A power vacuum has formed over France’s non-existent crown, and I for one am riveted. This story has everything: a throwback to the era of big wigs gone by, a dead count, a handful of grown men posturing for a title made obsolete whole centuries ago. Only one man can be king of a country that has no king — the question is, who?
On Monday, Henri D’Orleans, Count of Paris, died — exactly 226 years after Louis XVI went to the guillotine, according to The Guardian. As a descendant of the Duke D’Orleans, brother to Sun King Louis XIV, Henri has been a key pretender to the French throne. (Recall: a throne Henri’s countrymen of yore dismantled during the French Revolution, 1789–1799.) The natural conclusion of such long-running pettiness? That Henri’s son, Jean D’Orleans, a.k.a. Prince Jean de France, should now assume his father’s title. As Jean has previously pointed out, “Succession in the House of France follows very precise rules” — rules Jean’s late grandfather set himself.
However! Do not discount the other contender in this race to the top of a rungless royal ladder: Louis Alphonse de Bourbon, Duke of Anjou, or Louis XX if you still subscribe to monarchic enumeration.
As the sole living descendant of Louis XVI — the French king beheaded by his own people in 1793, the husband to Marie Antoinette, you know him — and therefore, of the Sun King, Louis XX would appear to have a more direct dynastic claim than Jean. However, Louis the Youngest also has familial ties to the Spanish crown (and to dictator Francisco Franco, and to Queen Victoria, it’s a tangled web these nobles weave), for which a distant predecessor of his had to renounce all claim to the French throne. That has been the Orleans’ argument, anyway.
Anyway, the decapitation of Louis XVI set the scene for the rise of another famous French name: Napoleon Bonaparte, and wouldn’t you know it, one of his relatives lingers on the fringes of this extremely unnecessary dispute today. Jean-Christophe Napoléon, or Prince Napoléon, works as a banker in London and according to The Guardian, would prefer to stay out of all this nonsense.
So really, the contest comes down to two grown men squabbling over a shared delusion: Prince Jean de France, whose personal website positions him firmly as the “heir to the 40 kings who made France,” or Louis XX, an actual French Louis. France, of course, remains a republic with a president (Emmanuel Macron), and has effectively been humoring these overgrown babies with “courtesy titles.”
And frankly, I appreciate it. So what if there are two Kate Middletons, or Prince Harry loves juice, or Prince William has been ripping Jägerbombs alone in Kensington Palace? Like Queen Elizabeth, I am weary of the current royal feud narrative, and this centuries’ long spat over absolutely nothing is a plot twist I can really sink my teeth into. Long live the non-king!