A few years back I wrote about the death of Basil Murray during the Spanish Civil War. A weak-willed alcoholic, Murray is best remembered for providing a model for the character of Basil Seal in various books by Evelyn Waugh.
He died in a bizarre way, bitten to death by a Barbary Macaque while unconscious in a Valencia hotel room. Turns out Barbary apes are dangerous monkeys.
Very dangerous, in fact. One killed King Alexander of Greece in 1920 after a stroll in the royal gardens. The new King was twenty-seven-years-old and his country involved in a bitter war against the remnants of the Ottoman Empire.
Kind Hearts and Coronets
Alexander was second son of King Constantine I and only acceded to the throne because his father liked the Germans too much. Greece had remained neutral in the First World War until 1917 because Constantine was unwilling to declare war on his brother-in-law the Kaiser.
Pro-Entente prime minister Eleftherios Venizelos eventually forced Constantine to leave the country. The only suitably malleable candidate to replace him was Alexander. Even then, he was not universally regarded as a good choice. Royalists disliked him chasing after commoner Aspasia Manos, while his father stressed he should regard himself as nothing more than a regent, and supporters of Venizelos thought the new king too independent minded.
After the coronation, Alexander found himself a puppet king confined to a palace in Athens. As the war ended and Venizelos plotted the invasion of the collapsing Ottoman Empire to expand Greek territory, Alexander exercised some freedom of action in 1919 by marrying Aspasia Manos.
It caused a scandal and the couple exiled themselves to Paris for six months. No-one, Royalist or Republican, liked the idea of their king marrying a woman from a lower social strata.
Monkey See, Monkey Do
Alexander and his now pregnant bride were allowed to return in the summer of 1920. Venizelos’ war seemed to be succeeding. The Greek army had taken large parts of the former Ottoman Empire and imperialist enthusiasms were running high. The Greek city of Dedeağaç was renamed to Alexandroupoli in the king’s honour during a royal visit in July.
The new king was domestically happy if still politically stifled. On 2 October he was walking with his German Shepherd dog through the gardens of the family Tatoi estate, outside Athens. Several Barbary Macaques belonging to the steward of the palace’s grapevines routinely roamed the grounds. One became involved in a scuffle with the King’s dog. Teeth, barking, howling.
As Alexander tried to separate the pair, another monkey attacked him. The King was bitten badly on the leg and body before servants could intervene. The wounds didn’t seem serious but quickly became infected.
Three weeks of sweating fever, sepsis, and delirium followed. On 25 October 1920 Alexander of Greece died.
His daughter Alexandra was born the following March. By that time Eleftherios Venizelos had quit politics and gone into exile following disastrous results in the November 1920 elections. This led to a new royalist government and Constantine I back on the throne.
The Greek army was already slowing in its advance into former Ottoman territory and in 1922 a massive counter-attack by Turkish forces forging their new nation from the fallen empire’s corpse led to a rout. By 1923 the Greeks had been pushed back with little to show for it except a massive population exchange, the abdication of Constantine followed by the temporary reign of his son George, and the execution of six Royalist ministers as scapegoats for the defeat. The executions were international scandals. Ernest Hemingway wrote a experimental fragment on the deaths for his original Three Mountains Press 1924 version of in our time. He had reported from Greece during the fighting.
The Greek royal family would not return to the throne until 1935. Turkey would never forgive Greece for its land grab.
Possibly it could have been different if Barbary Apes (monkeys despite the name as they have tails) were a little less bloodthirsty. Possibly not.
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