To conclude our series on the Princess consorts of Monaco, we look at the current titleholder, Princess Charlene – the wife of the Prince of Monaco, Albert II.
Charlene Lynette Wittstock was born Bulawayo, Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe) on 25 January 1978 to Michael and Lynette Wittstock as their eldest child. Michael was a sales manager and Lynette was a former competitive diver and swimming coach.
Charlene, who holds a certificate certifying she is of Irish ancestry, would have two younger brothers, Gareth and Sean, born in 1980 and 1983, respectively.Embed from Getty Images
The family moved to South Africa when Charlene was 12, settling near Johannesburg in Benoni, where she would attend Tom Newby Primary School from 1988 to 1991.
Charlene followed in her mother’s footsteps and swam competitively from a young age. She had success representing South Africa at the Commonwealth Games and the 2000 Summer Olympics Games in Sydney, Australia. The future royal won several national titles, three gold medals and a silver at the 1999 All-Africa Games and a silver medal in the 4 × 100 m medley relay at the 2000 Commonwealth Games. Her relay team at the Summer Olympics finished fifth.
Charlene intended to conclude her competitive swimming career at the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing but did not qualify after having to rest from swimming for 18 months due to a shoulder injury.
It was during the Monaco Mare Nostrum swimming meet in 2002 that she would meet Prince Albert, who was the heir to the throne at the time with his father, Rainier on the throne. They would not go public with their relationship with six years, making their first public appearance together at the Turin Winter Olympics of 2006 (the year after Albert ascended the throne). They moved in together that same year.Embed from Getty Images
The Africa native accompanied Albert to the wedding of Crown Princess Victoria of Sweden to Daniel Westling in June 2010, setting off rumours of an impending engagement announcement. The Princely Palace of Monaco announced their engagement four days later on 23 June 2010.
Charlene joined Prince Albert at the wedding of Prince William to Catherine Middleton in April 2011, just a couple of months before their own July wedding. The wedding had been planned for 8 and 9 July 2011, but the dates had to be changed because of a conflict with the International Olympic Committee (IOC) meeting in Durban from 5–9 July. Members of the IOC were invited to the wedding, so the dates were moved forward to allow them to attend.Embed from Getty Images
The wedding was plagued by rumours that Charlene had cold feet and had attempted to leave the principality. The palace denied what they called “ugly rumours” out of jealousy.
They wed in a civil ceremony on 1 July 2011 in the Throne Room of the Princely Palace with Charlene converting from Protestantism to Roman Catholicism before her wedding. Their religious service took place the following day in the palace’s courtyard with Charlene donning a gown by Armani, sans tiara.Embed from Getty Images
The couple then travelled to South Africa for the IOC meetings to start their honeymoon, making Charlene’s first trip as a princess to her home country. After the IOC events had concluded, they had a private honeymoon in Mozambique.
The announcement Monaco had been waiting on came on 30 May 2014 when the Princely Palace announced that Charlene was pregnant. The palace later confirmed on 9 October 2014 that she was expecting twins by the end of 2014.
She gave birth on 10 December 2014 at the Princess Grace Hospital Centre, first to a daughter (Princess Gabriella Thérèse Marie), and then a son (Prince Jacques Honoré Rainier) two minutes later. Due to the laws of succession in Monaco, Jacques is the heir apparent instead of his older sister.
The Princess of Monaco is also the stepmother to Prince Albert’s two children from previous relationships: Jazmin Grace Grimaldi (b. 1992) and Alexandre Grimaldi-Coste (b. 2003).
Princess Charlene is passionate about the Special Olympics and safe water practises. She became a global ambassador to the Special Olympics in 2011 and created her namesake foundation “The Princess Charlene of Monaco Foundation” in 2012.
Her Serene Highness is also involved with the asfAR, Ladies Lunch Monte-Carlo, Nelson Mandela Foundation, Monaco Against Autism, and The Giving Organisation. She also serves as the patron to the South African Red Cross Society and AS Rugby Monaco.
The Princess enjoys swimming, surfing, hiking, reading “biographies and ethnic poetry from South Africa” and contemporary art, according to the Princely Palace.
She is one of the few royal women with “le privilège du blanc” (the privilege of white) when meeting the Pope. It is an honour given to certain royal women who can wear white when meeting the Pope; these women are the Catholic spouses of Catholic monarchs. The royal women with the privilege are the Princess of Monaco, queens of Belgium, Italy and Spain and the princesses of Savoy. Charlene was the first Monaco princess to use the privilege as it was granted to her by Pope Benedict XVI.
Besides her national honour from Monaco (Knight Grand Cross of the Order of Saint-Charles), she holds foreign honours from Poland (Grand Cross of the Order of Merit of the Republic of Poland) and Italy (Grand Cross of the Order of the Star of Italy).