by Scott Mehl
Prince Rainier III of Monaco
Prince Rainier III of Monaco was Sovereign Prince from 1949 until his death in 2005. He was born Prince Rainier Louis Henri Maxence Bertrand Grimaldi on May 31, 1923, at the Prince’s Palace in Monaco. He was the second child, and only son, of Princess Charlotte of Monaco (illegitimate and adopted daughter of Prince Louis II) and Count Pierre de Polignac. Rainier had an older sister, Princess Antoinette (1920-2011).
His parents separated soon after his birth, and Rainier and his sister were caught in the middle of the fights between them. He was sent to school in England, attending Summerfields, in St Leonards-on-Sea, and the Stowe School, in Buckinghamshire. He then attended the Institut Le Rosey in Switzerland and went on to graduate from the University of Montpellier, in France, in 1943. He later studied at the Paris Institute of Political Studies.
In May 1944, he became the heir-presumptive to his grandfather, Prince Louis II, following his mother’s renunciation of her succession rights in his favor. Later that year, he joined the French Free Army and saw combat in Alsace. He was later awarded the French War Cross and made a member of the French Legion of Honor. On May 9, 1949, Rainier ascended to the throne of Monaco as Prince Rainier III, upon the death of his grandfather.
In January 1956, Rainier announced his engagement to American film star, Grace Kelly. The two had first met at the time of the Cannes Film Festival in 1955, and soon began a relationship. In December of that year, Rainier came to the US to visit Grace and her family, and it was then that he proposed. The couple married on April 18, 1956 in a civil ceremony held in the Throne Room at the Palace. A religious ceremony was held the following day at the Saint Nicholas Cathedral. Following a honeymoon – seven weeks spent cruising the Mediterranean on Rainier’s yacht – the couple settled at the palace and had three children:
- Princess Caroline, Princess of Hanover (1957) – married 3 times, four children
- Prince Albert II (1958) – married Charlene Wittstock, two children
- Princess Stéphanie (1965) – married twice, three children
Upon becoming sovereign Prince, Rainier began working to change the economic landscape of the small nation. Best known for its casino, Monaco’s primary source of revenue – over 95% – was from gambling. And despite that, the country’s coffers were nearly empty. Rainier began promoting Monaco as a tourist attraction, and a place to invest in real estate development, and perhaps most famously, a tax haven. With the casino and majority of resorts owned by the Société des Bains de Mer, a power struggle soon began between Rainier (a majority owner of the Society) and Greek shipping magnate Aristotle Onassis. Onassis had established offices for his shipping firm in Monte Carlo, and soon gained majority control of the Society, planning to turn Monaco into strictly a gambling resort. Fortunately, Rainier was eventually able to take full control of the Society in the 1960s, and his vision was able to proceed.
And proceed it did! Known as the Builder Prince, Rainier oversaw the expansion of Monaco by reclaiming land from the sea. In 1958, 54,000 square meters was reclaimed to expand the Larvotto district, and in 1965, work began on the new Fontvieille ward, this time reclaiming over 220,000 square meters. In 1962, Rainier put forth a new Constitution of Monaco, which reaffirmed Monaco’s sovereignty and independence and significantly reduced the powers of the Sovereign. A more democratic system of government was established (although Monaco’s Sovereign still retains much more power than most of his contemporaries in Europe).
On September 13, 1982, while driving back to Monaco from their home in France, Princess Grace suffered a stroke. She and Princess Stéphanie (who was in the car with her) were transported to the hospital in Monaco. However, Grace’s injuries were very severe, and she passed away the following evening after Prince Rainier had to make the decision to remove her from life support. Rainier was devastated by his wife’s death and seemed to have aged drastically in just days.
Despite his grief, Rainier continued with his vision for Monaco, as well as maintaining, and honoring his late wife’s memory. The Princess Grace Rose Garden was opened in 1984 in Fontvieille, and the Princess Grace Foundation-USA was established to continue the works of Princess Grace in the arts. (The USA Foundation is a branch of the original Princess Grace Foundation founded by Rainier and Grace in 1964 in Monaco.)
By the turn of the century, Rainier’s health was declining. In January 2005, he made one of his last public appearances, at the International Circus Festival of Monte-Carlo (pictured above). On April 6, 2005, after several weeks in the hospital, Prince Rainier III passed away at 81 years old. He was succeeded by his son, Prince Albert II, who had been serving as Regent since the prior week. His funeral was held on April 15 at the Saint Nicholas Cathedral, and he was buried beside his late wife, Princess Grace.