In July the French Château of Amboise on the Loire will witness the coming together of many of Europe’s Royal and Imperial Families. The occasion will be the celebration of the 90th birthday of the doyen of Europe’s non-reigning royalty. Born in 1908, His Royal Highness Monseigneur Prince Henri of Orléans, Count of Paris – to give him his full title – will surely be reflecting, along with his extended family and many Frenchmen, on a remarkable life that has witnessed the return to the public scene of the formerly exiled French Royal House; the near restoration of the Monarchy to France forty years ago and the current attitudes towards the Royal Family in France. Tucked away in an exclusive suburb of Paris, the current Head of the Royal House of France and the furthest removed from a reigning ancestor of any of Europe’s non-reigning royal families, agreed to this rare interview with Royalty Magazine in the run-up to his birthday celebrations.
Prince Henri was born in France at the Château de Nouvion-en-Thierache, deep in a forest that once belonged to Mary Stuart. He was one year- old when his father, Prince Jean, Duke of Guise, moved the family to a large farm near Rabat in Morocco. His destiny, however, was only decided when he turned 18. The deaths without issue of his two uncles, the Duke of Montpensier in 1924 and the Duke of Orléans (Philippe VIII) in 1926, changed his life for ever. In that year, the Duke of Guise succeeded as Head of the Royal House and was immediately banished, along with Prince Henri, from the country due to The Law of Exile of 1886 which forbade the Heads and Heirs of both the Bourbon and Bonaparte dynasties from remaining in France. So it was that Prince Henri began his further education at the Louvain University in Belgium where he studied civil rights and Socialism whilst staying at the Belgian Château d’Anjou. It was here that Prince Henri, acting in his father’s name, began to turn the cause of Monarchy and his eventual position as Heir Apparent to the French Throne into a profession for himself and a political alternative for post-First World War France.
But it was in Czechoslovakia that Prince Henri was to meet his bride, later the mother of eleven children, many of whom married into other leading European Royal Houses including the Wurtemberg, Bourbon Two Sicilies and Savoy dynasties. While out hunting on the estate of his nineteen year- old third cousin, Princess Isabelle of Orléans and Bragança – a descendant of the Kings of France and Portugal and Emperors of Brazil – the Prince, on horseback, asked for her hand in marriage and the Princess instantly agreed. While the marriage proved to be very successful for many years (the Count and Countess, still close friends, now live separate lives) it was not possible for the marriage to take place in Belgium or France due to pressure from the French Government on Belgium as well as the Exile Law.
Nevertheless, to ensure that the many French Monarchists could pay their respects, Princess Isabelle, without her husband-to-be, travelled to Paris one month before her wedding and stood for two days in her wedding dress at the Hotel Lambert to receive the best wishes of over 60,000 supporters. Their wedding in April 1931 in Palermo, Sicily, was a great royal occasion and their parents gave the young couple a small castle in the Ardennes, on the Belgian-French border – from which they could see their forbidden France from their window. By 1934, Prince Henri had expanded his political activities. He founded two weekly journals and wrote a book on Monarchy that was widely read throughout France. In defiance of the Law of Exile and as World War Two approached, he secretly piloted a private plane to an small airfield in Northern France to hold a press conference. (Extract from Royalty Magazine Vol. 15/02)