When scrutinized from the strictest interpretation of Monegasque and French jurisprudence at the the turn of the century, the 1920 marriage of Comte Pierre de Polignac and Princess Charlotte of Monaco, the newly legitimized heiress presumptive to the principality’s throne, was a legal act of incest since the bridegroom had to be adopted into the bride’s family in order to insure the continuation of her dynasty. And since the Grimaldis at that time legally consisted of only Charlotte, her father and grandfather, this meant her new husband was, judicially speaking, either her brother or her uncle. This was easily the only kinky aspect of a marriage that was other wise as cold and bitter an arranged union as an aristocratic mésalliance at that time could get. By the late ’20s Pierre and Charlotte were so utterly sick of each other that they informally separated, and finally divorced in 1933. Like bitter characters in an especially psychologically twisted W. Somerset Maugham novel, the Duke and Duchess of Valentinois, Pierre retained his title after the divorce, gleefully continued to emotionally abuse each other until his death in 1964. They tore their small family apart in the process, shuffling their daughter, Antoinette, and son, Monaco’s future ruler, Prince Rainier lll, back and forth between them during their progeny’s upbringing, and demanding the children pick a side. True to Grimaldi family tradition, Princess Antoinette, despite her utter detestation for her mother, decided she hated her father more and elected as a teenager to run away from Pierre while being temporarily domiciled under his custody in Paris. Electing to go where the money and power were in the family, she skipped off to Monaco in full knowledge her grandfather, Prince Louis ll, would have daddy dearest arrested the moment Pierre stepped foot in the principality, thus affectively ending her relationship with her father. Rainier, on the other hand, forged a bond with their pater upon reaching adulthood, and when he ascended the Monegasque throne in 1949 one of his first acts was to lift his father’s banishment from the country, which had been in place since his parents’ divorce.
The story of this particularly soap opera like of doomed aristocratic marriages begins in 1918 when, after the successful conclusion of World War l, France signed a new protection treaty with its tiny southern neighbor, Monaco, stipulating the Monegasques could only retain their sovereignty as long as they remained a principality with a Grimaldi, who hadn’t previously been a German citizen, at the helm. While this agreement on its surface would appear to have benefitted Prince Albert l and his brood, the sorry procreative state of his dynasty at that time all but insured the French Republic would be taking ownership of the gaming tables at Monte Carlo in the not so distant future.
For Prince Albert l had only produced one legitimate heir to the throne, the Hereditary Prince, Louis, that his great-grandson, Baron Christian de Massey, writes in his memoir Palace, My Life In The Royal Family of Monaco, he seriously doubted was his biological son. The next in line to the throne was Albert’s half German nephew, Wilhelm, Duke of Urach. The son of Prince Albert’s sister, Princess Florestine, and despite being raised in Monte Carlo, Wilhelm was nonetheless a German citizen, property owner, and a morganatic member of the royal family of Wurttemberg. Having just defeated Germany in the First World War, such a man was, to put it mildly, unacceptable to the French as the ruler of Monaco. This left Albert no choice but to allow his son to do something he’d been pressing his father to let him do for years: adopt his bastard daughter.
While serving in the French Foreign Legion in 1897, a profession he found infinitely preferable to one day becoming the sovereign Prince of Monaco, Louis had struck up a brief liaison with a married cabaret performer in Paris named Marie Louvet, whose mother had been the prince’s laundress when he’d previously been stationed in French Algeria. He soon decided to take Marie with him back to North Africa where she gave birth to their daughter, Charlotte, the next year. Louis acknowledged and took full responsibility for his daughter from the moment of her birth, and by the time she was five he convinced her mother, whose liaison with him appears to have ended by then, to send Charlotte to a French girls’ boarding school where she more or less resided until the outbreak of World War l. Although her grandfather, realizing early on how unacceptable his nephew would be to the French, passed a law in 1911 officially acknowledging Charlotte as a dynastic member of the ruling family, her succession rights were still in doubt owing to her father at that time not having met the age requirement under Monaco law for a citizen to adopt an heir.
Besides that, Albert found the presence of his son’s bastard in his palace so repugnant that, according to Anne Edwards in The Grimaldis of Monaco: Centuries of Scandal, Years of Grace, he opted to move out while she was there and spent the duration of the war aboard his yacht, L’Horendelle ll. He changed his mind about Charlotte, however, once he concluded a new protection treaty with France shortly after the conflict’s conclusion which made it clear under no uncertain terms her legitimization as Monaco’s heir was his dynasty’s only option for survival. In retrospect, Albert l had taken a gamble at the start of the war by not only being personal friends with Kaiser Wilhelm ll, but imposing a policy of neutrality on his principality that initially favored the Germans. By dealing Albert a fait accompli in the form of the 1918 treaty, which expressly forbade a German citizen from inheriting the throne, thus precluding his nephew, the Duke of Urach, ever becoming the ruling prince and forcing Albert to make his bastard granddaughter, whom he was still ashamed of, the heiress presumptive, the French government was punishing Prince Albert l for having initially bet on their enemies.
After having legitimated Charlotte once and for all as a full fledged princess of the House of Grimaldi, with the additional title of Duchess de Valentinois, and designating her heiress to the throne, granddaddy dearest’s next task was to put her womb to good use and buy Charlotte a suitable dynastic partner at the marriage altar with whom she could breed and guarantee the dynasty’s future. At the top of Albert l’s list of prospective matrimonial breeding studs for his granddaughter was Comte Pierre de Polignac. The half Mexican scion of one of France’s oldest aristocratic dynasties, the darkly handsome, elegant, cultured and multilingual noble had already met Charlotte during one of his many trips to Monte Carlo, usually as the guest of any given lonely dowager as wealthy as she was benevolent. For despite his pedigree, Comte de Polignac only had a small inheritance upon which to subsist, and he all but jumped at the offer of a title upgrade and a substantial income for life that Monaco’s ruler presented to him in exchange for Pierre marrying his heiress presumptive.
For the 1918 treaty specially stated Charlotte’s heirs could only inherit the throne if their father was a Grimaldi, meaning Pierre had to be adopted into his fiancé’s family. Fortunately Charlotte liked the looks of Pierre, and readily agreed to the arrangement. On March 18, 1920 Pierre formally became a Prince of the House of Grimaldi. The next day he and his bride were legally married in the throne room of Monaco’s fabled pink palace. Their sumptuous religious ceremony occurred the day after.
While Albert l and Princess Charlotte were initially pleased with their family’s newest member, the same couldn’t be stated for the bride’s father. According to Anne Edwards, Hereditary Prince Louis despised his effeminate son-in-law from day one. This acrimony was made all the more acute since the new Duke and Duchess de Valentinois lived primarily with him at the family chateau, Marchais, just outside of Paris. While it’s doubtful Louis, who was a recently retired career army officer who’d been educated exclusively in Prussian military academies, was made aware of his new son-in-law’s secretive homosexuality, which Pierre’s friend, James Lees-Milne wrote about in his legendary diaries, and Michael Bloch excerpted in his later biography of Milne, Louis nonetheless found Pierre a pretentious aesthete more suitable as his daughter’s interior decorator than her husband.
And despite the subsequent births of the couple’s children, Antoinette almost exactly nine months after their honeymoon, and Rainier in 1923, Charlotte appears to have found increasing fault with her spouse as well, particularly with his performance in the bedroom. Both Edwards as well as Charlotte and Pierre’s grandson, Baron Christian de Massey, quote her in their tomes complaining to a friend that her husband couldn’t even f**k without donning a crown first. Charlotte also near hero worshipped her father, and his disapproval of Pierre only exacerbated her mood swings and frequent temper tantrums. As a hereditary side note, John Glatt writes in his Grimaldi family memoir, The Royal House of Monaco, that Charlotte’s granddaughter, Princess Caroline, is also notorious for her mood swings and frequent habit of gushing over people one moment only to inexplicably freeze them out the next.
Still, and even after Prince Albert l died in 1923, Charlotte wasn’t allowed to divorce her husband. She somewhat resolved her frustration by carrying on several affairs while Pierre busied himself with luring Sergey Dialgolev’s Ballets Russe to Monte Carlo and helping establish the Monaco Grande Prix. By 1929, however, Louis ll finally relented and allowed Charlotte and Pierre to begin divorce proceedings. By 1933 the marriage was dissolved, and Louis ll celebrated the event by banning Pierre from the principality for the rest of what remained of of the sovereign prince’s lifetime.
Years later Prince Rainier lll would describe to author Jefrey Robinson for his memoir, Rainier and Grace: An Intimate Portrait, what it was like to be a child growing up shuffled back and forth between two warring, divorced parents, with a jealous, hateful older sister thrown into the mix. Whichever parent they were living with at any given moment, both admonished the children regarding the same subject: don’t divulge any information to the one parent concerning the other! The times spent with mater dearest were made all the worse by her continuing mood swings and complicated love life. By the mid ’30s she was desperate to wed an Italian doctor named Del Maso. When he attempted to leave her, so writes her grandson, Charlotte took out a pistol and shot at him. Fortunately for the not so good doctor, she had bad aim and he narrowly escaped.
Charlotte’s worsening relationship with her daughter did nothing to better her mood. Finding fault with Antoinette in every conceivable way, mother dear constantly called her daughter fat, ugly, stupid and frequently complained that it would cost a fortune to find such an undesirable girl a husband. Despite the abuse, Antoinette nonetheless preferred living with her maternal family over her father in Paris, and ran away from him while a teenager in order to escape to Monaco. Once there, her grandfather obligingly refused to allow her to leave, and when Prince Pierre called and complained, Louis reminded him that Monaco was an independent country, and if Pierre wished to jaunt to Monte Carlo to lay claim to his custodial rights, he would be arrested and deported forthwith. Given Antoinette was desperate to inherit the Monegasque throne, and had not only always regarded her little brother as a usurper but would in the early ’50s attempt to overthrow him, one wouldn’t be surprised if her decision in her teen years to live permanently in Monaco, despite her mother’s abuse, was at least partially motivated by her desire to convince her grandfather to leave his throne to her. For Anne Edwards quotes in her book the letter Charlotte wrote to Louis ll shortly after her divorce was finalized asking to abdicate her succession rights in favor of her son. She states explicitly in the request that by providing the throne with heirs she had already fulfilled her most important obligation to the dynasty, and furthermore she had even agreed to remain in a marriage for years she was desperate to dissolve solely at the request of her father. Louis granted his daughter her wish, but didn’t formally declare Rainier the next in line until 1949. Under such circumstances, and given her subsequent actions, it would make since if Antoinette had decided in her mid teens that in the interim between Louis ll establishing a regency council for Rainier and officially designating him heir apparent, then was her main chance to move in with her grandfather and convince him she was best for the top job instead. Needless to write, her efforts, if she committed any, came to nothing.
By the late ’50s Louis ll was dead, Rainier lll had inherited the throne , Antoinette had attempted to overthrow him and failed, she’d also married and divorced a dashing local attorney and tennis champion named Aleco Noghes, though not before she’d birthed three children by him, Charlotte had decided later in life to go to college and obtain a bachelor’s degree in social work, had turned the Chateau de Marchais into a private, makeshift rehab facility for ex-convicts, and showed up to her son’s 1956 nuptials to movie star Grace Kelly escorted by one of France’s most notorious convicted jewel thieves. Pierre showed up to the wedding as well, and when Charlotte wasn’t turning up her nose to her new American in-laws, she was actively fighting with her ex. At one point, recalled their grandson in his memoir, Pierre became so exasperated that he quipped to his ex wife that at least his son, unlike his dad previously, was marrying a real princess! Baron de Massey doesn’t record his grandmother’s retort.
Unlike his duchess, Prince Pierre, Duke de Valentinois lived a pretty quiet life in Paris after their divorce. His son’s accession to Monaco’s throne was shortly followed by the lifting of the ban on Pierre entering Monaco. He became a benevolent, elegantly genteel, grandfatherly presence in the life of Rainier, Grace and their children, as well as at national events. He died in 1964. Charlotte outlived him by almost 13 years. While being a completely shitty mother and mother-in-law, James Spada quotes a letter Princess Grace wrote a friend in his biography, Grace: The Secret Lives of a Princess, describing Charlotte during a family visit as being cold as a witch’s tit, she was nonetheless a warm and loving grandmother. Baron de Massey portrays her more as a fascinating, glamorous eccentric in his family memoir rather than a Joan Crawford style mother bitch. His own mother, however, isn’t so charitably described. The full story concerning the recently departed aunt of Prince Albert ll, whom one of the author’s Monaco dwelling friends once called ” The Crazy Cat Lady of Monte Carlo,” shall be divulged in a future post.