FRANCE'S royal family (or rather, "families") is unlikely to be among the guests at William and Kate's wedding – but then neither are President Sarkozy and Carla Bruni, if the British media are to be believed.
According to papers such as the Guardian and the Daily Mail, France's first couple is not on the 1,900-strong guest list, as William and Kate have decided to keep the event mainly for friends and family. Buckingham Palace is, however, refusing to comment.
There are two main pretenders to the French throne, who are still supported by France's eternally optimistic royalists: Louis de Bourbon, Duke of Anjou, 36, backed by
so-called "Legitimists", and Henri d'Orléans, Count of Paris and Duke of France, 77, the favoured choice of the "Orleanists".
However, issuing an official wedding invitation to either could be diplomatically sensitive. The Alliance Royale party seeks to be a unifying voice for royalist factions in France. It is working towards the election of a royalist president, who would then hold a referendum as to who should be king, then step down.
A spokesman for the party, Count Patrick de Villenoisy, said the French royalists wished Kate and William well. "The British royal family is very closely linked to the French royalty. The Queen of England has Bourbon blood in her veins. There are a number of family links, even if the family is originally Hanoverian."
e said they had no information at present about invitations to French aristocrats. It was not impossible that one or the other of the pretenders had been invited, he said: "It remains very confidential and there are two lists, a larger one for certain events and a restricted one for more private ones, where there are practically just the families."
However Count de Villenoisy said diplomatic considerations made it hard for the British royals to give open recognition to their French counterparts' claims. "The Queen is a head of state and can't get mixed up in the affairs of another country. What she thinks in her heart of hearts is one thing, but she has a duty to be totally reserved. On top of that, we do not have one single pretender, so to invite one and not the other would be another complication and would involve taking a stance."
A Foreign Office spokesman said the French royals would be treated by the UK as private citizens. "They are seen as such in France and have no special status, so I don't see why we should treat them as having one," he said.
"I know the French Revolution was a bit controversial at the time, but I think enough time has passed that we have to accept the facts as they are on the ground."
Buckingham Palace could not confirm if the French claimants have ever received an invitation to an event from the UK royals. Their legitimacy was a matter for the people of France and the French government, she said.
The French seem to have a love/hate relationship with royalty. The covers of such magazines as Paris Match or Voici suggest they are fascinatedby the British royals, while a survey by pollsters BVA for the Alliance Royale found (in 2007) that 17 per cent favoured having a king as head of state, 20 per cent would vote for a royalist candidate as president and 24 per cent think having a king would be good for France's image abroad.
Yet republican values of secularism and equality are meant to be at the heart of modern France. Even the galette des rois (a cake celebrating Epiphany, the visit of the Wise Men) delivered to the Elysée cannot have a fève porcelain figurine hidden in it, lest the president take the slice that contains it, thus being designated "king", as the tradition decrees. (Note that in France it was always a king, not a queen, because of the Salic law dating back to Clovis, stating that the crown had to pass to the next male heir. French royalists still believe it is a job for a man.)
France's monarchy dated from shortly after the fall of the western Roman Empire, in 476, which followed centuries of incursions into Gaul by Germanic tribes, including the Franks. Clovis, ruler of the Salian Franks (whose lands were based in the Nord-Pas-de-Calais and Belgium), enjoyed a victory at the Battle of Soissons (486) over a Roman-ruled area in Picardy. This helped consolidate Frankish dominance over the territory of Gaul (which was later named after them: France).
Clovis is said to have converted to Catholicism around the end of the fifth century, after pledging that he would do so if he won a battle against another tribe, the Alemanni. He was baptised in a church at Reims, where a cathedral would later be built in which most French kings were crowned.
Before his death, Clovis became king of all the Franks and ruler over most of France, through the usual combination of dynastic marriage and warfare, and made Paris his capital. Clovis was the founder of the Merovingian dynasty, which was followed by the Carolingians and Capetians.
A Capetian, Philippe II Auguste (1180), was the first to be called King of France, rather than King of the Franks.
The Valois and Bourbon dynasties followed, until the Revolution, then came Napoleon's First Empire, after which the monarchy was restored, under Louis XVIII and Charles X. The "July Revolution" in 1830 overthrew the senior branch of the Bourbons and established a constitutional monarchy under the Orléans branch, with King Louis-Philippe calling himself "King of the French". "Le roi citoyen" was the last king, fleeing to England under the name Mr Smith after revolution broke out again in 1848. He lived in Surrey until his death in 1850.
Of the current pretenders, Henri d'Orléans stakes his claim via descent from Louis-Philippe; Louis de Bourbon from Charles X. Henri d'Orléans, who lives part of the year in Paris and part in the Balearic Islands, created an association called the Institute of the Royal House of France, which aims to promote debate on changes in French society.
He also heads the Fondation Saint-Louis, a charity that manages historic properties of the house of Orléans, such as the Château d'Amboise, where it is based. He also served as a soldier and later worked as a banker, before setting up his own business promoting French exports. In 2009, President Sarkozy, who repeatedly called him Monseigneur (My Lord) and referred to him as "le chef de la famille de France", made him a Chevalier de la Légion d'Honneur for his military service, which he said included showing great courage in the Algerian war.
He said France had never forgotten the "immense… heritage" left by "those 40 kings, who, in 1,000 years, made France". Louis de Bourbon is a banker in New York.