Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Giballin Grimaldi

One of the earliest members of the House of Grimaldi to find mention in the history books is the enigmatic figure of Giballin Grimaldi. He came to notice during a very difficult and dangerous period in European history, the Dark Ages, after the great civilization of Imperial Rome had fallen away and when the continent was under threat from all sides. In the south the principle threat was the expanding forces of Islam. Moors, Saracens and so on, the forces of the new and growing Muslim religion had charged out of the Arabian desert and rapidly conquered the Middle East, spread across North Africa and began making inroads into Spain, southern Italy, even reaching as far as central France. From Monaco to St Tropez the Muslims were the dominant force and in 975 AD Count William of Provence led a major effort to reclaim the area for the forces of Christendom. He called upon the nobles and prominent leaders of the region to join him and the response was immediate. He was joined by Bishop Izam of Grenoble, Boniface of Castellane, the Lords of Vintimille and, as mentioned, the Genoese patrician Giballin Grimaldi. Banding together, they marched against the Moors and after fierce battles succeeded in capturing the primary Islamic fortress in the region at Fraxinet.

Giballin Grimaldi displayed qualities that would later come to characterize the personality of the Princely Family of Monaco; a concern for issues greater than his own, sympathy for the downtrodden and a willingness to help those in need. This was combined with great courage in times of conflict. During the capture of Fraxinet, Giballin Grimaldi and his men scaled a steep, rocky position which the Moors had left undefended as they were certain no one could possibly accomplish such a feat. As a result, Giballin and his men were able to surprise the Moors with their attack through the back door and divert their attention from the main assault by the Christian forces at the front door. Because of his crucial role in this victory, with only a small band of hand-picked soldiers to help him, Giballin Grimaldi was rewarded with the grant of a sizeable tract of land from St Tropez to Frejus. Because of his valor in battle the Muslims were driven from Villafranca, Castellare, Turbia, St Hospice and the Little Fraxinet. The Ligurian borders were firmly secured from the Moorish threat.

There is also the story that the second son of Grimaldi I, Lord of Antibes, father of Giballin Grimaldi, led a similar campaign to liberate the area that is today Monaco with dates for this given as 920 AD, 962 or 968 and that the Holy Roman Emperor gave the Grimaldi family this liberated territory of Monaco to them as their own sovereign state, as a reward for their heroism. Later historians have raised doubts about this story and that long ago, in such a chaotic time, obviously evidence is scarce but it was told for a long time as a nice story to show the House of Grimaldi having very, very deep roots in the region of Monaco. However, whether it is accurate or not, Monaco was not retained by the Grimaldis since, as we know, other powers (principally Genoa) took over the region and Grimaldi rule was not firmly established until the famous nighttime attack by Francesco Grimaldi (“the Cunning”) and his Guelf faction of warriors. However, many historians a great many centuries ago reported the story as fact, and it may well be, it is simply hard to tell with absolute certainty when it comes to almost anything in history so long ago.

To some extent it depends on the veracity of the earliest genealogical records of the House of Grimaldi, one of the first of which was compiled by a secretary to HSH Prince Honore II who traced the family line back to Grimoald, son of Pépin d’Héristal, elder brother of Charles Martel (“the Hammer” who defeated the Saracens at Tours in France) who was the grandfather of the Holy Roman Emperor Charlemagne. This would obviously give the House of Grimaldi some quite prestigious bloodlines as well as a family history that Giballin Grimaldi and his actions against the Moors would have fit neatly into. Perhaps it is so, and perhaps Giballin was the son of the Grimaldi lord who was first given the sovereignty of Monaco from the Holy Roman Emperor Otto the Great. If so, Francesco Grimaldi and his men were merely taking back what was rightfully Grimaldi land with their famous attack, though that time on the side of the Supreme Pontiff rather than the Emperor in Germany.

What is not disputed is that Giballin Grimaldi played a critical role in the campaign to evict the Muslim invaders from the region of Liguria at a critical time in the development of Europe when Christendom was in real danger of being completely overrun by enemies from the north, east and south. Thankfully, when the people came to Giballin Grimaldi for help, looking for someone to defend them and make right the wrongs they had suffered, he did not turn them away but devoted himself to effecting their rescue and the return of their lands and security. It was the start of what would be a long and colorful history of involvement on the part of the House of Grimaldi in the struggles between Christendom and the expanding world of Islam. They would go on to participate in the crusades, becoming quite prominent as both diplomats and naval military commanders, before that page of history finally came to an end and focus shifted to other areas.

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