Monaco entered the eighteenth century with a new head of state: Antoine I. He was heavily indebted, for his parents had led an expensive and luxurious life. In Rome, his father, Louis I, had a staff of one hundred and sixty people, while living in Palazzo Corsini. Suddenly there wasn’t much in the greenhouse. Antoine decided to exchange a luxurious life in Paris for a sober life in Monaco. He would prove to be a monarch who turned the palace on the rock into a culturally high-quality place because he invited many artists and musicians there to beautify life. But he also ensured that the independent status of his country was not called into question. He had already distinguished himself as crown prince on the battlefield in the service of Louis XIV at Fleurus, Mons and Namur (between 1690 and 1692).  

During his reign (from 1701 to 1731), Monaco had to deal with the consequences of the War of the Spanish Succession. The dwarf state became enclosed when Savoy suddenly renounced its alliance with France and opted for a partnership with the Austrian Emperor Leopold I. Monaco remained on the side of France, which in 1705 launched an attack on Savoy, Nice and even Piedmont. But as a reaction, Austria and Piedmont together attacked Provence. Antoine decided to further improve the defences of the Rock as a kind of precaution. He also had the Tour de l’Oreillon built at the city entrance and the Fort Antoine, on the spot where an open-air theatre has now been built. As a kind of sign of friendship, the French king Monaco donated La Turbie, but after the Treaty of Utrecht (1713) Monaco lost this again and Savoy, which had now become a kingdom (first Sicily but from 1720 Sardinia), believed that it was entitled to Menton and Roquebrune. 

This monarch was very popular among the Monegasques because under his leadership a small country was still able to survive. In doing so, he ensured the recovery of the local economy. He had set up a palace as a summer residence at Carnolès, on the road to Menton, for his family.

Antoine had married Maria of Lorraine in 1688, through the intercession of Louis XIV. Monaco was clearly too small for this fashionable woman. The couple lived mainly in Paris because Maria did not last more than seven years on the Rock. The couple had only had daughters. Admittedly six. This created a problem for the succession of the Prince. 

It was agreed in consultation with Louis XIV that the eldest daughter could become head of state if her husband assumed the identity of Grimaldi. For this eldest daughter, Louise-Hippolyte, a suitable partner was of course sought. At the age of eighteen she married Jacques de Goyon-Matignon, a count from Brittany, but who was mainly at home in Paris. His dowry also included the family home Hôtel Matignon, which is nowadays best known as the official residence (and workshop) of the French Prime Minister. The marriage was made at Versailles on 20 October 1715. It wasn’t until five years later that the couple had a child, Honoré, who would grow up at the Court of Versailles and was raised by a daughter-in-law of Louis XIV, the Duchess of Maine. 

When Antoine I died on 20 February 1731 he was succeeded by his daughter Louise-Hippolyte. She went to Monaco alone, while her husband stayed in Paris with the family. But within a year she became seriously ill and would die of smallpox on December 29, 1731. This was a dramatic development for the family but also for Monaco. Her husband Jacques I immediately became the first French monarch of the Mediterranean country.  

He was intelligent and erudite with an interest in literature, art, history and philosophy. He had been trained in the army and had fought in Flanders, Rhineland and in Spain (1719). After his appointment he quickly became acquainted with his subjects, but the widower could not count on much sympathy from the Monegasques. He was seen as an intruder or even a profiteer and thus could not build a good relationship with his subjects. The neighbouring countries also objected to his arrival. King Carlo Emanuele III of Sardinia (actually Savoy) even refused to recognise him as Prince of Monaco, while a sister of Louise-Hippolyte also opposed the fact that her brother-in-law had gained power. The Grimaldi branch from Antibes also claimed to have more right to the throne than Jacques. Due to the lack of support among the Monegasques, Jacques decided to step down after two years in favour of his son Honoré (Onorato) III, who was only thirteen years old. On November 7, 1733, he announced his decision and on May 13, 1734, Honoré was inaugurated by the Monegasques in the presence of his father. After that, father and son also went to Menton to gain the loyalty of the population. After the inauguration, Jacques and Honoré returned to Hôtel Matignon in Paris. Jacques would retire from public life and deal with philosophical questions, while Honoré had to finish his education.  

Leadership in Monaco came into the hands of ‘the chevalier Grimaldi’, an illegitimate son of Antoine I, who was fathered by the dancer Elisabeth Dufort, nicknamed Babé. This son was given the name of his father and went through life as the knight Antoine Grimaldi. He assumed the role of Governor in May 1734, but officially Honoré was the head of state and he would even become the longest-serving monarch of Monaco (59 years, three years longer than Ranier III). The Chevalier was to lead the country politically until Honoré came of age, but in practice this would take much longer, until the death of the Chevalier in 1784.

Meanwhile, the teenager finished school and then enlisted in the French army. He fought in the War of the Austrian Succession (1742-48) on the French side (and was even wounded in battle). He was even given the title ‘Marshal of France’. 

The Chevalier opted for a neutral policy in that war and offered shelter in the port to both French and English ships. Yet Austria and Sardinia doubted this neutral attitude and therefore armies of this coalition suddenly entered Menton. Some residents fled. The unrest lasted for a few years, but eventually Monaco would regain control of Menton after the Treaty of Aachen. That was also the moment that Honoré III also became more involved in the country of which he was Prince, although he still entrusted the political leadership to Antoine Grimaldi. The main goal of both men was not to jeopardise Monaco’s independence. 

ILLUSTRATIONS: Top, the Palace in the 18th century, centre, Honoré (Onorato) III