Squabbles over succession to royal thrones in Europe have not been uncommon over the last 1000 years – particularly over the throne of France. Since the House of Bonaparte was overthrown in 1870 during the Franco-Prussian War, there has been no French crown to wear and no French throne to sit on. One would have assumed that that would be the end of conflict over who is the rightful monarch – that has not been the case.
Monarchist movements in France have failed to gain any traction among the electorate, although many royalists gravitate towards the nationalist National Front movement. Alliance Royale are the largest royalist movement, but they are still a tiny party with no representation in the French or European Parliaments. With a growing right in French politics, the monarchists may never have a greater opportunity to restore a constitutional monarchy, but unfortunately for French royalists, they are far more disunited than they need to be to have a chance at restoring relevance to the fight to be the legitimate claimant to the French throne.
Last week the Orléanist royalists broke out in a bitter dispute over who should be the successor to Henri d’Orléans as Count of Paris and Duke of France (and by extension, as the head of the House of Orléans and its claim to the French throne). The current heir, Prince François, is severely disabled and on the 1st August, Prince Jean – Henri’s second son who would become regent upon his brother’s succession – released a statement arguing that he should be considered the sole legitimate heir to the French throne upon his father’s death.
Henri remains unmoved in his belief that his eldest son should inherit his titles and his claim to the French throne, and that his second son should become the regent and administer the roles. With the Orléanist claim being the more popular one amongst French royalists, this kind of dynastic squabbling does nothing to promote the image that a monarchy would bring stability to French governance, advanced by Henri himself.
The situation becomes even more complex when you throw Louis Alphonse, second cousin to the King of Spain, into the mix. Louis Alphonse is the Head of the House of Bourbon and as such is regarded by Legitimist royalists as the rightful claimant to the French throne. His status as Head of the House of Bourbon is undisputed and he acts as the representative of Louis XVI on the Society of Cincinnati – although his claim to the Duchy of Anjou (long part of the French crown) is disputed. The Duchy of Anjou was given by Henri d’Orléans to Prince Charles Philippe, and as such the Orléanist royalists do not recognise Louis Alphonse’s claim to the Duchy.
There are also a third group of French royalists – those who support the return of the Empire ruled by the House of Bonaparte. The Bonapartist claim is as convoluted and disputed as the Orléanist one. Jean-Christophe, Prince Napoléon, was named as the heir to the House of Bonaparte and thus the Imperial House of France by his grandfather and inherited his royal claim in 1997. However, his father, Charles, also claims the Bonapartist succession.
With a multitude of claimants, the non-existent French throne does not look like the stable entity its royalist backers make it out to be. With the restoration of the monarchy an issue that could potentially return to the political agenda in France with the rise of right wing and nationalist movements, the quarrels between some of the oldest aristocratic families in Europe for the right to call themselves the true heirs of one of Europe’s oldest monarchies look set to ensure that the throne of France remains a non-existent one.