The Grimaldi’s emerged from the Crusades as one of the four major ruling families of the Genoese urban nobility, essentially warriors, shipowners, and bankers. Genoa experimented with several political systems to organize its City-State and, around the 11th century, chose the Commune. As such, the City was led by a committee of consuls who were generally chosen among the feudal families that had settled down in the City. Grimaldo, who gave his patronymic name to his descendants, was the youngest son of Otto Canella, a Consul of Genoa in 1133. In turn, Grimaldo rose up to become consul three times, in 1162, 1170 and again in 1184. The prominence of Grimaldo in the City’s public affairs led him to be sent in embassy to negotiate some of the most important treaties with foreign rulers, such as the Emperor Frederick Barbarossa and the Emperor of Byzantium. Oberto Grimaldi, son of Grimaldo, is the first of the family known to use the patronymic Grimaldi.
As in other Italian cities of the time, the need for political weight in the Commune pushed the Genoese nobility to pull their forces into parties representing their views. Between the 13th and 14th centuries, the Genoese families thus developed the albergo, an organizational structure incorporating several small families around a prominent House, such as the Grimaldis, that shared the same political and economical interests. In Genoa, the members of an albergo typically lived in the same neighborhoods and attended the same churches, which further reinforced the close ties.
During the power struggles between the papacy and the Holy Roman Empire, the Grimaldis and the Fieschis led the pro-papal Guelph party against the Emperor whose interests were backed by the Ghibelline Doria and Spinola families. In 1270, in the midst of one of those numerous political struggles, the Guelphs were forced into exile: the Grimaldis and their allies took refuge in Guelphic towns of the Western Riviera, around Nice. From the viewpoint of history, the exile of 1270 appears to be the main starting point for the old feudal branches of the House of Grimaldi, such as Monaco, Boglio, and Antibes, in the 13th and 14th centuries. By 1333, the Grimaldi Family had grown to over 100 men.
The Epic History of the Main Branches
The fortune of merchant noblemen relied on maritime trade and access to fortified ports, like Monaco and Antibes, where they could also raise their armies. In 1297, a group of Grimaldi and Guelphic allies therefore sought to seize the fortress of Monaco at the tip of their sword from the Ghibellines, turning the place into a base for political activism and military operations against their Genoese rivals. Over the next centuries, however, the albergo alternately lost and regained control of Monaco during a period of instability and wars throughout the region.
In 1419, the Grimaldis succeeded in permanently securing possession of Monaco, and stubbornly embarked on defending its independence, sometimes at the price of their personal freedom or their life. As often for all the feudal possessions of Genoese families in Provence, Liguria and Corsica, the Grimaldis ruled over Monaco with the title of signori, or lords, and only assumed the title of prince in the 17th century. The princely title can also be found among the distinctions of other branches of the Grimaldi Family, although traditionally the Grimaldis — and the Genoese nobility in general — carried few titles. However, owing to its long independence and the prestige associated with its sovereignty, the principality of Monaco undoubtedly rose to become the jewel of the House of Grimaldi.
The history of Monaco and of the Grimaldis was largely symbiotic until the 17th century, when a first controversial act of succession saw Jacques de Goyon Matignon climbing the throne of the principality. Before long, the French Revolution rolled over Europe and annexed the principality. Monaco was however reinstated when quieter times returned in the wake of the Napoleonic Wars. In the 20th century, in another turn of events, a new succession affair brought to the throne the current dynasty, issued this time from the Polignacs.
The Kingdom of Naples and the fertile island of Sicily were strategically located on the Mediterranean trade routes; this fact did not escape the Genoese merchants. The long presence of the Grimaldis in Sicily goes back to the 14th century, where they served as advisors and captains of justice, or in battle on the side of the Angevin kings.
Wedged in the Alps between France, Provence, Savoy, and Piedmont, the fiefdom of Boglio (Beuil, in today’s France) was among the largest in the region. In the early 14th century, a marriage with the heiress of Boglio brought this territory to the Grimaldis. Quickly, they went on an expansion spree that regularly put them at war with their neighbors.
In a fascinating page of diplomatic history, those Grimaldis managed to bring peacefully the entire Nice country — originally part of Provence — to the counts of Savoy in what is called the “Dedition of Nice” (1388). The Grimaldis governed the region of Nice at a time of war when their “lord,” the king of Hungary, could not come to the rescue of his subjects. With the help of the Grimaldis, Nice and other nearby towns put themselves under the protection of the Count of Savoy. As a result, landlocked Savoy and Piedmont acquired a reliable access to the sea. The Grimaldi of Boglio received therefore over 20 fiefdoms and reinforced their gubernatorial position in Nice.
With a legendary determination, they eventually patched together a small “kingdom,” to which only independence was missing. Hearing about those maneuverings, the counts of Savoy put a mortal end to this branch’s ambitions in the 17th century.
Earlier, in the 14th century, the Grimaldis also received possession of the ancient city of Antibes — as collateral to a loan made to a pope. They established a branch of marquises in Provence that produced several knights of Malta, as well as governors and bishops. Two centuries later, descendants of the lords of Antibes spread over the Alps to Piedmont. They acquired the old fiefdom of Puget in Provence (Pogetto, in Italian), of which they still bear the name of Puget to this day. More sword than robe, they produced a long line of officers that, for instance, could be found serving in the royal armies of Savoy, the imperial army of Napoleon or fighting for the independence of Italy. The campaign of 1848 did not turn to the revolutionaries’ advantage, however, and several of their leaders ended up in exile to Brussels in Belgium.
Representatives of an international and business-savvy nobility, the Grimaldis were active as early as the Late Middle Age in all the large political and economic centers of Europe, notably Byzantium, France, Spain, the Netherlands and England.
In Genoa, the Grimaldis participated in the creation of the Bank of Saint George — one of the first incorporated banks in the world, founded in 1407 — and financed popes, kings, and emperors, including Charles V of Spain. At the time of the constitutional reform of 1528, which gave birth to the aristocratic Republic of Genoa with the support of the Habsburg Crown, the Grimaldis were put at the helm of one of the 28 alberghi. As such, they could participate in the government of the Republic and run in the biennial election of the Doge, the Genoese presidency. These Genoese patricians were listed in the Liber Civilitatis (later called Liber Nobilitatis) and exercised the sovereignty of the Republic until the troops of Napoleon entered Genoa.
The Grimaldis were involved in most of the great enterprises of those times, including the colonial ventures to the New World, until the costly bankruptcy of Philip II’s Spanish Treasury. We owe them several of the most important palaces of Genoa, such as the superb Tursi Palace, which now hosts the town hall.
After the reform of 1576 that abolished the alberghi, the Family continued to manage the common patrimony of the ancient albergo — composed of Oberto Grimaldi’s descendants and their accredited allies, such as the Cebà and Oliva families — and its members still enjoyed glorious years until the French revolution. The Grimaldis kept serving in finance as well as in public service for the Republic of Genoa, the Spanish Empire and the Roman Catholic Church, frequently rising to the highest functions. In Spain, for example, Charles III chose a Grimaldi of Genoa — who would later become prime minister of Spain from 1763 to 1777 — to negotiate an alliance with the king of France, Louis XV, causing Spain to enter the war with England at the eve of the American insurrection.
Other branches also deserve a place in this historical overview of the Grimaldi Family.
Some authors also mention branches in remote regions, for which the lack of documents unfortunately makes any serious genealogical study difficult. The Grimaldi name is indeed not uncommon.
Paradoxically, the large House described in these pages has almost entirely disappeared. According to independent genealogists, most of the legitimate branches mentioned in this overview are now extinct.
Another paradox is that the jewel of the House of Grimaldi, Monaco, has managed to preserve its independence through most wars and revolutions. Wedged between snow-white summits and a glittering sea, Monaco and its Monégasques are living proof that small States have their place in the concert of nations.
Select List of Grimaldis
- Grimaldo, consul of the Republic of Genoa, founder of this House.
- Hubert Grimaldi, first to bear the Grimaldi patronymic name.
- Rainier I, lord of Cagnes, admiral of France
- Charles I, lord of Monaco, Cagnes, and Menton
- Anthony, lord of Monaco, admiral of Genoa
- Luc and Marc Grimaldi of Antibes, lords of Menton, Cagnes, and Antibes
- Lambert of Antibes and Claudia of Monaco
- Augustin, archbishop
- Nicolas, prince of Salerno
- Jerome, cardinal (1527)
- Louis I, prince of Monaco, ambassador of Louis IV
- Jerome, cardinal (1643)
- Alexander, doge of Genoa
- John Baptist, doge of Genoa
- Peter Francis, doge of Genoa
- David Grimaldi, New York financier, morgan stanley
- Rainier III, Prince of Monaco, prince of Monaco from 1949 to 2005
- David A Grimaldi, Archaeologist, curator, American Museum of Natural History
- Albert II, Prince of Monaco, current prince of Monaco