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Henri d’Orléans, pretender to French throne, dies

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Henri d'Orleans and his wife Micaela Cousino Quinones de Leon attend a ceremony at Paris Invalides in 2008. Reuters/Charles Platiau

Henri d’Orléans, Count of Paris, Duke of France and claimant to the defunct French throne and the descendant of one of two rival families descended from French monarchs, died on Monday at the age of 85.


Henri, a retired military officer, author and painter, would have reigned as Henri VII had France restored a monarchy and recognised his claim to the throne in his lifetime.

With his passing, the title of would-be crown prince of the Orléans line now falls to his son, Prince Jean de France, the Duke of Vendome.

“It is with sadness that I announce the passing of my father, the Count of Paris,” tweeted Prince Jean in announcing his father’s demise on Monday.

Exile, disinheritance and restoration

Henri was descended from France’s last monarch, Louis-Philippe I d’Orléans, who reigned during the post-revolutionary restoration period of 1830 to 1848.

He was born in Belgium in 1933 and spent much of his childhood in Morocco, Spain and Portugal because of a 1886 law that exiled the heads of formerly reigning dynasties and their heirs from France.

He was nonetheless able to enter France during family visits in wartime and was party schooled in Bordeaux.

After the exile law was abrogated in 1950, Henri settled with his parents at an estate in the Paris region and studied at the prestigious Paris Institute of Political Studies.

In 1957, his father named him as heir apparent and he married German-born aristocrat Marie-Thérèse de Wurttemberg before embarking on voluntary military service in Algeria.

He was a military officer who was posted to Germany before becoming an instructor on the island of Corsica. He left the army in 1967 for a career in banking in France and Switzerland.

His marriage did not go well and the couple divorced in 1984, with Henri remarrying the same year. This unauthorised marriage caused his father to revoke the status of crown prince and declare his son disinherited.

Tensions subsided over the years and his father restored the heir apparent status in 1991. Henri became the pretender to the throne following his father’s death in 1999.

Henri published eight books between 1989 and 2016, was also a painter and launched a brand of perfume.

He unsuccessfully ran in the 2004 European elections with the Alliance Royale, a Eurosceptic political party dedicated to establishing a constitutional monarchy in France.

Rival claims to throne

In an irony of history, Henri passed away on the anniversary of the death of Louis XVI, who was executed on 21 January 1793.

Henri was descended from the brother of Louis XIV as well as Philippe-Egalité, who voted for Louis XVI’s execution and earned the House of Orléans line the disdain of the House of Bourbon.

From 1987 to 1989, Henri challenged the legal right of his cousin Louis-Alphonse de Bourbon, another pretender to the throne as Louis XX, to use the French royal coat of arms and the title Duke of Anjou.

However, the courts of the French Fifth Republic noted they lacked jurisdiction in disputes over dynastic claims of former royal houses.

Henri’s claim was recognised by Action Française, a royalist political movement that has existed since 1899 and had considerable influence in the early part of the 20th century.

“Our prince, who brought the royal house into the 21st century, never ceased to assume his role and his legacy,” the royalists said in a statement published Tuesday.

“Despite the obstacles and despite criticism, the prince helped to maintain royal France at centre stage, publishing books, political notes, speaking as much as possible to share with the French his fears for the future of our nation.

“Today, royal France is in mourning, our monarchist hearts are bleeding, with the news of the passing of the ‘King of our Hearts’, but we view the future with serenity, because today his son, Prince Jean of France, takes up the role of his father and a new reign begins, that of King Jean IV of France.”