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68 years ago Prince Rainier III married Grace Kelly in the wedding of the century

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The festivities began on 17 April 1956, before the civil wedding on 18 April and the religious ceremony in the cathedral on 19 April - © Fernand Detaille - Palace Archives - Institut Audiovisuel de Monaco

It was the first royal wedding to be televised.

While younger generations will remember seeing the weddings of Prince William and his brother Prince Harry, older readers may remember the very first royal wedding to be broadcast on television: that of Prince Rainier III of Monaco to Grace Kelly. A live black-and-white broadcast watched by 30 million European viewers from nine different countries, and attended by 1,800 journalists.

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It was a wedding that the Americans would see after the fact, as the films were sent by plane back then. “There were no satellites yet, so the films were canned at the end of the ceremony and then flown to the United States,” documentary-maker Frédéric Laurent told La Dépêche, adding that in the days that followed, the wedding was also broadcast on the news and in cinemas.

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Luncheon after the civil wedding of Prince Rainier III and Princess Grace, at the Prince’s Palace in Monaco – © Fausto Picedi – Palace Archives – Institut Audiovisuel de Monaco 

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In keeping with the fascination generated by the couple’s relationship, the ceremony turned into a global media event. When she married, Grace Kelly was 27 and at the height of her Hollywood fame. She was described by the media as the ideal person to add a glamorous touch to Monaco, which the 32-year-old Prince needed to lift his country out of its post-war doldrums.

Three days of celebrations

The wedding of Prince Rainier III and Grace Kelly began on 17 April with gifts and ended with folk festivals and fireworks. April 18 was set aside for the civil ceremony and the reception of the Monegasque people, then on April 19 came the long-awaited religious service in the cathedral. A moment when the world discovered the famous dress worn by the Oscar-winning actress, known for being at the forefront of fashion with a style that combined grace and elegance. Made by Helene Rose, as reported in Vogue France, it was a gift from the Hollywood studio MGM.

” Grace Kelly’s wedding ensemble is simple but exquisitely detailed. Delicate rose point lace, a type of nineteenth-century Brussels needle lace that features elaborate floral motifs, forms the bodice, which appears seamless because the lace motifs were detached from their original ground and pieced together to follow the shaping of the dress. The dress itself is constructed in four complex parts: the lace bodice with an attached underbodice, skirt support, and slip; a heavily pleated silk faille skirt that incorporates a smoothing petticoat, ruffled petticoat, and foundation petticoat; a triangular tulle and lace train insert; and a pleated silk faille cummerbund”, says the Philadelphia Museum of Art website. The creation that inspired many other brides afterwards is on display there, in the actress’ home town. “The same lace embellished with pearls covers the prayer book, the shoes and the headdress, which is crowned with a wreath of orange blossom. The circular veil was specially designed not to obscure the bride’s famous face.”

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On the Place du Palais, the crowd cheered the newlyweds as they waved from the balcony – © Fausto Picedi and Fernand Detaille – Palace Archives – Institut Audiovisuel de Monaco

Having attended the ceremony, one of the AFP’s special correspondents described the scale of the event: “choirboys, the organ, and in 1,100 numbered seats, the guests are surrounded by silk, tulle and mink. When Mgr Gilles Barthe asked the sacramental question, first to Prince Rainier and then to Princess Grace, the silence was broken only by the noise of the cameras’ motors”, reads the article in La Dépêche. It would be 25 years until such a phenomenon occurred again, with the wedding of Prince Charles and Lady Diana.

The famous meeting

He was the matchmaker… Pierre Galante, a Paris-Match photographer, had the great idea of introducing Alfred Hitchcock’s muse to the Prince for a series of exclusive shots in Monaco in 1955. Grace Kelly had come to the Côte d’Azur to walk the red carpet at the Cannes Film Festival. She was at the pinnacle of her career, having just won the Oscar for Best Actress. Alongside Ava Gardner and Marilyn Monroe, she was one of the three biggest female stars of the day.

The introductions took place on 6 May 1955 on the Rock. Grace Kelly wore a floral taffeta dress, and her hair stylist improvised an ephemeral tiara of twisted flowers. The Prince took his guest through the sumptuous gardens, showing her his pets: lions, monkeys and an Asian tiger. “The walk lasted forty-five minutes and all that was missing was the moonlight,” reported Paris Match. On 31 December, Prince Rainier asked Grace Kelly’s parents for her hand, in Philadelphia. “When the Prince, along with his American chaplain, Father Francis Tucker, set out on his first transatlantic trip three weeks earlier, it was rumoured that he intended to look for a wife to ensure there would be a successor to the throne. But in his heart, the choice had already been made,” said the magazine.

Grace Kelly and Prince Rainier were married for 26 years, until the Princess’s tragic death in 1982. Together they raised three children who need no introduction: Princess Caroline, the current Sovereign Prince Albert, and Princess Stephanie.