Monday, May 31, 2010

In Memoriam: Rainier III

In 1955 Rainier III was an obscure princeling, ruling over a tiny country known mainly to that class of person who owned an ocean-going yacht and could afford to throw tens of thousands of francs every night at a baccarat table; one Cannes Film Festival, one fateful meeting, and two royal weddings later he's the husband of one of the most beautiful and glamourous movie stars of all time, suddenly an international celebrity in his own right, and yet still as obscure as ever.

PhotobucketIt may be because he was naturally reserved; after all, it's a wise monarch who keeps his own counsel. It is not the custom of rulers to give interviews, and so even though he was known to give a few, these were generally short on personal detail and long on extolling the virtues of Monaco as a place to do business. Or it may be that given the circumstances of his family's past he relied on reticence to keep it all under wraps.

Born on this day in 1923, the story of how he came to the throne is a long and convoluted one; the family tree of the House of Grimaldi has many rotten roots, and would not even exist today had it not been for several major grafts over the years. Nevertheless, in 1949 when his grandfather Louis II died, Rainier's legitimized mother Princess Charlotte ceded her succession rights to her son, who became Rainier III.

During the 56 years of his reign, His Serene Highness turned the fortunes of his principality around as surely as if they were on a roulette wheel; from a neglected possession 95% reliant on gambling at the outset, Monaco became a centre of international banking, a tax haven and über-resort whose coffers at the time of his death in April 2005 were only 3% enriched by the casino. Still, for all his business acumen, Rainier never could contain the Grimaldi abandon in his children... His son and heir (the current Albert II) can't seem to stop impregnating women out of wedlock, and his daughters Princess Caroline and Princess Stéphanie seemingly never met a playboy they didn't like, although the former's second marriage - to Stefano Casiraghi - may one day save the realm by providing it an heir.

For all the headaches his children must have provided, the worst day of his reign had to be that terrible day in September 1982 when Princess Grace suffered a stroke while driving, and plunged her Land Rover down a ravine, killing her; his grief was much in evidence at her funeral in Saint Nicholas Cathedral, and despite three decades' worth of tabloid rumours that theirs was more a business arrangement than a marriage, on that day this was a man whose ashen face and defeated posture belied a loss far greater than that of a colleague.

Rainier never remarried; he died in April 2005, aged 81, and was buried next to his beloved...
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