The 1909 "Pacte de Famille" of the House of Orléans

Background

Louis-Philippe Ier, king of the French (1830-48) had many sons. One of them, Louis duc de Nemours (1814-96) had two sons, Gaston comte d'Eu (1842-1926) and Ferdinand duc d'Alençon (1844-1910). Gaston married in 1864 the heiress to the throne of Brazil; he thereby became Brazilian, and was considered by all (including himself) to have permanently left the house of France. In fact, his father advised him to issue a statement reserving his rights, but he refused, and wrote to his father on 7 Dec 1864 "c'est de tout mon coeur que j'ai renoncé à la faible chance d'obtenir ce que je tenais de ma naissance" (with all my heart I have renounced the small probability of obtaining what my birth held for me").

Brazil ceased to be an Empire in 1889, and in exile Gaston (who by now had three Brazilian sons, Pedro, Luis and Antonio) seemed to have thought he might regain his former position in the French royal family. The head of the house, the comte de Paris, made clear in a letter to Gaston's younger brother that this was impossible (Sep 15, 1893):

Mon cher Alençon, [...] Les prétentions éventuelles de Gaston à reprendre son rang et tout ce qui s'ensuit dans la Maison de France sont absolument inadmissibles. Tu as pu voir dans ma lettre que je n'imaginais même pas qu'elles puissent exister.
Quant on sort de la Maison de France pour se faire étranger, quand on renonce à la vie d'exil qui affirme l'attente, l'espérance et la fidélité à la France pour chercher auprès d'un trône étranger une situation officielle, un pareil acte a des conséquences irrévocables.
On ne peut, après trrente ans, venir dire qu'on s'est trompé, que le passé est non avenu et réclamer dans nos rangs une place qu'on a volontairement abandonnée. La naturalisation (au Brésil) l'a exclu de la maison de France comme elle a exclu l'oncle Montpensier et sa descendance mâle. C'est la loi fondamentale de l'Hérédité dans la race capétienne qui, elle-même, n'est arrivée au trône qu'en vertu de cette loi.
Cette loi doit être irrévocable car sans cela il suffirait qu'un des exclus se fit naturaliser pour venir primer ceux qui auraient joui pendant plus ou moins longtemps des droits à eux dévolus."

"My dear Alençon, [...] Gaston's eventual claims to reclaim his rank in the house of France and everything that follows from it are absolutely unacceptable. You saw in my letter that I did not even imagine such claims existed. When one leaves the house of France to become a foreigner, when one renounces the life of an exile waiting, hoping and remaining true to France, in order to seek from a foreign throne an official position, such an act has irrevocable consequences. One cannot, thirty years later, say that one made a mistake, that the past doesn't exist, and claim among us a place one has willfully left. Naturalization in Brazil excluded him from the house of France just as it excluded the uncle Montpensier and his male issue. It is the fundamental law of heredity in the capetian line which, itself, ascended the throne by virtue of that law. That law must be irrevocable, or else it would be enough for one of those excluded to naturalize himself in order to trump all those who enjoyed in the meantime the rights that devolved to them."

The comte de Paris' statement contains some interesting assertions. In his eyes, the Orléans-Galliera line, issued from the marriage of his uncle the duc de Montpensier to the sister of the queen of Spain, and settled in Spain, was also excluded, for the same reasons. The comte de Paris also alludes to the story that Hughes Capet was chosen as king of France in 987 over the last Carolingian, Charles of Lorraine, because the latter was a foreigner. This version of the events was a common one since the 16th century (see the discussion of the nationality requirement in the French law of succession).

After the comte de Paris' death in 1894 Gaston tried again, and the comte de Paris' son and successor as head of house made clear in a document of 15 July 1901 that this was not possible. The text and translation of this document follow.

Gaston persisted and sent a document dated 15 July 1902 to argue his case. In the end, a document was written and signed on 26 April 1909, sometimes referred to as the pacte de famille. Here follows the full text and my translation of that document.

The 1909 agreement has been misunderstood as a family compact whereby succession rights were altered or restored. I must say that I have also believed that this was the nature of the document, based on secondary sources. However, it is obvious, once one reads the original document, that it is nothing of the sort. All the agreement does is reiterate the 1901 declaration, note the consent of the comte d'Eu, allow for modifying precedence during family ceremonies, and take note of a promise by the comte d'Eu not to press his claims until after extinction of the rest of the family.

Declaration of 15 July 1901 by the duc d'Orléans

Text

Pour toute Famille Souveraine la fidélité à son droit traditionnel est une indispensable condition d'existence.
Cette fidélité est l'unique sauvegarde des Familles Souveraines dépossédées.
En dehors de là, il n'y aurait pour elles que caprice et l'arbitraire avec toutes leurs conséquences : empiètements, violation des droits d'autrui, discorde et ruine.
Dans la Maison de France, le droit traditionnel qui décide à qui appartient la qualité royale garantit également les droits des princes cadets.
La volonté du Roi ne saurait créer ce droit, lequel préexiste et échappe à son pouvoir.
Mais il peut y avoir dans des cas donnés à constater ce droit, à l'affirmer s'il est mis en question, à en préserver l'application, à le maintenir et à le défendre s'il est attaqué.
Ces principes posés, m'appuyant sur la loi fondamentale de la monarchie française en vertu de laquelle le droit royal repose sur ma tête et parce que les circonstances m'en font un devoir, j'affirme ce qui suit:
Monsieur le Comte d'Eu a, par son établissement au Brésil sans esprit de retour en 1864 et les engagements qui l'ont lié alors à la Monarchie brésilienne, par sa formelle renonciation à ses droits de succession à la couronne de France, par son adoption de la nationalité brésilienne, perdu ses droits de succession à la couronne de France et à sa qualité d'agnat de la Maison Royale. Les Fils du Comte d'Eu, nés brésiliens, de parents brésiliens et successibles au trône du Brésil n'ont jamais été princes de la Maison Royale de France, qualité que la naissance seule donne et qui peut se perdre et non s'acquérir.
Ils ne peuvent donc devenir Princes de la Maison de France pas plus que leur père ne peut reprendre cette qualité qu'il a perdue.

Translation

For any sovereign family faithfulness to the traditional rule is an indispensable condition for existence. That faithfulness is the only safeguard of dispossessed sovereign families. Outside of it, there would only be whim and arbitrariness, with all the consequences: overreaching, violation of the rights of others, discord and ruin. In the House of France, the traditional rule that decide to whom the royal status belong also preserves the rights of junior princes. The king's will cannot create this rule, which preexists and does not fall under his power. But it may be necessary, in some cases, to state this rule, to declare it when it is questioned, to preserve its application, to maintain it and defend it when it is under attack. Having set forth these principles, and based on the fundamental law of the French monarchy by virtue of which the royal claim belongs to me, and because circumstances make it my duty, I declare what follows: Monsieur the Comte d'Eu, by taking residence in Brazil without intent to return in 1864, by the commitments that have bound him to the Brazilian crown, by his formal renunciation to his succession rights on the crown of France, by his adoption of the Brazilian nationality, has lost his rights of succession to the crown of France and his status as aganate of the Royal family. The sons of the Comte d'Eu, born Brazilians from Brazilian parents and Brazilian dynasts, have never been princes of the house of France, a status which only birth bestows and that can be lost but not gained. Therefore, they cannot become princes of the house of France, no more than their father can regain this status, which he has lost.

Comment

Legitimists have at times decried the Pacte de famille of 1909 as a "change in the law of succession". The text shows it to be nothing of the sort. Rather, given the signatory's understanding of the law of succession (understanding with which one may or may not agree), it is not a decision or a change, it is nothing but an application of that law.

Declaration of 26 April 1909 (a.k.a. pacte de famille)

Text

I do not have the complete text, only what Guy Coutant de Saisseval provides in his La Légitimité monarchique (Paris, 1985). Here is the text that I have:

1) Notre cher oncle le Comte d'Eu, reconnaissant, dans la note qu'il nous a fait tenir que ses trois fils issus de son mariage célébré en 1864 avec la Princesse Impériale Isabelle, alors héritière immédiate du trône du Brésil et qu'eux et leurs descendance constituent une Maison distincte de l'ensemble des branches de la Maison d'Orléans composant actuellement la Maison de France.

3) Nous maintenons et confirmons notre note du 15 juillet 1901 en tant qu'elle constate l'ordre d'accession à la couronne et règle les rangs et préséances à observer dans toutes les cérémonies ayant un caractère officiel politique ou national français. Cela déclaré, nous consentons volontiers à la demande de notre oncle le Comte d'Eu au sujet des réunions ou cérémonies de famille, en ce sens que lorsque la réunion ou cérémonie sera exclusivement familiale ou bien lorsque nous aurons décidé qu'on devra prendre rang, non pas par ordre d'accession à la couronne, mais par rang de parenté : soit par rapport à nous-mêmes soit par rapport aux Personnes Princières, vivantes ou défuntes, auxquelles il s'agirait de rendre honneur, le Comte d'Eu, ainsi que sa descendance masculine princière et légitime pourront prendre le rang que leur assignera cette parenté, ainsi que cela a déjà eu lieu pour d'autres parents ou alliés de notre famille y compris des non princes et des princes des Maisons souveraines étrangères.

4) Le Comte d'Eu et ses fils s'engagent ici, solenellement pour eux et leur descendance à ne faire valoir de prétentions à la Couronne de France et à la position de Chef de la Maison de France qu'en cas d'extinction totale de toutes les branches princières françaises composant actuellement la Maison de France. Nous prenons acte de cet engagement solennel qui aura son effet et sera établi par l'apposition des signatures à notre présente déclaration.

Translation

"1) Our beloved uncle the Comte d'Eu, recognizing in the note he has sent us that his three sons by his marriage in 1864 to the Imperial Princess Isabelle, then heiress to the throne of Brazil, [...] and that they and their issue form a house distinct from the all the branches of the house of Orleans that presently form the house of France.
3) We maintain and confirm our document of 15 July 1901 in that it acknowledges the order of succession to the crown and sets the order of precedence to be followed in all ceremonies of an official, political or national French nature. That said, we willingly accede to the request of our uncle the Comte d'Eu in the matter of family reunions or ceremonies; in the sense that, when the reunion is of a purely familial nature or when we shall have decided that precedence be determined not by the order of succession but by the order kinship either to ourselves or to the persons (living or dead) being honored, the comte d'Eu and his male, princely and legitimate issue shall take rank according to their kinship, as it has already been done with relatives of our family, including non-princely persons and members of foreign sovereign houses.
4) The Comte d'Eu and his sons hereby undertake, solemnly, on their behalf and that of their issue, to press their claims to the crown of France and to the position of head of the house of France, only in the case of total extinction of all the French princely branches that currently form the House of France. We take note of this solemn promise which shall take effect and shall be established by the addition of signatures to this our declaration."

signatories

  • Philippe, duc d'Orléans (1869-1926), head of house
  • Ferdinand, duc de Montpensier (1884-1924), his brother
  • Jean, duc de Guise (1874-1940), his first cousin
  • Ferdinand, duc d'Alençon (1844-1910), younger brother of Gaston
  • Emmanuel, duc de Vendôme (1872-1931), son of the latter
  • Pierre, duc de Penthièvre (1845-1919)
  • Gaston, Comte d'Eu and his three sons
    • Pedro (1875-1940),
    • Luis (1878-1920) and
    • Antonio (1881-1918).

The signatories include all the adult male members of the house of France except Robert duc de Chartres (1840-1910), father of the duc de Guise and presumably in poor health at the time. It does not include the three males of the Galliera branch.

Comment

The text is incomplete. Article 2 is missing, and the syntax of article 1 suggests that a line may be missing too.

As a matter of form, this is not an agreement, but a declaration by the duc d'Orléans.

Article 3 very clearly and unreservedly maintains the declaration of 1901. The only adjustment is made to precedence in family reunions. Other than that, the 1909 declaration is nothing but a restatement of the declaration of 1901, itself a mere application of the law of succession as understood at the time.

Article 4 is the one that seems to have caused confusion. In article 4, the only thing that the head of house does is "take note" of the promise of the Comte d'Eu. He does not acknowledge, recognize, confer, grant, accept, ratify, condone, endorse. He "takes note". The comte d'Eu promises to not do something until after the extinction of the house. It is, on the part of the comte d'Eu, a capitulation without anything in return. It is, on the part of the duc d'Orléans, a mere acknowledgement that the comte d'Eu has made a certain promise.

The duc de Montpensier and the throne of Albania

Incidentally, an episode illustrates the consistency with which the Orléans family applied the nationality requirement. In 1913, Albania was set to emerge as an independent state after a successful rebellion against Turkey, and Albanians were searching for a suitable candidate for their throne. They apparently approached the duc de Montpensier, younger brother of the duc d'Orléans. His reply, dated 25 April 1913, stated: "Il n'y a pas de couronne au monde qui puisse me séduire si, pour l'acquérir, je dois consentir à laisser discuter deux titres dont je suis justement fier, ceux de citoyen et de prince français. [...] je suis résolu à décliner toute candidature au trône d'Albanie." (There is no crown in the world that could attract me if, to obtain it, I must put into question two titles of which I am rightly proud, that of French citizen and that of French prince. I am resolved to decline any candidacy to the throne of Albania). (Source: Archives Diplomatique, vol. 127, p. 96). Ultimately, Albanians settled on the prince of Wied, who reigned briefly from March to September 1914.


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François Velde

Last modified: Dec 07, 2000