Princess Charlene married into a glittering, wealthy royal dynasty. And an ancient curse

What’s the point of reigning over a glittering independent state, on the loveliest bay of the French Riviera, with only 9486 subjects and enough income to make you a billionaire if you are cursed never to know happiness in marriage?

It’s a question Prince Albert II of Monaco must be pondering, as he sits alone in his fairy tale castle, while his wife of 10 years, Princess Charlene, has remained 5000 miles away in South Africa for the past six months.

Officially, the princess is saving the endangered white rhino, which seems a lot more fortunate than the state of her marriage.

Officially, she is also suffering from an ear, nose and throat condition that has impelled doctors to bar her from flying. In the past months, Charlene has undergone a series of hospital procedures, most recently a four-hour operation in August.

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That was serious enough to cause a collapse this week – she was admitted to hospital on Wednesday night and is said to be stable.

Her stated plan was to return to Monaco in October, but her husband has now suggested that could be brought forward. “I’m pretty sure we can cut that time frame a little short,” Prince Albert told People magazine.

But if the medieval Curse of the Grimaldis has anything to do with it, he might see his hopes dashed.

To understand, we must rewind to the early 14th century when Rainier I of Grimaldi – the French-Genovese ruler who had just carved himself a personal fiefdom by taking the fortress of Monaco – went to the aid of King Philippe IV of France in his war against the Flemish.

In 1304, Rainier won the crucial sea battle of Zierikzee. Legend has it that to celebrate he kidnapped a Flemish maiden. In revenge, she is said to have cursed his family, vowing that “never will a Grimaldi find happiness in marriage”.

What’s certain is that, over the following 717 years, more Grimaldi marriages have been troubled than felicitous.

Prince Albert’s great-great-grandfather, Albert I, was dumped by his 19-year-old bride, Lady Mary-Victoria Hamilton, less than a year after she’d given birth to their only son Louis in 1870.

Louis himself fell in love with a French cabaret singer, Marie-Juliette Louvet, who bore him a daughter, but the pair were never allowed to marry. As Louis II, he adopted his illegitimate daughter, Charlotte, to ensure his succession.

Charlotte’s marriage to Count Pierre de Polignac lasted only 13 years before the couple divorced in 1933; gossips attributed numerous affairs to both. Their son, Rainier III (the current prince Albert’s father) a noted womaniser, was nevertheless happy in his marriage to Grace Kelly, but this ended prematurely when she was killed in a car crash, while driving with her youngest daughter in 1982.

Then there are Rainier and Grace’s three children.

The eldest, Princess Caroline, married Parisian playboy, Philippe Junot, aged just 19 and against her parent’s wishes. They divorced two years later. Her second marriage to Italian businessman Stefano Casiraghi ended in tragedy, when his speed boat crashed during a race.

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Caroline’s third marriage to Ernst-August of Hanover, in 1990, has not been officially dissolved; but the couple have lived apart since 2009. Among other incidents, he was slapped with a 10-month suspended jail sentence in Austria for injuring a police officer and threatening a police woman with a baseball bat. “His title was Royal; his behaviour wasn’t,” a friend said.

Princess Stéphanie, a former model, singer and designer, now 56, was just 17 when she was trapped next to her dying mother in that fateful car crash.

Her erratic personal life has been ascribed to the trauma, with a marriage to her bodyguard, Daniel Ducruet, with whom she has two children; an affair with the palace head of security, with whom she has a daughter; before running away with a circus elephant trainer, only to later wed an acrobat (they divorced 14 months later).

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This may explain Albert’s reticence to marry. The transition from preppy prince – particularly during his years as a student at Amherst near Boston – to playboy happened while the world was paying attention to his sisters.

From Catherine Oxenberg, the star of Dynasty, to Morgan Fairchild, Brooke Shields, Lisa-Marie Presley, Kylie Minogue, Claudia Schiffer, Naomi Campbell and Bo Derek, Albert’s collection of beauties reads like Don Giovanni’s catalogue of conquests.

The Monégasques don’t mind glamour. But by the time Albert reached his half century in 2008, they had begun to worry. He did have two acknowledged illegitimate children (Jazmin Grace, born in 1992 from an affair with an American waitress; and Alexandre, now 17, the son of a French-Togolese flight attendant). But would their prince never marry?

Overshadowed by his father – Rainier was an authoritarian – Albert had acquired a quiet stubbornness. So when he fell for a beautiful South African swimmer he first spotted at the 2000 Olympics, he took his time. It is suggested Charlene and Albert started their liaison in Sydney; they went public at the Turin Winter Olympics in 2006.

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In many ways, Charlene was the exact woman the playboy prince had been waiting for. That she was an outsider to Monaco was a bonus; she came from beyond the stifling palace cabals. They shared a love of sport and the environment. Albert knew he needed heirs, and the couple married in a €56 million extravaganza, at which the Eagles performed, on July 1 2011.

The bride is rumoured to have tried to walk out two days before, and to have been on the way to Nice airport. Whatever the truth, it is certain that she cried during the wedding.

The tiny court of Monaco can resemble a snake pit. “Grace wasn’t that well received at the beginning,” says a Monégasque friend. “She was ‘the actress’, ‘the American’. But Grace really loved Rainier; so she decided to make things work.

“She learned French; she started local community activities. She refused all movie offers, saying: ‘But, you see, I have a new career now!’ People loved her charm and dignity; they started saying Rainier was the one who’d married up.”

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Charlene has not played the game. She did not learn French. She did not make local friends. Her absences have been noticed: she seemed to live less in the palace than at Princess Stéphanie’s old flat, Princess Grace’s former weekend house above the Corniche, and the homes of friends. She dropped out of official events at the last minute.

“The Palace had to make apologies for a suddenly-ill princess so many times that Monegasques now find these hard to believe,” reported Paris-Match.

Many at court recall a snub to Emmanuel and Brigitte Macron as recently as January last year, when Albert showed up alone at the Élysée palace for a formal State dinner in his honour, causing some frantic reshuffling of place-cards.

In her day, Grace had to cope with Princess Antoinette, Rainier’s elder sister, who had acted as the Principality’s First Lady until his marriage. Similarly, Charlene does not appear to have won the support of Albert’s close family.

She is said not to be popular with Princess Caroline, Monaco’s foremost patron of the arts, who had – until Albert’s marriage – ruled the Monégasque roost and reportedly has little patience with Charlene’s refusal to integrate.

Nor, it is claimed, is she popular with Princess Stéphanie. A serious athlete and swimmer, Stéphanie could have become a real friend. But, as the sister is closest to Albert, she apparently did not take well to a “rival” for her brother’s attention.

As a result, apart from Albert – who has twice visited Charlene in South Africa with their twins, Jacques and Gabriella, six, most recently last month – many in Monaco seem to have accepted that the Curse of the Grimaldis has struck again.

The twins, back in Monte Carlo with their father, have now started classes at the local school. Jacques now has had the title of Marquis des Baux and is the official heir to the princely throne. Continuity, not happiness, is what counts.

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