop of Bonaparte blood in his veins. The King’s frightened courtiers tried to stop this outburst, showing him the French Ambassador at his elbow. With a superhuman effort Victor Emmanuel controlled himself, and turning to the Ambassador, said:
“I fear my tongue ran away with me!” With a smile and a bow the great French diplomatist remarked:
“Sire, I am so deaf I have not heard a word your Majesty has been saying!”
The fashion of coming to the Riviera for health or for amusement, dates from the sixties, when the Empress of Russia passed a winter at Nice, as a last attempt to prolong the existence of the dying Tsarewitsch, her son. There also the next season the Duke of Edinburgh wooed and won her daughter (then the greatest heiress in Europe) for his bride. The world moves fast and a journey it required a matter of life and death to decide on, then, is gayly undertaken now, that a prince may race a yacht, or a princess try her luck at the gambling tables. When one reflects that the “royal caste,” in Europe alone, numbers some eight hundred people, and that the East is beginning to send out its more enterprising crowned heads to get a taste of the fun, that beyond drawing their salaries, these good people have absolutely nothing to do, except to amuse themselves, it is no wonder that this happy land is crowded with royal pleasure-seekers.
After a try at Florence and Aix, “the Queen” has been faithful to Cimiez, a charming site back of Nice. That gay city is always en fete the day she arrives, as her carriages pass surrounded by French cavalry, one can catch a glimpse of her big face, and dowdy little figure, which nevertheless she can make so dignified when occasion requires. The stay here is, indeed, a holiday for this record-breaking sovereign, who potters about her private grounds of a morning in a donkey-chair, sunning herself and watching her Battenberg grandchildren at play. In the afternoon, she drives a couple of hours–in an open carriage–one outrider in black livery alone distinguishing her turnout from the others.
The Prince of Wales makes his headquarters at Cannes where he has poor luck in sailing the Brittania, for which he consoles himself with jolly dinners at Monte Carlo. You can see him almost any evening in the Restaurant de Paris, surrounded by his own particular set,–the Duchess of Devonshire (who started a penniless German officer’s daughter, and became twice a duchess); Lady de Grey and Lady Wolverton, both showing near six feet of slender English beauty; at their side, and lovelier than either, the Countess of Essex. The husbands of these “Merry Wives” are absent, but do not seem to be missed, as the ladies sit smoking and laughing over their coffee, the party only breaking up towards eleven o’clock to try its luck at trente et quarante, until a “special” takes them back to Cannes.
He is getting sadly old and fat, is England’s heir, the likeness to his mamma becoming more marked each year. His voice, too, is oddly like hers, deep and guttural, more adapted to the paternal German (which all this family speak when alone) than to his native English. Hair, he has none, except a little fringe across the back of his head, just above a fine large roll of fat that blushes above his shirt-collar. Too bad that this discovery of the microbe of baldness comes rather late for him! He has a pleasant twinkle in his small eyes, and an entire absence of pose, that accounts largely for his immense and enduring popularity.
But the Hotel Cap Martin shelters quieter crowned heads. The Emperor and Empress of Austria, who tramp about the hilly roads, the King and Queen of Saxony and the fat Arch-duchess Stephanie. Austria’s Empress looks sadly changed and ill, as does another lady of whom one can occasionally catch a glimpse, walking painfully with a crutch-stick in the shadow of the trees near her villa. It is hard to believe that this white-haired, bent old woman was once the imperial beauty who from the salons of the Tuileries dictated the fashions of the world! Few have paid so dearly for their brief hour of splendor!
Cannes with its excellent harbor is the centre of interest during the racing season when the Tsarewitsch comes on his yacht Czaritza. At the Battle of Flowers, one is pretty sure to see the Duke of Cambridge, his Imperial Highness, the Grand Duke Michael, Prince Christian of Denmark, H.R.H. the Duke of Nassau, H.I.H. the Archduke Ferdinand d’Este, their Serene Highnesses of Mecklenburg-Schwerin and the Saxe-Coburg-Gothas, also H.I.H. Marie Valerie and the Schleswig-Holsteins, pelting each other and the public with confetti and flowers. Indeed, half the Almanach de Gotha, that continental “society list,” seems to be sunning itself here and forgetting its cares, on bicycles or on board yachts. It is said that the Crown Princess of Honolulu (whoever she may be) honors Mentone with her presence, and the newly deposed Queen “Ranavalo” of Madagascar is en route to join in the fun.
This crowd of royalty reminds me of a story the old sea-dogs who gather about the “Admirals’ corner” of the Metropolitan Club in Washington, love to tell you. An American cockswain, dazzled by a doubly royal visit, with attending suites, on board the old “Constitution,” came up to his commanding officer and touching his cap, said:
“Beg pardon, Admiral, but one of them kings has tumbled down the gangway and broke his leg.”
It has become a much more amusing thing to wear a crown than it was. Times have changed indeed since Marie Laczinska lived the fifty lonely years of her wedded life and bore her many children, in one bed-room at Versailles–a monotony only broken by visits to Fontainebleau or Marly. Shakespeare’s line no longer fits the case.
Beyond securing rich matches for their children, and keeping a sharp lookout that the Radicals at home do not unduly cut down their civil lists, these great ones have little but their amusements to occupy them. Do they ever reflect, as they rush about visiting each other and squabbling over precedence when they meet, that some fine morning the tax- payers may wake up, and ask each other why they are being crushed under such heavy loads, that eight hundred or more quite useless people may pass their lives in foreign watering-places, away from their homes and their duties? It will be a bad day for them when the long-suffering subjects say to them, “Since we get on so exceedingly well during your many visits abroad, we think we will try how it will work without you at all!”
The Prince of little Monaco seems to be about the only one up to the situation, for he at least stays at home, and in connection with two other gentlemen runs an exceedingly good hotel and several restaurants on his estates, doing all he can to attract money into the place, while making the strictest laws to prevent his subjects gambling at the famous tables. Now if other royalties instead of amusing themselves all the year round would go in for something practical like this, they might become useful members of the community. This idea of Monaco’s Prince strikes one as most timely, and as opening a career for other indigent crowned heads. Hotels are getting so good and so numerous, that without some especial “attraction” a new one can hardly succeed; but a “Hohenzollern House” well situated in Berlin, with William II. to receive the tourists at the door, and his fat wife at the desk, would be sure to prosper. It certainly would be pleasanter for him to spend money so honestly earned than the millions wrested from half-starving peasants which form his present income. Besides there is almost as much gold lace on a hotel employee’s livery as on a court costume!
The numerous crowned heads one meets wandering about, can hardly lull themselves over their “games” with the flattering unction that they are of use, for, have they not France before them (which they find so much to their taste) stronger, richer, more respected than ever since she shook herself free of such incumbrances? Not to mention our own democratic country, which has managed to hold its own, in spite of their many gleeful predictions to the contrary.