The Nonagenarian Princess of Monaco: Her Travails and Her Legacy

  January 19, 2011 at 5:00 am by

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Princess Antoinette of Monaco, the Baroness de Massy, has reached her nonagenarian age. As of December 28, 2010 she is 90 years old. It is now more than five years since the death of her only sibling, the sovereign Prince Rainier III.

Princess Antoinette was married three times and all three husbands — respectively, a tennis ace, a politician, and a ballet dancer — have passed away. The Princess had three children, all products of the first marriage to tennis player Alexandre-Athenase Noghès. The youngest, Christine Alix de Massy, died from leukemia at the age of 37 in 1989. The middling, and only son, Christian, has led a dramatic life with four marriages and even an autobiographical, and highly controversial, tell-all. It is the eldest, Elisabeth-Anne, who honors the family with a lifetime of honorable, if obscure public service. “Anne” de Massy’s 25-year-old daughter, Mélanie de Lusignan, is already regarded as her successor in that same kind of discreet service in the name of Monaco’s sovereign.

The Princess’s living children and grandchildren, as well as her more elevated niece Princess Caroline and nephew the Sovereign Prince Albert II, gathered at the Bellevue Room of Monaco’s Cafe de Paris for a celebration of her nonagenarian birthday. The celebration was not held on the actual day, but rather on Sunday, January 9 of this year. The occasion was a regular meeting of the Monégasque Women’s Association, of which the Princess is the honorary president, but it was used as a time for everyone to acknowledge an enduring and interesting life! Present, besides Princess Caroline and Prince Albert, was Anne de Massy, Christian and Cécile de Massy, and Madame Manzonne, who is the actual president of the aforementioned association.

Princess Antoinette’s life could easily be associated with the fabled “Curse of the Grimaldis,” that legendary tale of a 13th-century witch who had revenge on Prince Rainier the First in the form of a curse on him and all of his descendants. It was said to be the curse of unhappiness in marriage. This witch, in some tellings, had been raped by the prince, in others simply spurned by him. The so-called “Grimaldi Curse” is always mentioned at the moment of any kind of personal tragedy in the family. “The Grimaldi Curse Strikes Again,” is typical of the kind of headlines that have announced the various divorces and scandals in the family. And Princess Antoinette is no stranger to tragedy or scandal.

She was born (obviously) 90 years ago in 1920; in Paris, the first child of the arty Prince Pierre and the famously eccentric Princess Charlotte de Monaco. Titled the Duke and Duchess de Valentinois, Prince Pierre and Princess Charlotte were, it has been generally alleged, married unhappily. To be fair, the marriage had been arranged for a dynastic purpose. Indeed, it did fulfill that purpose in giving two heirs to the throne of Monaco, for Antoinette’s brother followed a few years after her own birth. But though Monaco’s succession was assured for at least two generations, there were these two rather emotionally neglected children. Rainier was sent to boarding schools in England and Switzerland. There isn’t a lot known about Princess Antoinette’s early life besides that she grew up in the tumultuous 1920s and 30s.

At the time of her birth, Albert I, remembered now as the Oceanographer Prince, and her great-grandfather, was on the throne. But just before the year of Rainier’s birth, he died and was succeeded by his son, Louis II. Antoinette’s mother was Louis II’s only child and, as she was born illegitimate, had to be adopted by him in order to supplant the claims of their very controversial German cousins; Germans were not very fondly regarded at that time, due to the very disruptive audacity of certain characters, beginning with Kaiser Wilhelm II, and culminating at last in a certain Germanic-Austrian named Adolf Hitler. Thus, the adoption and princess-making of Charlotte led to her arranged union with the Comte de Polignac, who himself was made into a Grimaldi prince, and the birth of a more acceptable line of succession.

J. Randy Taraborrelli, author of Once Upon a Time: Behind the Fairy Tale of Princess Grace and Prince Rainier, wrote:

Throughout [Princess Antoinette's] youth, [Princess] Charlotte had constantly put her [daughter] down, causing the young princess to become an unhappy woman filled with insecurities. Unlike Grace, Antoinette had no outlet for her frustrations, no way to distinguish herself as Grace had done with acting. She had no choices to make in her life, other than just to stay put in her royal, and unhappy, world.

But Antoinette has been much like her maternal ancestresses: fiercely independent and indomitable. It has been suggested by some chroniclers that these strong qualities made it hard for her to come to terms with being second fiddle to her younger brother. Of course, the aforementioned author, Taraborrelli, asserted in his book that Antoinette would play second fiddle to no one. Although Antoinette gave up her right to the throne shortly after her mother did the same, she did apparently harbor dynastic dreams. There was scheming behind the scenes on behalf of her son, Christian, who was considered as a possible heir to the throne in the days prior to Rainier’s 1956 marriage to Grace Kelly and the birth of Princess Caroline in the following year. Prince Rainier handled his sister’s betrayal with a cool head, graciously sparing her the humiliation of being banished from his realm along with her co-conspirator, and second husband, Jean-Charles Rey. Ironically, “rey” is the Latin word for “king.”

Both of the Princess’s initial marriages ended in divorce. The third marriage, to dancer John Gilpin, only lasted for six weeks because Gilpin died from a heart attack at the age of 53. Princess Antoinette was 63. The widow honored his memory with the John Gilpin Scholarship Award for students of the Princess Grace Academy of Classical Dance in Monte-Carlo. She took over the governance of the Academy after the death of its namesake in 1982.

Princess Antoinette has maintained a low profile in recent decades. She lives quietly among her many cats and dogs at a villa outside of Monaco in the village of Èze. But despite suffering from osteoporosis, persistent heart problems and (maybe) pancreatic cancer, she does maintain some commitments. There is the aforementioned honorary presidency of the Monegasque Women’s Association. She is the Chairwoman of the Honorary Committee of the World Festival of Amateur Theatre, of which she was president until Princess Caroline took over that role. There is also her founding presidency and honorary membership in the International Research Group on Very Low Dose and High Dilution Effects. She is patron of the Scottish Kennel Club and also the president of the Kennel Club of Monaco; under her presidency, Monaco’s Kennel Club organized an International Dog Show, an act that will be commemorated with a stamp next month. Hungarian Vizslas are her favorite canines. She continues to breed them today; they were originally the pets of the Austro-Hungarian emperors. But perhaps most importantly, the Princess is an advocate for complementary medicine. In 1983, she organized the Monaco International Talks on the objective and new findings of the field.

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4 Responses to The Nonagenarian Princess of Monaco: Her Travails and Her Legacy

  1. lailani says:

    happy birthday princess de massy love lailani

  2. Princess von Landsberg says:

    Wishing you a wonderful 90th year with good health and happiness, Princess Antionette!

  3. Zena Thorn Andrews says:

    Happy birthday Princesse, I do hope the Monaco Kennel Club’s show in April will be it’s usual success, & you will grace it with your presence. I do hope to see you then again. Love Zena

  4. M says:

    Edits:
    1. The entire family WAS NOT at her birthday celebration/the meeting of Monégasque Women’s Association-Just Elisabeth (not Anne de Massy, It’s ELISABETH DE MASSY) and Caroline, no Albert, no all of her children and grandchildren, just those two were confirmed to be there. Melanie was allegedly there as well, but there were no photos of her.
    2. Princess Caroline took over the Princess Grace Academy of Dance at Grace’s death, not Antoinette.

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