The History of Monaco
There are many books written about the long and exciting history of Monaco and the Grimaldi Family. Below, you will get a condensed version of this history.
Monaco’s Origins to the 13th Century
From the earliest prehistoric times and Antiquity, the Rock of Monaco and its natural harbor served as a refuge for primitive populations, then navigators who had sailed from the East. It was in the 6th century BC that a Ligurian tribe which had settled in the region is believed to have given Monaco its name.
After the Phœnicians, from the 2nd century BC to the 5th century AD, the Romans moved into the region. They used Monaco’s waterfront, which took the name of “Portus Herculis Monoeci” (Port d’Hercule).
From the early 6th century to the end of the 10th century, the region suffered many invasions. It wasn’t until the year 975 that the Count of Provence succeeded in getting rid of the Saracens, thus marking the start of a new era.
In 1162, Genoa’s authority over the Ligurian coast was recognized by the Emperor Frédéric I Barberousse, from Porto Venere all the way to Monaco.
In 1191, Emperor Henri VI finally conceded the Rock of Monaco to Genoa, together with its port and adjacent lands. The Genoese installed a colony on the Rock and built a fort (1215), which became the frontier-post west of the Republic.
In 1270, a civil war in Genoa opposed the Guelfes, supporters of the Pope, and the Gibelins, supporters of the Germanic Roman Emperor. Following a victory won by the Gibelins, many Guelfe families were banished into exile, including that of the Grimaldis.
By persevering, this powerful family of Genoese patricians outmatched the ruses of history and settled on the Rock of Monaco at the beginning of the Middle Ages. In response to the exile imposed on the Guelfes, the fortress of Monaco was taken by surprise on 8 January 1297 by a band of them led by François Grimaldi, nicknamed “Malizia”.
13th-19th Century: The Grimaldi Family
Charles Grimaldi, leader of the Guelfes, took possession of the Rock on 12 September 1331, but only assumed the title “Lord of Monaco” in 1342. In 1346 and 1355, the Grimaldis acquired the seigneuries and fiefs of Menton and Roquebrune. Together with that of Monaco, these seigneuries were to comprise the Principality’s territory from 1633 to 1861.
Before his death in 1454, Jean I made some fundamental arrangements in his will which would constitute the basis for succession in the House of Monaco for the next five centuries. He decreed that male children would succeed by order of primogeniture: if there were no male descendants, only then would women be called upon, on condition that their descendants take the Grimaldi name and coat-of-arms.
During the 15th century, the Seigneurie was recognized notably by the Duke of Savoy and, in 1512, by the King of France: all vassalage to Genoa thus disappeared. Lambert Grimaldi, who was Sovereign Lord of Monaco from 1458 to 1494, was Counsellor and Chamberlain to Charles VIII of France; this privileged relationship at the highest level of State extended the activities of Rainier I and Charles I.
Alliances brought the Lords of Monaco to move closer to France, to fight against Naples, to fall under the protection of Spain from 1524 to 1641, before King Louis XIII of France, in the Treaty of Péronne (1641), finally repositioned the Principality within France’s sphere of influence.
In 1633, the Spanish Chancery recognized the title “Prince of Monaco” which had been used as early as 1612 by Honoré II when signing his notarial deeds. The Treaty of Péronne declared attribution of the fiefs of Le Valentinois, Carladès, Les Baux and Saint-Rémy to Prince Honoré II and his son.
In December 1678, Louis I promulgated the legal statutes of the Principality, also known as the “Code Louis”. The attachment of “Fort d’Hercule” to France in 1793 was not to last, as the Princes’ rights and prerogatives were restored to them by the Treaty of Paris in 1814.
A contemporary Frenchman, the Abbé Dupaty, whose 1785 book ‘Travels Through Italy‘ found Monaco “filled with three fishing boats and a Dutch vessel … two or three streets of perpendicular rocks; eight hundred wretches dying of hunger; a decayed castle; a battalion of French troops; a few orange, olive and mulberry trees, scattered over a few acres of land, themselves scattered over rocks; such is, pretty nearly, the picture of Monaco … all here is poverty and wretchedness in the extreme.”
The 19th Century to the Present Day
Charles III sold his rights to Menton and Roquebrune to France in February 1861, in a treaty in which one clause provided for the creation of a customs union between the two States. This was concluded in 1865.
The Société des Bains de Mer was created in 1856, together with the Casino. Several hotels were built on the Plateau des Spélugues which, in 1866, was given the name “Monte-Carlo” (Mount-Charles, after the name of the reigning Prince).
Learn more about the history of this period in our guide to the Monte Carlo Casino and its history.
His son, Prince Albert I, nicknamed the “Navigator Prince” or “Scientist Prince”, was responsible for great advances achieved in life sciences at the dawn of the 20th century. In 1910, Prince Albert I founded the well-known Museum of Oceanography in Monaco, which he bequeathed in his will to the Oceanographic Institute he had founded in Paris.
In 1911, he gave Monaco a constitutional structure. The Institute of Human Paleontology, devoted above all to research, was inaugurated in Paris in 1920.
In 1922, Prince Louis II succeeded him to the throne. Under his reign, the Medico-Legal Committee of Monaco was created in 1933, sketching out the bases for the Geneva Conventions of 1949. In the meantime, on July 8th 1948, the Principality became a member of the World Health Organisation.
In 1949, Prince Rainier III (Rainier Louis Henri Maxence Bertrand Grimaldi, prince of Monaco) mounted the throne. His reign was one which transformed the Principality the most. He intensified and diversified activities introduced under the three preceding reigns, not only in political, diplomatic, international, economic and social fields, but also in those of education and sport, healthcare, science, culture and communication. He also added an industrial dimension to the Principality.
In 1955, Ranier III started courting and eventually married movie star Grace Kelly (read the fascinating story about how they met and who she was).
On December 17th 1962, Prince Rainier III endowed the Principality with a new Constitution.
In 1976, Ranier III’s son, Prince Albert, graduated from the Lycée Albert Premier of Monaco and continued his education at Amherst College in Massachusetts, USA. He studied economics, music, English literature and political science.
In 1993, Ranier III obtained Monaco’s admission as a Member State in the United Nations Organisation. On 5 October 2004, after proceedings which had lasted for six years, the Principality of Monaco joined the Council of Europe as the 46th Member State of this organization. At the official ceremony in Strasbourg, Prince Albert II declared, on behalf of his father, Prince Rainier III : “Admission of the Principality of Monaco to the Council of Europe is for me, as for all my countrymen, a subject for legitimate satisfaction and pride. I am very happy that Monaco has been admitted to an organisation inspired by such noble aspirations thanks to the rich diversity of the nations it represents.”
On March 31st 2005, Monaco’s Crown Council transferred the regency of the tiny kingdom to Prince Albert, the heir to the throne, saying that Prince Rainier could no longer carry out his duties as monarch. On April 6th 2005 Prince Rainier III died of organ failure and Prince Albert became Albert II, Sovereign Prince of Monaco.
Prince Albert’s Timeline
March 31, 2005 – Monaco’s Crown Council transfers the regency of the tiny kingdom to Prince Albert, the heir to the throne, saying that Prince Rainier can no longer carry out his duties as monarch.
April 6, 2005 – Prince Rainier III dies of organ failure and Prince Albert becomes Albert II, Sovereign Prince of Monaco.
July 6, 2005 – Publicly acknowledges paternity of his son, Alexandre, born to Nicole Coste, a flight attendant from Togo.
July 12, 2005 – Part one of the formal investiture as Monaco’s ruler is Mass at St. Nicholas Cathedral, marking the end of the mourning period for Prince Rainier.
November 17, 2005 – Part two of the formal investiture is the enthronement ceremony at St. Nicholas Cathedral.
April 16, 2006 – Travels to the North Pole by dogsled to highlight global warming.
June 1, 2006 – Acknowledges paternity of his daughter, Jazmin Grace Grimaldi, born to an American former waitress, Tamara Rotolo.
March 2, 2007 – Presides over the opening ceremony in Paris of International Polar Year, a research program with a focus on the Polar Regions involving 50,000 scientists from 63 countries.
January 28, 2008 – Is named as one of the United Nations Environment Programme’s (UNEP) “Champions of the Earth.”
April 22, 2008 – Receives the UNEP award which recognizes individuals who show extraordinary leadership on environmental issues.
January 5-14, 2009 – Completes an expedition to the South Pole evaluating climate impact on Antarctica along the way. He is the only head of state to have visited both poles.
June 23, 2010 – The palace announces Prince Albert’s engagement to Charlene Wittstock, 32, a former Olympic swimmer and school teacher from South Africa.
July 1, 2011 – Prince Albert marries Charlene Wittstock in a civil wedding ceremony in the throne room of the Palace of Monaco.
July 2, 2011 – A second wedding, a religious ceremony including Mass, is held in the main courtyard of the Palace of Monaco. The ceremony is broadcast to the 3,500 invited guests who could not fit inside the palace.
December 14, 2015 – Prince Albert is presented with the 2015 Global Advocate Award by UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon for his work on climate change research and environmental conservation efforts.
October 2016 – Buys his mother’s (Grace Kelly) childhood home in Philadelphia, with the idea of turning it into a museum or offices for foundation work.
For more than seven centuries, the Grimaldi Family has presided over the Principality of Monaco’s destiny. This remarkable longevity is a good illustration of the national unity between the Princes and the people of Monaco.