April 04, 2011

Very Posh, indeed!

Oh dear, I have been impolite. Unforgivable. Last week sweet Frida told me at luncheon that Princess Antoinette of the Royal House of Monaco had died and I snickered. I keep forgetting how attached Americans are to the Grimaldi family. They ought to be. It was good hard-earned American Dollars that provided the clan and ‘principality’ with a much needed blood-transfusion.

The Telegraph of London posted an obituary of Princess Antoinette of Monaco, the sister of the late Prince Rainier’s. The princess, who died last month at age 90, was considered eccentric, and wild in her younger years (which extended well into her 70s), and definitely a woman who did as she pleased.

The most interesting aspect of the princess’ story, which is not unknown but rarely discussed, is the Grimaldi family lineage, which runs up and down both sides of the social ladder and fits nicely with allusion to the principality’s roots, in Somerset Maugham’s famous quote about Monte Carlo being a “sunny place for shady people.”

Princess Antoinette and Prince Rainer’s mother was Princess Charlotte, daughter of their grandfather, Prince Louis II. Louis reigned as Prince of Monaco from 1922 until in his death in 1949. Louis had married but had no heir. This caused a problem because of some legal agreement with Italy or France as to the ownership of the principality.

At the time of the “crise,” Louis, however, recalled that he actually did have an heiress ... a girl named Charlotte - who had been born out of wedlock from an affair the prince had with Marie Juliette Louvet who was either a cabaret singer or a washerwoman (that’s in the Telegraph). Probably the former. Louis didn’t marry Marie Juliette, however. His father, Prince Albert I of Monaco, disallowed it, since it would have been marrying “beneath” his station. Albert I was a domineering character; son had no choice. Afterwards he married his princess Ghislaine Dommanget.

This “discovery” of “an heiress” was stretching it for some people at the time because royalty in Europe never traditionally acknowledged bastards as legitimate. Just like non-royalty today. Although Louis XIV, the Sun King, considered it perfectly alright and legitimized his bastard children with Mme. de Maintenon.

In the case of Monaco, there was a law outstanding that in the event of no legitimate heir, the principality leaves the Grimaldi family. Or vice versa. So Louis did the only thing a prince could do: He changed the law and then he “adopted” his daughter Charlotte in 1919. She became Charlotte Louise Juliette Grimaldi, Princess of Monaco and Duchess of Valentois (a very old family title). And thus from Charlotte all Monegasquen blessings fell and her grandson now occupies the throne.

Old Louis himself came from a grander background than his daughter’s mother. His mother was the daughter of the English 11th Duke of Hamilton and Princess Marie Amelie Elizabeth Caroline of Baden (OMG Ms Edna!).

Princess Charlotte, it should be noted, did not have such a great time in her new found royalness. She was married off to a Count de Polignac with whom she had a son and daughter, but who basically had other interests.

In the 1940s Charlotte had finally got rid of Polignac and also renounced her rights to the throne of Monaco (her father was still alive), allowing her son Rainier to succeed her father. She moved to a family estate near Paris where she started a rehabilitation center for ex-convicts. She lived with an ex-con, a famous French jewel thief known as “Rene la Canne.”

It might be said that the Grimaldis have the most colorful genealogy of any royal family in Europe of the past  five centuries. The first Grimaldi took over the palace one dark night in the 13th century, dressed as a monk, with a knife concealed, knocked on the palace door one night and immediately murdered the owner and took over the place. Those were his politics.

Here's the link to the piece in the Telegraph of London.

At the request of, and for our friend Frida.

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