The members of Monaco’s Princely Family often marry commoners; this trend did not start with Grace Kelly. The first American-born princess was Marie Alice Heine who married H.S.H. Prince Albert I in 1889, becoming Her Serene Highness Princess Alice of Monaco.
Marie Alice Heine was born to a German-rooted Jewish family on 10 February 1858 in New Orleans, Louisiana. Interestingly, Marie Alice was the cousin of poet Heinrich Heine.
The US Civil War forced the family to move to France in 1875. Upon their return to France, the Heines family became influential figures in the court of Napoleon III.
The firm of Michel Heine even financed the Franco-Prussian war. In the same year Marie Alice married her first husband, Marie Odet Armand Aimable Chapelle de Jumilhac, Marquis of Jumilhac. Later on, she married her second husband, the 7th Duke of Richelieu and Duke of Aiguillon, in Paris on February 27, 1875.
The marriage was a step up on the social ladder for the nouveau riche family. They had one son and one daughter.
Four years later, Marie Alice first met H.S.H. Prince Albert I of Monaco in Madeira in 1879, which at that time was a meeting place for crowned heads. The future Prince of Monaco stayed there for a few days during the trip on his yacht Hirondelle. At the time, the Hereditary Prince was still caught up in an unsuccessful marriage with Lady Mary Victoria Douglas-Hamilton.
The Duke, Marie Alice’s second husband died one year later, in 1880, leaving Alice his fortune and property. Marie Alice and the H.S.H. Prince of Monaco began a relationship in the early 1880s.
Since Marie Alice‘s first husband was the Duke of Richelieu, and one of the titles of her second husband was the Duke of Mazarin, she was unique in bearing the titles of both Cardinal Richelieu and Cardinal Mazarin.
The archives of Monaco treasures the spouses’ correspondence, showing that their love was, if not eternal, definitely real. According to Thomas Fouilleron, director of the Monaco Palace Archives, “Prince Albert I was deeply in love with Marie Alice. It is one of the very first love marriages of the Principality”.
According to historians, the reason why Monaco kept the princely correspondances lies in the reluctance of Charles III, Albert’s father, to give his permission to the marriage of the couple.
The persistence of the lovers bore fruit, and at the very end of his life Prince Charles III finally agreed to bless this marriage and after eight years of relationship, the couple got married.
The marriage between Marie Alice and H.S.H. Prince Albert I of Monaco, Sovereign Prince of Monaco, took place on October 30, 1889.
H.S.H. Prince Albert I, whose first wife had been a daughter of a Scottish duke, was an oceanographer and she was credited with having caught the first specimen of Grimaldichthys profundissimus, long thought to be the deepest-living fish in the world’s oceans.
In contrast to the first wife of the Sovereign Prince, Princess Alice, during her husband’s long journeys at sea took a greater interest in the Monégasque opera season.
Maria Alice was admired endlessly by her husband who even named his ships after her. The first of these ships, named Princess Alice was built in London in 1891, and within six years made seven oceanographic expeditions.
In 1897, the ship was replaced by another ship, Princess Alice II, which was eventually acquired by the British government in 1914.
Marie Alice founded an annual art exhibition and promoted the recently created Monte-Carlo Opera, establishing the Principality as a leading center for the arts.
She brought a strong business acumen, showing an understanding far beyond her years. Having helped put her husband’s principality on a sound financial footing, she would devote her energies to making Monaco one of Europe’s great cultural centers with its opera, theater, and the ballet under the direction of the famed Russian impresario, Sergei Diaghilev.
The Prince and Princess of Monaco separated judicially on May 30, 1902 (Monaco) and June 3, 1902 (France), but remained married.
Upon the Prince’s death 20 years later, on 26 June 1922, Marie Alice became the Dowager Princess of Monaco. She did not remarry. She passed away on 22 December 1925.
Marcel Proust used her as a model for the Princesse de Luxembourg in his novel, “In Search of Lost Time”. Her former home in New Orleans is now the Café Amelie and advertises itself as a setting for weddings, receptions, special parties and the like.