Marie Caroline Gilbert de Lametz was born on 18 July 1793 as the daughter of Charles-Thomas Gibert and his wife, Marie-Françoise Le Gras de Vaubercey. She was originally a stage actress and met Prince Florestan on his return to France in 1815. Prince Florestan was the second son of the reigning Prince of Monaco, Honoré IV and perhaps at the time; he was not expected to ever become the Prince of Monaco. He spent the summer at her family’s château.
Maria Caroline married Prince Florestan of Monaco on 27 November 1816 in Commercy. Their first child named Charles was born on 8 December 1818. Much later on 22 October 1833, they had a daughter named Florestine. His elder brother, who succeeded their father in 1819, never married and had only an illegitimate son.
Maria Caroline took control of their household, and she hired a lawyer to recover estates from the Brignole inheritance. The relationship between the two brothers hit rock-bottom when their mother died in 1826 and left her what remained of her family estate to Florestan. Maria Caroline invested the money, and they purchased a vast mansion. Florestan remained heir to the throne, but he had never set foot in Monaco. His brother, Honoré V choked to death while dining alone on 2 October 1841. Florestan was now the Prince of Monaco, and Caroline its Princess.
The family arrived on 9 February 1842 in a gilded carriage. People crowded around the carriage to see the family and even managed to detach the horses from the carriage. Florestan was surprised to find a welcoming reception. Maria Caroline, ever the businesswoman, took control of Monaco, which appalled her son. Charles wrote to her, criticising her actions. Maria Carolina wrote back, “I am serving your father’s interests here, which will one day be your own, and it’s not a game, it concerns a whole family’s position.” She began to train him well for his future position.
Maria Caroline was ahead of her time, and the people of Monaco had little respect for a Prince who was dominated by his wife. In 1848, the two towns of Menton and Roquebrune revolted and declared themselves independent. They wished to be annexed by Sardinia but remained in limbo until they were ceded to France in 1861.
Her husband died suddenly of a heart attack on 20 June 1856 and Charles was recognised as the new Prince of Monaco. Maria Caroline’s job was not done. Together with her son, she worked to develop Monaco as a spa resort to generate more income with an additional income from a casino. Charles began to rely more and more on his mother as he began to lose his sight. Monaco slowly rose from the ashes.
Maria Caroline had just one more ambition she wished to fulfil. She wanted her grandson Albert to marry a member of Queen Victoria’s family. Queen Victoria would have none of that, and instead, her son married Lady Mary Victoria Hamilton. Maria Caroline lived to see her great-grandson, the future Louis I, be born. Maria Caroline died in her sleep on 23 November 1879. 1