The Monkey Who Attacked a King

February 17, 2019
The monkey who attacked King Alexander I of Greece bit him, infected him, and the monarch died after a few days. His death had consequences of political magnitude.

It was the year 1920 when a macaque was destined to change the country of Greece forever. The monkey in question attacked King Alexander I, in his residence in Tatoi Palace, in an incident that would lead to his death.

The monkey who attacked a king

This monarch, the third king of the Hellenes, had a strange and short reign in Europe, which was on the eve of the First World War. Probably the strangest thing about it was his death, though. As we said, a monkey attacked him and the bites led to the end of his royal life.

The Barbary macaque is a species that’s been kept as a pet throughout Europe. They’ve left traces in places as diverse as Roman Pompeii and prehistoric Ireland.

In this particular case, the monkey who attacked King Alexander I was the pet of one of his servants. This particular servant was in charge of the farm, and kept several specimens of macaques as pets.

An angry monkey.

The attack on the king

So, how did it all happen? Well, during one of King Alexander’s walks through the palace vineyards there was a fight between one of those macaques and the king’s dog, a German shepherd. When the king tried to separate them, another macaque joined the fight and bit the monarch on the leg and the belly.

Although monkeys have a reputation for being funny, the Barbary macaque is, in fact, a very dangerous animal with huge teeth. They can easily injure someone quite badly, and in the worst case scenario even end a life.

The monkey who attacked the king was shot down immediately, together with the macaque who had the altercation with the dog. The king’s servants proceeded to clean King Alexander’s wounds.

But, it was already too late. Bite wounds are easily infected, and even more so if they come from wild animals like the Barbary macaque. The king survived for a few days but, after weeks of fever and pain, he died in his bed.

The scenario before the attack

To understand what this meant for Greece, we must get to know a little bit of history. Alexander’s father, Constantine I, remained neutral during the First World War. Despite this, the Hellenic king favored Germany, while the prime minister veered towards Russia and France.

As a consequence, the government was divided, and, in the end, the country exiled the monarch and his family. However, the Triple Entente, who had controlled Greece as Prime Minister, didn’t want to turn Greece into a republic. Alexander obtained the crown illegally. He was the only member of the royal family who still remained in Greece.

The Tatoi Palace.

Puppet monarch

Alexander served as a puppet monarch. He never ruled as such and isolated himself from friends. At the end of First World War, the Greek kingdom would increase by a third – due to subsequent peace negotiations. And, on top of that, a war with Turkey began.

Alexander died during those years. His death was the reason why the monarchists won again, and his father, Constantino I, returned. However, the general discontent about his return and the defeat in Greece’s war with Turkey forced him to abdicate after two years. When Churchill said “the macaque killed a king and 250,000 Greeks,” he was referring to the Greek defeat after the return of the king’s father.

It’s interesting to see how the macaque attack caused such a stir in that European country. The decline of the monarchy and the country’s territories happened as a direct result of the events surrounding the death of Alexander. Who would have thought that a macaque could sink an empire?

  • Fooden, Jack (2007). Systematic review of the Barbary macaque, Macaca sylvanus. Field Museum of Natural History.
  • Correspondent, Oskar AanmoenSenior Europe (2017-05-03). “The King who was killed by a monkey”. Royal Central. Retrieved 2018-12-22.