03 July 2011

Princesses of Monaco

When South African Olympic swimmer Charlene Wittstock married the reigning Prince of Monaco (See wedding pics), she joined a long line of, let's say, interesting brides for the House of Grimaldi. While other princely houses have insisted on highborn wives for their sons and heirs--even "disinheriting" dynasts for whom the throne or title has been abolished for decades--Monaco has felt no such compulsion. Therefore, it has selected more than its fair share of actresses and ladies with scandalous behavior. They also seem to favor English-speaking ladies. One positive impact of their matrimonial choices: the Grimaldi family is one of the most attractive reigning families in the world!

Here's a look at Princess Charlene's predecessors with the dates they held the title:

Grace Kelly (1956-1982)
Princess Grace has long been idolized as THE ideal princess. A stunning beauty with regal grace, she brought renewed elegance to the tiny principality which was little known outside of the European high rollers. Born Grace Patricia Kelly in Philadelphia, she came from a well-to-do though not wealthy Irish American family. As a young woman, she made her way to New York to become a model and actress. Before long, she was a Hollywood starlet with a string of hit films. She even won an Oscar for her role in "The Country Girl." She gave up her movie star life to marry Prince Rainier III and settled into life as a glamorous princess. She fulfilled her most important role as princess by having her first child nine months after the wedding. As Princess of Monaco, she championed the arts and health issues. In 1982, at the age of 52, she suffered a stroke while driving on the narrow, winding roads near Monaco. Both she and her youngest daughter, Princess Stephanie, the only passenger, suffered serious injuries. Grace died the next day. Actor Jimmy Stewart delivered her eulogy.

Ghislaine Dommanget (1946-1949)
Rainier's grandfather also married an actress, although she was not as notable as Grace. Born in France, Ghislaine was 45 when she married the septuagenarian playboy Prince Louis II of Monaco. She had previously been married to another actor, but that ended in divorce. Louis had never married before and had already settled the inheritance of the principality on his illegitimate daughter's son, Rainier, so Ghislaine did not have to worry about having a child--good thing, too, considering her age! She provided companionship and comfort for her elderly husband, who spent little time in Monaco. Following his death, she received a pension from Monaco, but that was eventually cut off due to conflict between her and Rainier. She returned to Monaco for Grace's funeral but spent most of her long life in France, where she died at age 90 in 1991.
(Thanks to Mad For Monaco for some source info and the photo.)

Alice Heine (1889-1922)
In addition to marrying actresses, the Princes of Monaco also seem to have a penchant for selecting American brides. Princess Alice was born in New Orleans. Both of her parents were from prominent, although not noble, French families. When she was a child, the family returned to France to escape the American Civil War. As a teenager, she married the Duke of Richelieu and their only child later became the last Duke of Richelieu. Alice was widowed at the age of 22. Ten years later, she became the second wife of Prince Albert I of Monaco. Like other Princesses of Monaco, she focused much of her time on developing the principality as a center of high culture. After 13 years, Alice and Albert legally separated but never divorced, so she remained titular Princess of Monaco until his death in 1922. They had no children together. She died a few years after the prince at the age of 67.

Mary Victoria Douglas-Hamilton (Hereditary Princess; divorced before husband's accession)
Mary Victoria was the last nobly born Monagesque consort. Her parents were a Scottish peer, the 11th Duke of Hamilton, and a German princess from Baden. She married the future Prince Albert I when she was just 18 and their marriage was annulled when she was 29. A few months later, she married Count (later Prince) Tassilo Festetics von Tolna and moved with him to Hungary. Her marriage to Prince Albert produced one son, the future Prince Louis II, and she had two children with Festetics, through whom are descended fashion designer Egon von Furstenberg and actress Ira von Furstenberga. Mary Victoria died one month before her first husband at the age of 71 and is buried at Festetics Place in Hungary.

Antoinette de Mérode (1856-1864)
When Prince Charles III married his Brussels-born wife, she brought more than a noble heritage as a count's daughter, she also brought money: lots and lots of money. At that time, Monaco was an isolated community on the Mediterranean. No one went there on purpose. With Antoinette's substantial dowry, Charles built Monte Carlo and its famous casino, later handing over its care to Francois Blanc, who helped turn the tiny principality into a sought-after destination and a highly profitable business. There was a saying about roulette in Monte Carlo: "Whether it lands on red or black, white [Blanc] wins." The true winner ultimately was Monaco. Antoinette and Charles had only one child, the future Albert I. She predeceased her husband, who never remarried, by 25 years. She was only 35.

Marie Caroline Gibert de Lametz (1841-1856)
Yet another actress who became Princess of Monaco, Marie Caroline was born in France. She also married an actor--however, her actor was also her prince. Prince Florestan had been an actor and was ill prepared to handle the affairs of his tiny principality, which was actually much larger than it is today as it also included the towns of Menton and Roquebrune. So, Marie Caroline became the real ruler of Monaco, which was a protectorate of the Kingdom of Sardinia. She and Florestan tried to balance calls for more democracy with a difficult economy but were unsuccessful and lost Menton and Roquebrune. They had two children, Charles III and Princess Florestine. Prince Florestan died in 1856; Marie Caroline lived until 1879, dying at age 86. Under their son, Monaco again became a protectorate of France. (Thanks to Mad For Monaco for some source info and the photo.)

Louise d'Aumont (Hereditary Princess; divorced before her husband's accession)
Descended from King Charles II of England's French mistress Hortense Mancini, Louise was part of the powerful Mazarin (as in Cardinal Mazarin) family on her mother's side and the Dukes of Aumont on her father's. Married to Prince Honore IV of Monaco, she gave him two children. During the French Revolution, Louise and Honore were imprisoned. They divorced in 1798, four years after Louise had an illegitimate child. Louise married and divorced again before dying at age 67 in 1826. Both of her sons became reigning princes of Monaco: the unmarried (but not childless!) Prince Honore V and Prince Florestan.

Maria Caterina Brignole (1757-1770)
The daughter of a Genovese nobleman, Maria Caterina was renowned as a great beauty. The young girl fell in love with the Prince de Conde, but her mother insisted she marry the much older Prince Honore III of Monaco, who had been mum's lover. (Ick!) Her father opposed the marriage but was "persuaded" by King Louis XV. After the marriage, Maria Caterina gave Honore two sons, but she continued to spend most of her time with the Prince de Conde, particularly after his own wife's early death. Honore was insanely jealous, but with reason: Maria Caterina was moving into one of de Conde's estates! Despite Honore's best efforts, she escaped from Monaco to Paris, where the teenaged Queen Marie Antoinette did not appreciate her unsavory behavior. Maria Caterina and her lover fled France during the French Revolution and finally married each other after Honore died in 1795. She died in England in 1813 at age 75.

Marie of Lorraine (1701-1724)
A member of the House of Guise, Marie was ranked as a Foreign Princess at the French Court, where she grew up. She was only 13 when she was married to the future Prince Antonio I of Monaco, earning him the rank of Foreign Prince in Louis XIV's court. He was twice her age. Like all of the Princesses of Monaco, she was a renowned beauty, which her father-in-law Prince Louis apparently could not resist: Marie claimed that he tried to seduce her. One of the most prolific of the Princesses of Monaco, Marie had six daughters although only three survived. Still daughters, no matter how numerous, were thought insufficient and the marriage broke down. Marie and Antonio remained married but lived separately, while he fathered several other children. Marie predeceased her husband in 1724 at age 50. Her oldest surviving daughter, Louise Hippolyte, eventually succeeded the Monagesque throne as the only Reigning Princess of Monaco. She was in turn succeeded by her son Honore III.

Catherine Charlotte de Gramont (1662-1678)
Catherine Charlotte was already in her twenties when she married the future Prince Louis I of Monaco. Her father was a French Marshal and her mother was Cardinal Richelieu's niece. She gave Louis six children, including two sons. Like most French nobles of the day, the Prince and Princesses of Monaco spent most of their time at the French court, where she was a lady-in-waiting to Louis XIV's sister-in-law, Henrietta of England. Intelligent and beautiful, Catherine Charlotte earned a reputation for pleasure at the licentious court, even having a brief affair with the king himself. Her risque behavior eventually caused her husband to banish her from his principality, but she probably did not care. She died in Paris before her 40th birthday. Her husband outlived her by more than 30 years.

Maria Aurelia Spinola (Hereditary Princess, her husband died before his father)
Maria Aurelia was from a noble family in Genoa. She married the Hereditary Prince of Monaco, Ercole Marquis de Baux in 1641. In the 10 years before his death, they had seven children. Maria Aurelia outlived her husband by almost 30 years.

Ippolita Trivulzio (1616-1638)
The daughter of an Italian count, Ippolita was also descended from the noble house of Gonzaga on her mother's side. She was the first person to bear the title Princess of Monaco--her predecessors had been Ladies of Monaco. Her husband Honore II earned the title Prince of Monaco when he broke away from an alliance with Spain and made Monaco a protectorate of France. As part of the bargain, he became an independent Prince with control over his own territory. The two had met and married when he was briefly exiled to Milan by the Spanish who had overrun Monaco, but with French support, he regained his country. Ippolita had one son, Ercole (or Hercules), before dying at the age of 38. Honore survived her by 24 years. Unfortunately their son died at age 27 and Honore was succeeded by Ercole's son Louis I.

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