We headed out for a day with Louis “King Louis XX” Alphonse—a direct heir to the obviously defunct French throne—and his supporters. Just in case you haven’t heard, the people of France enjoyed a very special celebration earlier this month. That’s right—the homecoming of Louis Alphonse, Duke of Anjou, the Spanish aristocrat who claims he should be the next king of France.
Despite France’s staunch republicanism and its infamous history of decapitating monarchs, some people in the country would love to see a King Louis XX. And in early July, around 150 of Louis Alphonse’s most fervent supporters gathered in Paris’s 1st arrondissement to welcome him. The occasion of his visit was to celebrate the bicentenary of the restoration of a statue of one of Alphonse’s forefathers, King Henry IV, which was destroyed during the French Revolution and rebuilt on the city’s Pont Neuf bridge.
Alphonse, who currently lives in Spain, is the eldest male descendant of King Louis XIV. That’s the great-great-great-great grandfather of Louis XVI, France’s last king before the fall of the monarchy and the one who was guillotined during the French Revolution. If that wasn’t enough blue blood, Louis Alphonse is also the second cousin of Spain’s current king, Felipe VI.
The Duke of Anjou isn’t the only pretender to the nonexistent French throne. The other would be Henri d’Orléans, Count of Paris—an 85-year-old descendant of King Louis XIV’s brother, Philippe d’Orleans. D’Orléans’s claim on the throne is based on the fact that Louis Alphonse’s distant relative, Philippe V, renounced his rights to the French crown when he became the king of Spain in 1700.
But the crowd on the Pont Neuf seemingly didn’t give a shit about Henri d’Orleans’s claims—they showed up for Louis Alphonse as their King Louis XX. Among Alphonse’s supporters in Paris was Jean, 31, a PhD student in constitutional law. Jean told me that for the opportunity to meet Alphonse, he had wrestled himself free of “family obligations,” flipped up the collar of his red polo shirt, and taken the train in from Marseille in the south of France. “Today is a huge day—the heir to the throne is here on French soil,” he said. While this was his first time at an event like it, Jean claimed he was born a believer and that his “big family in the province are all royalists.”
But growing up, he eventually made his own mind up that a French monarchy is the way forward. “I’ve thought a lot about it,” Jean told me. “I’ve realized that the current system has only survived this long because of strong leaders, but that won’t be the case forever. The president isn’t elected by the majority anymore, not when you factor in people who didn’t vote,” he added.
Alphonse arrived on the Pont Neuf moments later, greeted by flags, excited cheers, and loud chants of “Long live the king!” After a quick royal espresso stop at a local coffee shop, his supporters accompanied him across the Pont Neuf, while King Henry IV‘s own march anthem was blaring from a set of speakers. Most of the growing crowd was getting slightly emotional at the sight of their hopeful monarch moving through Paris, but some wanted more. “It’s my first time meeting King Louis,” said Olivier, 23, who became a supporter through his love of history. “Everything is so cheery, and yet, somehow, I wish there was a bit more pomp. The ceremony is missing a bit of grandeur.”
Olivier, who plans to join the military after he completes his degree in history, went on to say that while his family aren’t royalists, his parents are sympathetic to the cause.
Several speeches and wreath-layings later, we were on the other side of the bridge. Louis Alphonse shook people’s hands, kissed old men and babies, and posed for selfies while speaking French in a subtle Spanish accent. “This is the first time I’ve shaken hands with someone so important,” an attendee also named Louis, 19, gushed. “I got emotional just taking a picture with him.”
As people made their way for refreshments at the nearby Town Hall, I spoke with Eric, a 36-year-old history teacher, who was adamant that France would get its king in time. “The monarchy will be reinstated by the political elite—not right away, but once everything’s gone to hell.” And he might be on to something. In a July 2015 interview with the weekly newspaper Le 1, current President Emmanuel Macron claimed that the French people were nostalgic for a monarchy. “What we’re missing in French politics is the figure of a monarch,” Macron said. “I think, fundamentally, the French people never wanted to get rid of him.”
Like Eric, many people at the event were in favor of a installing a constitutional monarchy in France, but according to a 2007 poll, only 14 percent of the country would support the idea of a French royal family. “Having a monarchy doesn’t mean a return to a feudal system,” said Latin graduate Avery, 22. “When I make my case to people, they seem fairly open to it and I don’t think I sound stupid.”
That evening, on the Champs-Élysées, the group of Louis Alphonse supporters broke through another large, excited crowd of supporters as horns blared in celebration of another French World Cup win. If you didn’t know better, you would think that everyone was there to welcome their king.
This article originally appeared on VICE France.
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