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Monaco's House of Grimaldi: are they actually cursed or just unlucky in love?

The grim spectres of divorce, infidelity and tragedy have long stalked the private lives of the royal family of Monaco. As the palace on the Riviera announces a wedding this summer, Julia Molony explores the legend of the Grimaldi curse

Grace Kelly on the day of her wedding to Prince Rainier III in 1956
Grace Kelly on the day of her wedding to Prince Rainier III in 1956
Princesses Caroline and Stephanie pictured last year

By Julia Molony

In June, the historic village of Saint-Remy-de-Provence in southern France will provide a picturesque backdrop for a royal wedding. According to Paris Match, Charlotte Casiraghi, daughter of Princess Caroline of Hanover and granddaughter to Grace Kelly and Prince Rainier III, will marry her long-term partner, film producer Dimitri Rassam. The couple will have two ceremonies - a civil one in Monaco, followed by a traditional church wedding in the heart of Provence.

Her family is the living emblem of Monaco. But perhaps it's when she's in Saint-Remy that the 32-year-old Charlotte feels most at home. In 1990, Charlotte's father, Italian businessman Stefano Casiraghi, was killed in a boating accident aged just 30. Reeling from shock, her mother fled Monaco and the glare of the world's media and moved her family to the relative tranquillity of Saint-Remy.

Charlotte spent much of her childhood there, living in a rented villa at a safe distance from the pomp and pageantry of life back in the principality. She attended the local public school where she excelled academically, later following in the footsteps of her mother Caroline to study at the Sorbonne.

She has worked as a model, has dabbled in journalism and has had a successful career as a competitive showjumper.

Eleventh in line to the throne (mum Princess Caroline is third in line), Charlotte is a private citizen, with no state obligations. Nonetheless, her marriage carries huge significance for the Monegasque royal family.

The House of Grimaldi has experienced its fair share of turmoil in recent years. Scandal, divorce and rumours of infidelity have dogged them for decades, with the result that they have been dubbed Europe's most dysfunctional family. A wedding and a new start perhaps offers the chance to change the script.

According to popular lore, the dynasty is afflicted by a curse which dates from the 13th century, when Prince Rainier I kidnapped and defiled a young woman who took revenge by pronouncing that "never will a Grimaldi find true happiness in marriage".

When Charlotte's grandmother, Irish-American Hollywood beauty Grace Kelly, packed her 80 suitcases and sailed off to embark on a new life as a princess in 1956, she no doubt hoped she would sidestep the curse. Aged 26, she had endured a string of failed affairs with co-stars, including a relationship with Clark Gable, who was 28 years her senior, and Ray Milland, her co-star in Dial M for Murder (1954).

"I had been through several unhappy romances," she is reported to have said. "Although I had become a star, I was feeling lost and confused. I didn't want to drift into my 30s without knowing where I was going in my personal life."

Her first meeting with the man who would send her life in a new, unexpected direction was set up by the film editor from Paris Match. Kelly was on location in the French Riviera, working on the Hitchcock film To Catch A Thief, when the journalist managed to rope her into agreeing to a photo-op with the young Prince Rainier III.

The starlet was not immediately love-struck. But the prince started writing her letters and it was through this correspondence that, gradually, she began to fall for his charms.

Not long after, he visited Kelly's childhood home in Philadelphia. Her sister, Lizanne Kelly LeVine, remembers that the couple spent their time "walking in the woods, driving through the mountains, and talking about life and values - they fell in love".

Before the end of the trip, Rainier proposed and Kelly accepted.

"Everything was perfect," Grace said of their time in Philadelphia. "When I was with him, I was happy wherever we were, and I was happy with whatever we were doing."

Kelly dramatically gave up her career as an actress in order to step into the new role of princess. "One of the reasons I believe you're marrying this man is because this is the best script that you ever received in your life. You will be a star for years to come," she was told by her friend, fashion designer Oleg Cassini.

The wedding on April 18, 1956, which was filmed by MGM and broadcast in cinemas around the world, was the event of the decade. Some 3,000 citizens of Monaco attended, alongside a host of VIPs that included Ava Gardner and Cary Grant. Kelly's dress was designed by an Oscar-winning costume designer and, according to Vogue magazine, took 30 seamstresses six weeks to make, using 300 yards of antique lace and 150 yards of taffeta, tulle and silk. It was by any standards a fairytale wedding and, according to Kelly's friend Judith Balaban Quine, the actress was in a state of enchantment: "He was her prince on a white charger and he was going to rescue her from all this. He could not possibly have known that what he was taking her from was what made her the very person he loved. She did not know it, either."

It wasn't the simple happy-ever-after she'd hoped for, however. Once the wedding was over, it seems unlikely that Kelly found true happiness in Monaco. According to Judith Balaban Quine, the role she had taken on was to be more difficult than "any day on a movie set, and she would be called upon to create more illusion that she had as an actress".

The princess became pregnant with her first child on her honeymoon and welcomed her eldest daughter, Caroline, on January 23, 1957.

"I am sure there were times in the early years when she felt somewhat like a prisoner in a gilded cage behind the palace walls," said Grace's closest friend, Joan Dale, in her book My Days With Princess Grace of Monaco. Celebrity biographer Wendy Leigh had a rather more bleak assessment of events. She claims that Prince Rainier III had taken at least three mistresses within months of the wedding. "Grace was humiliated and she was extremely unhappy," she wrote in her book True Grace. "She was surrounded by decadence and Rainier's disreputable friends."

The couple went on to have two more children - Prince Albert II, and Princess Stephanie - and the marriage lasted until Kelly's untimely death in 1982 at the age of 52. She was driving her then 17-year-old daughter Stephanie to Paris where the girl was due to start at a new school. Unusually, they had decided not to use a chauffeur for the trip. The details of the death remain shrouded in mystery to this day but what is known is that Grace took a sharp left turn on a steep mountain road, sending the vehicle tumbling down a 120ft slope. While Stephanie escaped with minor injuries, Princess Grace suffered a brain haemorrhage and never recovered.

The loss of Grace left the rest of the family reeling. And the burden fell to her eldest daughter Caroline to fill the role her mother had left. In adulthood, Caroline was always the pragmatic one. "After Grace's death a miracle happened," said Prince Rainier the following year. "Princess Caroline stepped into her mother's shoes. She has the same spirit as her mother. The way she is handling the jobs I have given her is a source of great satisfaction to me."

For Caroline, that responsibility was a double-edged sword. "I was raised with a sense of duty, obedience and guilt," she once said of her childhood. "What I had to do always came before what I wanted to do."

She and Albert both have hinted that family life was less than perfectly happy. Their parents were distant figures, and Caroline has said that she spent much more time with her nanny, Maureen, than with her mother and father. "For my brother and I, Maureen was a key figure in our life," Caroline revealed, according to People magazine. "When we were little, we were probably closer to our nanny than to our parents."

Grace herself admitted to being a harsh disciplinarian when her children were small, just as her draconian mother had been with her. "When Caroline was little, it seemed like I spanked her every other day," she once said, according to American biographer J Randy Taraborrelli. "Albert didn't need as much. A sharp word was enough. Stephanie? I should have been beating her like a gong long ago."

As adults, all three of Grace Kelly's children have been unlucky in love. Caroline has been married three times. Her first wedding, to French industrialist Philippe Junot, was a lavish public event and took place in 1978, when she was just 20. They had met at university, and her mother apparently disapproved of the union, predicting that it wouldn't last more that two years. The prediction came true. In 1980 the pair sought, and were granted, a divorce. Within a few years she had remarried, to Italian entrepreneur Stefano Casiraghi. This chance at a happy union was dashed when he was killed while powerboat racing off the coast of Monaco near Cap Ferrat.

A few years later, Caroline was living in Saint-Remy when reports began to emerge that linked her romantically to the Prince of Hanover, who was married at the time. The rumours were proved correct when shortly afterwards he divorced his wife and he and Caroline were married on her 42nd birthday. Later that year she gave birth to her youngest daughter, Alexandra.

Her third marriage has not been smooth sailing. Reputed to be a fiery character, Prince Ernst-August of Hanover faced charges of assault in 2004 after an altercation in a nightclub. In 2010 the papers reported the pair were living separately and were heading for divorce. They remain officially married though are regularly referred to as "estranged" in the press.

Caroline has four children: Andrea, Charlotte, Pierre and Alexandra. Only the youngest has a title via her father - she is Princess Alexandra of Hanover.

For many years, Caroline's younger brother Albert's confirmed bachelorhood was a long-standing source of disappointment for their father, Prince Rainier III, who made no secret of his wish that his son would settle down and provide an heir to the throne. Throughout the 1990s and noughties he was linked to a string of high-profile women but showed no sign of committing to marriage. By 2002, in desperation, his father rushed through a change of constitution, ensuring that the kingdom would pass to Albert's sister if Albert failed to produce an heir.

Finally, Albert submitted to his father's wishes, and in 2010 he announced his engagement to South African swimming champion Charlene Wittstock.

However, the path to married life did not run smoothly. In the days leading up to the wedding the press reported that Charlene had tried to leave Monaco after learning her husband-to-be, already the father to two outside of wedlock, had fathered a third child - the result of an affair that took place during their five-year relationship. The wedding eventually went ahead as planned but rumours cast a long shadow over the event, with ABC News reporting that "the bride was in tears throughout the ceremony".

It's arguably the youngest of Grace's daughters, Stephanie, however, who can lay claim to the most colourful love life. The wild child of the family, she has never achieved stability in her personal life, preferring to seek out variety and adventure. She counts one Hollywood star and a circus ringleader/elephant trainer among her former boyfriends. She had a short-lived marriage to a Portuguese acrobat 10 years younger than her and had two children with her bodyguard Daniel Ducruet. The couple married in 1995 but had split by the following year.

Stephanie has three children: Camille Gottlieb, who is not recognised as part of the royal family as her parents never married, while Louis and Pauline Ducruet are part of the royal family but don't themselves have titles.

Perhaps it's further evidence that the Grimaldi curse continues to hold sway over the love lives of the Monaco royal family. Or perhaps it's more simple than that. Perhaps it's just that, as Stephanie has said herself: "I may be a princess, but above all I'm a human being."

A new generation of Grimaldis are reshaping Monaco's royal family. But who exactly are they?

Andrea Albert Pierre Casiraghi

Fourth in line to the throne, Andrea was once included in People magazine's '50 Most beautiful people' list. He is married to socialite Tatiana Santo Domingo with whom he has three children.

Charlotte Casiraghi

Eldest daughter of Caroline and her second husband Stefano Casiraghi, Charlotte is 11th in line to the throne. She has one son, aged five, with French comedian Gad Elmaleh. She welcomed a second son, with her fiance Dimitri Rassam, last year.

Pierre Casiraghi

The youngest of Caroline's children with Stefano Casiraghi is married to Italian aristocrat and media star Beatrice Borromeo. They have two children. He has an economics degree and an active professional life as a businessman and investor.

Princess Alexandra of Hanover

The only child of Princess Caroline and her third husband, Prince Ernst August of Hanover, the 19-year-old princess is a keen figure skater and in 2015 represented Monaco at the European Youth Olympics.

Louis Ducruet

The eldest son of Princess Stephanie was born as the result of a relationship with her bodyguard. He is a professional scout for the AS Monaco football team.

Pauline Ducruet

Pauline's childhood years were partially spent on the road with a circus after her mother, Princess Stephanie, embarked on an affair with an elephant trainer. She was an intern at Vogue and recently launched her own fashion line.

Prince Jacques and Princess Gabriella of Monaco

Pre-schooler twins Jacques and Gabriella are first and second in line to the throne respectively since their father Albert II became the ruling monarch of the principality in 2005 at the age of 47. They celebrated their fourth birthday last month and are already Instagram stars via their mother's official account.

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