28 February 2010

Timeless Beauty: The Face of Monaco

Most of us know whether or not we look like our mothers. Some of us know whether we resemble our grandmothers. But, we are much less likely to be able to compare ourselves to earlier forbears. There, princesses have us beaten since they can view generations of royal ancestors—usually in the portrait galleries of their palaces.

The generational resemblance is particularly strong among the ladies of the princely house of Monaco.

The starring lady of the moment is the lovely Charlotte Casiraghi. Although not a princess, she is in the line of succession to the princely title in Monaco. Born in 1986, Charlotte’s life was touched by tragedy when her father, Stefano Casiraghi, was killed in boat racing accident—she was only four. Her mother tried to shelter her from the media, but since she was a teenager, she has been a favorite target of the paparazzi. She is one of the elite of young European aristocrats. As if it wasn't enough to have a princess for a mom, Charlotte's maternal grandparents gave her her own island. So far, though, the press has found nothing scandalous in her behavior. Charlotte is active as a show-jumping equestrienne and as a fashion magazine editor. In 2009, she even launched her own fashion magazine, Ever Manifesto. (Update: Charlotte is now a mother of two boys, Raphael Elmaleh, born in 2013, and Balthazar Rassam, born in 2018. In 2019, she married Balthazar's father, Dimitri Rassam.)
From an ill-fated first marriage to a fortune-hunting playboy to conceiving two of her four children before she married their fathers, Charlotte's mother Princess Caroline of Monaco has caused ripples throughout her life. Her mother, the former movie star Grace Kelly, was often troubled by Caroline’s wild-child ways. After Grace’s tragic death, Caroline seemed to settle down. She married the father of her unborn son and had two more children before he also died tragically. Caroline stepped into her mother’s role as the first lady of Monaco and quickly established a reputation for being level-headed and civic-minded. Then, she got pregnant with her fourth child and married the father, Prince Ernest of Hanover six months before the birth. Still, compared to her sister Stephanie, who not only dated Rob Lowe, launched a rock career and literally ran away with the circus, Princess Caroline is a veritable matron these days and her brother has officially named her as his heir. However, Caroline’s life is still rocked by tribulations—within the last few months, her husband has been absent from Monaco and has been photographed kissing other women. (2019 Update: Caroline and her husband have been separated for many years. She is also no longer the heir to Monaco because her brother, Prince Albert II, married and now has two legitimate children: twins Prince Jacques and Princess Gabriella.)

Scandal was the theme of Caroline’s grandmother, Princess Charlotte's life. Like Caroline, Charlotte was the heir to Monaco. Charlotte was the only child of Prince Albert I, but like the current Prince Albert, he had his child illegitimately, too. (The current prince has two acknowledged illegitimate children: an American girl named Jazmin Grace Grimaldi and a Togolese boy named Alexandre Grimaldi-Coste.) When it became clear that her father would have no legitimate children, the fate of Monaco was in the balance. Without an heir, Monaco would cease to be independent and would become part of France. So, Charlotte’s father officially adopted her and made her a Princess of Monaco. He married her off to a French count. Together, they had two children, including Caroline’s father, Prince Rainier. After ten years, Charlotte ran off with her Italian lover and later divorced the count. Charlotte apparently had no desire to become the head of her own country and, when Rainier was 21, she renounced her right to the throne. Then, she went to college and became active in social work. Perhaps taking a note from her daughter-in-law’s movie, “To Catch a Thief,” which was filmed in Monaco, Princess Charlotte showed up at Rainier and Grace’s wedding on the arm of her latest lover, a jewel thief who had been France’s public enemy number one.

21 February 2010

Cinderella Sisters Part 4 of 4: Beatrice

Thirteen-year-old Beatrice of Provence was alone in the fortress. Her father was dead. Her mother had fled. Her three older sisters were resting their crowned heads in faraway places.

Outside the walls, the Holy Roman Emperor’s navy was sailing into port, the King of Aragon’s army was encamped, and the Count of Toulose and the Count of Anjou were each leading armies to capture the wildly gorgeous young girl.

Unlike her older sisters, each of whom had had little to offer a medieval bridegroom except their beauty, Beatrice was a prized heiress. Their father, Count Raymond Berenguer of Provence had left everything to her—including castles that had been provided as collateral for her eldest sister Marguerite’s dowry when she wed the King of France, the same ones which had also been used as collateral when Raymond borrowed money from his daughter Eleanor’s husband, the King of England. Asserting that his other daughters, who had all married well, did not need any part of the inheritance, Raymond not only left them nothing, he added insult by saying to Beatrice that she was “more beloved by me than all your sisters.”

The girls’ mother, Beatrice of Savoy, had agreed to her husband’s plan because his real intention was to leave her completely in charge of the land they had ruled together. Neither had anticipated that their youngest daughter would be literally besieged. Although Raymond had habitually overspent on wars and luxuries, Provence was a lucrative province with a rich salt monopoly and a burgeoning role in commercial trade. Lovely little Beatrice’s suitors all desired to get their paws on that money pot even more than they longed for a pretty girl.

Once it became clear that things were getting out of control, Beatrice the senior slipped out of Provence to seek help from the Pope. Several suitors also applied to the Pope, who soon assumed wardship of young Beatrice. That meant the excommunicated Emperor was out of luck—he was currently at war with the Pope. Needing a strong ally against the Emperor, the Pope had little inclination to side with Toulose or Aragon; what he really wanted was an alliance with France. Fortunately, the King of France’s youngest brother, 19-year-old Count Charles of Anjou was still unmarried.

In a secret meeting, the Pope, the King and Beatrice of Savoy agreed to award young Beatrice and Provence to Charles, who immediately set off with an army provided by his brother. En route, he outflanked the Count of Toulose and he quickly sent the King of Aragon into retreat after a brief skirmish. (The Emperor’s navy had been forced to retreat when the locals made it impossible to land.)

Beatrice and Charles were ideally suited for each other. They were both the spoiled youngest children who still felt slighted by comparison to their highly accomplished older siblings. Together, they set out to turn their new territory into a highly profitable one. The first order of business was to push aside Beatrice’s mother, much to her protest. Young Beatrice had now earned the ire not only of her disinherited sisters but also their well-connected mom.

Nevertheless, her eldest sister who was now also her sister-in-law could not completely ignore her. In fact, when Louis and Marguerite set off on crusade, Charles and his heavily pregnant teenaged wife went with them. Marguerite, who had suffered from barrenness for many years after she married, was forced to watch as her upstart little sister had a child every other year. The first, a boy named Louis, was born on Cyprus as the French royal party made its way across the Mediterranean. Concerned for the infant’s well-being on a military crusade, Beatrice left the baby on Cyprus to be cared for in her absence. By the time the French reached Damietta, both Beatrice and Marguerite were pregnant.

Beatrice’s second child, Blanche, was born while the French were being decimated by the Egyptians. (See Marguerite for the story of Damietta.) Perhaps the sisters grew closer because of their shared circumstances on this difficult sojourn, but any goodwill Beatrice had gained quickly evaporated. Although Louis sent Charles back to Europe to seek reinforcements and secure France, which was suffering some rebellion, Marguerite felt that Charles and Beatrice had abandoned the sickly king. The merry young pair was only too-eager to escape the dire situation with the added motivation of seeing their firstborn child again. That anticipation turned to bitter sorrow, however, when they discovered that Baby Louis had died while they were gone.

Charles carried his brother’s plea for reinforcements to the Pope, who refused to help. However, he offered Charles a consolation: the Kingdom of Sicily, if he could pay for the cost of taking it from the current king. (The same deal that the Pope would also offer Beatrice’s brother-in-law Richard of Cornwall—see Sanchia—and her nephew Edmund—see Eleanor.) Although the ambitious Charles would have loved a crown of his own, at the time, he didn’t have enough money to secure it. With his brother’s attention focused on holy war, he knew he couldn’t get the money from him either. He regretfully declined.

Instead, he set about making himself wealthy. Not only did he and Beatrice set up a highly efficient and lucrative administration in Provence, he also gained control of the extremely rich county of Hainault by offering military assistance to its heiress. Charles quickly began squeezing every fine or tax that he could out of Hainault. By the time the King finally returned from crusade, the people were fed up and Louis paid Charles a fortune to get him to surrender his authority.

This gave Charles and Beatrice enough money to pay off her quarrelsome mother and to repay (at a substantial discount) her father’s outstanding loan from King Henry and Queen Eleanor. Marguerite, however, was still livid with Beatrice and took any opportunity to put her sister in her place. When the entire Provencal family gathered together, Marguerite invited her sisters Queen Eleanor and Queen Sanchia to sit with her at the highest table. Countess Beatrice was left to fume at a lower table, prompting her husband to promise, “I will shortly make thee a greater queen than them.”

By this time, more than a decade had passed since Charles had turned down the throne of Sicily and the English claims on it had proven unachievable. Once again, the Pope offered the crown to Charles with the same condition as before. This time, however, Charles was independently wealthy enough to say yes. Beatrice set out on a charm campaign, persuading not just the young men of Provence but also of France to join her husband’s cause. She used her own jewels and her abundant beauty to raise an invasion force.

Charles led a small contingent by sea while Beatrice led tens of thousands across the Alps to join him in Rome. Through skill and with some luck, the couple rapidly achieved what so many others had failed to do: they captured the crown of Sicily, having killed the King in battle.

Beatrice had finally secured her place at the high table and the little county of Provence had produced four queens in one generation. Like her sister Sanchia, however, Beatrice would enjoy her crown for a short period. She died after only 18 months. Charles initially buried her in Rome, but later moved her to Provence to lie for eternity next to the father who had left everything to her.

Read about her sisters:
Marguerite | Eleanor | Sanchia

Work Consulted for This Post

14 February 2010

Cinderella Sisters Part 3 of 4: Sanchia

When Sanchia of Provence first met her Prince Charming, she was a beautiful 13-year-old and he was the rich and dashing brother of the English king. At 31, he might have appeared old to the shy girl, but he almost certainly seemed heroic. Having been received with royal honors in Paris, Richard Earl of Cornwall was passing through Provence on his way to the Middle East to fight the infidel and protect Christendom. If that wasn’t enough to make him a romantic figure, he also had recently lost his beloved wife.

Rich and brave. Sad and brilliant. What more could a young girl want in a shining knight?

Unlike her older sisters, Queen Marguerite of France and Queen Eleanor of England, however, Sanchia didn’t have royal ambitions or scrupulous intelligence. Nevertheless, she did share their legendary beauty which Richard undoubtedly found alluring.

But, he had a war to fight. Besides, Sanchia was already engaged.

A quiet soul, Sanchia preferred the warmth of her close-knit family and her parents initially planned to keep her close to them. She had been promised to Guigues, the son of a local lord.Then, calamity struck. Her father’s quarrelsome neighbor, the Count of Toulose, attacked Provence. Sanchia’s parents scrambled for help—beseeching their royal sons-in-law in England and France, begging the Holy Roman Emperor, pleading with the Pope—seeking anyone who could protect their sunny domain from the aggressive ambitions of Toulose. In his forties, the Count of Toulose was a desperate man: he needed a son to keep his proud territory independent of France. So, in the end, the only way Provence could assuage him was with a virgin sacrifice: the lovely Sanchia was offered.

Meanwhile, Richard of Cornwall was becoming one of the most celebrated men of his day. When he arrived in the Holy Land, things were going terribly for the Christians: the Knights Templar no longer controlled Jerusalem and hundreds of Frenchmen were being held captive. Richard used his diplomatic prowess—and his deep pocketbook—to gain freedom for the French, restore Jerusalem and he even refortify Christian defenses in the region. He never fought a single battle, but he left the Holy Land after only four months with the reputation of a great hero.

Richard was returning to England wiser, richer and even more respected than when he had left. His sheer power made him a potential threat to his brother, King Henry III. The Provencal family put their collective heads together and came up with a solution to help protect Eleanor’s interests in England from a too powerful and dynamic brother-in-law by tying him even more closely to the family through marriage.

The family found another young bride to satisfy the cranky Count of Toulose and deftly reminded Richard of the strikingly beautiful girl who had caught his eye in Provence. Unlike his brother though, Richard was not blinded by enough desire to accept his bride without a dowry. This was a setback for the always cash-strapped Count of Provence. The impetuous King of England offered a solution: Henry himself would pay his brother to marry his wife’s sister. He went even further by throwing them a gigantic wedding festival.

And so, the sweet young Sanchia was married to the dashing prince. He doted on her, showering her with his wealth and she was a welcome addition to her sister’s court as her quiet manner posed no threat to the dynamic and ambitious Eleanor.

When Sanchia soon gave Richard a son, he threw a great feast, but when the baby died a few months later, the devastated Sanchia could find no consolation from her husband. A rift grew between the grief-stricken couple. It was perhaps inevitable that Sanchia’s unassuming nature could not long satisfy her worldly husband. Although gorgeous, she was no match for his beloved first wife, Isabella Marshall. Not only had Isabella been beautiful and brilliant, she and her family were politically powerful. She was a true soul mate for Richard, who as a second son was constantly seeking to make a name for himself independent of the king. Sanchia could offer him no intelligent insights and her only political power was tied directly to the king.

By the time her only surviving child Edmund was born, it was clear that she and Richard were living separate although parallel lives. There was no feast for Edmund.

Back on the continent, the political winds were changing. The death of the Holy Roman Emperor was creating two power struggles. His imperial throne in Germany went to one son while another inherited his throne as King of Sicily. This left the Papal States squished between two dangerous states. The pope, desperate to secure his territory, offered Richard the throne of Sicily, but, since the pope didn’t actually control the throne, Richard would first have to capture it. Never a great soldier, Richard had no desire to fight or to expend his wealth in a losing battle. When he turned down the crown, the pope offered it to Henry and Eleanor for their second son. They eagerly accepted and nearly lost their own kingdom in unsuccessful attempts to get it for him.

Back in Germany, the new emperor died and another German prince who had seized control was murdered by his new subjects. The imperial throne was up for grabs. Unlike Sicily, however, this was an elected position controlled by seven princes. The vacancy attracted other candidates but none was as persuasive as Richard of Cornwall. Supported by King Henry and Sanchia’s extensive and influential family network on the continent, Richard was crowned King of the Romans, the title granted to the imperial heir. Sanchia became the third queen from the little county of Provence. Richard and Sanchia traveled around the parts of their new kingdom that weren’t hostile to them. Richard reveled in all of the glorious ceremony, which he himself organized and paid for, but Sanchia longed to return to her home in England where she could live quietly.

The English political climate, thanks to Henry and Eleanor’s Sicilian ambitions, had taken a dramatic turn. The barons were threatening to relieve all of the royal family of their English properties. Richard stood to lose most of his fortune. He and Sanchia rushed back to England. Within 18 months, Richard’s diplomatic skills had left the royal family more secure. With his property safe, Richard could finally travel to Rome to be crowned by the pope as Holy Roman Emperor. He and Sanchia set off on what was supposed to be a triumphal journey through Germany. Things had become even more dangerous while they had been away. Other contenders for the throne were gaining momentum among the populace. Soon, the hostility became overbearing. More diplomat than soldier, Richard saw no way out, hurrying back to England, where he seemed content as the king of a territory he didn’t have to actually visit.

Home again at last, Sanchia, barely in her thirties, became very ill. History doesn’t record what ailed her, but it does record that her husband did not stay near her side. Richard came to see her only a few times. On his final visit, when he was told she was dying, he began giving away her goods and then returned to London. A few days later, the lovely Queen of the Romans died without her husband or any imperial trappings. Only her 11-year-old son and her servants were at her side. She was buried quietly in a church she and Richard had built together in their brief honeymoon period. Richard did not attend.

A few years later, he married again.

Read about her sisters:
Marguerite | Eleanor | Beatrice

Work Consulted for This Post