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Pretenders to the French royal throne

France’s image is thoroughly one of being a Republic and its revolution is so well-documented that it comes as a shock to realise that dozens of French citizens still consider themselves royal - and that four men are still pretenders to the French throne.

Two of them are descendants of Jérôme Bonaparte, Napoléon Bonaparte’s youngest brother who reigned as Jerome I, King of Westphalia, between 1807 and 1813. Charles, Prince Napoléon (born 1950), and his son, Jean-Christophe, Prince Napoléon (born 1986), are in dispute over who is the legitimate head of the Imperial House of Bonaparte. Charles claims he is next in line, while his son says his paternal grandfather Louis, Prince Napoléon, excluded his father for having married without permission. Neither of the two is seriously interested in pursuing the claim, however, and there is no public battle over the issue of who is the legitimate heir.

Their claim is supported by the Mouvement Bonapartiste, headed by Paul-Napoléon Calland, which aims to “support the principles of Bonapartism”, ie. a republic administrated by a centralised power led by an all-powerful, non-elected leader supported by military force. The Mouvement Bonapartiste does not really envisage the restoration of the imperial royal family, however.

The two other pretenders to the throne take the matter more seriously. The Legitimist movement is led by Louis Alphonse, Duke of Anjou (born 1974), who pretends to the title of Louis XX of France. He is a descendant of the House of Bourbon, as is Henri d’Orléans, Count of Paris (born 1933), who also pretends to the throne, but as Henri VII of France. The lineage of these two is tortuous but undisputed. Legitimists support ‘Prince Louis’ and Orléanists support ‘Prince Henri’. Historically speaking, the political difference between these two factions is that the very right-wing Legitimists wanted the restoration of the monarchy with full powers, and the less right-wing Orléanists wanted its restoration with lesser powers but still to re-establish the monarch as the country’s head of state.

It is not just the various pretenders who are in favour of a return to the French monarchy - a variety of groups also support their pretensions. The Alliance Royale is an association set up in 2001 as a political party whose sole aim is to see a French king in the Palais de l’Elysée once more. The king, they say, should exercise all the functions currently exercised by the president, but on a permanent basis, his heirs ruling after him.

Robert de Prévoisin, the party’s délégué général, presented himself as a candidate in the recent presidential elections but he only won the support of one elected official and so did not become an official candidate. (Candidates need the support of at least 500 elected officials in order to run.)

“It’s not important. I don’t expect to see a king on the French throne in my lifetime,” he said. “I am simply raising awareness that only a monarchy can save France. A king would not be answerable to a political party; he would truly have the interests of France at heart and instead of holding these elections which divide the country and produce presidents who only have the support of some of the population, a king would unite us and provide political stability.”

A staunch Catholic, he believes his mission is God’s will, but has no wish to choose between the pretenders. “My aim is to promote the restoration of the monarchy, not to choose between them. That’s their job. They are cousins after all - so it’s up to the royal family to decide who is the heir. This competition between them only serves to weaken the cause.”

He says seven European countries have monarchs and these countries have more stability than France. “The structure of the Fifth Republic as set up by De Gaulle is very similar to a monarchy. We just have to replace the president with a king who would handle diplomacy, justice, defence and the economy.”

He is even prepared to accept a queen on the throne of France, if the male line died out and there was no other choice. “In monarchies, all the subjects are the children of the royal family,” he says. “But we are not revolutionaries, we don’t want a coup d’état. We offer the alternative, we defend the institution of monarchy. We just hope against hope.”

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