I was amused on the morning of the recent Coronation of King Charles III to receive my usual daily email from Le Figaro and notice the lead item on it: ‘Qui serait le roi de la France?’ (Who would be the King of France?)
There was some vague mention later on, I think, that a great historical event, the first such for 70 years, was happening in the neighbouring country (indeed, the President of France and Mme Macron attended it, even if the President did not choose to complement his wife’s exquisite dress sense by attiring himself properly in a morning coat), but Le Figaro seemed mainly concerned about who, were France to have a monarchy again, would sit on the French throne.
Might this have been provoked by a moment of sour grapes, jalousie, rancœur or amertume?
Who knows? But it is an interesting question, and one that touches more directly than one might imagine on the governance of France today and in the near future.
Bourbon supporters are called Legitimists
It is usually accepted that there are three competing houses for the throne.
First, there are the Bourbons, descendants of poor old Louis XVI, who met his brutal end on the guillotine in 1793.
Those who regard the Bourbons as having the main claim are known as Legitimists, and they trace descent from Charles X, who was removed in the July Revolution of 1830.
He was a brother of Louis XVI, as was the man he succeeded, Louis XVIII, and the House had been restored after the fall of Napoleon.
Unlike their decapitated brother’s monarchy, this one was constitutional, without the trappings of despotism, enlightened or otherwise.
Rival dynasty - the Orléanistes
Charles X tried to rig an election in 1830, after behaving for several years in an increasingly authoritarian fashion, and was forced to abdicate.
He was succeeded by his cousin Louis Philippe, a descendant through his mother of Louis XIV, and son of the duc d’Orléans.
Charles X had in fact abdicated in favour of his grandson Henri, duc de Bordeaux, who was just 10 years old and was easily shunted aside by the Orléanistes, and the Chamber of Deputies proclaimed Louis Philippe king.
Thus two rival dynasties were established: the Legitimist Bourbons and the (by implication) illegitimist cadet branch of the same family, the Orléanistes.
Johnny-come-latelys - the Bonapartists
Louis Philippe reigned until the revolution of 1848, but found himself fighting on two fronts: against the Bourbon cousins, who wanted their throne back, and republicans, who wanted no throne at all.
In 1848 he abdicated in favour of his grandson, the comte de Paris, who was only nine: but the Chamber of Deputies refused to have it, and the Second Republic was established – but with a familiar name, Louis Napoléon Bonaparte, as its president.
With predictable inevitability, he declared himself Emperor Napoleon III in 1852, and proclaimed the Second Empire.
Once that Empire went with the events of 1870, France was left with three pretender Dynasties.
The three potential monarchs today
The Bonapartists need not be taken seriously, being very much johnny-come-latelys to the monarchy game. The pretender is 36-year-old Jean-Christophe, Prince Napoléon, Prince of Montfort, descended from Napoleon’s younger brother and a private equity manager.
The two competing branches of the Bourbons are a different matter.
The Legitimists regard Don Luis-Alfonso de Borbón, duc d’Anjou and a descendant through the male line of the Sun King, as the rightful King of France. He is 49, and would be Louis XX, and his being Spanish need not be an obstacle (after all, the English throne is occupied by a man who is effectively three-quarters German and a quarter Scots).
However, the Orléanistes look to a descendant of Louis Philippe, Jean Carl Pierre Marie d’Orléans, aged 58, as the rightful king: he would be Jean IV. He is known as the comte de Paris and is a colonel in the reserve of the French Army.
French court would not name rightful king
So even if France wanted a monarchy, it would have to decide which of these two royal houses should supply the monarch.
When a French court was asked to rule in a dispute between the two branches a few years ago, it claimed it had no jurisdiction in the matter.
Therefore, it might appear that the chances of a restoration are slimmer than ever, given no one would know whom to restore, and for France it might be out of the frying pan, into the fire.
Pension reforms prompt monarchy discussions
Ever since he took over in 2017, President Macron has been compared to the Sun King, and mocked for his apparently regal style, very unbecoming, some of his people feel, of the leader of a republic.
But recent events – notably the use of section 49.3 of the French constitution to force through his hated pension reforms – prompt the thought that France might be more democratic under a constitutional monarchy, with its checks and balances, than under a republic where the head of state is also the effective head of government and can do very much as he likes when the need arises.
Were M. Macron prime minister, and had an unelected arbiter to answer to, things might be different.
What if Marine Le Pen wins the next election?
This is all hypothetical, because of little evidence of a movement for monarchy in France.
When a monarchist party stood in the 2019 European elections its candidates hardly registered.
But what if – and this is far less hypothetical – the 2027 election ends up presenting the French with a choice between Marine Le Pen and Jean-Luc Mélenchon?
What, especially, if Mme Le Pen won – a possibility now openly discussed in France?
And what if this happens after what are perceived as almost four more years of autocracy, belligerence and unrest provoked by the ideas and attitudes of M. Macron?
Might people possibly start to think there may be a better way of ensuring the will of the people is acted upon?
If I were French, I’d start working out whether it is to be the duc d’Anjou or the comte de Paris.