Although the principality of Monaco is one of the smallest nations in the world, it has royal traditions that are just as rich as those of much larger monarchies. Today, we’re chatting about the highest order of chivalry in the country: the Order of Saint-Charles, which was established more than 150 years ago.
The order was founded on 15 March 1858, during the first years of the reign of Charles III of Monaco. The new order wasn’t Charles’s most lasting legacy — that would be the casino at Monte Carlo. But while the casino is named after Charles III, the order is named after a different Charles: St. Charles Borromeo.
Borromeo was a sixteenth-century archbishop of Milan. He was a member of both the Borromeo family and the Milan branch of the Medici family; his uncle was Pope Pius IV. The ruling family of Monaco, the Grimaldis, can trace part of their ancestry back to Italy, and they have connections with the Borromeos (links currently bolstered, of course, by the relationship between Pierre Casiraghi and Beatrice Borromeo). Charles III selected Carlo Borromeo as his personal patron saint, and he dedicated one of the country’s churches and the highest chivalric order in the nation to him as well.
Charlene wearing the sash of the order in public for the first time, 2012
The sovereign prince of Monaco — currently Charles III’s great-great-great grandson, Albert II — is the Grand Master of the order, and it is awarded at his discretion. Both Monegasque citizens and foreign nationals are eligible to receive the order, which recognizes service to the Monegasque prince and state. The order has five ranks: knight, officer, commander, grand officer, and grand cross. Regular citizens of Monaco have to start off as knights; they can move up to a new stage after a certain number of years has elapsed. Members of the princely family and foreign nationals, though, can join the order as higher-ranking members. For example, Princess Charlene joined the order as a Dame Grand Cross in 2012.
|The star and badge of the Order of Saint-Charles (source)|
When Princess Charlene attends white-tie events, therefore, she’s now entitled to wear the insignia of the order. The two main parts of the insignia are the badge and the star. The badge consists of a red and white Maltese cross backed by a wreath of laurel leaves; the center of the cross features a pair of interlocking Cs surmounted by a golden crown (the monogram of Prince Charles III), surrounded by the motto of the order, “Princeps et Patria” (Latin for “prince and country”).
Rainier III and Albert II wearing the Order of Saint-Charles, 2003
Princess Charlene and Princess Caroline wearing the sash, badge, and star of the order, 2012
Monaco doesn’t host as many official state events as other nations, so there are fewer opportunities for the princely family to exchange orders with other heads of state. But since becoming the sovereign prince in 2005, Albert II has awarded the Order of Saint-Charles to a number of foreign presidents, including both Nicolas Sarkozy and François Hollande of France.
Princess Grace wears the sash and star of the order during a state visit to France, 1959; in the background, French President Charles de Gaulle is also wearing the order
Very few foreign royals are members of the order: Vittorio Emanuele of Savoy, one of the pretenders to the Italian throne, and King Albert II of Belgium are among them. Another consequence of few state visits is that the Grimaldis also have fewer opportunities to wear their orders, although sometimes you will see orders worn during the National Day gala.
Three of the members of the princely family — Albert, Charlene, and Caroline — are knights and dames grand cross of the order. The only member of the family who does not have the order is Albert’s youngest sister, Princess Stéphanie; instead, she is a Dame Grand Cross of the Order of Grimaldi, which rewards members for personal service to the sovereign prince.