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Tuesday, 12 June, 2001, 17:03 GMT 18:03 UK
Royal wedding plans suffer a hitch
The French royal palace of Versailles
The Orleans family are pretenders to the throne
By Hugh Schofield in Paris

Royal weddings, you would have thought, should be about as common in France as presidential elections are in Britain.


French attitudes to the dynastic are probably best described as elastic

Wasn't the revolution supposed to have removed - in addition to the head of King Louis XVI - all trace of the hereditary principle?

But that is to over-simplify matters. Let it not be forgotten that in the 19th century, France continued to be ruled by a succession of kings and emperors. In fact, the republic was only definitively established in 1871.

In addition, many would argue that the country's current constitutional arrangements, which elevate the president far above the ranks of the lowly citizenry, are touched with the spirit of monarchy. Louis XIV may have been called the Sun King, but Francois Mitterrand was the "Pharaoh".

In fact, French attitudes to the dynastic are probably best described as elastic. Which explains why there is so much interest when, as now, there is a good piece of regal gossip.

Wedding gossip
Francois Mitterrand
Francois Mitterrand was given almost regal status

The story doing the rounds is that the nuptials of Jean de France, prince of the Orleans line - the main pretenders to the throne - have been cancelled at the last minute because of a dispute over religion.

His family is, of course, Roman Catholic and deeply conservative. That of his betrothed, the German aristocrat Duchess Tatjana d'Oldenbourg, is Protestant. Most of the rest of us manage to get round these little differences, but in royal circles these things count.

After all, wars have been fought over which king prays where.

Religious rivalry in France lasted until the end of the 17th century, when the Catholics gained definitive ascendancy.


Marriage is a strong and, in my view, indissoluble undertaking, and one must prepare for it seriously from a spiritual point of view if one is to build a union that will last for a lifetime

Count Henri of Orleans - a divorcee
Since then the monarchy has been closely linked with the church of Rome. And now, apparently, the head of the Orleans family - Jean's father Henri - fears their legitimacy will be compromised if there is a risk of a Protestant heir. Under his pressure the wedding has been called off.

"I sincerely regret this," he was quoted in the French press as saying. "But marriage is a strong and, in my view, indissoluble undertaking, and one must prepare for it seriously from a spiritual point of view if one is to build a union that will last for a lifetime." Henri, by the way, is divorced.

The Orleanists are descendants of France's last king, Louis-Philippe, who ruled from 1830 to 1848.

They are challenged by the Bourbon dynasty, now represented by Prince Louis-Alfonse of Spain, which claims a more direct link to the 18th century monarchs. There is also a Bonapartist contender, but he is, shall we say, an outsider.

In fact, of course, there is not an aristocrat's chance on the Place de la Concorde that any of them will ever be crowned.

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28 Feb 00 | Europe
France's royal riddle
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