Wednesday, February 16, 2011

The French Royal Martyrs and Monaco

Since starting this weblog, and preferring to talk about the history of the Grimaldis and Monaco more than current goings-on (though that isn’t always possible) I have often been asked about the relationship between the ill-fated French royals King Louis XVI and Queen Marie Antoinette and the Principality of Monaco. I have been hesitant in addressing this subject for a number of reasons but wanted to for others. In the first place, there is not much to tell. The short answer is that Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette had practically nothing to do with Monaco or the Grimaldis aside from the occasional social meeting. I also do not like making comparisons between royals that highlight the shortcomings of one side or another and yet I also did want to at least address this subject because I am a great admirer of the martyred French king and queen and would like to point out how unfair the popular portrayal of the couple remains. Unfortunately, that cannot really be done without reliving some of the unfortunate shortcomings of my dear Grimaldis. Be that as it may, let’s dive in.

Politically of course, the King of France and the Prince of Monaco were very close. The political situation was pretty much the same then as it is today. Monaco was, and still is, an independent protectorate of France. The Prince of Monaco, at the time Honore III, was a sovereign monarch but King Louis XVI of France was responsible for the protection of Monaco. However, the Grimaldis were much more important in France in the time of Louis XVI than they are now since the Princes of Monaco held lands and titles in the French aristocracy and so had a high place in the French court so, naturally, there were meetings between the two at Versailles and so on. However, Honore III was about 34 years older than Louis XVI so it would not be expected that they would be buddies or anything or even nearly as close as say Honore II and Louis XIII or Louis I and Louis XIV had been. However, even with the Hereditary Prince Honore IV, he and his wife, Princess Louise, Duchess de Mazarin, did not have much in common with Louis XVI and Queen Marie Antoinette.

The French King and Queen never visited Monaco, they rarely traveled at all and even the Princes of Monaco at that time were seldom in Monaco themselves. Prince Honore IV is something of a mysterious figure, only slightly younger than Louis XVI, since before the Revolution he was so overshadowed by his over-the-top wife and afterwards by his brother Prince Joseph who managed family affairs because Prince Honore IV was frequently ill. The marriage of Honore IV and Louise de Aumont Mazarin had been arranged and the two were completely incompatible with Princess Louise grabbing the most attention. As far as wives go, no two women were more opposite than Princess Louise and Queen Marie Antoinette. Not many people realize this because of the inaccurate portrayal of the French Queen but, as a matter of fact, the Hereditary Princess of Monaco was much closer to the way Marie Antoinette is so often accused of being.

No matter if one dismisses the most lurid tales as nothing more than court gossip there is no denying the fact that Princess Louise was a woman of rather loose morals who loved nothing more than wild and lavish parties with the most inventive costumes and diversions. Marie Antoinette is often portrayed this way but the truth is the total opposite. The King and Queen were both very religious people whereas the Grimaldis, although staunch Catholics of course, were not the most devout people in the world and Princess Louise certainly was not. Queen Marie Antoinette purposely did not associate with her because she so disapproved of her lifestyle, attitude and even her appearance. Whereas Marie Antoinette had a more delicate, childlike sort of beauty, Princess Louise was very voluptuous and bold and that type. So, Queen Marie Antoinette avoided Princess Louise specifically for behaving in ways that the Queen herself is so often accused of. It serves to illustrate how terribly unfair the popular portrayal of Marie Antoinette has been.

Prince Honore IV was nothing like his wife, which is one reason why they did not remain married for long, effectively parting before the revolution and divorcing during the period of the directory but even that was something the pious French King and Queen would not have approved of and could not have related to. In short, the two couples simply moved in different circles despite their proximity at the royal court in Versailles. And, even though Princess Louise in many ways embodied the sort of lifestyle Marie Antoinette was accused of being guilty of, the former Princess of Monaco would survive the revolution while the tragic Queen of course did not. Princess Louise, Duchess de Mazarin, with her husband Prince Honore IV and others of their family, were arrested by the revolutionaries but she managed to escape with her son, Prince Florestan, thanks to the kindly intervention of a doctor who was a family friend of the Grimaldis.

So, the House of Grimaldi ended up better off than their French counterparts, at least in as much as most of the Grimaldis survived the revolutionary bloodbath. They were eventually restored to their throne, as were the Bourbons, but the Grimaldis managed to stay whereas the French monarchy sadly did not. The families were close in political terms, friendly and correct and they both suffered due to the revolution. However, personally, they simply were not that close because they did not have a great deal in common and generally moved in different circles. Past kings had been much closer to the princes of Monaco but Louis XVI was quite different from his predecessors and neither he nor Honore IV were very “social” types. Their wives, contrary to popular belief, were as opposite as night and day. The Queen disapproved of the Princess of Monaco and the princess probably would have viewed the Queen as rather boring and prudish. For those who view Marie Antoinette as a consort unconcerned with her adopted country, unattached to her husband and given to extravagant spending and lavish parties they are actually giving an unfortunately accurate description of Princess Louise whom the Queen of France made it a point to avoid for those very qualities.


  1. This is really interesting! It often seems to happen that certain behaviors (real or imagined) in some people are vehemently condemned, while overlooked in others, or at least not much discussed. Queen Marie-Antoinette and Princess Louise seem to be examples of this. As you point out, Marie-Antoinette has gone down in people's memories as the archetype of the decadent, playgirl queen, when the reality was quite different. Princess Louise seems to have been much closer to this negative image, but how many people have even heard of her, outside Monaco? But many have a vested interest in continuing to portray Marie-Antoinette in a bad light, in order to justify the French Revolution and so forth. Louise does not have the same ideological symbolic significance.

    I could think of other examples, where spending, affairs and so on seem to be not only overlooked, but even condoned-- although I also don't like to tear people down, I have to say that the late Princess of Wales comes to mind. It seems that much was and is forgiven her, partly because it suits the purposes of some to use her 'tragic and compassionate victim' image against the British monarchy.

  2. That is true and other than historians I doubt many in Monaco know who Louise d'Aumont was either -they were not married for long and I don't think she ever set foor in the country. On the other hand, most educated people do or should know that Marie Antoinette did not say "let them eat cake" and all that stuff and yet they continue to repeat it.

    You see the hypocrisy all over the republican side. With Diana it does seem to be that many simply use her to attack the Royal Family. She did do a lot of good for people but she also did a lot of harm in other ways.


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