Scion of one of Europe's oldest extant monarchies, Prince Rainier III (born 1923) became the thirty-first ruler of Monaco in 1949. In the years since he has maintained the tiny Mediterranean principality as a prosperous slice of a bygone era, attractive to the rich and idle for its sunshine, lavish casino, and absence of income tax.
Rainier Louis Henri Maxence Bertrand de Grimaldi was born May 31, 1923 to Princess Charlotte, daughter of Monaco's reigning prince, Louis II. Rainier's father, Comte Pierre de Polignac, hailed from a venerable line of French aristocrats, but incited little but rancor in Louis II, a stern, military-loving monarch. Such intrafamilial conflicts were nothing new to the Grimaldi line, who possessed a long history of internal tumult. De Polignac and Charlotte's first child, Princess Antoinette, would one day conduct her own underhanded machinations in an attempt to seize power.
At the time of Rainier's birth Monaco enjoyed a reputation as an opulent, though somewhat amoral, playground on the Riviera. Just eight square miles of rocky land wedged between France and Italy on the Mediterranean Sea, Monaco's main attraction was the Monte Carlo Casino, where many a new or old fortune had been squandered since its opening in 1865. The ornate building was the showpiece of the resort and had given it international notoriety, though Monaco itself dated back to ancient times as a port. It had been in possession of Grimald is since 1297, when Francois Grimaldi seized control of it from the Genoese. This Grimaldi forebear was of a successful sea-trading family in Genoa, a clan sometimes referred to in less euphemistic terms as "pirates." By the late nineteenth century, with the popularity of the casino among Europe's elite, Monaco was known as a hideout for jewel thieves and the more debauched members of European society.
Rainier grew up in the Palace de Princier primarily under the care of his English nanny. Tensions within the family were exacerbated by his parents' divorce in 1929. De Polignac was then banned from Monaco for life by Louis II, while Princess Charlotte grew increasingly eccentric over the years. In time, she would be constantly surrounded by a brigade of seven small terriers who bit the heels of anyone who tried to approach. Later, one of France's most notorious jewel thieves would be paroled by authorities into her custody; he was her chauffeur, bodyguard, and paramour.
"Fat Little Monaco"
Beginning in 1934, Rainier was sent abroad for his secondary education. That year he arrived at Summer Fields in Oxford, England. This was a misnomer for a boarding school of the roughest, most gothic order. The Riviera-bred Rainier found himself in an elite but frigid, damp setting where privacy was nonexistent, the toilet was outside, and students were regularly caned. He was called "Fat Little Monaco" by the other students. Nobody in his family visited him there, and after his 1935 term came to an end, he announced his refusal to go back. He then ran away from another school, and the disappearance made headlines-it was thought he might have been kidnapped-but he was easily spotted by authorities at the local train station.
The posh Le Rosey School in Switzerland was Rainier's next stop, and there he fared much better. Often referred to as "the school of kings" because of the panoply of international royalty among its alumni, Le Rosey was entirely relocated to the ski resort of Gstaad each winter for the benefit of its students. After graduation, Rainier enrolled at France's University of Montpelier. Shortly after his arrival there in August of 1939, war broke out in Europe and he did not return to Monaco until Easter of 1942. On that visit, he attended a theater performance by actress Gisele Pascal; he and the French divorcee, who was a few years his senior, began corresponding. After he received his degree from Montpelier in June of 1943, he enrolled in Paris's Ecole Libre des Sciences Politiques in order to carry on the romance with her.
Rainier enlisted in the Free French Army after his twenty-first birthday. With France now liberated from the Germans and battling them along the shared border, Rainier saw combat as a lieutenant and received the Croix de Guerre for bravery. He remained in uniform until early 1947, and then resumed life in Monaco in his own villa, as well as his affair with Gisele Pascal. The actress, of humble birth, was despised by the women in his family, and his sister Antoinette circulated gossip that Pascal was unable to bear children, which would have made it impossible for her to wed Rainier.
Crowned Prince in 1950
Rainier's future became increasingly unavoidable in the spring of 1949 when Charlotte officially renounced her rights to the throne as Louis II's health worsened. His austere grandfather died in May of that year, and after the stipulated period of mourning Rainier was formally installed as Prince of Monaco in a lavish public ceremony in April of 1950. Over the next few years, he became known as avid sportsman who loved car racing, deep-sea diving, and skiing. His romance with Gisele Pascal ended after she resumed her acting career in 1953 after a three-year hiatus.
Meanwhile, a financial crisis involving the embezzlement of casino funds nearly left Rainier tainted by scandal, while his sister Antoinette schemed to depose him through it. She was having an affair with a member of Monaco's National Council, and the pair hoped to place Antoinette's young son on the throne by giving Rainier unsound advice. In the end, Rainier used his own money to replenish the national assets and restore confidence in his rule. When he discovered the plot, he might have had Antoinette arrested or even banned from Monaco for life.
Instead Rainier took advice from Greek shipping ty-coon Aristotle Onassis, who was part-owner of the casino. Onassis pointed out that a united family gave the whiff of stability to lure investors and companies, which would benefit Monaco's economic livelihood in the end. The powerful shipping magnate, whose permanent home, the yacht Christina, was anchored in Monte Carlo's harbor for years, also advised Rainier to find a wife. Thus not long after the casino crisis Rainier was introduced to American film star Grace Kelly, who was in nearby Cannes for its film festival in May of 1955. A photo opportunity was arranged for the actress through a Paris magazine, and after a meeting for which Rainier appeared almost an hour late, the pair began corresponding secretly.
Fairy-Tale Wedding Makes Headlines
Kelly had just won an Academy Award for her lead in The Country Girl, and despite her acting career otherwise fit the shoes of a possible Princess of Monaco: she was a Roman Catholic, unmarried, and hailed from a well-to-do Philadelphia family. By October of 1955, Rainier had decided he wanted to marry her, and traveled to America for the first time in his life that December to meet the Kellys. Rainier gave Grace a twelve-carat diamond engagement ring, and obtained a pledge from her that she would give up her film career permanently. Kelly was also faced with a Monaco law that stipulated should the marriage come to an end, the Prince would receive custody of any children. Though they appeared very much in love, such legal arrangements and the media-circus atmosphere made for a shaky wedding day in April of 1956.
Leader, Dealmaker, Father
Rainier and the new Princess Grace produced an heir to the throne with the birth of Caroline Louise Marguerite Grimaldi in January of 1957. Fourteen months later, those rights were ceded to the first male when her brother, Albert Alexander Louis Pierre, entered the world. Grimaldi family life was best described as idyllic. A third child, Stephanie Marie Elisabeth, was born in 1965, and the family divided their time between the Palace de Princier and a beloved farmhouse, just over the border with France, that they came to call Roc Agel. Unlike his own parents, Rainier took an active role in his children's lives from the start, and photographs from the era depict a regal, yet doting couple and their attractive, spirited offspring.
Rainier remained intensely involved in affairs of state, however, and over the next few years, Monaco would be rocked by minor political and economic cataclysms that required a decisive hand. In 1959 he learned that his sister's lover was still working behind the scenes against him, trying to sway others to campaign for a constitutional monarchy that would give the Grimaldi line far less power. In response, the Prince declared virtual martial law in January of 1959 by issuing several firm edicts that banned demonstrations, suspended the constitution, and dissolved National Council upon which his nemesis sat. After restoring stability, he then managed to oust Onassis, whose control over the casino and Monaco's finances he had grown to resent.
Rainier's ejection of Onassis launched a new and even more prosperous era for Monaco, and the Prince grew to be a savvy manager of Monaco's assets and development. It remained a luxury tourist draw, but he also lured major companies to headquarter there because of its absence of taxes. There was no unemployment, but Monaco did grow crowded as a result of the boom. Rainier launched a project to reclaim land from the ocean, and sometimes faced criticism for allowing so many high-rise hotel and condominium developments along the shore. Unlike his European counterparts, however, Rainier enjoyed absolute power-a holdover from the medieval era and perhaps one more symbol of Monaco's seemingly perpetual good fortune.
That lucky streak began to unravel as the royal offspring grew into teenagers. Caroline proved headstrong and was plagued by paparazzi as a young adult living in Paris in the 1970s, who trailed behind her incessantly as she went club hopping. At one point, Rainier even threatened the tabloid papers with lawsuits, saying that the constant hounding was putting undue pressure on his eldest. In 1977, Caroline announced that she wanted to marry a raconteur/investment banker nearly twenty years her senior. Her parents reluctantly acquiesced-fearing she might elope anyway-and the marriage to Philippe Junot ended just eighteen months later.
A Lonely Twilight
Two years later, with equally headstrong daughter Stephanie alongside, Princess Grace was driving her Land Rover from Roc Agel into Monaco and suffered what may have been a stroke. The car careened down a steep embankment, Stephanie emerged from the wreck hysterical and pleading with stunned onlookers for help, and Grace died the next evening-September 14, 1982-at the second-rate Princess Grace Hospital after being removed from life support. The funeral was an extremely difficult experience for the Prince, who sat shaken between Caroline and Albert.
Yet over the next few years, the aging Prince came to rely heavily on a newly-mature Caroline, who, it is said, has stepped in to fill her universally revered mother's shoes quite admirably. In 1983, Caroline married Italian industrialist Stefano Casiraghi; the couple had three children before he was killed in a speedboat accident off Monaco's coast in 1990. The heir apparent, Albert, has yet to find a suitable bride and produce an heir, which would allow Rainier to abdicate. Meanwhile, the youngest of Rainier's children has been in the public eye far more than her father may have wished. Stephanie had two children out of wedlock with one of her bodyguards and finally married him with her father's approval in 1995. She filed for divorce just over a year later.
Like his son Albert, Rainier is often linked with some of the most beautiful and accomplished European women of his generation. Yet it is unlikely that the Prince, who was 73 when Monaco celebrated the 700th anniversary of Grimaldi rule in 1997, would remarry. He remains an active monarch and still enjoys sailing and hunting, though he underwent heart-bypass surgery in 1994. Press photographs clearly show a doting, much-loved grandfather with his five grandchildren. "I would like to be remembered as the person who got rid of the bad image and bad legend of Monaco, " Rainier once said, according to a 1988 People magazine article.
Further Reading on Prince Rainier III of Monaco
De Massy, Baron Christian and Charles Higham, Palace: My Life in the Royal Family of Monaco, Atheneum, 1986.
Edwards, Anne, The Grimaldis of Monaco, William Morrow, 1992.
Lacey, Robert, Grace, G.P. Putnam's Sons, 1994.
Robinson, Jeffrey, Rainier and Grace: An Intimate Portrait, Atlantic Monthly Press, 1989.
Cosmopolitan, August, 1993, pp. 192-195, 252.
People, June 13, 1988, pp. 46-47; February 12, 1996, pp. 144-147; September 30, 1996, pp. 70-76.