Albert, Prince of Monaco
Albert, Prince of Monaco
Prince of Monaco
Born Albert Alexandre Louis Pierre Grimaldi, March 14, 1958, in Monaco; son of Rainier III (a prince and head of state) and Grace (a princess; maiden name, Kelly); children: Alexandre (with Nicole Coste). Education: Amherst College, B.A., 1981.
Inherited the title His Serene Highness, the Hereditary Prince of Monaco, at birth, 1958; Marquis of Baux, 1958-2005; became His Most Serene Highness, the Sovereign Prince of Monaco, 2005. Served in Monaco's Royal Navy, 1981-82, and reached rank of first-class ensign; internships with Morgan Guaranty Trust's New York City and Paris offices, with Mo?t-Hennessy's Paris office, with the New York City advertising firm of Wells, Rich … Greene, and the New York City law firm of Rogers … Wells, 1983-85. Also member, International Olympic Committee, 1985—.
Monaco's Prince Albert II ascended to the throne of this tiny European principality in 2005 after the death of his father, Prince Rainier III. The 47-year-old ruler, considered one of Europe's most eligible bachelors, heads one of the world's oldest extant royal houses; he is also one of the handful of hereditary rulers left in the world who wield absolute power over their subjects. More benevolent than tyrannical, Albert is very much a scion of the modern era, a pro-environment prince unafraid to sit for press interviews. Not long after becoming head of state, Albert ridded the palace of his late father's phalanx of advisors, and announced a number of initiatives whose goal was to infuse Monaco's economy with a new vigor.
Albert is a scion of the long-reigning Grimaldi family, who originally hailed from Genoa, Italy. They fled strife there—neighborhoods were clannish and went to war with one another at alarmingly frequent intervals—and in 1270 settled on a tiny, seaside spit of land perched between Italy and France. Within a generation, a deal was struck with France that gave the Grimaldis royal status. The line continued down to Albert's father, Rainier, who in 1956 married the American film star Grace Kelly in a lavish royal ceremony that was one of the most major press events of the year. A daughter, Princess Caroline, was born to the couple in 1957, followed 13 months later by Albert, whose full name is Albert Alexandre Louis Pierre Grimaldi. He was born in Monte Carlo, the city which has nearly the same borders as the principality of Monaco.
When Rainier inherited the throne in 1949, Monaco was nearly bankrupt, and had a reputation for being nothing more than a lavish but somewhat dissolute playground on the French Riviera. The British writer W. Somerset Maugham famously dubbed the principality "a sunny place for shady people." Before Rainier's time, its landmark casino had been the source of so much revenue that taxes in Monaco were abolished entirely, and it became known as a haven for the rich and powerful—as well as for the rich and secretive, whose wealth may have been obtained via illicit means. Monaco also had some famously lax banking laws, which allowed for an unusual degree of secrecy.
Both Rainier and Princess Grace did much to revive Monaco's fortunes over the next quarter-century. Rainier did little to reform the secretive banking laws, but did work to enhance Monaco's reputation in the world, and reasserted his control over the once-again profitable casino after a lease deal with Greek shipping tycoon Aristotle Onassis. Princess Grace, a devoted mother to Albert, Caroline, and Albert's younger sister, Princess Stephanie, was an active patron of the arts in Monaco and hosted a lavish annual charity gala for the International Red Cross aid organization.
As a teenager, Albert attended Monte Carlo's Albert I High School, named after his illustrious ancestor, Prince Albert I. After graduating in 1976, he spent a year in preparation for his future royal duties as heir to the throne, and entered Amherst College in Massachusetts. He proved a talented athlete in several sports, including tennis, javelin-throwing, and skiing, and pledged a campus fraternity, Chi Psi. He graduated in 1981 with a degree in political science, and went on to serve stints in Monaco's Royal Navy and with Morgan Guaranty Trust, the Wall Street banking house. Gossip columnists across Europe and in North America, too, speculated on his future and who he might marry.
The exploits of Monaco's royal offspring had already been well-chronicled in the international media. Albert's sister Caroline had recently divorced her first husband, a Paris banker several years her senior, which was a somewhat scandalous event back in 1980 in light of the fact that she was the scion of a devoutly Roman Catholic royal family. In 1982, a far greater tragedy struck the Grimaldi household, when Albert's mother, Princess Grace, died in an automobile accident on a perilous stretch of road that linked Monte Carlo to a family retreat just across the border with France. Stephanie, 17 years old at the time, was also in the car, but survived the crash. The funeral coverage, broadcast around the world, showed a Prince Rainier and his children seemingly paralyzed by grief.
Albert spent the next two decades preparing for his future role as the prince of Monaco, the title he would inherit upon the death of his father or, as some predicted, if his father chose to retire and abdicate the throne. Still an avid athlete, he participated in five Winter Olympiads between 1988 and 2002 as a member of Monaco's Olympic bobsled team. He also continued to confound the press with his perennial bachelor status. Though he dated a legion of beauties, including model Claudia Schiffer, he seemed disinclined to make a more permanent match. His sisters continued to provide fresh stories for the tabloids, however. Princess Caroline remarried in 1983, to wealthy Italian businessman and speedboat racer Stefano Casiraghi, and was already expecting her first child with him at the time of the ceremony. Casiraghi died in a 1990 speedboat accident, leaving Caroline a widow at age 33 with three young children. In 1999, she wed a German prince, Ernst of Hanover, whom her mother had reportedly once hoped to fix her up with back in the 1970s. They had a daughter together, Alexandra, again born shortly after their nuptials. Princess Stephanie's exploits were far more salacious: she had a number of failed careers, including a run as a pop singer and swimsuit designer, and dated a number of decidedly non-royal types. In the 1990s, she had two children by her former bodyguard, but the pair were divorced in 1996 after a short-lived marriage. She later took up with a circus trainer, and had a third child, whose father she steadfastly refused to identify by name.
Rainier, known for his autocratic temperament as a ruler, was said to have been disappointed with the choices his children made as adults, and there were also rumors that he had voiced doubts about Albert's leadership capabilities. As Rainier's health declined, there was some speculation that he might abdicate, but instead became Europe's longest-serving living monarch. Albert formally became regent in early 2005 when Rainier's health took a turn for the worse. Hospitalized in early March, the prince died on April 6, 2005, at the age of 81. That same day, Albert's title changed from Hereditary Prince Albert to Albert II, Sovereign Prince of Monaco.
An official three-month mourning period ensued, and Albert was enthroned as the Prince of Monaco in a formal Roman Catholic ceremony at Monte Carlo's Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception on July 12, 2005. The ceremony formally conferred his powers as an absolute monarch, responsible for all decision-making over his 32, 000 subjects—known as Monegasques—and he was one of the few royals left in the world to wield such authority. He shares legislative power with a National Council, and appoints a minister of state; otherwise all executive and judicial power rests with him.
Albert's first actions as sovereign prince seemed to set the tone for a new era in Monaco. Inside the royal Palace of Monaco—part of a complex of buildings whose original foundation was dug around 1215—he informed his father's longtime advisors that he expected their resignations shortly. Some Monaco royal-watchers had speculated that the longstanding rumors that Albert was gay may have originated among some of Prince Rainier's coterie who were hostile to the heir.
Most of those doubts about Albert's private life were assuaged a month after his father's death, when a former Air France flight attendant named Nicole Coste gave an interview detailing her relationship with the prince and providing photographs of the child that resulted from it. The two had met in 1997, and were occasionally seen together in public until Rainier reportedly objected to Coste. She became pregnant after that, and a son, Alexandre, was born in August of 2003. Coste was a native of Togo, a west African nation with colonial ties to France, and therefore Alexandre was of mixed race, but bore a clear resemblance to his father. Coste gave a tell-all interview to the French tabloid magazine Paris-Match, which published photographs of Albert holding a child that was immediately dubbed "the black prince." Headlines from other sources teased readers with speculation that Alexandre might one day become ruler of Monaco, but there was a longtime law on the books that only a direct male descendant of the reigning prince could inherit the throne, meaning Albert needed to be married to Coste for their son to rule.
Coste claimed that Albert had submitted to a DNA test that confirmed his paternity, but could not provide any evidence. She did tell Paris-Match that the prince had been quietly supporting her and Alexandre, and quite generously, too. By going to the press, she said, she hoped to force Albert to publicly acknowledge his son, which she asserted was in the child's best interests. Her tactic seemed to work, for in early July Albert's lawyer issued a statement confirming he was the father of Alexandre Coste. "It's not a very pleasant situation, " Albert told New York Times journalist Craig S. Smith two months later. "My only concern now is the well-being of the kid."
Albert had already earned the nickname "the Green Prince" for himself for enacting a series of pro-environment measures. He drives a hybrid gas-and-electric sport-utility vehicle, and shortly after his enthronement took part in a scientific mission to the Arctic Circle that planned to measure the effects of global warming on the Earth's surface. He followed the trail of his dynamic, intelligent namesake, Prince Albert I, whose same journey to Spitsbergen was one of several scientific research trips he made during his 1889-1922 reign. Albert also followed in his mother's footsteps by establishing himself as an active philanthropist and patron of humanitarian causes. He also was keenly interested in turning Monaco into a center for biotechnology, and working to increase the principality's leisure-activity revenue via sporting events.
Though Albert had yet to produce a legitimate male heir to the Grimaldi line—which for centuries had been threatened with the loss of its sovereignty to France if there was no male heir to Monaco's throne—that dilemma was resolved in 2002 with a new constitutional law stating that if a reigning prince died without any surviving legitimate direct descendants, the throne would pass on to his siblings and their children, with male heirs first in line for the throne. This made Princess Caroline the presumptive heiress to the Grimaldi title, with her son Andrea Casiraghi, born in 1984, the future prince of Monaco should Albert remain a bachelor.
Forty-seven years old when he became ruler of Monaco, Albert hosted a number of international political leaders and other luminaries for a second formal enthronement ceremony in November of 2005. He was still quite boyish, though his hairline had receded over the past decade, and was proving himself an active, athletic ruler known for the occasional press interview in which he came across as a likable, rather down-to-earth royal. He still hoped to marry, he would reply when asked, and often said that like many others, he had simply not met the right person yet. His princely status, and the legacy of a mother who was one of the twentieth century's greatest style icons, would daunt the most intrepid potential partner, he also liked to point out. Any woman who dated him would inevitably be compared to the late Princess Grace. And that, Albert told Smith in the New York Times interview, "has not only scared me, but also many women I have known."
Independent(London, England), May 6, 2005, p. 34; July 13, 2005, p. 20.
New York Times, April 7, 2005; September 10, 2005, p. A4.
People, September 28, 1987, p. 84; May 16, 2005, p. 23; July 25, 2005, p. 74.
Sports Illustrated, November 4, 2002, p. R20.
Sunday Times(London, England), May 8, 2005, p. 26; July 10, 2005, p. 26.
Time International(Europe Edition), July 18, 2005, p. 11.
Times(London, England), December 23, 1987.