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Modern-Day Pretenders to Historical Thrones

Updated November 6, 2017 47.3k views12 items

For a long time, Europe was the land of kings and emperors. Monarchies and family dynasties ruled for generations, complete with their own alliances and rivalries that spread across the continent. While some of them still exist today, two destructive world wars and several democratic revolutions overthrew most of these ruling dynasties across Europe, leaving many rulers in exile. Today, most modern heirs to the thrones of European countries have the good sense to leave their claim alone... but some just can't seem to let it go.

Political revolutions, coups, and family rivalries have all taken place in the last few decades in several countries that had long deposed their kings and queens. Even the rise of communism in Eastern Europe and then the fall of the Iron Curtain wasn't enough to dissuade some nobles from biding their time and waiting for the perfect moment to take back their titles. Even today, exiled rulers of countries that changed governments during World War II still exist... and they even have loyal supporters who want them to reclaim their titles.

  • Henri d'Orléans, Count of Paris, Duke of France: King of France

    Photo: Metaweb (FB) / Public domain

    Henri d'Orléans is a pretender to the French crown (under the name Henry VII) and a member of the former French ruling dynasty, the House of Bourbon. He is backed by French royalists loyal to the succession of Louis-Philippe, who call themselves Orleanists.

    Henri is the oldest son of the previous Henri d'Orléans, his father, and Princess Isabelle of Orléans-Braganza. He was born in Belgium in 1933 because 1886 law banned the heirs of formerly reigning French dynasties from entering the country (this law was later repealed).

    Henri married the Duchess Marie Therese of Württemberg and had five children, but when he divorced her and remarried outside of the Church, he lost the support of some Catholic French royalists and was temporarily disinherited by his father, though eventually tempers cooled, Henri was reinstated as heir, and in 2009, the Vatican arranged to have his second marriage legitimized.

    In an attempt to establish himself as the one true king of France, Henri sued his rival Louis-Alphonse, Duke of Anjou, over the right to use royal insignia. The French court ruled, essentially, that the entire thing was nonsense.

    Henri has his own line of perfume.

    Just before Henri's father died of cancer in 1999, he told one of his daughters, "I will leave you nothing but hatred," and told his other estranged children, "You will have nothing but your tears to cry with."

    It turns out that Henri's father did, in fact, leave them practically nothing, as he sold off all his assets or left them to the state of France. Ever since, Henri and his siblings have been trying to reclaim the fortune their father refused to leave them.

  • Louis Alphonse, Duke of Anjou: King of France

    Photo: Metaweb (FB) / Public domain

    A member of the Royal House of Bourbon and a pretender to French throne under the name Louis XX, Louis Alphonse is backed by the faction of French royalists who call themselves Legitimists, in a jab at the "illegitimate" claims of his rival, Henri d'Orléans.

    At 42, Louis is the oldest living male descendant of France's last Bourbon king, Louis XIV. More controversially, he is also the great-grandson of Francisco Franco, the Spanish fascist dictator, on his mother's side.

    Louis's good looks and royal ties not only to France but also to Philip V of Spain have gotten him many headlines, including a cover in the Spanish edition of Vanity Fair. However, Louis is Spanish by birth, which makes many of his right-wing, nationalist supporters dubious about his claim to the throne.

  • Constantine II is the former King of Greece, who ruled from 1964 until a coup ended the monarchy in 1974 in favor of a republic. He was forced to flee the country and went into almost five decades of exile.

    During his long exile, Constantine socialized with Europe's royals past and present, including England's Queen Elizabeth, Prince Charles, Princess Diana, and Prince Philip, his cousin; Spain's King Juan Carlos and Queen Sofía, his sister; and Denmark's Queen Margrethe, his sister-in-law.

    Constantine led a dramatic life, from barely escaping death at the hands of communist agents as an infant, to falling in love with his wife, the Danish princess Anne-Marie, when she was only 13. He was also an Olympic gold medalist in sailing. He survived two assassination attempts. When he and his family fled Greece in 1967, it was in a small plane he piloted himself.

    "I had to borrow $300 from my valet to refuel the plane," he said, "and my brother-in-law [King Juan Carlos] had to send me clothes."

    In 2015, Constantine was finally allowed to return to Greece; he now lives in the seaside town of Porto Heli.

  • Leka Zogu: King of Albania

    Photo: michaeljohnbutton / flickr / CC-BY 2.0

    Born in 1939, just two days before Italy invaded Albania, Leka Zogu (who was nearly 7 feet tall) spent most of his life in exile with his domineering mother, Queen Geraldine. His father was Albania's first king, King Zog, whom Leka boasted was the only monarch in history known to have returned fire during an assassination attempt.

    After WWII ended, the new communist Albanian government didn't recognize his family's claim to rule. For years, he worked to establish his legitimacy to the throne. He was also an avid collector of weapons and traveled with a large personal arsenal, often to the dismay of international border patrol officers.

    After communism fell in the early 90s, Leka was determined to regain his family's throne. He was arrested at an Albanian airport and deported. It turns out his passport listed his profession as "King of Albania."

    During a 1997 rebellion in Albania, Leka returned and a vote was held about restoring the monarchy. When Leka and his monarchist cause lost by a small margin, violence broke out, with claims the election had been rigged. Leka himself was almost arrested and fled the country.

    For the rest of his life, he worked to provide humanitarian aid to Albanians until his death in 2011.