One summer when I was 12 years old, my mother, her mother, and I grabbed big glasses of iced Coke with lemon wedges and headed on into the living room to watch what was being billed as the Wedding of the Century–Princess Diana’s marriage to Prince Charles. Little did I know that decades earlier, my mom and grandma had watched another Wedding of the Century together, when my mother was 12. The wedding of American film star Grace Kelly to Monaco’s Prince Rainier. (Ironically, Princess Grace once considered Prince Charles as a top candidate to marry her eldest daughter. Caroline dodged a bullet there.)
Monaco is one of those strange little countries:
- It is an enclave. Totally surrounded by France on three sides and the sea on the other.
- It lost over 90 percent of its land a few centuries ago.
- The indigenous people who live there are called Monagasques.
- There are about 5,000 of them and the rest of the citizens are French, Italian, Belgian, British and Americans, who can’t vote.
- The ruling royal family, the Grimaldis, have been in power for 700 years.
- It is a police state–don’t criticize the ruling family because you never know who is listening.
- Thanks to a friend of Princess Grace, one of the hottest restaurant/bars is a Tex-Mex place called Le Texan.
Although this easy-to-read non-fiction book is the story of the current Grimaldi family, you do get interesting glimpses of Monaco and its history along the way. How the family got its hands on power originally? The book and Wiki differ substantially. According to the book, during a border war, Grimaldi ancestor Francis”the Spiteful” of Genoa disguised himself as a monk and begged admittance to Monaco Castle. When the guards let him in, his army slaughtered everyone. That was in 1297, and the Grimaldis have been absolute rulers in Monaco ever since. Should they die without issue, or without adopting an heir, the principality will revert to France.
The Wonderful World of the Grimaldis
Curiously, my DK World Atlas says that Rainier surrendered absolute power in 1962 and they got a democratic constitution, but that isn’t mentioned in the book. Only that Rainier behaves like a dictator and believes in the Divine Right of Kings. It is true that members of the royal family still have to get his permission, in writing, to marry, which has led to some sticky moments over the years as both of the wild daughters have taken up with extremely unsuitable and embarrassing boyfriends. Many of the family friends quoted in the book say that if Princess Grace had lived, Caroline and Stephanie would have behaved better. But I doubt it. They were brought up spoiled and entitled, and they behaved just as badly when she was alive. (Unfortunately the book ends in 1998 when it was published, so we don’t know if “Dirty Bertie”–Prince Albert–ever marries or if Stephanie has any more kids out of wedlock or if Caroline marries for the third time or if Rainier is still alive.) Hello, Google.
One way in which you can tell Rainier is a royal is that he loves things most people don’t…not the opera in his case but…clowns. According to the book, Rainier has always loved the circus. It was a dream of his for awhile to retire and then get into a decorated VW bus and follow a circus around Europe. I found this rather endearing. Apparently there was a famous Italian clown called Grimaldi and Rainier was in the habit of signing his correspondence with a clown face. (You have to wonder if this influenced Stephanie’s year-long marriage to a trapeze artist.) Bertie loves sports, especially bobsled racing, and Caroline is a big patron of the arts, especially ballet. Stephanie was once paid $1,200 per hour to model, but was made to give that up by her father.
It is fun to fantasize about what I would do if I had the Grimaldi money and were a royal, and I would like to think that I would not be such a boob. But I probably would. I don’t think they can help it, growing up with everyone treating you with such servility. The girls have had all sorts of public temper tantrums, flipping off reporters. Their father gets upset and punches paparazzi and slaps comedians who make fun of his son’s hair loss. But Bertie, it was mentioned, enjoyed going to college in America where his dorm mates referred to him as “Big Al” and didn’t show him the deference he was used to in Europe, especially Monaco. (Rainier on the other hand was bullied at his English boarding school and called “Fat Little Monaco.”) It was also mentioned several times that the British Royal Family declined to attend either Princess Grace’s wedding or her funeral, as it doesn’t consider the Grimaldis as social equals. Only Diana came to the funeral, because Grace was kind to her at her first public appearance with Charles. You have to wonder if she felt any foreboding. (Stephanie also once had a fling with Dodi al-Fayad…small exclusive circles.)
I liked Prince Rainier at times–he enjoyed watching cowboy movies and “football”; he once fell asleep during a poetry reading; he became very upset after his wife’s death at how much he had taken her for granted, he got furious with his children but never cut them off completely, and he once dreamed of inviting the American hotel chain of Holiday Inns to come to Monaco and enable people to stay there for $15 a night. I didn’t like him so much when he was punching and slapping the little people, having a hair-trigger temper with Grace (he yelled at her for putting the wrong flowers in a guests room, screaming that white carnations were the flowers of the dead) or referring to Stephanie’s policeman lover as “that servant”.
“Monaco is Part Police State, Part Disneyland”
“Each morning a team of gardeners gather in the garden in the casino square to pluck out any wilting petals that might spoil the immaculate flowerbeds; at night a tape-recording of a bird of prey plays through discreetly-hidden speakers to stop sparrows from landing and soiling the park with bird droppings.
“Locals claim that unofficially some police discreetly drop any unexplained bodies over the border in France and leave their police to deal with the problem.
“Many a weary, bedraggled backpacker has been stopped at the station and put on the next train out, deemed an unwanted eyesore.
“Using the latest fiber-optic technology, the state observers can instantly rotate any of the cameras placed over all banks, chemists’ shops and jewelers through nearly 360 degrees. Back at HQ the watchers can even zoom in to see what newspapers are being read.”
A Word About Words and Parts of Speech
I kept wondering why people who are indigenous to Monaco weren’t called Monicans, but Monegasques. Wiki tells me it is the name of a language. Since Monaco used to be the very Western part of Genoa in Italy, it is no surprise that Monegasque shares many features with the Genoese dialect of Ligurian. The Nicard dialect of Occitan is also spoken in Monaco. Charmingly, the Monegasque language is being taught in schools and in the old part of Monaco, the street signs are in Monegasque and in French.
Rating: Five stars to this gossip-filled yet balanced look at one of Europe’s most scandalous royal families and its interesting tiny country.
PS–Second Verse, Same as the First
Since the ending of the book, Prince Rainier has passed away (in 2005, just one month before news broke of Bertie’s son by a black flight attendant from Togo–the second of his children born on the wrong side of the blanket.) Bertie did marry, a South African woman with whom he has now had twins. Stephanie had another kid with another bodyguard. (She coyly refused to name the father, but the kid has his last name.) Caroline married the guy she was having an affair with (while he was still married)–that’s Prince Ernest of Hanover, who would have been a King of England if Victoria hadn’t come to the throne instead. This charmer once assaulted a disco owner in Kenya and has also broken a cameraman’s nose with his umbrella. Look, I get that having paparazzi in your face all the time can’t be pleasant–give up your money and your perks and your fame and your royal title if you don’t want all that then. No? Then deal with it.
Ironically, Princess Grace had tried to set up Caroline and Ernst back when she was alive–he was her number 2 choice to marry her daughter. At that time, Caroline found him stuffy and boring. Looks like Mother Knows Best after all.