Princess Charlene of Monaco is known for her impressive career as an Olympic swimmer and her marriage to Prince Albert II of Monaco. The South African native certainly leads a fascinating life. Yet, her story becomes even more interesting when you look at her family’s past.
As it turns out, Princess Charlene’s paternal family has centuries of history in Ireland. Continue reading to learn all about the Princess of Monaco’s background and how her lineage connects her to successful gentleman-merchants in 1500s Dublin.
The Princess of Monaco was born Charlene Lynette Wittstock in Rhodesia, present-day Zimbabwe, in 1978. Later, her family relocated to South Africa, where the Princess was raised.
Soon after her swimming career started in 1996, Princess Charlene competed for South Africa in the 2000 Sydney Olympics. The team finished in fifth place in the 4 x 100-metre medley relay. The Princess also swam for South Africa in the Commonwealth Games in 1998 and 2002. She continued her swimming career several more years before retiring in 2007.
The same year as her Olympic swim, Princess Charlene met Prince Albert of Monaco at a swimming competition in Monte Carlo. The two were married several years later, on July 1, 2011. After joining the royal family as Albert II of Monaco’s wife, Princess Charlene had twins Prince Jacques and Princess Gabriella.
In 2021, the Princess took a trip to South Africa, where health issues kept her from flying home to the Palace of Monaco for six months. Later, she briefly returned to Monaco before entering a treatment facility. The royal family of Monaco said the Princess was receiving treatment for exhaustion, but her progress was encouraging.
Recent research led to the discovery of Princess Charlene’s Irish roots. The Monaco royal descends on her paternal line from the Fagans of Feltrim, gentleman-merchants of Dublin.
In the 1500s, the Fagans became wealthy through international commerce. They reinvested in lands close to the capital and provided funds to the Irish crown government. By the early 1600s, the Fagans controlled more than 5,000 acres in Dublin County, including the city’s deep-water port at Bulloch Harbour in Dalkey.
The Princess’s Fagan ancestors made contributions to Dublin still visible in the city today. For instance, in 1592, the Princess’s great (x 12) grandfathers Richard and Christopher Fagan played key roles in the founding of Trinity College.
In the 1660s, Princess Charlene’s great (x 9) grandfather sold the manor of Phoenix to the Duke of Ormond. They used the land to create a royal deer park, known today as Phoenix Park.
By the 1690s, religion divided Ireland between supporters of the Catholic King James II and the Protestant William III. As an ‘Old English’ Catholic family, the Fagans sided with James II. Later, Richard Fagan was declared an outlaw for siding against King William.
Under the Treaty of Limerick, Richard Fagan should have received a pardon and restoration of his estates. He died suddenly, and for the remainder of that decade, Christopher Fagan unsuccessfully campaigned to recover his inheritance.
By 1699, Christopher Fagan had relocated to Killarney and finally received a pardon under the Treaty of Limerick. However, it was too late to restore his hereditary estates.
Between 1695 and 1772, the next generations of the Fagan family married into old gentry and merchant families in Kerry and Cork. During this time, the Fagans re-established themselves as merchants along the southern Irish coast. By the 1740s, transatlantic trade was so profitable that they even established a permanent office in Philadelphia.
In 1772, Princess Charlene’s great (x 5) grandparents, John Fagan and Elizabeth Hickson, were married. Five of their six sons joined the East India Trading Company. Of their five surviving daughters, three married officers in the East India Company.
In the 1790s, the Fagans were connected by marriage to Richard Wellesley, the Duke of Wellington’s older brother. Between 1797 and 1805, when Wellesley was Governor-General of India, the Fagans called on his patronage.
The last of Princess Charlene of Monaco’s Irish ancestors was her great (x 4) grandfather, Christopher Sullivan Fagan. He was born in 1781 and baptised in St. Mary’s Shandon in Cork. In 1800, Christopher Sullivan Fagan enlisted as a cadet in the Honourable East India Company Service (HEICS).
On retirement, Christopher Fagan settled in Wiltshire, England, where he died in 1843. From there, the Nicolsons took the family name forward. However, family members kept the memory of their Fagan ancestors alive. In fact, Princess Charlene’s paternal grandmother, born August 17, 1921, was named Sylvia Fagan Nicolson.
The Irish Family History Centre helps families around the world connect to their roots in Ireland. Our genealogy experts are always piecing together stories like that of Princess Charlene of Monaco, and we’d love to do the same for your family.
Contact us now to continue the process of uncovering your Irish ancestry. No matter how much you know about your roots in Ireland, we’re sure there’s more just waiting to be discovered.