Prince Rainier III 1923-2005


The funeral of His Serene Highness Prince Rainier of Monaco was held on April 15, 2005, in the tiny Mediterranean principality. Europe’s longest reigning monarch was laid to rest in Monaco’s St. Nicholas Cathedral, in the family crypt next to his late wife, Grace Kelly. Rainier’s grieving family were joined by around half of Monaco’s six thousand residents who were given places in the square outside the palace and along the route taken by the funeral cortege to the cathedral. Amongst the mourners were representatives from around the world. Britain’s Queen Elizabeth II was represented by the Duke of York; Spain by King Juan Carlos; Belgium by King Albert II; Norway by Queen Sonja and Sweden by King Carl Gustav XVI. Presidents Jacques Chirac and Mary McAleese represented France and Ireland and US President George W. Bush sent two accredited representatives, former Navy Secretary John Leheman and Ambassador to France Howard Leach. The royal family’s very visible grief at the loss of Prince Rainier underlined how much he has meant to family and friends, as well as to the principality itself. The Prince was 81 when he died on April 5 from lung, heart and kidney problems. His reign had lasted for over five decades, during which time Monaco became a cosmopolitan, glamorous statelet renowned for its fabulous lifestyle. Rainier’s two daughters, Princesses Caroline and Stephanie, maintained their composure until the strains of Samuel Barber’s famous Adagio For Strings filled the cathedral. The same music had been played at Princess Grace’s funeral in 1982. Princess Caroline, whose husband, Ernst of Hanover, has recently been struck down by serious illness, seemed overcome by grief at her loss. Princess Stephanie, who idolised her father, wiped away her tears as she glanced at her elder sister’s distress. Many eyes were on Prince Albert, who has succeeded his father, who stood by silently, deep in thought. Giant screens were installed in each of the principality’s six Roman Catholic churches to allow as many as possible to view the service, in which Monsignor Bertrand Barsi paid tribute to the Prince: “He was not just a sovereign, but a friend and one of the family. His family cries for him.” Rainier Funeral 1909 Prince Rainier’s death has focused attention on a long discussed issue, namely the succession. Prince Albert, who now reigns as Albert II, remains unmarried and without children at the age of forty-seven. This does not, however, threaten the principality’s future as a sovereign state. In 2002, a new treaty between France and Monaco clarified that, even if there are no direct heirs of the reigning prince, the principality will remain an independent nation, rather than reverting to France. Monegasque law now states that, in the event of a reigning prince’s lack of descendants, his siblings and their children will inherit the throne. The line of succession is now Princess Caroline, then her children by her second husband Stefano Casiraghi. Therefore, it seems very possible that the line of succession will eventually fall to Princess Caroline’s son Andrea. A few days after Prince Rainier’s funeral good news was received when Prince Ernst was released from his Monaco hospital. Prince Ernst had been admitted to hospital with a severe pancreatic illness on April 5, the day before Prince Rainier’s death. Some reports had it that at one point he had fallen into a coma, but an official bulletin stated that his condition was improving. The Palace has confirmed, however, that he will require continuing medical attention. The Prince has two sons from a previous marriage and one child with Princess Caroline, a daughter named Alexandra, who was born in 1999.

Prince Rainier III was Europe’s longest-serving monarch and head of the 700-year-old Grimaldi dynasty which was founded in 1297 when the Genoese François Grimaldi and his Guelph supporters seized the fortress in the corner of the south of France. By the time of Rainier III’s death, it had changed beyond recognition to become a playground for the super-rich and one of the world’s most favoured tourist destinations. It was proof of his astute political decisions as, without its prince’s efforts, the principality may have been absorbed by France or lost its internal sovereignty to outside interests. Rainier’s background was an extremely colourful one being of French, German, Scottish, English, Spanish, and Italian descent. He was a direct descendant of Josephine de Beauharnais, the first wife of Napoleon Bonaparte, and of William Thomas Beckford, the 18th century English politician, collector and writer. Rainier III was born in Monaco on May 31, 1923, the only son of Prince Pierre of Monaco, Duke of Valentinois (neé Count Pierre de Polignac) and his wife, Hereditary Princess Charlotte, Duchess of Valentinois. Born in Algeria, his mother was the only child of Prince Louis II and his mistress, Marie Juliette Louvet. To prevent the line of succession falling to his German cousin, the Duke of Urach, Louis II had his daughter legitimized through formal adoption and named heiress to the throne. Prince Rainier’s father was the son of Count Maxence de Polignac and his Mexican-born Spanish wife, Susana de la Torre y Mier. Upon marriage he adopted the Grimaldi surname and was made a prince of Monaco by his father-in-law.

For a future moderniser Rainier’s upbringing was suitably cosmopolitan. At the age of six he had been sent to England, to Summerfields School, Hastings. As the only foreign student he endured the taunting of his schoolmates who nicknamed him “fat little Monaco”. After this unhappy time he went on to study at Stowe, a prestigious public school in Buckinghamshire. After his English studies Rainier was sent to the Institute Le Rosey in Rolle and Gstaad, Switzerland, before finishing his academic studies at the University of Montpellier in France, where he obtained a Bachelor of Arts degree, and, finally, at the Institut d’études politiques de Paris in Paris. During WWII he served as an artillery officer in the French army. For his courageous contribution during the German counter-offensive in Alsace, he was awarded the Croix de Guerre and Bronze Star and was given the rank of Chevalier in the Legion of Honor. By the time he came to the throne he was a dashing young man, experienced beyond his years and ready for the burdens of power. In 1944 Princess Charlotte renounced her right to the throne in favour of her son and Prince Rainier succeeded his grandfather when Prince Louis II died in May, 1949. At the age of 26 he had become head of one of the oldest reigning dynasties in Europe, but the principality’s prospects did not appear good.

Somerset Maugham once described it as “a sunny place for shady people” and a French newspaper in 1929 had likened the sovereign square mile to “a box of toys in which everything is brilliant and artificial and a little fragile, and must be kept carefully fitted into its place if it is not to be broken.” Although Louis II had some notable achievements during his reign – the founding of the Monaco Football Club in 1924 and the Monaco Grand Prix in 1929 and bringing Rene Blum to form the ‘Ballet de l’Opera a Monte Carlo’ – after the end of WWII he spent his remaining years in Paris with his wife, a French film actress called Ghislaine Dommanget. By 1949 Somerset Maughan’s description seemed to hold true, with ninety-five percent of the principality’s income deriving from gambling. Fortunately, Prince Rainier proved to be an energetic and innovative ruler. He was ready to reform and re-energise the principality. Rainier set about restoring Monaco’s reputation. Upon his ascension he had been faced with a treasury that was practically empty. The Societé Monégasque de Banques et de Métaux Précieux, which owned fifty-five percent of the national reserve, was bankrupt. Adding to the dire financial situation the principality’s traditional gambling clientele, which was drawn largely from European aristocrats, were living in much reduced circumstances after the war and other gambling centers had spring up to compete with Monaco. To replace this loss of income, Prince Rainier shifted the principality’s economic focus to offer itself as a tax haven, commercial center, real-estate development opportunity, and international tourist attraction.

Given such a fragile situation it was unsurprising that Prince Rainier’s early years saw what amounted to a takeover bid by the shipping tycoon Aristotle Onassis. In the mid 1960s the Greek entreprenuer took over the Société des Bains de Mer and sought to turn Monaco into a gambling resort. However, by 1964 Prince Rainier had regained control of the Société, ensuring that his broader vision of Monaco’s future could be carried through. As Prince of Monaco, Rainier III also gave the principality a new constitution in 1962. The previous Constitution had been suspended in 1959 by Rainier after a conflict with the National Council because it “had hindered the administrative and political life of the country.” The changes ended autocratic rule with a more modern system that gave power to the prince and a National Council of eighteen elected members. Much of these changes meant lit- tle beyond the confines of the square mile, but Rainier’s polit- ical skill was vital in ensuring the principality’s sovereignty continued. France, under President De Gaulle, chafed at the loss of tax revenue from its wealthy citizens who gladly accepted the benefits of Rainier’s tax haven. At one point De Gaulle even surrounded Monaco with troops and threatened to cut off the principality’s water supply. De Gaulle’s fall from power in 1969 defused the tension and the riviera high life has continued ever since. One event, however, counted for more than any other in putting Monaco on the map.

In 1956 Rainier married the American actress Grace Kelly. It was the first ‘fairytale’ royal romance of the post-war period. He was the debonair Prince Charming, she the beautiful, glamorous Hollywood icon. It was a union that redefined the principality’s image and created an enduring worldwide interest in the personal lives of the Monagasque royal family. Rainier’s first meeting with Grace came at the Cannes Film Festival in 1955, when she agreed to be photographed with him for ‘Paris Match’ magazine. She was 26 years old; he was a few days away from his thirty-second birthday. After the photo shoot, Rainier took her on a tour of the royal gardens and its small zoo. It was the start of a year- long romance. In December of that year Rainier and Grace announced their engagement. They were married in April of the following year. The couple had three children: Princess Caroline Louise Marguerite, born January 23, 1957 and now HRH the Princess of Hanover and heiress presumptive to the throne of Monaco; Hereditary Prince Albert Alexandre Louis Pierre, Marquis des Baux, now Albert II of Monaco, born March 14, 1958; Princess Stéphanie Marie Elisabeth, born February 1, 1965.

With the aura of the young royal couple Monaco’s profile had never been so high. Indeed, it was a charmed period. Rainier had made all the right moves and the family reaped the benefits. As they grew up his children added to the glamour, particularly Princesses Caroline and Stephanie, who were both strikingly beautiful. However, behind the public spectacle, the marriage had its troubles. Princess Grace had not been happy at ending her film career when she married and over the years she suffered from depression and in her final years from weight and alcohol problems. The fairytale was shattered in 1982 when Princess Grace was killed in a car crash. The circumstances of the tragedy plagued her younger daughter for years. Grace had been at the wheel when she suffered a stroke but rumour long had it that Stephanie had been driving, and many have suggested that this trauma accounts for her troubled personal life. The final years of Rainier’s rule saw the family become a victim of its own success. Where once there was only glamour, now there was also scandal and speculation as the private lives of his children became the focus of attention. Prince Albert’s reluctance to marry has left the principality without a direct heir, although he has faced several paternity suits. The 2002 change to the law of succession ensures that this will not affect the royal family as a whole, but with the passing of Rainier’s era, many wonder if Monaco can continue to be the same success under Albert II.

Princess Caroline and Princess Stephanie’s personal lives have continued to make the headlines. Caroline’s first marriage to an older man, Phillipe Junot, ended as her mother had predicted – in divorce after only two years. Her second marriage to Stefano Casiraghi ended in tragedy when the Italian was killed in a boating accident in 1990. Caroline has three children by her second husband: Andrea, Charlotte and Pierre. She married for the third time in 1999 to Prince Ernst August of Hanover. They have one child. Princess Stephanie’s personal life has been particularly turbulent. After a series of high profile relationships which her father disapproved of, she went on to have two children out of wedlock with her bodyguard Daniel Ducruet. The couple eventually married in 1995 but were divorced the following year when pictures of Ducruet apparently cavorting with a former ‘Miss Nude Belgium’ were published around the world. In 1998 Stephanie gave birth to a third child with another royal bodyguard. She married for a second time in 2003, to a Portuguese acrobat named Adans Lopez Peres. In 2004 it was reported that the couple had broken up and that Stephanie was seeking a divorce. The death of Prince Rainier III marks the end of the postwar era for Monaco, an unrivalled success in many ways but an uncertain legacy. The responsibility for keeping the tiny principality successful and sovereign falls to his children. They have a difficult task ahead of them: Rainier was a remarkable man of many talents. (Royalty Magazine Vol. 19/09)

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