by Scott Mehl
Princess Charlotte of Monaco, Duchess of Valentinois, was born September 30, 1898, in Constantine, Algeria. She began life as Charlotte Louise Juliette Louvet, the illegitimate daughter of the future Prince Louis II of Monaco and Marie Juliette Louvet. Her parents had met the previous year in Paris, where Marie was working as a hostess in a nightclub. Marie’s mother was actually in the employ of Prince Louis.
Because Louis was unmarried and without an heir, the Monegasque throne was likely to pass to a distant cousin, the German Duke of Urach. In order to avoid this, Louis’ father, Prince Albert I, had a law passed recognizing Charlotte as Louis’ heir and part of the sovereign family. However, this law was later ruled invalid under earlier statutes. So, in October 1918, another law was passed allowing for the adoption of an heir with succession rights. On May 16, 1919, Louis legally adopted Charlotte, giving her the Grimaldi surname. Her grandfather created her HSH Princess Charlotte of Monaco, and Duchess of Valentinois. Upon Louis’ accession in 1922, Charlotte became Hereditary Princess of Monaco.
In March 1920, Charlotte married Count Pierre de Polignac, who also took on the name Grimaldi and became Prince Pierre of Monaco. It had been an arranged marriage with neither of the couple particularly interested in the other. They did have two children, Antoinette (1920) and Rainier (1923), but within another two years they were living separate lives, and formally divorced in 1933.
Having been born illegitimate, and now divorced, Charlotte knew that she would never be fully accepted by the very Catholic Monaco, Charlotte renounced her rights to the Monegasque throne in May 1944 in favor of her son Ranier. Five years later, her father died, and Rainier became Sovereign Prince of Monaco. Charlotte left Monaco and moved to the Château de Marchais, the Grimaldi family’s sprawling estate outside of Paris. She attended college and received a degree in social work, and later turned the estate into a rehabilitation home for ex-convicts, much to the objections of her family. In her later life, she was in a relationship with René Girier, a famed jewel thief known as ‘René la Canne” (René the Cane). Her last appearance in Monaco was in 1956 at the wedding of her son Rainier III and Grace Kelly.
Princess Charlotte of Monaco, Duchess of Valentinois, died in Paris in November 1977. She is buried at the Chapelle de la Paix (Chapel of Peace) in Monaco, along with her former husband who had died in 1964.