Norodom Monineath was born on 18 June 1936, in Saigon, French Indochina. She was born Paule-Monique Izzi, and is sometimes referred to as Queen Monique.
Her father, Jean-François Izzi, was a French banker of Corsican, French and Italian descent, who was Director of Crédit Foncier in Saigon, and killed in World War II. Her mother, Pomme Peang, was from Phnom Penh.
She studied at the Primary School Norodom, Sisowath High School, and the Lycée René Descartes. She met Norodom Sihanouk in 1951, when he awarded her first prize in a beauty pageant. They married privately in 1952, and a second time, officially, in 1955. She has been described as the close confidant of Sihanouk. She was his sixth and final wife.
In 1955, her husband abdicated, but remained in charge of the rule of the country: in 1960, he became head of state again, but known as premier and with the title prince.
Princess Monique, as she was called during this period, was exposed to some criticism from both the Khmer Republic as well as the Khmer Rouge for her life during the reign of Sihanouk in the 1960s. The propaganda of the Khmer Republic was later to accuse her of having caused the strained relationship between Sihanouk and his mother, the popular queen mother Sisowath Kossamak; they claimed that she had advised Sihanouk to introduce the unpopular state casino, which was at the time viewed as a symbol of national decadence, and alleged that she, her mother and her brother contributed to corruption by promoting protegees to lucrative offices. The Khmer Rouge reportedly once burned her image in effigy for corruption. Princess Monique served as President of the Cambodian Red Cross (CRC) in 1967-1970.
After the Cambodian coup of 1970, she joined her husband in exile first in Beijing in China and then North Korea. As guests of the North Korean leader Kim Il-sung, a palace with 60 rooms was given them as their residence during their stay.
In 1973, Norodom Sihanouk allied himself with the Khmer Rouge against their common enemy, Lon Nol. The royal couple also made a visit to Khmer Rouge territory in Cambodia before returning to China.[
After the fall of Phnom Penh to the Khmer Rouge in April 1975, she returned to the royal palace in Phnom Penh in Cambodia with her husband, who was appointed nominal head of state by the Khmer Rouge. From 1976 onward, however, they were both kept in house arrest by the Khmer Rouge. They were reportedly subjected to a political re-education program during these years, and at least 18 members of the extended royal house were killed.
Reportedly, the regime suggested to have them executed, but this was prevented by intervention by China and North Korea. In January 1979, Pol Pot allowed for her and her husband to be evacuated from Cambodia by the Chinese. The original plan was to evacuate only Sihanouk and Monineath, but Pol Pot himself insisted that all members of the royal house should be given a place on the Chinese plane.
Norodom Monineath spent the following years with her spouse as state guests of China and North Korea. She is credited to have played some part in the peace negotiations arranged between Sihanouk and Hun Sen by Tong Siv Eng in 1987 and 1988, and she is known to have been present during the negotiations.
In 1991, she returned to Cambodia with Sihanouk. On 22 February 1992, she was elevated by the King to the rank of Samdech Preah Cheayea. On 24 September 1993, she was raised to the rank of Samdech Preah Mohèsey Norodom Monineath of Cambodia. On 2 January 1996, the King elevated her to the rank of Samdech Preah Reach Akka Mohèsey Norodom Monineath.
Sihanouk reportedly suggested to change the constitution to make it possible for her to be a regent and succeed him on the throne, but ultimately, this did not come about, and he chose to abdicate in favor of their son instead.
Monineath speaks Khmer, French and English. She is currently the Cambodian Red Cross Honorary President.
The King Father and the Queen Mother have two sons:
- Norodom Sihamoni (born 14 May 1953); was given the title of Somdech Krom Khun by HM the King in 1994 and was Ambassador of Cambodia to UNESCO in Paris. He is the current King of Cambodia.
- Norodom Narindrapong (18 September 1954 – 7 October 2003) has two daughters.
- President of Honour of the Cambodian Red Cross
- Co-President of the Funcinpec Party (from 1989 until 1992).
- Dame Grand Cross of the Royal Order of Cambodia.
- Malaya : Honorary Grand Commander of the Order of the Crown of the Realm (1963)
- Ethiopia : Dame Grand Cross of the Order of the Queen of Sheba (Ethiopian Empire, 04/05/1968).[
- Mali : Dame Grand Cross of the National Order of Mali (Republic of Mali, 1973).