Prince Rainier of Monaco
Europe's longest-reigning monarch, Prince Rainier led a life tinged with tragedy yet marked by the magical aura of the principality of Monaco. His strength of character supported him through the grief of his wife's fatal car accident, his children's sometimes troubled lives and, in his final years, seemingly endless bouts with ill-health.
Born in 1923 to parents Prince Pierre and Princess Charlotte, the young prince studied in England, Switzerland and France before joining the French army as a foreign serviceman in 1944. His mother renounced the throne in 1944, leaving Rainier to succeed his grandfather, Prince Louis II, in 1949. The new ruler then set about modernising the tiny kingdom it covers less than one square mile sandwiched between the South of France and the Mediterranean.
Rainier had been on the throne for seven years when he met the beautiful American actress Grace Kelly, who was in Monaco filming the Hitchcock classic To Catch A Thief a film which ironically included scenes on the twisty mountain roads behind Monte Carlo where the actress would meet her untimely death. After a whirlwind romance, Prince Rainier and the princess of the silver screen married in 1956. Hollywood itself could not have come up with a better script, and as Grace Kelly became Princess Grace of Monaco, she cut short a highly successful acting career.
The year after they were married Princess Caroline was born, and Prince Rainier's new bride gave the people of Monaco their heir to the throne, Prince Albert, the following year. The couple's younger daughter Stephanie was born in 1965.
The magical status Monaco acquired under the reign of Prince Rainier and Princess Grace was shattered in 1982 when the universally adored princess was killed in a motoring accident. It was a tragedy from which the family never seemed recover, and it has been said that Prince Rainier, deprived of the stricter presence of his wife, was too soft on his children. The loss of Princess Grace particularly affected Princess Stephanie, who was also in the car at the time of the incident and was badly injured.
After his wife's untimely death the head of the Grimaldi clan immersed himself in his work, which focused on continuing to attract big business to the principality while aiming to rely less on income from tourism and the casino. He maintained a favourable relationship with neighbouring France despite criticism at times from the government in Paris and over the last 20 years of his reign increased the size of his kingdom from 150 hectares to 181 through various land reclamation schemes.
In his last years, Rainier had endured several bouts of ill health and been hospitalised on numerous occasions with heart and respiratory problems. His last public appearance was in January 2005 when he helped hand out prizes at his beloved Circus Festival. Earlier that week he had been moved to tears when the assembled audience, relieved to see their ailing monarch up and about again, greeted him with a standing ovation.
However, just six weeks later he was back in hospital with a chest infection and, after his condition took a sudden turn for the worse, was transferred to intensive care in late March.
The prince's long reign came to an end on April 6, 2005, when he passed away aged 81. Popular Rainier was survived by his son and successor, Prince Albert, daughters Caroline and Stephanie, and seven grandchildren: Andrea, Charlotte, Pierre, Alexandra, Louis, Pauline and Camille.