Tuesday, July 28, 2009

H.S.H. Princess Catherine-Charlotte

One of the most famous and controversial princess consorts of Monaco was Catherine-Charlotte de Gramont, wife of HSH Prince Louis I of Monaco. She was born probably sometime in 1639 into a very prominent French family. Her father was Marshal of France Antoine III de Gramont and her mother was Francoise-Marguerite du Plessis-Chivre whose uncle was none other than His Eminence Cardinal Richelieu. Catherine was the eldest daughter but just as if not more famous than she was to be was her older brother Armand de Gramont, Comte de Guiche. Armand was famous for being extremely handsome, extremely rude and difficult and irresistible to men and women alike. He was the paramour of the husband and wife pair Philippe I, Duke of Orleans, and Henrietta Anne Stuart.

HSH Prince Honore II of Monaco had worked throughout his reign to transfer Monaco from the Spanish to the French camp and he arranged for King Louis XIV of France to be godfather to his grandson and heir Louis. He also arranged for Louis to be married to someone very prominent in the French court and Catherine-Charlotte de Gramont was the choice. In 1660 she and Louis were married and only two years later Honore II died making Catherine and her husband Sovereign Prince and Princess Consort of Monaco. Catherine-Charlotte must have seemed like quite a catch. She was described as being very beautiful, highly intelligent and humorously witty. She was, though, some 3 years older than her husband and came into the marriage with some reluctance. She had previously been in love with her cousin Antonin Nompar, Marquis de Puyguilheim. However, the marriage seemed to be fruitful as Catherine gave birth to a son and heir in 1661 who would eventually succeed to the throne as Prince Antoine I of Monaco.
When Honore II died Prince Louis I, Princess Catherine and baby Antoine had to pack up and travel to Monaco to handle the transfer of power. Catherine was very upset about having to leave Paris and was not impressed with her new principality when the couple arrived in Monaco.
From the glittering court of Louis XIV she found herself faced with her new country which, from
what she could see, was simply a castle and a small coastal village. The Princely Palace was, of course, quite luxurious on the inside but Catherine did not make much of a secret of the fact that she considered her presence in Monaco to be a sacrifice for someone of her background. Nonetheless, she was kept busy in Monaco giving birth to a daughter a year for three years in a row. Perhaps thinking she had done her duty by then, Princess Catherine then moved back to Paris and resumed her affair with her cousin Nompar. King Louis XIV was outraged, probably mostly because he had his eye on Catherine himself, and ordered Nompar to make himself scarce. When Nompar unwisely refused King Louis locked him in the Bastille for six months. Open defiance of an absolute monarch is not usually a good idea.

The Princess of Monaco was thus forced to cool her ardor for her cousin but there were plenty of other opportunities for scandalous behavior. She became very close friends with her brother’s lover Princess Henrietta Anne Stuart, youngest daughter of King Charles I of Britain and herself a sister-in-law and former lover of the King of France. Catherine’s aunt, Suzanne Charlotte de Gramont, Marquise de Saint Chaumont, was attached to Henrietta’s household and governess of her two daughters. Catherine’s husband, Prince Louis I, came to Paris and also spent most of his time away from Monaco but was usually dispatched on military and diplomatic missions for Louis XIV. In part, his absences were diplomatic as Louis XIV himself took Catherine as one of his many mistresses after he lost interest in Louise de la Valliere but this lasted only a few months.

In fact, the match had, in part, been a set-up. Princess Henrietta had aimed her friend at the king to distract him from Valliere so that she could become his primary mistress again. It did not work out as Henrietta planned however and when Louis XIV tired of Catherine he turned to the famous Madame de Montespan. There were even rumors that at the same time Catherine was having an affair with Henrietta herself but there is no real evidence of this and may have been the result of a guilt-by-association mentality because of her brother’s affairs with the Orleans couple. The Princess of Monaco then had an affair with the Chevalier de Lorraine, a friend of the Duke of Orleans. This put off Henrietta and their friendship effectively ended. No longer welcome at court she returned with her husband to Monaco for the next four years.

In 1672 France and Holland went to war and Prince Louis I was recalled to duty and sent to the front which allowed Catherine to return to Paris. She would remain there the rest of her life and first received a position as lady-in-waiting to Madame de Montespan. King Louis gave her a house at St Germain where she spent the last six years of her life which was cut short by her death in Paris on June 4, 1678 at the age of 39. She had spent enough time with her husband to give him six children but her short life had mostly been a succession of affairs and scandalous behavior from end to end. As more recent famous figures of wild reputation might say, she lived fast, died young and left a good looking corpse.


  1. A question for you. I've written a novel about Louis XIV, and Catherine has a part in it. It's set in 1661, when she and her husband are heirs to Monaco. Honore is still prince. My editor has a question I'm not certain how to answer. Both Louis, the husband and crown prince, and Honore, the ruler, are called "prince".....yes? I'm pondering how to distinguish father and son without going into huge detail.....thanks, if you have time to answer.....Karleen Koen

  2. Honore II would have had the official title of "Sovereign Prince" of Monaco, meaning he is the monarch, the sovereign, and not just 'a' prince of Monaco. The heir to the throne is usually called Hereditary Prince of Monaco, however, in terms of the French court it may have been more likely that Louis was called by his preeminent title in the French nobility which was Duc d'Valentinois. It was not uncommon for Princes of Monaco to give that title to their heir just before their marriage to 'sweeten the deal' so to speak. So, if I had to choose, I would say Prince of Monaco for Honore II and Duc de Valintinois for Louis. Louis XIV was also the godfather of Louis I of Monaco so there might have been a tad more familiarity on his part because of that.


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