Rainier had assumed the throne — and the 140 or so titles that went with it, among them the Duke of Valentinois and
the Count of Carladès — in 1949. He was stocky, high-foreheaded, raven-haired and pencil-moustached, and Kelly’s
immediate sizing-up of her intended would surely have placed him in the Robert Taylor-esque,
character-player-elevated-to-leading-man mould. He’d inherited a faded gambling resort, a preserve of the idle rich
attracted by its fabled casino and even more exalted tax advantages. Somerset Maugham, a decade earlier, had
dismissed it as “a sunny place full of shady people”.
The wedding of Rainier and Grace Kelly, on April 19, 1956, took place in the full glare of media attention. There’d
been some hiccups along the way — Grace’s father, Jack Kelly, a brick manufacturer and self-made millionaire who’d
also won two Olympic gold medals for sculling, bridled at having to provide a dowry (“My daughter doesn’t have to
pay any man to marry her”), though he eventually stumped up $2 million, with Onassis also making a contribution. But
all went beatifically on the day, with MGM filming what was invariably described as the ‘fairytale’ ceremony and
broadcasting it to 30 million viewers across the world. If this was an astute social move on Rainier’s part — the
perception of Monaco was almost immediately transformed from somewhat seedy bolthole to ‘playground of the rich and
famous’ as Kelly’s Hollywood set flew in on their private jets — he also proved himself a canny political operator.
Through the decades of his reign, he prevailed against a putative power grab by Onassis, a near-existential threat
from French President de Gaulle, and the machinations of his own National Assembly, transforming his tiny fief into
a steel-and-glass corporate banking, convention and tourism centre, and earning the soubriquet the ‘Builder Prince’
as he did so.
Monaco has always been an anomaly. Americans like to say its 482 acres would fit snugly into Central Park (the
British prefer to say it would occupy a corner of Hyde Park). Those acres have been in Grimaldi family hands since
1297, when Rainier’s ancestor Francesco Grimaldi, leading a group of men dressed as monks, appeared at the front
gate of the Rock, then a Genoese territory near today’s French-Italian border, and told the guards they were tired
and hungry and needed shelter. Once inside, they drew their swords from beneath their robes and slaughtered their
hosts. Grimaldi went down in history as Francesco the Spiteful, and to this day the family’s coat of arms displays
two monk-like figures brandishing blades.
It was Charles III, Rainier’s great-grandfather, who established Monaco as a gambling centre, introducing a casino in
1857 and establishing the Société des Bains de Mer to run it. By 1880 there was so much Belle Époque money flowing
into the principality, easily outdoing the fleshpots of Nice and Cannes, that it was decided the Monégasques could
forego the inconvenience of paying income tax. This didn’t go unnoticed by Europe’s over-monied and underemployed,
who soon fancied taking up residence on one of those 482 acres themselves.
This story was orginally published in Issue 68 of The Rake.
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