American by birth, hugely popular and credited with helping turn Monaco from a forgotten principality into a European hotspot – but this isn’t the story of Grace Kelly. Almost seven decades before her famous marriage to Prince Rainier III, another US born princess had taken Monaco by storm and transformed its fortunes. However, there was no fairytale ending for Alice Heine, the first American princess of Monaco.
She was born Marie Alice in New Orleans, Louisiana on February 10th 1858 and spent her early years in the vibrant French quarter of the famous city. Alice’s life was always comfortable. Her father, Michel Heine, was a successful banker and businessman while her mother, Amelie Marie Celeste Miltenberger, came from a well off family. Alice and her brothers, Paul and Isaac, grew up in the wealthy echelons of New Orleans society.
Their lives changes forever when Michel moved his family to Paris following the America Civil War. The family made good connections quickly and in 1875, the 17 year old Alice married Armand, Marquis of Jumilhac and the heir to the Duke of Richelieu. Jewish by birth, Alice converted to Catholicism for her wedding. Within a year, she had given birth to a son, also known as Armand. A daughter, Odile, arrived in 1879, the same year that Armand and Alice became Duke and Duchess of Richelieu. However, the new duchess’ happiness was short lived. In 1880, her husband died leaving her a widow at the age of just 22.
Alice set about establishing herself and her children as leading lights in European society, helped by the huge fortune she had inherited on her husband’s death. As her new life took her around the continent, she met Albert, heir to the Monegasque throne. He was ten years older than her and had seen his first wife flee Monaco soon after giving birth to their only son. But any hopes of a new marriage were quashed by his father, Prince Charles III, who was far from impressed with the Dowager Duchess of Richelieu as a potential match.
Alice and Albert were prepared to wait. On September 10th 1889, Charles died and his son inherited his throne. One of Albert I’s first acts was to marry Alice and she became Princess Consort of Monaco on October 30th 1889 as the couple exchanged wedding vows in Paris. Albert’s new bride was hugely popular in Monaco and also very useful – thanks to her first marriage and her own family’s wealth, she brought a lot of money with her.
She also arrived with a business sense unrivalled anywhere in her new country. Princess Alice set about transforming her new country’s financial state and was credited with establishing the economic stability and growth that allowed Monaco to grow. She was also passionate about the arts and within months of becoming consort, she set about bringing theatre and ballet to her husband’s principality.
The couple were very much in love but soon discovered they were very different people. While Alice loved music, dance and culture, her husband was a famous and passionate environmentalist and oceanographer. As the years went on, their lives became increasingly separate and both began affairs. However, Albert found it hard to cope with his wife’s relationship with the composer, Isidore de Lara, and during a public appearance at the opera in 1901, the Prince of Monaco burst into an angry rant about the affair and slapped Princess Alice across the face. She fled Monaco the following day.
Albert and Alice were granted a separation in 1902 but never divorced. He continued to rule Monaco while Alice made yet another new life for herself, this time in London where she again established herself as an important member of society, even counting Queen Alexandra among her friends. On June 26th 1922, Alice became Dowager Princess of Monaco on the death of her estranged husband.
Alice lived for another three years, dying in Paris on December 22nd 1925 at the age of 67. She was buried at Pere Lachaise cemetery in the French capital where her grave stone reads simply ‘Alice, Princess of Monaco’.
Princess Alice isn’t the best known of royal consorts but her ambition and talent increased the status and wealth of her adopted country while her determination gave her a life at the top of society in two continents. Thirty years after her death, another US citizen would transform the country after a whirlwind romance and wedding. Grace Kelly remains one of the most famous royals of modern history but it was Alice Heine who became the first American princess of Monaco.