Catherine-Charlotte de Gramont, one of the most famous and controversial Princesses of Monaco, is someone regular readers will be familiar with. Her thwarted love affair with her cousin the Duc de Lauzun, her involvement in the Orleans-Stuart love triangle and her stint as one of the many mistresses of King Louis XIV. But, how did this young woman who came so highly recommended, become the wife of HSH Prince Louis I of Monaco? The man responsible was one of the giant figures of French history (though like a few others he was Italian) we know as His Eminence Jules Cardinal Mazarin, the power-behind-the-throne for the very young King Louis XIV. He was born in Pescina in what was then the Kingdom of Naples but grew up in Papal Rome. His father worked for the powerful Colonna family (which everyone has heard of) which allowed him to gain a good education after which he served in the military and became a diplomat for the Papal States. He was later named nuncio to the court of France and was taken under the wing of the famous and powerful Cardinal Richelieu, the power-behind-the-throne under King Louis XIII.
When Louis XIV became nominal King of France with his mother, Ann of Austria, acting as regent, she relied heavily on Mazarin (by then a cardinal) and he became effectively the “prime minister” of the Kingdom of France. Catherine-Charlotte de Gramont was very well known to him. She had practically grown up with his nieces (known as the ‘mazarinettes’), she herself was a great-niece on her mother’s side and her father was a very prestigious person, Marshal of France, duc et pair, sovereign prince of Bidache, viceroy of Navarre and Béarn and governor of Pau. You could say he was somebody. So, when HSH Prince Honore II of Monaco came searching for a suitable bride for his young son Louis, he was referred to Cardinal Mazarin (who liked Honore II as both spoke Italian) and it was the Cardinal who said that Catherine-Charlotte de Gramont would be the ideal choice. Unlike Louis, she knew the French court and high society intimately. She could help him establish himself within the French aristocracy and the marriage would ensure continued Franco-Monégasque friendship. She was a few years older than the Grimaldi prince but devastatingly gorgeous, well connected and from a proper family so Honore II was quick to agree. Louis really had no say in the matter. For her part, from the start, Catherine-Charlotte was extremely disappointed, famously saying that her husband was, “not at all in fashion”.
Marshal Gramont agreed to pay a dowry of 300,000 livres for his daughter’s hand but, when he came up short, Cardinal Mazarin floated him a loan to keep his agreement (Honore II had to agree to make Louis Duc de Valentinois). However, the Cardinal was also responsible for the delay in actually having the wedding as he was focused on securing peace with Spain by seeing to the marriage of King Louis and the Spanish Infanta Maria Teresa. As we know, Prince Louis caught up with the King, the Cardinal and his bride-to-be in the Pyrenees (which was Gramont turf) and it was there that the couple first met. The old Marshal of France reported to Cardinal Mazarin that the ladies all loved Louis and that he was pleasantly surprised by him. He neglected to mention how down on the match his daughter was.
When the wedding of Catherine-Charlotte de Gramont and the Duc de Valentinois was held at the Gramont château of Pau it was a very lavish and ostentatious affair. Cardinal Mazarin did his part by sending the bride a shockingly beautiful jewel-encrusted crown to wear on the big day which guests said truly made her look like a queen. Cardinal Mazarin had arranged an historic match but it was not a totally happy one. The Cardinal continued his long and eventful career, advancing France by thwarting Hapsburg Austria, angering the nobles and squabbling with his fellow Churchmen until his death in 1661. King Louis XIV had by then taken control of affairs himself and would be one of the most famous absolute monarchs in history.