Princely Family

The Grimaldis: Princes of Monaco for 700 years

From François Grimaldi, the first lord of Monaco, to today’s Prince Albert II, the history of the Principality and its sovereign family is long and rich, despite Monaco being one of the smallest states in the world.

Princely family celebrates Mother's Day
Eric Mathon / Prince’s Palace

Before the Monte-Carlo Casino became the talk of the town, there was a palace high above on Monaco’s rock that overlooked the Mediterranean like a balcony overlooking the sea.

At 60 something meters above sea level, the Palace is the heart and soul of the Principality. Behind its sturdy walls lives the Sovereign family, protected day and night by the Prince’s Carabinieri. 

The Grimaldi have ruled Monaco for 700 years. Reigning first as feudal lords and from the 17th century onwards, as sovereign princes, the Grimaldis are one of Europe’s oldest dynasties.

The story of the Principality starts at the end of the 13th century with a monk and the capture of a rock. Disguised as a Franciscan friar, Francesco Grimaldi, known as Malizia, or “the cunning one”, captures the rock Monaco from the duchy of Genova, and so begins the story of the Principality of Monaco.  

13th and 14th centuries – a family from Genoa

Originally from Italy, the Grimaldi become one of the most powerful families in the municipality of Genoa thanks to large-scale maritime expeditions on the Mediterranean and on the Black Sea. As head of the Guelph clan, the Grimaldi supported the Pope’s interests against the Ghibellines and the Germanic Roman Emperor. But at the end of the 13th century, there is a twist of fate and the Grimaldi are driven out of Genoa in search of a less hostile place to call home.

When in January 1297, Francesco Grimaldi and the Guelphs capture the rock of Monaco, it is a simple Genoese fortress. In the following decades, the Grimaldi lose control of the stronghold before regaining it thanks to Charles Grimaldi. After taking the title of Lord of Monaco in 1342, Charles Grimaldi acquires the nearby towns of Menton and Roquebrune.

15th and 16th centuries – Spanish protection and male heirs

Fearing Genoa, who has not given up on reclaiming their previous stronghold, the Grimaldi place themselves under the protection of the kings of France and the counts of Provence. An alliance with the crown of France follows. Lambert Grimaldi, Lord of Monaco from 1458 to 1494, is even made Councillor and Chamberlain to King Charles VIII. French protection lasts until the reign of François I, after which Monaco is granted protection by Charles V and the crown of Spain.

The 15th century sees the formalisation of the House of Monaco’s rules of succession. In 1454, Giovanni I decrees that the princedom will be given to the male bloodline by order of birthright. In the absence of a male heir, women have inherited the Princedom, however only on the condition that their descendants take the name and arms of the Grimaldi family.

Did you know? The Grimaldi House Coat of Arms is a tribute to the cunning founder of the dynasty. The Coat of Arms is a silver shield decorated with red diamonds, the cross of the Order of Saint Charles beneath it. Next to the shield stand two Franciscan friars raising a sword.

17th and 18th century – the first “Prince of Monaco”

Spanish protection lasts until 1641 when the Treaty of Péronne officially puts the Principality back under French protectorate.  Honoré II becomes the first Grimaldi to take the official title of Prince of Monaco. Raised in the gold and refinement of the court of Milan, he turns the old Monegasque fortress into an Italian palace worthy of his rank.

Under Honoré II, Monaco prospers thanks to maritime trade and land-derived income. The 17th century is also a period of legislative development: In December 1678, the grandson of Honoré II, Louis I, approves the Principality’s first legal code, also known as the “Louis Code”. Known for his wisdom, Louis I imposes a toll on commercial ships sailing off from Monaco.

During the French Revolution, the Principality is invaded by France and is renamed “Fort Hercule”. The French Revolution is the beginning of a difficult period for the Grimaldi, who see their prosperity plunder.

If following the restoration the family recovers their titles and estates, the council of Vienna does not give Monaco independence. Instead, the Principality is placed under the authority of the King of Sardinia. As the city-state experiences a period of political and financial turmoil, the Princely family is forced to flee to Paris.

In 1948, the towns of Menton and Roquebrune-Cap-Martin, previously under Monegasque rule declare themselves “free towns”. When a few years later Nice and the Côte d’Azur become part of France following the Italian war of independence, Menton and Roquebrune-Cap-Martin vote in favour of being annexed by France, eventually becoming French in 1861.

After Italy cedes the Côte d’Azur to France, Emperor Napoleon III grants Monaco independence. France also gives Monaco four million francs in compensation for the loss of Menton and Roquebrune.

Did you know? In the early 18th century, Louise-Hippolyte, daughter of Prince Antoine I, was the sole heir to the Monegasque throne. To keep the house of Grimaldi going, Princess Louise-Hippolyte can get married on one condition:  her future husband has to give up his name and adopt the coat of arms of the Princely family. Jacques de Goyon de Matignon, a Norman aristocrat, agrees to the deal. After the death of Antoine I, Princess Louise-Hippolyte, and her husband rule the Principality together.

Their story unfortunately does not happy ending. The princess dies unexpectedly only eleven months into her reign. After her death, her husband Jacques became Prince Jacques I of Monaco.

19th century: Monaco becomes a gambling paradise

The Franco-Monegasque treaty of 1861 marks a new beginning for the Principality and the Grimaldi family. It is the first time in the Principality’s tumultuous history that the city-state is fully independent. And with its newfound independence, Monaco takes off.

Under the rule of  Charles III (1856-1889) that Monaco becomes the economic haven that it is today. In need of money following the loss of Menton and Roquebrune-Cap-Martin, the sovereign decides to build a casino as well as a spa, both of which have become a favourite pastime of the Europe’s beau monde.  

Charles II bets everything on the casino.  He enlists Fançois Blanc in the project, a businessman from Provence who made his fortune by running a casino in Bad-Homburg. In 1863, Blanc creates the Société des Bains de Mer (SBM) to manage the Monte-Carlo Casino. Gambling is banned in neighbouring countries, such as France and Italy, and the Casino becomes a unique attraction on the Riviera.

As the Casino de Monte-Carlo brings some of the richest and most illustrious Europeans to Monaco, the SBM expands and builds several luxury hotels around Monte-Carlo. The Speluges rock is no longer bare and soon, the new district takes the name of the sovereign that built it: Monte-Carlo, after Charles III.

For a very long time, the SBM’s revenues, and particularly the casino revenue, are Monaco’s biggest guaranteed cash flow. With time, the SBM also takes care of the provision of public services, including the establishment of the Nice-Menton train line.

Today, the SBM manages Monaco leading institutions, including the Monte-Carlo Casino, the Hotel de Paris and the Hotel Hermitage. It is Monaco’s biggest employer

The Navigator Prince

Following the death of Charles III, Albert I of Monaco (1889-1922) succeeds to the throne. Nicknamed “the navigator prince” or “the learned prince”, he devotes much of his life to oceanography, exploration, and science. In 1902, he founds the Museum of Anthropology and Prehistory of Monaco, and in 1910 the now world-renowned Oceanographic Museum. He is also responsible for Monaco’s first constitution.

He is succeeded to the throne by his son, Prince Louis II, during whose reign, the Principality becomes a member of the World Health Organisation.

>> READ ALSO: Albert I of Monaco, Prince of the Seas

Rainier III transforms the Principality

When Rainier III ascends to the throne in 1949, he inherits a country in full expansion. Rainier III builds upon an already prosperous country and his reign will give way to one of Monaco’s biggest transformations.

Rainier III made Monaco the city-state it is today. Amongst the notable events of his reign are the introduction of a new constitution, the Fontvieille sea expansion, large-scale real estate development, and the admission of Principality to the United Nations Organisation and the Council of Europe. Despite his perhaps austere appearance, it is worth remembering that Rainier made the small city-state a capital of glamour, thanks to his marriage to American actress Grace Kelly.

Grace Kelly (Photo : Archives of Prince’s Palace)

Monaco and the Wedding of the Century

On 19 April 1956, Prince Rainier III marries Grace Kelly, a 27-year-old American actress at the peak of her career. Broadcast live, the event is watched by nearly 30 million around the world. In Monaco, an estimated 100,000 visitors come to the Principality during the week of the marriage. To accommodate the 1,800 journalists that have traveled to Monaco to cover the event, authorities have to install 40 telephone booths. The wedding’s tremendous media coverage gives Monaco a long-awaited opportunity to glamourise its image and increase the country’s appeal to foreigners.

marriage grace kelly prince rainier iii monaco anniversary
Leaving the Cathedral of Monaco on 19th April 1956. Photo: Prince’s Palace

>> READ ALSO: Photos: Prince Rainier III and Princess Grace’s wedding anniversary

Grace Kelly, now Princess Grace of Monaco, fully invests herself in the life of the Principality. Even if she has given up her career as an actress for her marriage, it is unthinkable for her to be just an extra at her husband’s side.

In 1963, she agrees to be the face of a Monaco advertising spot aimed at attracting American tourists. The same year, she founds the World Association of Children’s Friends (AMADE) and then, in 1964, the Princess Grace of Monaco Foundation, an international charity dedicated to the promotion of the arts. President of the Monegasque Red Cross until her untimely death, Grace Kelly is remembered in Monaco for her generosity and her dedication to charity and the arts.

>> READ ALSO: Princess Grace Kelly: how the Grimaldi women keep her spirit alive

Did you know? As patron of AS Monaco, Princess Grace designed a brand new jersey more in tune with Monegasque identity for the team. The jerseys bring the team luck: the same year she redesigns them, AS Monaco wins the French Premier League.

The Reign of Prince Albert II of Monaco, the Green Prince

Albert Alexandre Louis Pierre Grimaldi becomes the 14th Prince of Monaco on 6 April 2005. Like his father before him, Prince Albert II is invested in the development of the Principality, boosting the country’s tourism, industry, and real estate.

Another issue which the Prince cares deeply about is environmental protection, which has earned him the nickname of the Green Prince. In 2006, he founds the Prince Albert II of Monaco Foundation, dedicated to protecting nature and promoting sustainable development on a global scale.

>> READ ALSO: Prince Albert II and his passion for the seas

The Foundation supports projects in three main geographical zones: the Mediterranean basin, arctic regions, and the world’s least developed countries, such as the countries in Sahelian Africa, which are severely impacted by the effects of climate change, the loss of biodiversity, and water shortage. The Prince Albert II Foundation has three main missions:

  • To limit the effects of climate change and promote renewable energies
  • To safeguard biodiversity
  • To manage water resources and combat desertification

Prince Albert married former South African Olympic swimmer Charlène Wittstock in 2011. On 10 December 2014, Princess Charlène gave birth to twins, Princess Gabriella and the hereditary Prince Jacques, ensuring the future of the Grimaldi Dynasty.

Anniversaire Mariage Prince Albert Monaco enfants
Photo: Prince’s Palace