The history of Monaco is inseparable from that of the House of Grimaldi who were originally of Genoese extraction and rose to prominence during the 12th century. In the late 13th century however, with the Holy Roman Empire rife with internal strife, the Grimaldi family was forced to take refuge in Provence. François Grimaldi led a group of partisans into the fortress of Monaco in 1297, which has been ruled by his family ever since; the Grimaldis have preserved their independence through a mixture of good luck and cunning diplomacy.
At various times, they were to be found allied with almost every power in the region, particularly during the Italian Wars in the late 15th and early 16th centuries. Monaco's geographical position left them ideally placed to either help or hinder the repeated and largely unsuccessful attempts by the kings of France to conquer Italy. This Machiavellian approach paid dividends in 1612 when Honoré II was granted the title of prince by the French crown. He signed a treaty of friendship with France, and the principality remained independent from that time on, despite a brief interruption during the French Revolution.
The family's motto - 'Deo Juvante' (With God's Help) - provides another possible explanation for the survival of this tiny country. Monaco became an independent state under French protection in 1861. The French government maintains a firm grip on the principality, through its ambassador and key appointees in the executive and judiciary. Prince Rainier, the incumbent member of the Grimaldi dynasty who has occupied the position since 1963, has proved unexpectedly determined to resist French pressure at any level.
In 1993, Monaco joined the United Nations, becoming its smallest member. Monaco survives principally by providing tax concessions and discreet banking facilities for wealthy foreigners, and this has recently led to spats with France and difficulties with the wider world.
Following the death of Prince Rainier in 2005, his son Prince Albert II was enthroned, ending a process that began when he was sworn in before his subjects in July.