The House of Grimaldi has ruled the tiny principality of Monaco on the Mediterranean coast for over 700 years. The first Lord of Monaco, a merchant-turned-pirate called Lanfranco Grimaldi, was Italian by birth and a member of the Genoan Guelphic family who invaded the area in 1297, following an economic dispute with rival clan, the Ghibellines.
When Lanfranco died in 1309, he was succeeded by his first cousin, Rainier I, from whom all subsequent Monegasque monarchs are descended. Rainier was also a seafaring man, but unlike those of his predecessor, the new leader's trading activities were legitimate, and eventually earned him the respect of the French monarch who appointed him Grand Admiral of France in 1304.
Monaco became a principality when the then ruler Honoré II assumed the title of prince in 1612. At that point the territory was still under the protection of Spain, with whom it had been linked since 1524, but the Treaty of Peronne in 1641 allied it instead with France. Subsequent Monegasque sovereigns upped their title count by marrying a string of French heiresses, which explains why, in addition to the title of Sovereign Prince of Monaco, the head of the principality can lay claim to 19 other titles.
Although the Grimaldi family was exiled from Monaco in 1793 following the French revolution - during which time the principality reverted to its ancient name of Fort d'Hercule - its members returned in 1815, following the Treaty of Paris, and have been its monarchs ever since.
The official royal website can be found at www.monaco.gouv.mc