A 101-gun salute rang out over the Principality of Monaco, on the French Riviera, 60 years ago today, announcing the birth of its new prince.
The baby boy, to be named Albert Alexandre Louis Pierre, was born to Prince Rainier and his glamorous former film star wife Princess Grace. The fairytale marriage in 1956 of the Hollywood starlet Grace Kelly to the handsome European prince had captured headlines worldwide and the lives of the glamorous couple continued to fascinate.
Although Grace Kelly appeared in just 11 films, they were some of the biggest hits of the 1950s, the young actress sharing the silver screen with the likes of Clark Gable, Bing Crosby, Gary Cooper, James Stewart, Cary Grant and Frank Sinatra. She was already a star when, at the age of 26, she announced her decision to retire from acting and instead marry her prince.
Their first child, Princess Caroline, was born in January 1957 and later that year it was announced that Princess Grace was expecting a second child. Monaco’s rules of succession meant Prince Rainier’s title would automatically pass to a male heir and there was growing speculation about whether the new baby would be a boy or a girl.
Elaborate and meticulous arrangements were made to announce news of the birth to the waiting world’s press, but they were thrown into disarray when a woman in the Prince’s Palace of Monaco, apparently overcome with excitement, flung open a window and shouted: “It’s a boy, it’s a boy!”
Prince Rainier later confirmed the news when he broadcast an official address to the nation announcing the birth of the Crown Prince, who would be known as Prince Albert. He had been born just before 11am on March 14th, 1958, and weighed a healthy 8lb 11oz. Princess Grace’s mother, Margaret Kelly, also spoke to reporters, telling them that mother and baby were both doing well and that the child was “a bonny, bonny prince”.
Celebrations were held across the principality, with the following day declared a public holiday and flags and bunting flying high. It was also expected that Prince Rainier, in line with ancient custom, would pardon the prisoners in Monaco’s jail… all six of them.
One reason for such widespread celebration was because the birth of a prince made doubly sure that Monaco’s peculiar statehood – and the prosperity it brought – would survive beyond Prince Rainier’s eventual death. A treaty signed in 1918 between Monaco and France stipulated that if ever there was no heir to Monaco’s throne, control of the sovereign city-state would pass to its neighbour France and it would become subject to French laws. There was some doubt whether France would accept a female heir, but the birth of a boy removed that doubt.
Being able to set its own tax and financial laws had made Monaco into a tax haven and major global banking centre. It became a millionaires’ playground, its marinas filled with opulent yachts and its streets lined with exclusive shops and expensive sports cars. The annual Monaco Grand Prix serves as a showpiece for the principality’s wealth and glamour.
Prince Albert (pictured above), who gained another sister, Princess Stephanie, in 1965, grew into a good looking and athletic young man, excelling at several sports including cross-country, judo, swimming, tennis, rowing, sailing, skiing and fencing. He would represent Monaco at five consecutive Winter Olympics in the two-man and four-man bobsleigh events.
But there was also tragedy in his life when his mother and younger sister were involved in a serious car crash in 1982. Princess Stephanie survived, but their mother, who had suffered a stroke and lost control of the car on a mountain road, did not.
Prince Rainier, who never remarried, died in April 2005 at the age of 81. After a three-month period of mourning, Prince Albert took over as head of state. In 2011 he married former Olympic swimmer for South Africa, Charlene Wittstock, and the couple have twin children, Princess Gabriella and Hereditary Prince Jacques, who were born in December 2014. With assets valued at more than a billion dollars, Prince Albert II is among the world’s wealthiest royals.