As early as the 19th century, the Principality’s casinos and palaces have attracted everything that has mattered. The Rock of Monaco, the 62-metre boulder overlooking the Mediterranean like a balcony overlooking the sea, along with its world-famous palace and sovereign family, make it a glamorous symbol of splendour.
Nestled on high above the Mediterranean Sea, the palace is the heart and soul of the Principality. Behind its sturdy walls and protected day and night by the carabinieri, lives the sovereign family whose members have ruled Monaco for 700 years. Reigning first as feudal lords and then—from the 17th century onwards—as sovereign princes, the Grimaldis are one of Europe’s oldest dynasties.
The first chapter of the family saga is written at the end of the 13th century by a privateer disguised as a Franciscan monk: Francis Grimaldi, known as Malizia, “the cunning one”. Originally from Italy, the Grimaldis established themselves as one of the most powerful families in the municipality of Genoa thanks to large-scale maritime expeditions on the Mediterranean and Black Seas. As head of the Guelph clan, the Grimaldis supported the Pope’s interests against the Ghibellines and the Germanic Roman Emperor. At the end of the 13th century, after suffering from defeat, the Grimaldis were driven out of Genoa in search of a less hostile place to call their own.
In January 1297, the Guelphs, under the leadership of François Grimaldi, took over what was then a simple Genoese fortress. It is then that the history of the Grimaldi family began to be written with that of Monaco. In the years following that founding event, the stronghold was lost and then regained, only to fall under the authority of Charles Grimaldi.
Taking the title of the “Lord of Monaco” in 1342, Charles, the first of that name, then acquired the nearby provinces of Menton and Roquebrune. From there, the first lords of Monaco set out to consolidate their territory. Fearing Genoa, who had not given up on reclaiming what was theirs, the Grimaldi’s placed themselves under the protection of the kings of France and the counts of Provence. An alliance was then signed with the crown of France. As such, Lambert Grimaldi—Lord of Monaco from 1458 to 1494—was made Councillor and Chamberlain to King Charles VIII. Following the reign of François I, the fortress then went under the protection of Spain and Charles V.
A few years before in 1454, John I decreed the rules of succession in the House of Monaco: through all men, following the order of birthright. Having failed, which happened twice in their history, women were called upon, on the condition that their descendants take the name and arms of the Grimaldis. A tribute to the cunning founder of the dynasty, the Grimaldi House Coat of Arms comprises a silver shield decorated with red diamonds, which is surrounded by the Order of Saint Charles collar and has two monk raising swords on either side.
After the Spanish episode, which lasted until 1641, the Treaty of Péronne definitively put the Principality back into the French fold. Having given up lordships in Naples, France replaced them with King Louis XIII the Duchy of Valentinois, the Marquisate of Baux, the Lordship of Saint-Rémy de Provence. Honoré II then became the first Grimaldi to take the official title of “Prince of Monaco”. Raised in the gold and refinement of the court of Milan, he turned the old Monegasque fortress into an Italian palace worthy of his rank.
A happy period for the Principality, which was enriched by maritime trade and the income from the land, a certain prosperity was established. In December 1678, the grandson of Honoré II, Louis I, announced the Principality’s legal statute or the “Louis Code”. A wise prince, Louis I imposed a toll on commercial ships sailing off from Monaco.
During the French Revolution, the Principality—which became “Fort Hercules”–was attached to France. Times were hard for the Grimaldis, whose property plundered. Fortunately, this sinister point in time was short-lived. During the restoration, the family recovered their titles and estates. However, placed under the authority of the King of Sardinia, Monaco experienced a period of political and financial turmoil—forcing the family to live in Paris. Following France’s acquisition of the county of Nice, Emperor Napoleon III granted independence to the Principality, which was stripped of the towns Menton and Roquebrune. In compensation, Monaco received four million from the French State, allowing the Principality to build up its reputation.
Contrary to appearances, the Franco-Monegasque treaty of 1861 marked a new beginning for the Principality and Grimaldi family. Totally independent for the first time in its history, the small country took off. Charles III created the Société des Bains de Mer and the casino. This is was where the the very lucrative gambling market, which was banned in neighbouring countries, began to build its modern reputation. With the casino’s success came luxury resorts, especially on the Spélugues plateau, which is today named Monte-Carlo in honour of the sovereign. Following those developments, Charles III commissioned architect Charles Garnier to build an opera house that was to be more beautiful than the one in Paris.
The son of Charles III, Albert I, was nicknamed “the navigator prince” or “the learned prince”. In 1910, he founded the Oceanographic Museum and created the country’s first Constitution. His successor, Prince Louis II, was not to be outdone. During his reign, the Principality became a member of the World Health Organisation.
Assuming the throne in 1949, Rainier III inherited a country in full expansion. His reign is nevertheless gave way to one of the biggest transformations of the Principality. Rainier III made Monaco the city-state it is today: diversification of actions implemented by his predecessors, development of tourism by gaining land on the sea, a new Constitution, admission of Principality to the United Nations Organisation and the Council of Europe, among other notable actions. Despite a certain austerity in its appearance, it is worth remembering that Rainier made the small Monegasque Principality the world capital of glamour thanks to his marriage to the internationally renowned American actress, Grace Kelly.
By becoming the 14th Prince of Monaco on 6 April 2005, Albert II followed in his father’s footsteps. Concerned about the development of the Principality, he boosted tourism, industry and real estate, while taking into account sustainability issues, a subject of which he is very attached. Albert II married to Charlène Wittstock, a South African swimmer, sending the planet people into a royal frenzy. On December 10, 2014, the Princess Charlène gave birth to twins, Princess Gabriella and Prince Jacques. Today, Monaco’s future rests with them.