Obituary: Le Comte de Paris

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THE FATHER of Henri, Comte de Paris, had never expected to become the Pretender to the throne of France. The Duc de Guise had been the great- grandson of Louis-Philippe, the last King of France, but he had been from a junior branch, and only after the deaths of his cousins, the Duc de Montpensier and the Duc d'Orleans, did he succeed. This was on 28 March 1926. He immediately made sure that his son, who had been born at Le Nouvion- en-Thierache, in the Aisne department, in 1908, should be prepared to assume his responsibilities.

Until 1926, Henri had spent most of his life in Morocco. In the new circumstances his father thought that he should live and be educated in Europe. Since the law of 1886 forbade any family that had ruled over France to live in France, they moved to the Manoir d'Anjou, in a Brussels suburb. Henri studied at the University of Louvain, and was provided with a number of private tutors from France who specialised in French law and in politics.

It was inevitable that he should have been subjected to the influence of Charles Maurras, who, ever since 1900, had rejected the Republic and cultivated the image of the monarchy. His mother, Isabelle de France, was a convinced Maurrassien, as was his confessor, the abbe de Dartein. But Henri was prudent. He wanted to keep his independence. This disappointed certain Maurrassiens, who visited him in 1930, and although they were intrigued by his resemblance to a Clouet portrait hanging in the chateau of Chantilly, they found little to attract them to his ideas.

When he started to publish a weekly periodical, Le Courrier Royal, from 1934, this asserted his independence from Maurras, whom he specifically rejected as the master of his ideology in November 1937. The Maurrassiens then said that the interregnum had been so long that they needed the founder of a dynasty rather than someone who would be a successor. It was therefore up to the Count of Paris to prove that he was a 20th-century version of Hugues Capet.

Henri certainly showed an ability to profit from his freedom. With the coming of the Poplar Front Government in 1936 he accepted that many of the social reforms were necessary and overdue and he accepted that trade unions had an important role to play.

But his dismay at the obvious weakness of France and his opposition to the Munich Agreement caused him to take bold action. In October 1938, disguised as a medical orderly, he went from Belgium into France to give his first press conference. At Magny-en-Vexin, in a building where all telephone lines had been cut, he read a declaration to representatives of leading French newspapers claiming that France was in danger and that only through the monarchy could France rediscover its unity and its greatness. It was noticeable that in this statement he emphasised the military weakness of France and spoke of the need to have a mechanised force capable of taking the offensive, such as had been proposed by a certain Colonel de Gaulle.

At the beginning of the war, although he was not allowed to wear uniform, he carried out several official missions to different European governments, notably in the Balkans. He succeeded in joining the Foreign Legion but was overtaken by the Armistice of June 1940. Then, learning of his father's death on 26 August 1940, he went to Morocco to arrange for his burial. He was now the head of the House of France.

His first public appearance in this role was very strange. The American and British forces had invaded French North Africa in November 1942. Admiral Darlan, who had been the head of Marshal Petain's government until April 1942, was in Algiers, quite by chance. The Americans put him in charge of the region, which caused much resentment amongst the French in North Africa and amongst the Free French in London.

The Comte de Paris agreed to take part in a manoeuvre which would lead to the dismissal of Darlan and to his assuming power in order to unite all French people. But this action failed and on Christmas Eve 1942 Darlan was assassinated by a young royalist. The Comte de Paris always maintained that he knew nothing about the plot, although accusations against him were made. He tried hard to protect the royalist who had killed Darlan but he was executed and the Comte de Paris took refuge in Spain.

The law exiling him from France was abrogated in 1950 and the Comte de Paris took up residence at Louveciennes. He published a monthly bulletin of information, which paid particular attention to social problems, but he kept his distance from royalist groups which retained Maurassian ideas, such as those who published the newspaper Aspects de le France, or the breakaway group, Nouvelle Action Royaliste, whose leader, Bertrand Renouvin, stood as a candidate in the first ballot of the 1974 Presidential elections (gaining 0.2 per cent of the vote). These organisations tired of the inactivity of the Comte de Paris, and turned their attention to the Spanish Bourbons, led until his death in 1990, by Alfonso de Bourbon-Dampierre, Duke of Cadiz. A more sentimental organisation founded in 1984, L'Association des Amis de la Maison de France, had the support of the Comte, as they collected souvenirs of French royalty.

The Comte de Paris put his faith in General de Gaulle, whom he met for the first time in 1954 (the general insisted that each of their meetings should be highly secret). They agreed on many items of political belief, for example, the necessity to create an association of capital and labour. But de Gaulle, haunted as he was by history rather than by religion, had a particular respect for the leader of the French royal house, a respect that was heightened when Henri's son, Francis, Duke of Orleans, was killed in the Algerian War in 1960.

Two years later de Gaulle confided to the Comte de Paris that he would not stand for re-election as President in 1965 and he encouraged him to think that he might become President. But it was up to Henri to prove that he was worthy. By 1964 de Gaulle said that he could not consider him as a candidate. Two years later he stated that he could not envisage the Comte de Paris ever becoming the leader of the elective monarchy that was the Fifth Republic.

The Comte de Paris continued to relate how the four Republics of France had each led to disaster and in 1995 he claimed that the constitution of the Fifth Republic was paralysing the country. But de Gaulle, and the possibility of succeeding him, had been his last political hope. In 1981 and in 1986 he supported Mitterrand as President.

In April 1931 he had married Isabelle, Princess of Orleans and Braganza, from the royal house of Brazil. They had 11 children. Family quarrels unfortunately have, in recent years, been particularly newsworthy. There was the quarrel between the Comte de Paris and his eldest son on the occasion of his remarriage. For a time the Comte disinherited him.

More recently the Comte sold items of his inheritance. In 1996 he sold a number of pictures and pieces of furniture for Fr15m; in 1997 he sold a set of jewellery that had belonged to Louis-Philippe's queen Marie-Amelie, for $1m. Five of his children went to court, led by the Duke of Orleans, in order to put a stop to this.

The Comte de Paris agreed that it was the family tradition but said that he could do what he liked with his possessions. But in February 1999, the Court of Appeal ruled against him. It was said that even a royal prince was not above the law.

He died in Dreux within a few hundred yards of the chapel where the Orleans family are buried. He remarked: "I shall not be far from my last dwelling place."

Henri Robert Ferdinand Marie Louis-Philippe d'Orleans: born Le Nouvion- en-Thierache, France 5 July 1908; succeeded as Comte de Paris 1940; married 1931 Isabelle, Princess of Orleans and Braganza (ten children, and one son deceased); died Dreux, France 19 June 1999.