The Grimaldis of Monaco tells in full the remarkable history of the world’s oldest reigning dynasty. For nearly eight hundred years, from the elegant Genoese Rainier I to the current Prince Albert II, the Grimaldis—“an ambitious, hot-blooded, unscrupulous race, swift to revenge and furious in battle”—have ruled Monaco. Against all odds, they have proved themselves masterful survivors, still in possession of their lands and titles despite the upheavals of the French Revolution and the First and Second World Wars, when royal heads rolled and most small countries met their demise.
With insufficient weaponry and military forces far too small to go into combat against their more powerful neighbors, France and Italy, the Grimaldis endured by their cunning and their shrewd choice of brides—rich women and high connections in the most influential courts of Europe, and often, strong sexual appetites. The French nobleman’s daughter who married Louis I later became the mistress of France Louis XIV. Her son, Antoine I was wed to an aristocratic wife who outdid her mother-in-law by having so many lovers her husband took to hanging them in effigy.
The seafaring adventurer Prince Albert I was unfortunate enough to have two wives, one British, one American, who ran off with their lovers. His second wife, the American Alice Heine, a fabulously rich heiress from New Orleans and the widowed Duchesse de Richelieu, was the model for Proust’s Princess of Luxembourg. Heine used her own wealth to bring grandeur, culture, and sophistication to the palatial center of Monte Carlo; and with the introduction of gambling, an internationally celebrated resort was born, initially for the privileged few and later for raffish café society,
The last section of the book is devoted to the most recent generations of the Grimaldis. Here, a new image of Rainier III emerges as both man and monarch, beginning with his blighted childhood as the son of divorced parents and of a mother scorned as illegitimate. And preceding the drama of his marriage to Grace Kelly, there is an account of his intense love affair with a French film start and reasons behind his sister’s lifelong malice and envy of him. The final note is necessarily tragic, detailing in full the deaths of both Princess Grace and Princess Caroline’s husband in sudden and shocking accidents.