Monaco: Title Conundrum

The title of the ruler of Monaco today is Prince of Monaco, and the conundrum starts there. The prince also styles himself Duc du Valentinois, just one of many French titles the family lays claim to. There lies the second conundrum. The Prince and other family members are addressed as His (or Her) Serene Highness, and that’s a third conundrum. 

Andrea Casiraghi of Monaco


Rainier I Grimaldi started out as a pirate taking the castle of Monaco in a military action and ousting its Genoese owners in 1297. He was soon chucked out again. In 1331, his son Carlo Grimaldi retook the castle; he officially received the castle from the French King Philip VI the Fortunate together with Menton and Roquebrune and was styled Seigneur de Monaco. Over the next 500 years, the Grimaldi of Monaco collected numerous French titles and lands from various thankful monarchs.

In 1457, Claudine of Monaco set the precedent for female succession by assuming the lands and titles in her own right and styling herself as Dame de Monaco. In 1612, Honoré II elevated himself to Prince of Monaco with the backing of the Spanish King Philip III and nobody really cared to contest the issue. As a prince, he would be addressed in French as Son Altesse Sérénissime which translates to His Most Serene Highness but this translation is customarily reserved for ruling princes of the Holy Roman Empire. For that reason, family members today have to be content with HSH (His or Her Serene Highness); it’s an unjust world.

Due to the precedent set by Claudine, the French lands and titles remained in the family for centuries despite a second female succession happening with Louise in 1731. Claudine had married a Grimaldi cousin, but Louise was married to Jacques de Goyon-Matignon, Comte de Thorigny et de Matignon, Duc d’Estouteville who took on the name Grimaldi and their titles and reigned in lieu of his wife. He set the precedent for changing the name if marrying the prospective heiress of Monaco.

During the Great War, France became progressively worried about the situation in Monaco. The ageing Prince Albert I had only a son Louis and that one didn’t show any intention to marry and beget children. If they both died, the German Duke of Urach (a cadet line of the Royal House of Württemberg) would inherit the principality. France could have German submarines landing in a port on its Mediterranean coast any day after that event.

Louis had an illegitimate daughter who was unable to succeed him. The French government had an idea what they wanted, and it was something Monaco could live with, considering they were defended by the French army. France and Monaco made a treaty whereby France guaranteed Monaco’s independence for as long as a Grimaldi from the direct line would sit on the throne. If the line failed, France would inherit Monaco to become part of France.

Louis then went on and adopted his illegitimate daughter Charlotte officially in Paris with the signature of the French Prime Minister sealing the precedent that adopted succession is accepted as direct line succession by France. The precedent holds true for applied Monegasque succession laws, too. Charlotte assumed the title of Princess of Monaco and all other titles held by the Grimaldis. The French titles are contested by French purists who hold that titles may not pass through illegitimate offspring or adoption. They may be right.

But somewhere along the line, the French had lost their head and there was nobody there to tell Charlotte that she was not Duchesse du Valentinois. The titles therefore passed through usus into Monegasque titles, and the Prince may do with them what he wants; they are definitely hereditary under Monegasque law.

Should the French return to a monarchy, the king or queen may well bestow the title of Duc du Valentinois where they please; we might come to the point where titles have to carry an add-on of (French) or (Monacan). The Problem seems not imminent, though.

The treaty with France was broadly worded; not to be restricted too much to the persons currently involved; it names only the direct line of the Prince of Monaco as eligible. The first to notice that this formula was a mistake was Rainier III. Upon assuming the throne, he found that the formula had overnight excluded his sister and her children from the succession. It was obvious that that had not been the intention of the signatories. They had wanted to make sure the Duke of Urach could not inherit; they had not intended to put pressure upon every future prince to instantly produce or adopt an heir. The amendment of 1961 of the treaty was therefore aimed at naming all children of Rainier III as part of the succession, thereby taking off the pressure from Albert II to marry and have children; he made ample use of that.

The new treaty of 2001 which scrapped the inheritance clause completely (Monaco would even remain independent as a Republic), the Principality was able to rephrase the inheritance laws to ‘normal’ dynastic succession thereby restoring Princess Antoinette and her children to the succession. In its wake, Princess Caroline’s title should be correctly given as Hereditary Princess of Monaco as she is currently the successor to Prince Albert. Nobody bothers with it, though. 


Further reading
Princess Antoinette of Monaco, Baroness of Massy
The Principality of Monaco in World War II
Princes: Not All That Glitters