Obituary: Le Comte De Paris

By Johnson, Douglas | The Independent (London, England), June 21, 1999 | Go to article overview
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Obituary: Le Comte De Paris


Johnson, Douglas, The Independent (London, England)


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.

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