Thursday, April 07, 2005

RIP: Rainier III of Monaco

Rainier III had a racy and, to older generations, almost unsavoury family background. For starters, he wasn't actually a Grimaldi in the male line - his father was Comte Pierre de Polignac. Pierre was husband to Charlotte Grimaldi, who was born "the wrong side of the blanket" - the daughter of Prince Louis and his mistress, laundrymaid's daughter Marie, who worked in a Montmartre nightclub.

But a few commoners in the family tree isn't the slightest bit uncommon in aristocratic circles and is apt to do nothing but good.

Charlotte Grimaldi once complained of de Polignac that "to make love he needs to put a crown on his head." She herself was legitimised in 1919 to ensure the succession.

Rainier was sent to an English prep school where he was known as "Fat Boy Monaco".

During the war he distinguished himself and won the Croix de Guerre for bravery in action in the Alsace.

At the instigation of Aristotle Onassis he looked for an American movie star to marry. The idea was to lend Monaco more glamour and lustre. When Marilyn Monroe heard of the plan she wasn't interested for herself but claimed that if she were, two days alone with him would suffice to make him hers (Marilyn was under the impression that Monaco was in Africa).

In choosing Gracia Patricia Kelly, however, Rainier hit the proverbial jackpot - not only did she supply glamour by the bucketload, but she was also a dignified and conscientous Princess. Her concupiscence, and the stories about her countless affairs, did nothing to detract from that.

After Princess Grace's untimely death, in a car crash in the hills above Monte Carlo, it was rumoured that Rainier might marry Princess Ira von Fürstenburg. In this connection came Princess Margaret of England's remark that Ira was "too big a woman for so small a principality."

Partly at Onassis' encouragement, Rainier turned Monaco into a concrete jungle where five thousand natives are outnumbered by 24 thousand tax exiles.

Not, perhaps, the most savoury outcome, but one that has returned the Grimaldis to a level of wealth they hadn't been accustomed to before.

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