Wednesday, October 12, 2011

The First American Princess of Monaco: Alice Heine

Alice Heine,
Princess of Monaco
Before the American actress Grace Kelly became Princess of Monaco by her marriage to Prince Rainier III of Monaco, another American woman had become the wife a Prince of Monaco more than half a century earlier. Marie Alice Heine was the first American woman ever to marry a Prince of Monaco, and the first American woman ever to wed a reigning sovereign.

Alice Heine was born on February 10, 1858 in New Orleans. Her father, Michael Heine was a scion of the prominent European banking family Heine-Freres, and a cousin of the German poet Heinrich Heine. He came to New Orleans from France to become a real-estate developer and to organize cotton financing. Alice's mother was Amelie Miltenberger, an architect's daughter, and of a French ancestry.

Because of the American Civil War, the Heines were forced to go back to France. It was also in France that Michael Heine introduced his daughter to Parisian society. Alice's beauty and her family's wealth made her an attractive bride, and soon enough the most eligible bachelors were begging for her hand in marriage.

At the age of 17, Alice married Armand, 7th Duke of Richelieu, a wealthy man but many years older than her. They went on to have a son, the future 8th Duke of Richelieu. Five years after their marriage, the Duke died, and 22 year-old Alice was left a widow. Her husband left her a substantial fortune, and the young and wealthy widow became one of the most courted widows in the cosmopolitan world. She embarked on her fabulous career as an international hostess, and became famous in London and Paris.

Few years later, Alice met Prince Albert of Monaco at the island of Madeira. The prince was immediately attracted to the beautiful blonde widow and wished to marry her. However, Prince Albert's father was against the match and the couple had to wait years before they could marry. When the reigning prince died and Albert became the new sovereign of Monaco, he immediately married Alice. They got married on October 30, 1889. Alice arrived in Monte Carlo and was greeted with much fanfare. The Bishop of Monaco described her as "the embodiment of virtue, chastity, and generosity". She brought with her six million dollars as dowry, which was a fortune at that time, and possessed some of the most valuable jewels in existence.

Alice's marriage to Prince Albert proved an equal blessing to him and his tiny principality. Alice possessed a strong business acumen, well in advance for her youth. Having helped put her husband's principality on a sound financial footing, she would devote her energies to making Monaco one of Europe's great cultural centers, with an opera, theater, and a ballet under the direction of the famed Russian impresario Serge Diaghilev. Prince Albert was a keen oceanographer, and ordered the construction of the research ship Princess Alice in honor of his wife.

Albert supported his wife's efforts in transforming Monaco into a major cultural center, but Alice was unsympathetic to her husband's love for the sea. Despite the initial success of the marriage, the couple eventually found it hard to reconcile their differences, and they separated in 1902. They did not divorce. Alice's father tried to negotiate a return of some part of her large dowry, but the Grimaldi family refused. After her separation from the prince, Alice settled in London, and became the hostess to one of its most glittering salons. She became a close friend of Queen Alexandra, and the Queen regularly sent her roses from Sandringham to be added to her garden. She entertained considerably, and her parties were frequented by celebrated artists, writers, and political leaders. She also became patron to many young, promising artists and a supporter of humanitarian causes popular in the early 20th century. Upon the Prince's death 20 years later, Alice became the Dowager Princess of Monaco. She did not remarry.

Princess Alice died in Paris at the age of 68.


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