Who are France's modern royalists?

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Who are France's modern royalists?
Photo by Ludovic MARIN / AFP

You don't need to be a history expert to know that the French chopped off the head of their king - but 230 years later there are still several groups in France dedicated to the restoration of the monarchy.


The French Revolution may be an extremely well-known part of history, but it's also a lot more complicated than many people appreciate - it's not like Louis XVI was guillotined and then France immediately became a modern democracy.

The Revolution itself was complex, ever-shifting and frequently blood-drenched and France saw several further periods of royal rule after 1793. These include a royal restoration and two self-crowned Bonapartes (remember them, they will be important later when we come on to the various modern claimants to the throne). 

The Revolution was also a very long way from being universally popular and across France people often fought for the restoration of their monarchy, with uprisings including the extremely brutal (on both sides) Vendée war that lasted from 1793 to 1796. 

Who are the modern monarchists?

Royalism no longer involves armed campaigns, but there are at least 16 active royalist or monarchist groups in France.

The best known and best supported three are Action Française, Alliance Royale and Nouvelle Action Royaliste.

They encompass people from across the political spectrum, but several of the current active groups are deemed to be far-right and monarchism is often linked with views that are far-right, anti-Semitic or both.


Action Française has been the subject of several attempts to ban their marches or rallies on the grounds of their far-right links, although a May 2023 event to honour Joan of Arc (another historical figure often claimed by the far-right) was allowed after a court overturned the ban.

What do they do? 

For most it's a historic thing - there is a yearly gathering at the Basilica of Saint-Denis, the traditional burial place of French kings, by dedicated monarchists. Every year since 1815 royal fans gather at the Saint-Denis cathedral on January 21st to mark the anniversary of the execution of Louis XVI.

Some also take part in historical events and royal-themed costume balls.

Do most French people want a monarchy?

It's hard to get complete figures, but it's fair to say that monarchism is a niche pursuit in France - that anniversary service in Saint-Denis usually attracts around 400 people. 


Nevertheless, polling in 2019 suggested that around 17 percent of French people would be open to the idea of a restoration of the monarchy.

Those who vote right or far-right are most likely to want to restore the monarchy, with 2016 polling finding 37 percent of Le Pen supporters in favour and 27 percent of supporters of the centre right party.

At present the closest France has to a king is the president - a role that under the current constitution gives wide-ranging powers to the man (and it has always been a man so far) in the top job.

The current incumbent, Emmanuel Macron, once referred to the French as "a nation of regicidal monarchists" - referring to the constant desire to have a strong leader but generally hating whichever leader they do have. 

What do they want? 

Even the most die-hard monarchists are not arguing for a return to the ancien regime, in which the king had virtually unlimited power.

Most monarchist groups suggest a constitutional monarchy, with the systems in Spain, Belgium or the UK used as the model. In those countries the monarch has very little involvement in politics or government and mostly serves as a figurehead who performs ceremonial duties and welcomes visiting heads of state.


British royals, in particular, are very popular in France and you can expect extensive media coverage every time one of them gets married, dies or resigns and goes to live in California. 

'The French have a taste for princes' - Why are British royals so popular in France?

Who do they want?

There's also the question of who, exactly, would become the new monarch, since royal succession is a disputed field, largely based on who you count as the 'last' king of France. 

There are currently three people who are considered to have credible claims - the Duke of Vendôme, known as Jean IV by his followers, is descended from Louis-Philippe, who reigned from 1830 to 1848 as the 'restored' king before being overthrown. Jean IV generally commands the most support from the various royalist groups.

Louis de Bourbon, Duke of Anjou (Louis XX to his followers) is a direct descendant of Louis XIV. Several members of his family came out in support of the extreme right candidate Eric Zemmour in the 2022 elections. 

And finally Jean-Christophe Napoléon, aka Prince Napoléon, descends from Napoléon Bonaparte’s brother Jerôme as well as the Emperor Napoléon III, the final sovereign before the Third Republic put an end to monarchy in France for good.

READ ALSO The 3 rivals who all claim the French throne



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