Prince Rainier III and Princess Grace’s “wedding of the century”: a fairy-tale come true in Monaco
Today on April 19, 66 years ago, the legendary wedding of Prince Rainier III and actress Grace Kelly took place. Their wedding was a truly modern fairy tale: the 32-year-old Prince Rainier III of Monaco marries the beautiful 26-year-old actress Grace Kelly, a lady of the people, even though she was already a real Hollywood star at the time. Their wedding was one of the most anticipated events of its time. On April 19th, 1956, that very wedding took place, and got its name for a reason. This mind-blowing day is still reverberating in our minds, as the press has and continues to meticulously scrutinize every detail of the wedding ceremony.
Behind every great man they say lies a woman. Monaco would not have become the place it is without Rainier’s marriage to Grace Kelly, whom he met during the 1955 Cannes film festival. After their first meeting, Grace and Rainier began a long correspondence. They managed to keep their love story out of the press, until Rainier went to the U.S. to see his future bride at Christmas.
When Prince Rainier proposed to Kelly, he gave her a Cartier engagement ring. It was adorned with rubies and diamonds, which depicted the red and white flag of Monaco and were taken from the family treasure trove. But she also had a second ring. And historians disagree on how it came about. There are two plausible hypotheses. At the time of her engagement, Kelly was starring in the film called “High Society”, where she had to wear a prop engagement ring. But Rainier III offered to buy her a second ring to wear in the film, which, as Grace happily explained to the press afterwards, allowed her to wear her real second engagement ring in the film. It was a platinum ring with a 10.48 carat emerald-cut diamond surrounded by baguette diamonds. There is another theory that the second ring was the one the Prince had intended as an engagement ring for Grace Kelly, but while the jewellers were on the lookout for a suitable stone and making the ring, Rainier proposed with the red and white coloured ring.
80 luggage bags and 1,600 reporters
Along with her family, bridesmaids and about 80 luggage bags, Grace Kelly left for the French Riviera aboard the ocean liner SS Constitution after the Prince proposed to her. Upon arrival in Monaco, the future Princess was greeted by 20,000 (out of 23,000!) of her future subjects. For the next two weeks, preparations for the wedding of the century were underway. Reporters and admirers flocked to the small Principality in such numbers that the Prince was obliged to call in the French police to reinforce order in the state.
That “wedding of the century” was actually Kelly’s second wedding to Prince Rainier III – they had to comply with Monaco’s laws and hold a small civil ceremony the day before the lavish religious ceremony.
The wedding, which was held in Monaco’s cathedral was watched by more people than any previous event in history. Some 1,600 reporters and photographers were in attendance – more, it has been estimated, than covered the entire European theatre during the Second World War.
The ceremony, held at St. Nicholas Cathedral, was attended by 600 guests, including Hollywood celebrities Ava Gardner, Cary Grant and Gloria Swanson. The Greek millionaire Aristotle Onassis was also seen among the guests.
About 30 million people from different countries watched the wedding ceremony. The scale of the wedding ceremony and Grace Kelly’s fame in America and beyond greatly furthered the history of Monaco as a recognisable brand, with a reputation as a glamorous luxury holiday resort.
A Prince and a movie star marrying was the magic of dreams which landed it the title “wedding of the century”. The presence of Princess Grace gave Monaco a special halo. With that additional touch of class and the magnet of a tax haven the waves of celebrity that had occasionally descended upon Monaco became instead a tidal wave.
The religious ceremony took place in the Principality’s main Cathedral in Monaco-Ville, with a congratulatory message from the Pope read at the end of the service. The couple then drove through the streets of Monte Carlo in an open-top car, greeting all those present on the streets.
Grace Kelly’s dress for the religious ceremony, designed by Helen Rose and made iconic, was a gift to the actress from her film studio Metro Goldwyn Mayer. The designer was chosen for a reason, she worked with Grace Kelly on her wardrobe for one of Kelly’s most famous and last films, “High Society” in 1956. Helen Rose also previously designed Elizabeth Taylor’s first wedding dress when she married Conrad “Nicky” Hilton Jr, as well as Taylor’s dress in “Father of the Bride”.
Grace Kelly’s wedding dress has become an inspiration for designers, brides-to-be and fashionistas, a symbol of fairy-tale weddings and one of the most frequently mentioned wedding dresses in history.
Every detail of Grace’s dress was well thought out, from the ivory colour to the pink lace. It was a high neckline gown with long sleeves, a long puffy skirt and a tail over 3 metres long! It was made from 125-year-old Brussels vintage lace, taffeta and thousands of hand-stitched pearls. The pearl embellished lace also adorned the prayer book, the shoes and the cap, above which was a wreath of orange blossoms. The veil was specially designed so as not to hide the bride’s face. The future Princess of Monaco decided not to wear a tiara on her wedding day and instead opted for a lace and pearl embellished Juliette cap to hold her veil. Grace Kelly carried a prayer book and a small bouquet of lilies of the valley down the aisle instead of the huge traditional bridal bouquet.
According to Insider magazine, the Princess of Monaco’s wedding dress cost $65,200 in 1956, the equivalent of about $623,000 today. This makes it one of the most expensive royal wedding gowns to date.
Neiman Marcus designer Joe Hong designed the gowns for the bridesmaids and girls who carried the flowers. He chose a yellow organdi and silk dress with puffy sleeves and hats.
Today the famous wedding gown, Grace Kelly’s dress, belongs to the Philadelphia Museum of Art.
Grace’s dress for the small civil ceremony that took place on the eve of the “wedding of the century” was also designed by Helen Rose. The lace was hand-embroidered on taffeta with silk thread to create a three-dimensional effect.
“Miss Kelly, dressed in a beige lace gown with a tight-fitting hat, was visibly nervous throughout the ceremony”, the BBC British channel wrote on that memorable day.
Although the civil ceremony was smaller in scale, it was just as lavish in decoration and took place in the Throne Room of the Palace in Monaco.
After the formal civil ceremony, the couple took to the balcony of the Princely Palace, where some 500 Monegasques and guests of Monaco awaited their appearance below. The newlyweds, surrounded by an abundance of red and white flowers, the colours of the Monegasque flag, welcomed the crowd for a few minutes before heading back inside.
The groom’s costume
The groom, Prince Rainier III, who according to Monegasque tradition appeared after the bride at the religious ceremony, was dressed in a military uniform which he had designed himself based on the military uniforms of Napoleon Bonaparte.
The wedding reception and cake over 90 kilos
At the royal wedding banquet, no simple chicken dishes were on the menu. Guests had caviar, lobster, smoked salmon, salami and, of course, champagne. And for dessert, a six-tier wedding cake weighing over 90 kilograms was served. It was cut with a princely sword. The cake was decorated with miniature replicas of Monaco palace facades, icing depicting scenes from Monaco’s history, as well as cherubs under the crown.
A ‘yes’ said three times
Grace Kelly and Prince Rainier III had to say the precious “I do” to each other twice – during a civil ceremony and then at a religious ceremony on April 19th. However, the civil ceremony, which was held on April 18th and lasted about 40 minutes in total, had to be held twice. The first for the real one and the second time for members of the press and television crews from MGM.
Gifts for the “wedding of the century”
It was to celebrate Grace Kelly becoming a princess that she got a Weimaraner dog, a gift from Kelly’s brother, Jack. He also gave her one of his Olympic rowing bronze medals. Their father, Jack, won three Olympic rowing gold medals and is the only rower in the US Olympic Hall of Fame.
Cary Grant and his wife had a poodle named April, with whom Grace often played when she visited their home in Palm Springs. Grace Kelly also received a French poodle puppy, which she named Oliver, as a wedding gift from Cary Grant. The future Princess of Monaco arrived in the Principality with both dogs for her wedding.
The Prince of Monaco received the Deo Juvante II yacht as a gift from Aristotle Onassis, where the couple spent their honeymoon.
Kelly and her husband-to-be received a gift from the people of Monaco the day before their wedding – a creamy black Rolls Royce convertible, in which they drove around the Principality after the ceremony. A white dove, which the couple released into the sky after their religious ceremony on 19th April, was another gift from the people of Monaco.
They also received a huge bag of congratulatory letters and wishes from the Monegasque people, as well as several magnificent bouquets of flowers.
After the wedding
After the ceremony, the newlyweds drove through the streets of Monaco in an open-top car, greeting the thousands of townspeople and tourists who had arrived for the celebration.
The couple spent their honeymoon on a cruise around the Mediterranean Sea on Prince Rainier’s yacht, Deo Juvante II, hiding from public view for the first time in months.