The tiny principality of Monaco covers less than 1 square mile. Its royal house, the Grimaldi family, is said to have generated more scandals per square yard than any other royal house in Europe, and the stories are hard to dispute.
The three siblings born of the so-called fairytale marriage of Prince Rainier III and Hollywood icon Grace Kelly have produced nine children – only four of which were born in wedlock, and of those, two came less than nine months after their parents’ weddings. It matters because, in the archaic world of the aristocracy, you can have kids outside marriage, but they don’t become part of the in-crowd who can inherit the throne. The kind that really matters because they keep the whole machine running from one generation to the next.
A tax haven that was fueled largely by casino revenues for decades, the principality of Monaco has often come under fire for enabling the sketchy accounting and tax evasion of at least some of its residents. In December 2016, Monaco took steps to allay the fears of other nations by pledging to fight tax evasion and improve sharing information.
In their over 700 years of ruling the tax free haven, the Grimaldi family has displayed one overwhelming impulse – to do anything to stay in power. Here are some of the sketchy shenanigans that can happen when money meets power and you’re the one writing the rules.
15. Princess Caroline And The Playboys
Princess Caroline is the oldest child of Prince Rainier and Princess Grace, and after the staid, old-school propriety of her parents’ marriage, she set the tabloid-ready tone for the next generation early. Her taste in men, it has to be said, runs to attractive bad boys. At age 21, she scandalized her conservative parents by marrying Philippe Junot, a much older Frenchman with a reputation as a playboy. The marriage fell apart in 1980 after less than two years. Since it was important to remain Catholic, the family managed to arrange to have the marriage annulled. Three years later, a marriage to Italian socialite, businessman, and power boating enthusiast Stefano Casiraghi was hastily arranged just before Caroline gave birth to their son. Stefano was killed in 1990 in a speedboat racing accident.
14. Princess Stephanie, Wild Child
After big sis Caroline set the tone with a scandalous first marriage, Princess Stephanie took it up a notch and was a fixture in the tabloid press during most of the 1980s. To be fair, it began after her mother’s death in the car accident — and to add to the trauma, Stephanie was beside her mother in the car when it happened. Stephanie was known as a wild child and dabbled as a model, swimwear designer, and even as a singer. She racked up impressive numbers in the hookup department, including race car driver Paul Belmondo and Hollywood heartthrob of the day Rob Lowe. Topless pics were splashed all over a British tabloid, among others that showed her partying with servants and male strippers alike. “From Tiaras to Trailer Parks,” one headline screamed.
13. Princess Stephanie And Her Bodyguards
Her father Prince Rainier wasn’t happy at all when Stephanie announced that she was pregnant with her former bodyguard’s child in May of 1992. The former bodyguard, Daniel Ducruet, had just broken up with his girlfriend, who was at the time six months’ pregnant with their child. A Grimaldi is never afraid one to shy away from messy personal relationships, however, and Stephanie went on to have another child with Ducruet before they eventually got married in 1995. About a year and a half later, Ducruet was photographed cavorting with Miss Nude Belgium and the couple divorced. A third child, Camille, was born in 1998 to the still single Stephanie. She never named a father and the name on the birth certificate is blank, but many believe it to be Jean-Raymond Gottlieb, her chief of security.
12. Grace Kelly – Sanitizing The Princess
One of the greatest sins of the Grimaldi clan was to suck in the sexy, talented young Grace Kelly and take her out of the movie business. Giving up her burgeoning career was a stipulation after the royal wedding was announced. MGM Studios got exclusive rights to film and screen the wedding as part of a deal to buy her way out of her seven-year contract, and the studio even provided her wedding dress. Rainier banned Grace’s movies in Monaco and she retired to the life of living in a fishbowl. It’s a far cry from her heyday as queen of Hollywood, where she racked up an impressive list of lovers that included most of the major heartthrobs of the day – Gary Cooper, Clark Gable, William Holden, Ray Milland, David Niven, and even director Alfred Hitchcock. Married, or not, she hooked up with pretty much all of her leading men and then some. She was written up in the newspaper scandal columns and called a homewrecker. Sadly, according to most accounts, after her marriage, Princess Grace seems to have lived an often lonely life where she missed her acting days. She was making a short film that was left unfinished when she had a stroke while driving, resulting in the accident that took her life in 1982.
11. Princess Stephanie And The Circus
Monaco has always been circus-friendly for some reason, and for Stephanie, that included a fascination for the people who run it. In 2001, she entered into a relationship with a married circus owner. Franco Knie was no down market carney, however. The Swiss ringmaster was a sixth generation circus owner and trained Asian elephants. He was said to have a fortune of his own worth millions. Stephanie packed up the kids and lived in a caravan while helping out with the pachyderms. A year or so of that, however, and the elephants got old. After a brief stint back home in Monaco, she started another relationship with a Portuguese trapeze artist by the name of Adans Lopez Peres, and the two got married in 2003. They divorced less than a year later.
10. Prince Ernst of Hanover
Prince Ernst, Princess Caroline’s third husband, deserves his own entry into the sketchy Grimaldi list. Prince Ernst of Hanover began his relationship with Caroline while he was still married to his first wife, who eventually couldn’t take it anymore and left him. In a twist that involved the Royal Marriages Act 1772, the Prince had to get permission from the Queen of England to marry Caroline. Caroline was pregnant when they tied the knot in 1999. It may have been a decision Caroline regretted fairly soon afterward. In 2000, the Prince caused an international incident after urinating on the Turkish Pavilion at the Expo 2000 fair in Hanover. In 2004, he was convicted of aggravated assault after a fight at a resort in Kenya. He was fined $260,000, and it’s not his first time in court on similar charges.
9. Disposable Lovers And Inconvenient Children
The Grimaldis are more than willing to bend the rules to stay in power. By 1919, Louis, the heir to the throne, presented a dilemma. He was single. But that didn’t mean he was childless. A year earlier, his laundrywoman had asked him to look in on her daughter when he was in Paris. Turns out said daughter, Marie, worked in a nightclub. And Louis looked in on her. About nine months later, Marie gave birth to Charlotte. Louis’ father, Prince Albert, was a pragmatic man, so he simply arranged to legitimize Charlotte and marry her off to a random French aristocrat. She had a daughter and then a son, Rainier, who became heir in turn in 1949. It seems that Prince Rainier was a chip off the old block. On becoming ruler, he promptly ditched Gisèle Pascal, said to be the love of his life, because she wasn’t able to have children. Charlotte herself seemed to be a true Grimaldi. After Rainier was born, her husband left her to go back to France, aware that he was disliked in Monaco’s court. According to the terms of the divorce, he was not allowed to ever return to Monaco, and the police were authorized to physically throw him out if he did.
8. Marrying Up To Restore The Realm
Prince Rainier III took over the throne in May of 1949, and after he tossed his girlfriend aside, he knew he needed to find a potential wife so that he could produce an heir, the main job of the aristocracy. At the time, Monaco was nearing bankruptcy. Its casinos and hotels had seen better days and it was no longer thought of as a place for the world’s elite. His fairy tale wedding to Hollywood’s Ice Princess, Grace Kelly, in 1956 changed all that. According to many sources who have come forward in recent years, that’s no coincidence, and it also wasn’t entirely the idea of Prince Rainier, either. Those sources include former Hollywood producer Robert Evans, in his 2013 book The Fat Lady Sang. Greek billionaire Aristotle Onassis is said to have been the one to first cook up the scheme of getting Prince Rainier to marry a famous Hollywood actress to bolster the fortunes of Monaco’s casinos – in which Aristotle had a financial interest in. An introduction between Grace and Rainier was arranged over a photo shoot at the Cannes Film Festival in 1955. Rainier married Grace Kelly in 1956, and true enough, the glamorous, celebrity-studded wedding and subsequent publicity put Monaco on the map as a high end place for the world’s rich to come and play. The couple went on a honeymoon in a luxurious yacht owned by Onassis.
7. Tax Haven For The 1 Percent
Monaco’s famous tax exempt status and its glitzy casino have been tied together by history. The area that Monaco occupies was disputed territory between rival factions in Italy and France for centuries. By the early 1800s, the territory was fixed, but Monaco’s rulers realized that the tiny principality needed a cash cow to support their regal lifestyles. The first casino was introduced in 1857. A series of hotels and a second casino joined it in 1864, grouped by Prince Charles III under the company name Société de Bains de Mer. In 1869, Monaco was made into a tax-free state, with the country’s revenues at the time largely coming directly from the casinos. The one stipulation: As a citizen of Monaco, your income is tax-free, but it is illegal for you to play in the casino. In other words, it’s only foreigners’ cash that funnels into the Monaco’s coffers. Nowadays, the largest source of the principality’s revenues is the VAT or value added tax. Monaco has been on the black list of several countries over the last several years for its tax haven status, an element that is known to have fans among the Russian mob, and megarich who often shift their affairs to Monaco when they come under fire from authorities in their native countries.
6. Rainier Vs. Onassis
After the Second World War, Aristotle Onassis was a major investor in Monaco’s Société de Bains de Mer, which controlled the kingdom’s casinos. He wanted to turn Monaco into a kind of giant Las Vegas, devoted to becoming a high-end playground. Prince Rainier, on the other hand, wanted to create a more diverse tourist destination. He also wanted control of the entire realm. So, Rainier simply created an additional 600,000 shares in the Société, shares that would be controlled by the state. By him, in other words. Onassis had some influence in the National Council, but he knew he couldn’t fight for his vision now that Rainier was fully in control. He left Monaco shortly after, and Monaco did end up with a more diversified economy than Onassis had proposed.
5. Changing The Constitution
When you’re part of the aristocracy, the primary directive is to stay aristocratic, like, forever. So it’s nothing to, for instance, change the constitution of an independent principality to make sure your family can stay in power in perpetuity. Concerned that Albert II wasn’t producing heirs, or even hooking up with babes of the kind of social status he could marry, the country’s succession laws were changed in April 2002. Until that point, the throne could only be passed down through male heirs and their children. The amendment, pushed by his father Prince Rainier, allowed the throne to pass to his sisters and their children if Albert II died without legitimate children. Institutionalized misogyny – it’s all good until it proves too inconvenient to the family fortunes.
4. Prince Albert And Alexandre
At one time, there were rampant rumors that Albert, now Prince Albert II, was gay. It’s really not that uncommon for men to remain bachelors until their 50s, but in the Grimaldi circle, keeping the family in business means keeping a steady output of male babies. That means legitimate male babies – as in those who were born inside a marriage. A few weeks after Prince Rainier passed away, and Albert had ascended to the throne, he went public with the confession that he had a son who was then three years old. The mother was a Togolese woman who had been a flight attendant when he met her. Prince Albert went public on French TV and hinted at others. The relationship with Nicole Coste went on undercover for about six years, even during a time when he publicly contested the child’s parentage. In 2014, Ms. Coste went public with her complaints that her son Alexandre Coste Grimaldi rarely saw his father after Albert had finally married. As an illegitimate child, Alexandre will never be in line for the throne.
3. Prince Albert And Jazmin Grace
Prince Albert followed up his blockbuster confession of one illegitimate child with another revelation the following year. In 2006, he went public with his acknowledgment of a then 14-year-old daughter by the name of Jazmin Grace Grimaldi. Her mother’s name was Tamara Rotolo, a married woman from California. The two met while on holidays in the French Riviera. When she discovered that she was pregnant, Tamara opted for a quieter life back home on the West Coast, where Jazmin was raised. Jazmin first met her father at age 11, and nowadays, occasionally spends time with him and other family members – including Alexandre, Albert’s other illegitimate child. Like Alexandre, she will be able to inherit from Albert’s estate, but cannot be in line to inherit the throne.
2. Runaway Brides
While the Grimaldi women never hesitate to go after the men they fancy, no matter what, conversely, the men are the ones sometimes left abandoned. In the 17th century, Prince Louis I of Monaco’s wife, Catherine-Charlotte, left her husband to become a mistress to King Louis IV of France. His wife left him to be someone else’s side chick – harsh! When long-time bachelor Prince Albert was finally set to tie the knot in 2011, there were rumors of another runaway bride. As reported in L’Express and other French media, his bride-to-be Charlene Wittstock, a former Olympic swimmer, tried to pull a runner of her own. According to the stories – which were denied by the royal family – the family had to send representatives to the Nice International airport to intercept her and talk her back into the fold. The couple did marry as planned and has since had two children.
1. The Grimaldi Takeover
The house of Grimaldi comes originally from Genoa in Italy, and first reached the fortress of Monaco in 1297 in the form of Francois Grimaldi. Francois, far from being royalty, was a pirate, also known as “Malizia” or “The Cunning” in Italian. He captured the fortress from the monks who held it by disguising himself as a monk too. His army of mercenaries took the fortress, killing the inhabitants, and to this day, the coat of arms of Monaco – somewhat ironically, we feel – bears two monks wielding swords. By 1604, the family decided it had graduated to royalty, and after that, the hereditary head of state has been known by the title of prince. The Grimaldi curse is said to stem from the time of Francois’ conquest. Sources vary on whether the curse was uttered by a slaughtered monk or Francois Grimaldi’s betrayed lover, but on dying, the party said, “Never will a Grimaldi find true happiness in marriage.” It’s a curse that seems to have come true in the centuries since.