The Men Who Would Be King of France…

As the anniversary of the start of the French Revolution comes round again, 14 July 1789, two hundred and thirty-four years ago, one wonders who would be governing France today if they hadn’t chopped of Louis XVI’s head…..

Louis, and his wife, Marie Antoinette, had 4 children. Princess Sophie died at 11 months old in 1787 from tuberculosis and Louis Joseph died at the age of seven, also from tuberculosis, in 1789, before the Revolution. Louis Charles, the new Dauphin, or heir, to the Kingdom of France, lived until 1795. He became technical king of France as Louis XVII when his father was executed in 1793, but Louis Charles was a prisoner and he suffered terribly as a result – mentally, emotionally and physically abused, and cruelly neglected by a series of guards until he unsurprisingly died of an infection caused by his abuse and neglect. The final child, Princess Marie Thérèse, managed to survive and ended up marrying a cousin, the son of one or her father’s brothers who had managed to get out of France before they, too, lost their heads. But she had no children.

The heirs to the French throne were therefore Louis XVI’s brothers and their descendants, but these eventually petered out as well. So…. to cut a long story short, the heirs to the French throne had to be tracked back to former kings, namely Louis XIV, the Sun King who built Versailles, and his father Louis XIII, (the King who had the famous Three Musketeers) and their descendants. France had the Salic Law, which barred women from inheriting the throne, or a male inheriting the throne through his mother, so the line was limited to descent through males only. This law was probably what saved Marie Thérèse’s life during the Terror. But nothing is ever simple in La Belle France, and because of all the above, there are now two claimants to the French throne, not that there actually is one, of course!

This is Henri, head of the House of Orléans and Count of Paris, and styled Henri VII. He is a direct descendant of  Louis XIII, as well as the last King of France who actually ruled, Louis-Philippe I. Louis-Philippe himself was forced to abdicate in 1848, in yet another Revolution, and hurried over to England as fast as he could with his family, as he feared the same fate as his ancestor Louis XVI, and  lived in exile at Claremont House, Esher, in England, until he died a couple of years later in 1850.

The other pretender to the throne is Louis Alphonse, Count of Anjou, the Bourbon pretender, and styled Louis XX. He comes from a more senior lineage than Henri VII, Count of Paris, because Louis Alphonse is descended from Louis XIV while Henri is descended from Louis XIII. This nitpick is why there are two royal pretenders.

How complicated does it get!!

However, just to make things even more complicated, there is another claimant to rule France, depending on  your politics. This is Jean Christophe, Prince Napoléon. He is descended from the original Emperor Napoleon’s youngest brother, Jérôme, since Napoléon’s only legitimate son died at twenty-one from tuberculosis, and none of Napoléon’s other brothers’ male line descendants made it to the present day, except for Jérôme’s.

So there you have it… three men who have a claim to ruling France… but it could have turned out so very differently if Louis XVI hadn’t ended up on the guillotine… and of course here in England, we don’t have Salic Law, so nothing ever gets so complicated with our Royal Family and who inherits the throne!