Why can’t Prince Rainier become a king?

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Dear Cecil: Why can’t Prince Rainier become a king? You will probably find this question really stupid, but no one can tell me. L. Cord, New York

Cecil replies:

If you’ve been reading this column long, L., you know that stupid is not a major disqualifier, questionwise. All we ask is a certain redeeming whimsicality, under which heading you’re in like Flynn.

The short answer to your question is that the male heads of the ruling Grimaldi family have styled themselves princes for something like 700 years, and it would be a little presumptuous for Prince Rainier to give himself a promotion now. The long answer is that prince is the title traditionally given to the head of a vassal state, that is, one under the protection of and hence subordinate to a larger and more powerful ruler.

That pretty much describes the case with Monaco. Except for interludes with Spain and Sardinia, it’s been under the thumb of neighboring France …well, that’s the wrong way to put it. Let’s say France guarantees its independence. During the French Revolution France welshed on the deal and annexed the 0.7-square-mile country, but Monaco regained its independence following the fall of Napoleon.

Today Monaco is a sovereign state but as a practical matter remains so at the sufferance of France. It has only a token military. It uses French currency, the official language is French (although there is a Monegasque dialect), and France supplies the gas, water, and electricity. When France is peeved, as happened in the early 60s when Monaco became a haven for rich folks trying to evade French taxes, the Grimaldis perspire. (Rainier does, that is. Grace glows.)

The solution then was to close a few tax loopholes. The bigger deal long term is a 1918 treaty with France — if the Grimaldis don’t produce an heir, Monaco becomes an “autonomous state under the protection of France.” (Probable translation: everybody pays French taxes.) It’s only a guess, but if Rainier suddenly started taking on kingly airs, Monaco might find itself incorporated into its larger neighbor a little sooner than expected.

Some insight into the origin of the conflict in Bosnia-Herzegovina

Dear Cecil:

As a Welsh-American, I am deeply offended by your use of the ethnic slur “welshed.” What is your factual basis for stereotyping Welsh people as a race who fail to honor their obligations? You owe the people of Wales an immediately apology.

— Malcolm Solomon, Palo Alto, California

OK, I apologize. Next time I’ll say they “malcolmed” on the deal.

Cecil Adams

Send questions to Cecil via cecil@straightdope.com.