Today is the 90th birthday of Princess Antoinette of Monaco, Baroness of Massy, the aunt of Sovereign Prince Albert II and sister of the late Prince Rainier III.
She was born on 28 December 1920, in the reign of her great-grandfather Albert I, and was the eldest child of Princess Charlotte and Prince Pierre, né de Polignac, who had married earlier that year after Charlotte, the illegitimate child of Hereditary Prince Louis and an Algerian laundry maid or cabaret artist, had been formally adopted by her father and raised to princely rank. Her brother, Rainier, was born in 1923, but their parents separated in 1930 and the children’s grandfather, by then Sovereign Prince Louis II, took charge of their upbringing.
Hereditary Princess Charlotte renounced her rights to the throne in 1944, meaning that Rainier succeeded to the throne when Prince Louis died in 1949. As Prince Rainier was still unmarried, Princess Antoinette became the principality’s first lady. She remained so until Prince Rainier married Grace Kelly in 1956 and is said to have resented relinquishing the position. It is commonly known that Princess Antoinette and Princess Grace did not get along.
Antoinette herself had begun a relationship to a married man, Alexandre Noghès, with whom she had three children – Elisabeth-Anne in 1947, Christian in 1949 and Christine in 1951 – before marrying him. The marriage lasted only three years and in 1961 she remarried the ambitious lawyer Jean-Charles Rey, who was also President of the Monegasque Parliament.
Princess Antoinette had taken part in intrigues against her brother already in 1955, spreading rumours that Rainier’s then girlfriend was infertile and plotting to make him step aside in favour of her and her son. During her second marriage she was led on by Rey, who argued that she, as the eldest child, was the rightful sovereign of Monaco. Needless to say the relationship between Prince Rainier and Princess Antoinette was strained for a number of years.
The Princess and Jean-Charles Rey divorced in 1974 and nine years later she remarried the ballet dancer John Gilpin, who died from a heart attack six weeks after the wedding. Her youngest daughter Christine died in 1989.
Since the funeral of her brother in 2005 Princess Antoinette, who lives in Éze, has made few public appearances and in recent years she has ceased attending the great annual events in the principality such as the Red Cross ball, the Rose ball or the National Day celebrations.
The coming year is by the way expected to see several 90th birthdays among senior European royals: Grand Duke Jean of Luxembourg will turn 90 on 5 January, followed by Prince Philip of Britain on 10 June and the ex-King of Romania on 25 October.