29 April, 2009

Prince Rainier III of Monaco


Rainier III, Prince of Monaco, styled His Serene Highness The Sovereign Prince of Monaco, ruled the Principality of Monaco for more than 50 years, making him one of the longest ruling monarchs of the 20th century. Though he was best known outside of Europe for having married American actress Grace Kelly, he was also responsible for reforms to Monaco's constitution and for expanding the principality's economy beyond its traditional gambling base. Gambling accounts for approximately three percent of the nation's annual revenue today; when Rainier ascended the throne in 1949, it accounted for more than 95 percent.

Rainier III was of French, Mexican, Spanish, German, Scottish, English, Dutch, and Italian ancestry.

Through his great-grandmother Lady Mary Victoria Hamilton, who was briefly Princess of Monaco, he was a descendent of James IV of Scotland. His great-great-great-grandmother was Stéphanie de Beauharnais, the adopted daughter of Napoleon Bonaparte and later the Grand Duchess of Baden. Other ancestors include William Thomas Beckford, the scandalous 18th century English collector, tastemaker, writer, and eccentric.

Rainier was also a descendent of William the Silent of Orange-Nassau, the main leader of the Dutch revolt against the Spanish Empire and ancestor to the current Dutch Royal Family; Hortense Mancini, the Duchess of Mazarin and mistress of King Charles II of England; Gabrielle de Polignac, a favorite of Marie Antoinette; Joan of Kent, the first Princess of Wales; King Charles IX of Sweden; King Frederick II of Denmark and Norway; Ferdinand I, Holy Roman Emperor, Claude, Duke of Guise and Prince Thomas M. Marciano II of Genoa.

Rainier was born in Monaco, the only son of Prince Pierre of Monaco, Duke of Valentinois (né Count Pierre de Polignac) and his wife, Hereditary Princess Charlotte, Duchess of Valentinois. Born in Algeria, his mother was the only child of Prince Louis II and Marie Juliette Louvet; she was later legitimized through formal adoption and subsequently named heiress to the throne of Monaco. His father was a half-French, half-Mexican nobleman from Brittany who adopted his wife's surname, Grimaldi, upon marriage and was made a prince of Monaco by his father-in-law.

Rainier had one sibling, HSH Princess Antoinette, Baroness of Massy, an unpopular figure generally believed to be meddlesome enough regarding her children's place in the line of succession to have forced Princess Grace to demand that she leave the country.

Rainier was first sent to study at Summerfields School in St Leonards-on-Sea, England, and later at Stowe, a prestigious English public school in Buckinghamshire. From there, he went to the Institut Le Rosey in Rolle and Gstaad, Switzerland, before continuing to the University of Montpellier in France, where he obtained a Bachelor of Arts degree, and finally to the Institut d'études politiques de Paris in Paris.

Rainier's maternal grandfather, Prince Louis II, had been a general in the French army during World War I. During World War II, Rainier served as an artillery officer in the army. As a second lieutenant, he fought so courageously during the German counter-offensive in Alsace that he won the Croix de Guerre and Bronze Star and was given the rank of Chevalier in the Legion of Honor.

On 9 May 1949, Rainier became the Sovereign Prince of Monaco on the death of Prince Louis II, his mother having renounced her rights to the throne in his favor in 1944.

After ascending the throne, Rainier worked assiduously to recoup Monaco's lustre, which had become tarnished through neglect (especially financial) and scandal (his mother, Princess Charlotte, took a noted jewel thief known as René the Walking Stick as her lover). According to numerous obituaries, the prince was faced upon his ascension with a treasury that was practically empty. The holder of 55 percent of the nation's reserves, the Societé Monégasque de Banques et de Métaux Précieux, was bankrupt. The small nation's traditional gambling clientele, largely European aristocrats, found themselves with reduced funds after World War II. Other gambling centers had opened to compete with Monaco, many of them successfully. To compensate for this loss of income, Rainier decided to promote Monaco as a tax haven, commercial center, real-estate development opportunity, and international tourist attraction. The early years of his reign saw the overweening involvement of the Greek shipping tycoon Aristotle Onassis, who took control of the Société des Bains de Mer and envisioned Monaco as solely a gambling resort. Prince Rainier regained control of the Société in 1964, effectively ensuring that his vision of Monaco would be implemented.

As Prince of Monaco, Rainier was also responsible for the principality's new constitution in 1962 which significantly reduced the power of the sovereign. (He suspended the previous Constitution in 1959, saying that it "has hindered the administrative and political life of the country.") The changes ended autocratic rule, placing power with the prince and a National Council of eighteen elected members.

At the time of his death, he was the world's second longest-serving head of state, ranking just below King Rama IX of Thailand. During the last two or three years of his life, Rainier was in the custom of asking his valet each morning, "Has Rama survived the night? Or did I just move up in the ranks?"

In the last three years of his life, Prince Rainier's health progressively declined. In early 2004 he was hospitalized for coronary problems. In October he was again in hospital with a lung infection. In November of that year, Prince Albert appeared on CNN's Larry King Live and told Larry King that his father was fine, though he was suffering from bronchitis. On 7 March 2005, he was again hospitalized with a lung infection. Rainier was moved to the hospital's intensive care unit on 22 March. One day later, on 23 March, it was announced he was on a ventilator, suffering from renal and heart failure. On 26 March the palace reported that despite intensive ongoing efforts to improve the prince's health, he was continuing to deteriorate; however, the following day, he was reported to be conscious, his heart and kidney conditions having stabilized. His prognosis remained "very reserved".

On 31 March 2005, following consultation with the Crown Council of Monaco, the Palais Princier announced that Rainier's son, Hereditary Prince Albert, Marquis des Baux, would take over the duties of his father as Regent since Rainier was no longer able to exercise his royal functions.

On 1 April 2005, the Palace announced that Rainier's doctors believe his chances of recovery were "slim"; on 6 April it announced that Prince Rainier had died in Monaco at 6:35 am local time at the age of 81. He was succeeded by his only son, who became Prince Albert II.

He was buried on 15 April 2005, beside his wife, Princess Grace, at the Saint Nicholas Cathedral, the resting place of previous sovereign princes of Monaco and several of their wives, and the place where Prince Rainier and Princess Grace had been married in 1956.

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