Rainier III was the Prince of Monaco who swept the American actress Grace Kelly off her feet. But lurking beneath the surface of his idyllic, princely life was a family full of connivers, liars, and thieves. Read these facts to get a peek into the gilded halls of Monaco’s Prince’s Palace. Just remember, not all that glistens is gold…or good.
Rainier Louis Henri Maxence Bertrand Grimaldi (we’re just going to call him Rainier III, or “Rainy” if you’d rather) was born in May of 1923. He was the son of Princess Charlotte of Monaco and her husband, Prince Pierre. While his mother was the one with the royal blood, she was an illegitimate child. It wasn’t until Rainier III’s grandfather named her heir presumptive that little Rainy got his royal titles.
And he’d hold on to them for a long, long time.
Rainier III’s mother wasn’t the only one with a sordid past and something to hide. Prince Pierre, Rainier III’s father, was a French aristocrat before he became the Monegasque prince by way of marriage. And it seems like the marriage was for appearances only. Let’s put it this way: it was nothing short of a miracle that Rainier III was ever even born.
Rainier III was born into a family—and a palace—built on secrets. And one the biggest secrets was that Prince Pierre didn’t love his wife—because he was a closeted homosexual. It’s not clear if Rainier III knew about his father’s secret life, but he definitely couldn’t ignore the fact that his parents hated each other.
It’s always the kids who get caught in the middle of their parents’ feuds. Prince or not, Rainier III was no exception to that rule. Once his father’s secret bubbled to the surface, Rainier III’s parents threw chivalry aside and fought like cats and dogs—or, in this case, “queens” and princesses. It nearly tore Rainier III’s inheritance apart.
To say that his parents’ divorce caused a rift in the family would be an understatement. According to one magazine, while still on the throne, Rainier III’s grandfather exiled his father from Monaco. In a rage, he vowed that “he would call out the Monégasque army if the prince [Prince Pierre] ever set foot in the principality again.” A simple restraining order might have sufficed.
Fortunately for our pal, “Rainy” didn’t have to witness his parents’ acrimonious divorce. Though he almost certainly had to read about it in the newspapers. Before things got too rocky in the Prince’s Palace, his parents had shipped him off to school in England, then Switzerland…then France. But there were some fights he couldn’t escape.
By the time 1944 rolled around—and the tanks were rolling across Europe—Rainier III was no stranger to a good fight. After all, if he had learned anything from his parents, it was the fighting spirit. At the age of 21, Rainier III joined the French in WWII and distinguished himself in action against the forces of the Third Reich. But not long after the fighting ended, tragedy struck his family.
If his grandfather hadn’t legitimized his mother, and if his father hadn’t denied his true self and feelings, then Rainier III might have had a much simpler life. But, as we know, all of that had happened so…bye, bye to the simple life. In 1949, Rainier III’s grandfather passed away and the unassuming 26-year-old assumed the title Sovereign Prince of Monaco.
Life was about to get much more complicated.
Rainier III inherited what is now one of the crown jewels of Europe: Monaco, known for its lavishness and wealth. But, at the time of his ascendency, the principality was considerably less impressive. Monaco’s famed casino business had gone belly-up after WWII and the royal treasury was pretty much empty. Yet somehow, being broke was the least of Rainier's concerns.
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Having no money is one type of problem for a reigning monarch. Having no legitimacy is another altogether. Rainier III’s parents’ scandalous marriage and even more outrageous divorce had tarnished the reputation of the principality almost beyond repair. And, to make matters worse, Rainier III’s mother seemed determined to make ruling legitimately impossible for her son...
The Principality of Monaco had its famed casinos and Rainier III’s mother, Princess Charlotte, liked to bet it all on love. Throughout her disastrous marriage to Rainier III’s father, she carried on multiple affairs—not that anyone could blame her in light of her husband’s secret. It was the affairs she had after the divorce, however, that caused Rainier III the most grief.
Given that the royal coffers were empty, Rainier III had a hard time keeping his mother living in the luxury she had grown accustomed to. So, she took matters into her own hands by striking up an affair with the famed jeweled thief, René the Cane. The scandal shocked the people of Monaco—but that wouldn’t have made the back page of the papers after what came next.
Despite not having a good example to follow, Rainier III had fallen in love. While he was a student at Montpellier University, the Monegasque royal fell for the French actress Gisèle Pascal. The two had a decades-long relationship that lasted well into Rainier III’s reign. But, typical of his family, no one could be happy for his happiness.
Rainier III began contemplating marriage to Pascal. He wanted to make it official—but he'd barely started browsing engagement rings (if his mother’s lover hadn’t stolen them all) when nasty rumors began circulating all around Monaco about his choice of bride. As with any good gossip, those whispers wouldn’t stay quiet for long.
The Monegasque succession was—and still is—a rigid process. In order to be eligible to ascend to the throne, one must be either the direct descendent of the reigning monarch, their sibling, or their sibling’s direct descendent. So, when the rumor began circulating that Pascal was infertile, the continued existence of the throne was at stake. Or, was it?
Rainier III wasn’t one to give in to gossip. Because he loved Pascal, he could have ignored the rumors…had it not been for the medical test “proving” her infertility. With the rumors confirmed, Rainier III had no choice but to call off the relationship for the sake of his principality. Who knows what could have been had Pascal been the one—but alas, Rainier had to set off in search of a new love.
Lucky for him, he found one of the greatest loves possible...
After his heartbreaking split with Pascal, Rainier III took to...stamp collecting. He even opened the Museum of Stamps and Coins. Sure, not the most exciting development, but hey, you've got to have a hobby! Sure, collecting stamps might be the least charming thing a prince has ever done—but his fortunes were about to change.
Rainier III’s luck in the love department took an unexpected turn in the spring of 1955. While he was still mending his broken heart—and collecting stamps—the celebrity matchmaking gods were hard at work. After all of the nightmares he had gone through with his family, could he really have a chance to make a happy family of his own?
In April of 1955, Hollywood celebrities descended on the south of France near Monaco for the annual Cannes Film Festival. And Rainier III had his celebrity crush—and ticket to happiness—in his sights. The prince did the hospitable thing and extended an invitation to his palace to the Academy Award-winning actress, Grace Kelly.
Happily, ever after was surely in sight, wasn’t it?
Kelly received the offer to meet Rainier III through a number of intermediaries. Either playing coy or hard to get, the actress initially turned down the offer, claiming that she needed permission from the film studio that was sponsoring her trip to the film festival. But, in the end, Kelly agreed to a photo session at the palace. That decision would change her life forever.
No good romance blooms without at least a little drama, and Rainier III’s romance with Grace Kelly was no exception. While they were definitely a celebrity match made in heaven, Cupid wasn’t going to make falling in love easy. On the day of the photo session, Kelly’s procession was involved in a small car accident that delayed her arrival.
In retrospect, that was a very dark omen.
Rainier III and Grace Kelly’s first meeting was the storybook, princely tale that Rainier III had always wanted. On the day that Kelly visited the palace, there was a workers’ strike. That forced Kelly to show up in a fairy tale-worthy, no-iron summer dress with slicked back wet hair. The woman of his dreams must have looked like a dew-moistened gardenia.
After their first meeting, there was nothing in the way of Rainier III and Kelly’s love—not even a maniacal, power-hungry sister. Although, there was one big problem. At the time of Kelly’s visit to Monaco, she was dating the French actor, Jean-Pierre Aumont. But what’s an actor compared a charming, stamp-collecting prince?
Despite the fact that she wasn’t “on the market,” Kelly must have been impressed with Rainier III. The photo session was an astounding success that grabbed media headlines everywhere. In the press, Kelly demurred and described Rainier III as “charming”—the one thing he always wanted to be. But eventually, the film festival and the budding romance had to end.
Even though they had a great first meeting, Rainier III only met with Kelly once more in that spring of 1955. It was at a cocktail party in Cannes and they weren’t able to steal away from the throngs of people pulling them this way and that. Nevertheless, there was just something so irresistible about the two and they agreed to keep up correspondence after Kelly returned to America.
Rainier III had his heart broken once before. Having gone through that terrible experience already, Rainier III wasn’t going to let another opportunity at love slip away. Less than a year after they met, in Christmas of 1955, he whisked himself off to America to pursue his one, true love.
Rainier III must have looked rather dashing when he came riding into Kelly’s family home in Pennsylvania on a gallant white steed…or in a chauffeur-driven limo, same thing. But whatever his mode of transportation, Rainier III dropped to one knee and popped the question. What could Kelly say but, “Yes!” Especially after she saw the ring.
Rainier III showered Kelly with gifts, including not one, but two engagement rings. The first one he gave her he had fashioned from two family heirlooms. No word on whether those were the stolen loot of his mother’s lover. The second ring was a 10.5 karat diamond…nestled inside of more diamonds. I hope Kelly had big hands to show off those big rocks.
Of course, Kelly was all too happy to marry a prince—a real charmer, too—but she wasn’t the only one getting a bargain in the marriage. In his short time on the throne, Rainier III managed to boost the royal coffers, but that didn’t stop him from getting paid. The Sovereign Prince of Monaco received a whopping $2 million dowry for Kelly’s hand in marriage.
After receiving all of their congratulations stateside, Kelly departed for Monaco in the spring of 1956 and arrived two weeks before the big day. To say that Kelly received a warm welcome wouldn’t even begin to describe the excitement in Monaco. Rainier III had to call in riot authorities from neighboring France to keep the adoring crowds at bay.
Rainier III and Kelly’s wedding consisted of two ceremonies: a boring legal one and then a lavish religious one. The legal ceremony took place on April 18 at the Prince’s Palace. The justice officiating the proceedings bored everyone to sleep when he had to recite the 142 titles that Kelly inherited through marriage. How’s that for a legal name change?
The big ceremony—and equally large celebration—took place the very next day at Saint Nicholas Cathedral. If the royal couple were wondering where all of their adoring fans had gone to, they quickly figured it out. 700 guests attended the ceremony at Saint Nicholas Cathedral. Oh, and another 30 million watched the event live on television. Watching that extravagant day, it was hard to picture the nightmare that lay ahead.
Rainier III and Kelly’s reception was another blowout event. To feed all of those starry-eyed attendees, Rainier III had to order a massive cake. Truly massive. The cake for the reception was a six-tier replication of the Prince’s Palace. It was so huge that Rainier III had to use his ceremonial sword to cut the first slice.
Rainier III and Kelly seemed to appreciate the enthusiasm that people showed for their wedding. Or, at least, Rainier III was relieved that his sister didn’t try to drown Kelly in the riviera before they could say their “I dos.” Both Rainier III and Kelly told reporters later that words like “excited” and “overjoyed” didn’t even come close to “expressing their feelings.”
While they definitely enjoyed having the world’s most anticipated and close watched wedding, Rainier III later called the celebrations "the biggest circus in history." He jokingly added that he and Kelly "both agreed that we should really have got married in a little chapel in the mountains.” That might actually have been a life-saving decision. Literally.
It’s customary for people to gush about the bride’s dress—and Kelly’s twenty-five-yard, silk taffeta gown was a jaw-dropper. But Rainier III was no slouch at his own wedding. The prince and groom wore a Napoleon-inspired military dress of his own design. He looked like he walked straight out of the pages of a Disney movie.
Sadly, he wouldn’t get a Disney ending.
Of all the wedding gifts that Rainier III and Kelly received, the best probably came from the Greek shipping magnate, Aristotle Onassis. The billionaire gifted the newlywed Monegasque royals the Deo Juvante II—a luxurious yacht. That was obviously very generous of Mr. Onassis. You see, they had only registered for a speedboat.
Rainier III and Kelly clearly appreciated Mr. Onassis’ extravagant gift. After all of the hype surrounding their brief courtship and opulent wedding, they just wanted some quiet alone time…with a full crew. The royal couple decided to take their new luxury yacht on a two-week cruise around the Mediterranean for their honeymoon.
If only they had stayed out at sea...
For almost 30 long years, Rainier III was able to enjoy the stable, healthy family life he had always wanted. He and Kelly had three children together between 1957 and 1965 and they both took up many charitable and philanthropic endeavors. Including, yes, stamp collecting. But Rainier III soon got the urge for a life outside of his princely and fatherly duties.
In their own way, movies had brought Rainier III and Kelly together. They had met during the Cannes Film Festival, after all. So, in 1979, it made sense that the couple would return to film. Rainier III made his acting debut alongside his wife in the short film, Rearranged. For a while, it seemed like the royal couple were going to rule both Monaco and Hollywood.
Of course, life is never that kind. Especially not to charming princes.
Before Rainier III and Kelly could extend their 1979 short film for mainstream viewing in the United States, tragedy struck. Kelly suffered an unexpected stroke while driving home with their youngest daughter, Princess Stéphanie. In an instant, Kelly passed away and Rainier III lost his beloved wife and his happy life. He swore that he’d never fall in love again.
And he didn’t.
Everyone has their flaws, even the ever-dashing Rainier III. Before you go thinking that you’d like to have locked lips with that prince charming, think again. Allegedly, Rainier III smoked up to 60 coffin nails every day. I’m sorry, but there isn’t a crown shiny enough or a kingdom rich enough to make me overlook that smoker’s breath.
With habits like the one above, Rainier III wasn’t long for this world. Between January and November of 2004, he checked into the hospital three times with various conditions ranging from general fatigue to coronary lesions. Perhaps if he had spent a little less time with his precious stamps and more time exercising, he could have improved his health.
The following year, Rainier III once again found himself in the hospital and on a ventilator for renal and heart failure. Though his condition improved slightly the next day—i.e., he opened his eyes—his doctors remained “very reserved” on his prognosis. Now, it might just be us, but that sounds like medical talk for “he ain’t gonna make it.”
Sure enough, just as the doctors predicted, Rainier III passed away the following month in April of 2005, almost 50 years to the day since he had met Grace Kelly. And because Rainier III was no fool, he had ceded his throne to his son and second-eldest before kicking the bucket to avoid any surprises from his sister. Charming and clever.
After a lifetime of family struggles and ups and downs, Rainier III finally laid his head down to rest. It’s fitting that his eternal resting place is Saint Nicholas Cathedral, right next to his wife and the woman who brought him the only happiness he knew. It also happens to be the same place where 30 million people had tuned in to watch his marriage.
At the time of his passing, Rainier III was 81 years old. He had been the Sovereign Prince of Monaco for nearly six decades, making him one of the longest-serving monarchs in history. Not too shabby for a little guy that started out with vipers for parents and a cloud of legitimacy hanging over his head. However, one dark cloud hung over his passing.
Prince Stéphanie was always the black sheep of the royal family, but that doesn't mean she deserved the cruel betrayal Rainier dealt her before the end. For whatever reason, Prince Rainier III all but excluded Princess Stéphanie from his will. Instead, he gave the majority of his fortune to her older siblings, Princess Caroline and Prince Albert. Reportedly, it was worth billions.
But don’t worry, her father didn’t leave her entirely empty-handed: He left her one percent of his estate. Ouch.
Grace and Rainier were one of Europe's great love stories—but what about his first romance, Gisèle Pascal? Rainier III left her over her infertility—but he had no idea that he was in the middle of yet another one of his family’s many deceptions. As it turns out, Pascal wasn’t infertile. In fact, she would later go on to have a child with another man and live her happily ever after far away from Monaco and its conniving royals. So, which family member had betrayed Rainier III this time?
Rainier III’s father had lied about his orientation. His mother hadn’t lied but, given her dating history, probably should have. But the demise of his happy relationship was all thanks to his ambitious and manipulative older sister, Princess Antoinette, Baroness of Massy. She had figured that if Rainier III never married, then he couldn’t have children and her own son would ascend to the throne.
But, given Rainier III’s eventual bride, the joke was on her.
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