Just few weeks before the coronavirus spreading, I was in London to transfer the editorial ownership of “Il Foglio Italiano” magazine to the colleague Arianna Caracciolo. Among several cultural activities, I had the occasion to visit the famous Wax Museum founded in London by the French Marie Tussaud née Grosholtz, (1761-1850).
Back to Monaco, I decided to pay a visit to the Wax Museum of the Princes of Monaco. Comparable to Madam Tussaud’s, but in smaller proportions, this place is a real eye-opener. Although it is not as popular as other famous places, it is stunningly original, home to a vast collection of wax works charting the history of the royals through life sized models, many of which are dressed in period clothing. Quite unsurprisingly my toughs went to the time in which the Grimaldis became “Princes of Monaco”. This important fact in the Grimaldi House’s history happened when the French King Louis XIII(1601-1643) decided to develop its foreign matters expanding its settlements, especially in the so named New France. Among his many actions, around 1630 Louis realized the strategic importance of the Monaco’s Rock. He put an end to the Spanish protectorate and finally decided to confirm the full independence of the territory as a Principality, thus establishing the alliance between the lords of Monaco and the France Kingdom that will last for centuries. As a matter of fact, the first “Prince Charming” of the dynasty, Honoré II of Monaco,(1597-1662) earned also the privilege to mint coins.
His wife, Ippolita Trivulzio-Gonzaga, was the first consort to be officially called “Princess of Monaco”. The Principality enjoyed a long period of peace, gained rights and privileges by the French crown. Little by little, inspired by the French luxurious court, the Monaco Palace was enriched with amazing art collections. In fact, before the very harsh repression suffered by the Principality of Monaco during the French Revolution, enormous wealth were pouring into the coffers of the Courts and also the “courtesan” Monegasque nobility loved to live splendidly. In 1662, Louis became 2nd Prince of Monaco to the death of his grandfather Honoré II. HSH Prince Louis I of Monaco was used to spend more time as a “foreign prince at the Court of France” than in the Principality, along with his beautiful wife Charlotte Cathérine de Gramont. The lavish wedding of their only son, Antoine I, 3rd prince of Monaco, with the beautiful Marie de Lorraine, was combined by Louis’ godfather, the “Roi Soleil” Louis XIV. Marie gave birth to six children but only two of them, Louise-Hyppolite and Margaret, survived; thus, princess Louise-Hyppolite became the 4th ruler of Monaco. Louise Hyppolite was eighteen years old when she fell in love with the young, rich, and handsome lord of Matignon, Jacques-François de Goyon; the passion got the better of the dynastic family rules. Jacques-François became a Grimaldi, and the 5th Sovereign with the name of Jacques I when Louise suddenly died just thirty one years of age on December 29,1731. As for their son Honoré-Camille III (1720-1795) and 6th Prince, the end of his reign was marked by one of the biggest changes in the history of France and of the world; when he passed away in 1795, the French Revolution (1789-1799) has already put to death King Louis XVI and Queen Marie-
Antoinette, and guillotined and decimated a number of nobles. Years before, in 1757, in the good old days of Louis XV,(1710-1774) Honoré-Camille had married Marie-Cathérine of Genoa Brignole and Sale, which had brought him a large dowry. In 1770, due to her affair with the prince Louis-Joseph de Condé, which will marry her in 1798, she obtained the official divorce from Honoré-Camille. Marie-Cathérine died in England in 1813, having seen thousands of noble heads fall, including that of her daughter in law, the princess of Monaco Thérèse Choiseul and the wife of his youngest son Joseph-Marie Grimaldi. Thérèse was the only one of the Grimaldi family to end her days under the guillotine; all the other family members were safe, including Honoré-Charles, heir of Marie-Cathérine and Honoré III.
In 1777 he had married the duchess Louise-Félicité Aumont-Mazarin, heiress to one of the hugest fortune in France. In that same year 1777, Madame Tussauds created her first wax figure, that of Voltaire. From 1780 until the Revolution in 1789, Tussauds produced some of her most famous portraits of celebrities such as those of philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau and Benjamin Franklin. She also claimed that members of the royal family were so pleased with her work that she was invited to live at Versailles, where the princely couple of Monaco was often received and honoured. At the start of the French Revolution Tussauds was perceived as a royal sympathising. She was arrested, but she was released to be employed to make death masks of the revolution’s victims, including Louis XVI, Marie Antoinette, Marat, and Robespierre.
In the meantime, the revolt had spread from Paris throughout France; on 1793 the revolutionary forces stormed the Monaco fortress; the entire royal family was imprisoned and everything in the Palace was auctioned off. It was an extremely difficult time for Louise and Honoré-Charles, until, in 1798, when his influence on the decisions of the Assembly was at its best, a young Corsican general, Napoléon Bonaparte, obtained their release. In 1799, the Prince, who had been obliged to give up his battered land to Bonaparte, then First Consul of France, moved to Paris, while many members of his family were forced to enlist in the French army, where they distinguished themselves earning medals and awards from the Napoleon’s Imperial family. Louise-Félicité Aumont-Mazarin had a still very rich and influential family in France, but at last the Mazarine found peace and burial in the crypt of the Monaco Cathedral when she passed away in 1826. In fact, in 1814 the couple went back to Monaco and Honoré-Charles retrieved the title as Honoré IV, becoming the 7th Sovereign Prince of Monaco. In 1819, Honoré Gabriel V (1778-1841), the first son of Honoré and Louise, became the 8th Sovereign Prince of Monaco, thanks to the intercession of the French diplomat Talleyrand who, along with Metternich, had been the “conductor” of the 1815 Congress of Vienna, and of the Restoration.
Moreover, in 1826 Honoré V succeeded to his mother, sole heir of one of the most prestigious families in France, the Mazarin, taking all the titles and the right of succession, currently owned by HSH Albert II. Visiting these two wax museums, I found incredibly interesting that Madame Tussauds lived during the Monaco’s Historic time that I have described above… If you decide to visit the Wax Museum of the Princes of Monaco, please confirm status on the venue website before making any plans because it could be currently temporarily closed without notice.
Wax Museum of the princes of Monaco – 27 rue Basse, Monaco, Monaco, 98000 – +377 93 30 39 05
(Ph. IM Monaco by night)