Albert and Charlene
Monaco's Prince Albert II and his fiancee Charlene Wittstock attend the Jumping International of Monte Carlo in Monaco June 24, 2011, a week before their wedding. Reuters

Former Olympic swimmer Charlene Wittstock is set to marry Prince Albert II in a civil ceremony today in Monaco, which will be followed by a religious ceremony and reception Saturday. At a glance, the wedding could look like a fairytale - a beautiful blonde Princess and her filthy rich Prince (er) Charming, but one does not have to look far to see a chink in the royal armor.

For starters, the wedding really isn't optional: Prince Albert, 53, must produce a legimate heir to the throne or the crown would either cede to France or be passed to one of his extoardinarily troubled sisters, presuming they outlive him (his youngest sister, Stéphanie, is 46). It is not only a matter of producing an heir, but ensuring that said heir is old enough to take the throne upon his or her father's death.

Wittstock, 33, has been the Prince's girlfriend since 2006: In the five years they have been dating, Albert has shown no haste in taking her to the altar - causing some to speculate whether he ever would. It is easy to imagine the ticking of a biological clock as part of the impetus for the marriage.

Wittstock's freedom of choice is also easy to question. She appears to lead a rather sequestered existence in a principality that is small and isolated itself. Early in the relationship, Prince Albert put Charlene up in a modest, pedestrian apartment and into the spotlight, where she endured the scrutiny and jealousy of the locals without any of the protections that would have been offered by official royal status. Despite this, her appearance, demeanor and behavior (in public, at least) were under the strict control of the palace. In a 2010 interview with Tattler magazine, Wittstock said I only have two people I consider friends here.

Of course, the biggest and darkest cloud hanging over the other Royal wedding is the persistent rumor that Wittstock attempted to flee sometime last weekend, purchasing a one-way ticket home to South Africa. The Palace has vehemently - if somewhat unconvincingly - denied the rumors, and Wittstock's own father pitched in, surmising that Charlene's trip to Paris with her mother on Monday must have somehow been confused with an attempt to flee the imminent nuptials, insisting it was the only time she was anywhere near an aeroplane and that the couple looked very happy when he last saw them. Still, Mr. Wittstock added It's actually very hard to believe that she's getting married in the South African radio interview.

The runaway bride story was first reported by the French newspaper L'express, which the Prince's lawyer first threatened to sue but shortly afterwards abandoned legal action. Later in the week another French newspaper, Le Figaro, gave additional dimension to the story by reporting that Wittstock's passport has been confiscated on the orders of the palace.

Last Sunday, one among [Monaco police] revealed that his colleagues had intercepted the future princess at Nice airport because she wanted to leave, the story said. And, according to this officer, the young lady's passport was taken from her.

Le Figaro is citing a senior law enforcement officer in Monaco as the source for their report, saying: this speculation has been given credibility by the indiscretions of the Monaco police, and noting that the interior ministry had refused to comment on the story.

Prince Albert has acknowledged the possibility that he sired two illegimate children (a full acknowledgement is pending DNA testing). The leading rumored explanation for Wittstock's attempt to flee is her discovery of a third that he had kept from her. While at least one of the child's mothers has been sighted in Monaco recently, both will reportedly keep their distance from the wedding celebrations this weekend.

UPDATE: Prince Albert and Charlene Wittstock have indeed wed in a civil ceremony today at the royal palace.