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The Kings who never were: the living heirs of Europe's abolished monarchies

Tsar Nicholas II of Russia (left); Kaiser Whilhelm II of Germany (middle); Napoleon Bonaparte of France (right)
Tsar Nicholas II of Russia (left); Kaiser Whilhelm II of Germany (middle); Napoleon Bonaparte of France (right)   -   Copyright  AP Photo
By Jonny Walfisz

The death of Queen Elizabeth II ended one of the world's longest apprenticeships and saw Charles III ascend to the UK throne. To many outside the country, the focus on the succession of its constitutional monarchy may seem alien. Across the 19th and 20th century, most European countries took steps to abolish their monarchies permanently.

Just 12 nations in Europe retain a form of monarchy to this day. They are Andorra, Belgium, Denmark, Liechtenstein, Luxembourg, Monaco, the Netherlands, Norway, Spain, Sweden, the Vatican and the UK.

In all of the countries with abolished monarchies, there are still descendants of the final monarchs.

These people go about their lives knowing that if the hand of history dealt them different cards, they’d be in a similar position to the newly anointed King Charles III in the UK.

Here’s a list of the European monarchs who never were.

Also, fun fact, almost all of these would-be regents are related to the UK’s Royal Family if you go back far enough.

Albania

The last king of Albania was also the second king to some degree. While the medieval Kingdom of Albania did have monarchs, by the 20th century that had been long disestablished.

During the last century, there were two times Albania had a king. The first was just before the First World War after Albania’s independence in 1912 which lasted until 1924.

The second time was when President Zog established himself as king in 1928 which lasted until Italy invaded in 1939.

Today, Zog’s grandson Leka II is the remaining heir to the throne. He has worked as a diplomat and a political advisor to the President.

Austria-Hungary

The dismantling of the Austro-Hungarian Empire in 1918 was the direct result of its loss in the First World War.

After Franz Ferdinand’s assassination in 1914, Karl I became the heir to the throne and assumed it in 1916. His grandson, Karl von Habsburg is alive today and the natural heir to the past-Empire.

Karl has served as an MEP for Austria and has hosted an Austrian TV show called ‘Who is Who’.

AP Photo
Franz Ferdinand and his wife Sonia (left); Karl von Habsburg (right)AP Photo

Bulgaria

Bulgaria held a referendum to abolish its monarchy in 1946 with 95.6 per cent of people voting in favour. At the time, the reigning Tsar Simeon II was forced to leave the country.

Amazingly, Simeon II is still alive making him one of two people on this list who were the reigning monarch themselves. Simeon II was just six years’ old when he took over from his father in 1943. Alongside the Dalai Lama, they are the only living heads of state from the Second World War.

It’s not been a bad career for Simeon II though, who returned to Bulgaria, became a politician and was the country’s Prime Minister between 2001 and 2005.

France

So here’s a bit of a complicated one. There are four different people that lay some claim as the heir to the French throne. That’s largely because the process of getting rid of the royal family in France was one of the messier ones.

The first person with a claim is Louis Alphonse de Bourbon or Louis XX. He’s the direct heir to the throne of Louis XIV who died in 1715.

The problem is Louis XX is related to Louis XIV through his son Philip V who renounced his right to the French throne and became king of Spain. Which makes Louis XX also a potential heir to the Spanish throne. But that’s complicated as his grandfather Infante Jaime renounced his right.

Louis XX is also not the only heir because after the French Revolution in 1830, Charles X was deposed and replaced by Louis Philippe, Duke of Orléans, his cousin. This started the short-lived House Orléans monarchy, whose eldest heir is Jean, Count of Paris, or Jean IV.

Michel Euler/Copyright 2020 The Associated Press. All rights reserved
Prince Charles-Emmanuel de Bourbon-Parme, descendent of Louis XIV, left, and his son, gathered in Paris to commemorate the exact moment when King Louis XVI was executed.Michel Euler/Copyright 2020 The Associated Press. All rights reserved

But that’s not all. House Orléans was then overthrown 18 years later in the French Revolution of 1848. Taking over from the Orléans was Louis-Napoléon Bonaparte, the nephew of Napoléon. Napoléon had been Emperor before the previous two revolutions and he also has some heirs of his own.

Napoléon’s oldest living heir is Charles Napoléon, a French politician. But even he’s not clearly the heir apparent, as his father stipulated in his will that he wanted his grandson to succeed him as head of the Napoléon house. That makes Jean-Christophe Napoléon that actual heir. Blimey. It makes The Crown seem like a picnic.

Georgia

Breathe a sigh of relief. Georgia only has two potential heirs to the throne. Georgia lost its monarchy when it became part of the Russian Empire in 1801.

Nugzar Bagration-Gruzinsky is the living descendent of George XII, Georgia’s last king who died in 1800. David Bagration of Mukhrani on the other hand is a descendent of the Bagrationi family, which has links to an older strain of the Georgian monarchy.

All differences between these two potential heirs to the Georgian throne were put aside when David married Nugzar’s daughter, combining the family lineages.

Germany

So Germany is a bit of a complex one as pre-1918 it had multiple Kingdoms that existed within its empire like Bavaria and Prussia. But to keep things simple, we’ll only look at the pretender to the German Empire.

The final German Emperor was Wilhelm II who reigned until 1918 when a revolution after the First World War turned the region into the parliamentary Weimar Republic.

AP Photo; StagiaireMGIMO
Kaiser Willhelm II (left); Georg Friedrich Prinz (right)AP Photo; StagiaireMGIMO

Wilhelm II’s great-great-grandson is Georg Friedrich Ferdinand. He’s also the fourth great-grandson of Queen Victoria of the United Kingdom. Compared to most of the other pretenders, he’s kept a lower profile and enjoys life in his family’s remaining palaces.

Greece

Greece held a referendum in 1973 to abolish its monarch after a period of unrest, making them the most recent European country to give theirs up.

At the time, the reigning monarch was Constantine II and he’s still alive and kicking. He lived in exile before returning to Greece for the 2004 Olympic Games and now lives back in the country.

Italy

Italy wasn’t a unified country until 1861. From then until 1946, the country was ruled by the House Savoy. Italy’s monarchy was abolished after the Second World War partly as a result of the King’s support of dictator Benito Mussolini.

Nowadays, Vittorio Emanuele is one claimant to the throne as the final king, Umberto II’s son. But, contesting that is his third cousin Aimone, who is the great-great-great-grandson of King Emanuele II, who reigned from 1861 to 1878.

Vittorio has been in exile from Italy for most of his life until returning in 2002. He’s courted a fair bit of controversy, declaring himself king in 1969, being accused of murder in 1978 and an imprisonment in 2006 for corruption.

AP Photo
Umberto II and Princess Marie Jose of Belgium (left); Vittorio Emanuele (right)AP Photo

Lithuania

Lithuania and Poland were united into a single commonwealth in 1569 which ended its individual nation status and monarchy for quite a while.

During the First World War, Wilhelm Karl, Duke of Urach who had at different times looked like he could be in line for the throne in Monaco and Albania, in the end became appointed King of the newly independent Lithuania in June 1918.

It didn’t last long though and he was deposed five months later after Germany’s capitulation in the war. Still, his living heir Inigo is technically in line for that brief throne, though he only visited the country for the first time in 2009 when he was 47.

Montenegro

Montenegro lost its monarchy with the creation of Yugoslavia at the end of the First World War in 1918.

Nicholas is the living heir to the first and last king, Nicholas I of Montenegro. Until Nicholas I, Montenegro royalty was a spiritual role and meant the leaders were also bishops. These Prince-Bishops were called vladikas and were celibate. Nicholas I and his father changed that, and he became the only ever king of the land.

Portugal

The Portuguese overthrew their monarchy in 1910. The final king was Manuel II who had no children. This meant the official line to the throne came from the family tree of King Miguel I, whose living relative Duarte Pio is a politician who advocates for, among many things, monarchies.

AP Photo
Ex-king Manuel II of Portugal with wife Princess Augusta Victoria of Hohenzollern and Princess Henriette of Belgium (left); Duarte Pio (right)AP Photo

Romania

King Michael I of Romania became the last king when the country formed a communist government in 1947.

Michael I’s eldest daughter is Margareta, who is one claimant to the throne. Her father even designated this, despite it not being an act recognised by the Romanian government.

However, Paul Philippe claims he’s the rightful heir. He claims Michael I shouldn’t have been king as his father - King Carol II - had a child before him with a previous woman. That child is Paul Phillippe’s dad. Even though he recognises the republic, Paul Philippe got so wound up about this he sued the country to recognise his dad as the son of Carol II.

Complicating things further, due to the rules of succession in 1937 under Carol II, technically Karl Friedrich is the heir to the throne. Though he claims to have no interest in the title.

Russia

One of the biggies. The Romanov Tsars of Russia met an unhappy end. The February Revolution of 1917 saw the family abdicate power before they were executed, likely under orders by Lenin, in 1918.

So many member of the Romanov family were executed as part of the Russian revolution, there was confusion for quite a while as to who was the actual technical successor. Most notable was Anna Anderson, who claimed to be Anastasia, the last Tsar Nicholas II’s daughter.

AP Photo
Tsar Nicholas II (left); Maria Vladimirovna Romanov (right)AP Photo

Instead, it’s generally agreed that Maria Vladimirovna or Karl Emichof, the great-great-granddaughter and great-great-grandson respectively, of Emperor Alexander II are the likely heirs. Alternatively, the son of Nicholas II’s grand-nephew Alexis Andreievich may also have a claim. All three pretenders to the throne have spent a fair share of time fighting over whether they want to be recognised or not.

Serbia and Yugoslavia

Finally, these two can go together as they have the same pretender to their thrones. When Serbia became part of Yugoslavia in 1918, King Peter I of Serbia became King Peter I of Yugoslavia as King of the Serbs, Croats and Slovenes.

In 1945, King Peter II was deposed as King of Yugoslavia and the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia was created. His son, Alexander, grew up in the UK and, you guessed it, believes in the restoration of the monarchy.