The French Royal Family: Titles and Customs

The Royal Lineage

See the
genealogy of the French Royal family.

The royal lineage of France was descended from Hughes, nicknamed Capet, elected king in 987. From his nickname comes the historians' name for the lineage, Capetians, although this was never considered the family name of the kings of France. (Only in 1792, when Louis XVI was deposed, was he given the name of Louis Capet, in part by derision). It was the Nation's right to decide of another reigning family should this lineage become extinct.

The Direct Capetians, all descendants in direct male line from Hughes, ruled from father to son until 1328. Philippe IV le Bel (ruled 1285-1314) had three sons who reigned in turn: Louis X le Hutin (1314-16), Philippe V le Long (1316-24), Charles IV le Bel (1324-28). The wives of all three sons were implicated, to varying degrees, in an adultery scandal in the early 1300s (the scandal of the tower of Nesles), which cast strong doubts over the legitimacy of their offspring, in particular, Jeanne, only daughter of Louis. Louis repudiated his wife and married Clemence of Hungary; he died before his first son was born, Jean I who lived 5 days (1316). Thus, the question of succession of a female to the throne was posed for the first time under the Capetians. The expected regent, Philippe comte de Poitou, argued the possible illegitimacy of his niece to have her passed over for succession, and his decision was endorsed by the Parliaments and Councils. Likewise, he died without sons and his daughter was passed over for Charles IV who died without children.

In 1328, all male children of Philippe IV had died without male issue, and the female issue was compromised. Philippe IV's daughter Isabelle had married Edward II of England. Philippe's brother Charles de Valois had died in 1326, and his eldest son Philippe, comte de Valois, was chosen as king by the Estates General little enclined to hand the crown to the English king. This was the start of the house of Valois.

The kingdom of Navarre, which Louis X had inherited from his mother Jeanne, also passed to Philippe V and Charles IV. But, in 1328, the daughter of Louis X, Jeanne, was a grown woman and married to Philippe d'Évreux, second prince of the blood after the count of Valois and a powerful man. Moreover, the Navarrese contested the succession acts of 1316 and 1322, and recognized Jeanne as their queen. Finally, since Navarre had been inherited by women, it was hard for the French dynasty to claim that it could not pass through women. In the end, Jeanne was acknowledged as queen of Navarre, and the kingdoms separated, only to be reunited again in 1589. At the time, the notion of Salic Law was never invoked, as that legal fiction had not yet been invented. It is first mentioned in the early 15th century as an ex-post rationalization for what happened in the 1310s and 1320s, which over time became part of the fundamental constitution of the kingdom.

The Valois ruled from 1328 to 1589, with the first line extinct in 1498 succeeded by the house of Valois-Orléans (Louis XII, grandson of Louis, duc d'Orléans, son of Charles V) and on Louis XII's death in 1515 by the house of Valois-Orléans-Angoulême (François I, son of Charles, comte d'Angoulême, son of Louis I d'Orléans). Henri II's three sons reigned in turn and died without any legitimate issue.

Upon the death of Henri III, murdered in 1589, the closest relative in male line was Henri de Bourbon, king of Navarre, head of the house of Bourbon and leader of the Protestant party in the Wars of Religion which had been tearing France apart for 30 years. Henri IV managed to conquer his own kingdom by military force and by converting to Catholicism. He founded the house of Bourbon who reigned as kings of France and Navarre.

His direct descendant Louis XVI was renamed "king of the French" (Roi des Français) in 1791, deposed in 1792 and executed in 1793. Louis XVI's only surviving son Louis XVII never reigned, but died in prison in 1795 (he is counted in the succession of kings). Louis XVI's brother Louis XVIII regained the throne (1814-15, 1815-24) and was succeeded by his brother Charles X, who abdicated in 1830.

Although Charles X had an heir, his grandson Henri, duc de Bordeaux (1820-83), the outcome of the Revolution of 1830 was to remove the senior branch of the Bourbons and put instead Louis-Philippe I on the throne as "king of the French". The new king was the head of the house of Bourbon-Orléans, descended from Philippe, duc d'Orléans, son of Louis XIII. He abdicated in 1848, the last king to reign in France.

The Bourbon family is described in greater detail elsewhere.

See a portrait gallery of French royalty.

The King: Titles

Francorum Rex

The styles of the kings of France was usually quite simple. In Latin: N Dei Gratia Francorum Rex, (in Merovingian times often rex Francorum, the inverted order was constant from the Carolingians) in French N., par la grâce de Dieu roi de France. Charles II the Bald styled himself only rex, but after the conquest of Lorraine in 911 by Charles the Simple the title Francorum rex was adopted again.

The full style, used in legal documents such as private contracts and international treaties, was très haut, très puissant et très excellent Prince, N., par la grâce de Dieu roi de France. From 1314 to 1316 and after 1589, et de Navarre (et Navarrae in Latin) was added.

Seal of Charles II the Bald (847). (Source: Base de données Archim.)

The Latin form Francorum Rex remained in use for a long time, although as early as the 13th century the standard French translation was "roi de France". As French replaced Latin in official documents in the 16th century (ordonnance of Villers-Cotterêt, 1539), the use of the Latin form became much rarer, limited to inscriptions on coins and monuments. At some point, "roi de France" was translated back into Latin as "Franciae rex" but it is not clear when (there are examples in royal letters as far back as 1171; see Nouveau traité de diplomatique, 1762; vol. 5, p. 803).

The royal coinage consistently used the form "Francorum Rex" until the early 17th century. This silver coin of Henri IV (1606) clearly shows "FRANCO[rum]" in the legend (the Nouveau Traité, vol. 6, p. 101 confirms that "on mettoit encore sur les monnoies Rex Francorum sous Henri IV et on n'y voit point auparavant Rex Franciae"). The silver and gold coinage of his successors, on which the legends were identical, abbreviate the words such that one cannot tell if it corresponds to "Franciae" or "Francorum". Copper tokens continued to use "Francorum et Navarrae Rex" under Louis XIII (e.g., Feuardent 12174 dated 1632). However, beginning in 1719 and until 1791, copper coinage, which had hitherto born French legends since its introduction in 1577, displayed the form "Franciae" (see a sol of 1720 and a sol of 1791). This is to my knowledge the only use of the form on French royal coinage.

The papal chancery consistently addressed papal bulls and letters to the French king to "carissimo in Christo filio nostro N Francorum regi christianissimo"; examples up to 1740 can be found in the Magnum Bullarium Romanum, Turin ed.; examples from Clement XIV can be found in his Epistolae et Brevia (ed. Augustin Theiner, Paris 1852), up to 1 Jun 1774 (addressed to the newly acceded king as Ludovicus Augustus, interestingly). Curiously, one letter to a French princess is addressed to Aloysiae Mariae Regiae Galliarum principissae.

International treaties to which France is a party tend to be written in French after 1700. A few examples of treaties in Latin in the Consolidated Treaty Series show some variation in the styles (always in the preambles of the treaties: the body always uses the form rex Christianissimus):

  • "Galliarum et Navarrae Rex" treaty of Munster, 14 Oct 1648 (1 CTS 271), also treaty with Austria 19 Jan 1668 (10 CTS 387).
  • "Rex Gallorum et Navarrae" treaty with England, 3 Nov 1655 (4 CTS 1)
  • "Franciae et Navarrae Rex Christianissimus" treaty with Sweden 22 Sep 1661 (6 CTS 447), treaty of Aix-la-Chapelle with Spain 2 May 1668 (11 CTS 11), Treaty of Nijmeguen with Spain 17 Sep 1678 (14 CTS 443), treaty of Vienna with the Empire 18 Nov 1738 (35 CTS 183), etc.
  • "Rex Christianissimus" passim.

First seal of Philip IV of France (1286). (Source: Base de données Archim.)
More pictures of royal seals can be found at Gallica and elsewhere:

By the Grace of God

The formula Dei Gratia (or, sometimes in Carolingian times, Misericordia Dei) appears on seals of Charles II (9th c.) and never disappeared. Its significance is deep: in the feudal system, it meant that the individual held his title from God only, and not from any feudal overlord. No vassal of the king of France would have called himself "by the grace of God duke of... count of".

One exception is the duke of Burgundy, who took the style after inheriting the duchy of Brabant. He received permission to do so from the king of France by letters patent of 28 Jan 1449, after having reaffirmed his status as vassal of France.

The letter of the duke of Burgundy in which he does so is worth citing in full (from Frédéric Léonard: Recueil des Traites de Paix; Paris, 1693; vol. 1, p. 44):
Philippe par la grace de Dieu Duc de Bourgogne, de Lothier, de Brabant, & de Limbourg, Comte de Flandre, d'Artois, de Bourgogne, Palatin de Hainaut, de Hollande, de Zelande, & de Namur; Marquis du Saint-Empire, Seigneur de Frise, de Salins, & de Malines : A tous ceux qui ces presentes Lettres verront, Salut. Comme aprés la succession à nous échuë des Duchez & Seigneuries de Lothier, Brabant, & Limbourg, par le trépas de feu nôtre tres-cher & tres-aimé cousin le Duc Philippe de Brabant, dernier trépassé, dont Dieu ait l'ame, nous aions en toutes nos Lettres Patentes, au commencement de notre titre, & aprés nôtre propre nom, fait mettre & écrire ces mots, Par la grace de Dieu, savoir faisons que nous connoissons & confessons par ces presentes, que par ce nous n'avons entendu ne entendons vouloir avoir ou pretendre és Païs & Seigneuries que avons & tenons au Roiaume de France, aucun plus grand droit que y avions auparavant lesdits Duchez et Seigneuries à nous échuës, & que nos predecesseurs y avoient & pouvoient avoir & pretendre, & connoissons ce nonobstant Monseigneur le Roi estre nôtre souverain Seigneur, à cause des Terres & Seigneuries, que avons & tenons en son Roiaume, sauf & reservé à nous nôtre exemption à nôtre vie, selon le contenu ou Traité de la Paix faite entre mondit Seigneur le Roi, & nous.
En temoin de ce nous avons fait mettre nôtre scel à ces presentes. Donné en nôtre Châtel de Hesdin Le vint-sixieme jour de novembre l'an de grace mil quatre-cens quarante-huit.

Roi des Français

The French Revolution brought a major change in the title of the king: from Par la grâce de Dieu, Roi de France et de Navarre, it became Par la grâce de Dieu et par la loi constitutionnelle de l'Etat, Roi des Français: by the grace of God and by the constitutional law of the State, king of the French (decree of October 12, 1789; see the Constitution of 1791, Title III, Ch. IV, sect. 1, art. 3). This was the subject of some entertaining debate on October 8 and 12, 1789 (see Archives Parlementaires, 1. ser., vol. 9, p. 384 and 408). The coinage was not altered until 1792.

Louis XVI was deposed on August 10, 1792 and the monarchy abolished on September 22. The title ceased to be used (although Napoleon took the title of "Emperor of the French" in 1804). In 1814, the French Senate, after voting to remove Napoleon of the throne, drafted a constitution by which the French people "freely called" Louis-Stanislas-Xavier de France to the French throne with the style of "Roi des Français" (art. 1: Le gouvernement français est monarchique et héréditaire de mâle en mâle, par ordre de primogéniture. Art. 2: Le peuple français appelle librement au trône de France Louis-Stanislas-Xavier de France, frère du dernier Roi, et après lui, les autres membres de la maison de Bourbon, dans l'ordre ancien. [...] Louis-Stanislas-Xavier sera proclamé Roi des Français aussitôt qu'il aura juré ...). Louis XVIII rejected the draft on 2 May 1814, by the declaration of Saint-Ouen in which he resumed the traditional style "Louis, par la grâce de Dieu roi de France et de Navarre." Instead, he appointed a commission to write another draft (nevertheless largely inspired from the Senate's project). This document was named a "Charter" (Charte) and it was "conceded" on 4 June 1814 (see the preamble of the Charter).

On August 9, 1830, the duc d'Orléans ascended the throne with the style of "Louis-Philippe Ier, roi des Français", thus renewing with the constitutional monarchy of 1791-92.

What would the Latin form of that title be? I have not found an official document to document it, but the papal chancery simply translated it as "Francorum Rex". A letter of Pius VIII to Louis-Philippe dated 27 Sep. 1830 is addressed to "Carissimo in Christo Filio Nostro Ludovico Philippo Francorum Regi Christianissimo", and the letter to the archbishop of Paris on the subject of the oath to the new regime translates said oath as "ego juro fidelitatem Regi Francorum, obedentiam Chartae Constitutionali,et legibus regni."

Regnal Numbering

Numbering first appears on the royal seal of Charles VIII in 1495: Karolus Dei Gratia Francorum Rex Octavus and was used by every successor. François I was the first to be styled "the first". For example, the seal with which he sealed a peace treaty with England in 1527 reads: "Franciscus Primus Dei Gratia Francorum Rex Christianissimus" ( see a picture in the UK National Archives). Some of the testons (silver coins) minted under his reign bear the inscription "Franciscus I D. G. Francorum Rex" (see for example this silver testoon minted in Rouen between 1521 and 1540, on the CGB web site). In the vernacular, one can cite the treaty of Noyon with Charles V: le roy très chrestien François premier de ce nom (Ordonnances de François Ier, vol. 1, p. 412). Numbering itself can be found much earlier among feudal lords, for example on a seal of Raymond III, count of Toulouse (S[igillum]. Raimundi III Comitis) or on a seal of Charles II, king of Sicily, in 1292 (K[arolus]. S[e]c[un]d[u]s D[ei]. Gra[tia]. Rex. I[e]r[usa]l[e]m. Sicil[iae].).

Most-Christian King

The special relationship between France and the Church has long been emphasized, and France is traditionally called "the eldest daughter of the Church". The usage of calling the king of France Most-Christian King (Rex christianissimus, Roi Très-chrétien), which was not an exclusive of French kings (there is an example of pope John VIII adressing the king of Leon with that title), became common under Charles VI. By Charles VII, it is seen as traditionally attached to the throne of France; the council of Basel in 1439 thus adresses Charles VII, and a letter of Pius II to the same speaks of the title as his hereditary right. (See the essay by Père Griffet, Collections des meilleures dissertations, notices et traités particuliers relatifs à l'histoire de France, 4e partie). Finally, on December 1st, 1469, pope Paul II verbally informed the ambassadors of Louis XI that the Holy See would henceforth always use this style when addressing or citing the king of France (see Henri Forgeot: Jean Balue, cardinal d'Angers, Paris, 1895, p. 87 and references given there).

The style became standard in diplomatic documents, for example, in the Treaty of Munster with the Holy Roman Empire that concluded the Thrity Years War in 1648, the style is Serenissimus ac Potentissimus Princeps ac Dominus, Dominus Ludovicus XIV. Galliarum & Navarrae Rex Christianissimus. It was occasionally used domestically (e.g., the official medals of Louis XIV and his successors).

Pope Julius II thought of transferring the title to the king of England, and a papal brief was drafted to this effect, but never issued. A copy was found in the Vatican archives and published by Alessandro Ferrajoli in the Archivio della Reale Società di Storia patria (1896) 19:425 (cited in Intermédiaire des chercheurs et curieux (1901), 683).

Local Variations in the Royal Style

In a few cases, where the lands in the king's possession had not been formally united to the French crown, the style of the king would be altered locally. These styles were only used within those territories, or in documents such as letter patents that were issued only for those territories. Elsewhere, the style remained "king of France". Here are a few examples:

  • Dauphiné: ceded by the last Dauphin de Viennois in 1349 to the French king on condition that it be held by his eldest son, the Dauphiné was held by the king when not held by a Dauphin. The last Dauphin to personally rule was the future Louis XI until 1461. In documents concerning that province, the style was par la grâce de Dieu roi de France, dauphin de Viennois, comte de Valentinois et de Diois.
  • Provence: united to the crown in 1481, after it was ceded by Marguerite d'Anjou, daughter of René d'Anjou, on 19 Oct 1480; but the edict of union of 1486 stipulated that the territories would "in no way be subordinated to the crown or realm of France", and consequently a particular style was maintained in that province, namely: par la grâce de Dieu roi de France, comte de Provence, Forcalquier et terres adjacentes.
  • Louis XII styled himself "Ludovicus Dei Gratia Francorum Neapolis et Hierusalem Rex Dux Mediolani" (Louis by the Grace of God king of France, Naples, and Jerusalem, duke of Milan) on a Golden Bull of 1500-03. Charles VIII had already taken the title of king of Naples and Jerusalem in 1494. Louis XII abandoned the style by the treaty of Blois of 22 Oct 1505.
  • From 1515 François Ier styled himself roi de France, duc de Milan, comte d'Asti, seigneur de Gênes.
  • In January 1641, Catalonia decided to choose the king of France as count of Barcelona, Roussillon and Cerdanya, and that title was used in official documents: Dei gratia Galliarum et Navarrae Rex, comes Barcinonae, Rossilionis et Ceritaniae. (Ultimately Barcelona was regained by Spain in 1652, but France received Roussillon and Cerdagne, by the treaty of Pyrenees of 1659.)

  • In 1658, the Sovereign Council of Alsace had requested the king to add the title of "landgrave of Upper and Lower Alsace" to his titles, but this was never done.

See Georges Tessier: Diplomatique royale française. Paris: 1962, Picard.

Consecration of the King (Sacre du Roi)

The consecration was an important ceremony at the beginning of a reign, although it was not a necessary one: after the 13th c., when kings ceased to be consecrated during the lifetime of their predecessors (Philip II was the last, in 1179), the king became king at the moment of the death of his predecessor.

In France, the coronation (placing a crown on the king's head) was not the important part of the ceremony; indeed, it was not called a coronation, but rather consecration (sacre). The main event of the ceremony was the anointment of the king with the sacred oil, by which the king was consecrated.

The venue of the consecration

The traditional venue of the consecration was Reims, but it was not always so. The privilege of consecrating kings rested with the archbishop of Reims, who could perform it in any church in his ecclesiastical province. But this privilege took some time to establish. It was founded on the tradition of Clovis's conversion and baptism by Remigius (Rémi), bishop of Reims, and the legend of a dove bringing a miraculous ampoula containing sacred oil with which kings of France were henceforth anointed. This legend was disseminated under Hincmar, archbishop of Reims from 840 to 882 and close adviser of king Charles II the Bald of France (and later emperor). The following table lists the dates (usually but not always a Sunday), the venues, and the officiants of the consecration of French kings from Louis I to Charles X (mostly based on P. Anselme):

Louis I
(d. 840)
816ReimsStephen, pope
Charles II
(d. 6 Oct 877)
6 Jun 848Orléans
Wenilon, archbishop of Sens
(coronation only)
as king of Lotharingia 9 Sep 869Metz
(church of St. Stephen)
Hincmar, archbishop of Reims
Louis II8 Dec 877Compiègne
(chapel of the palace)
Hincmar, archbishop of Reims
Louis III
(d. 4 Aug 882)
(d. 6 Dec 884)
Sep 879Ferrières-en-Gâtinais
Ansegise, archbishop of Sens
Eudes I
(d. 3 Jan 898)
29 Feb 888CompiègneGautier I, archbishop of Sens
Charles III
(d. 7 Oct 929)
28 Jan 893Reims
(abbey of Saint-Remi)
Foulques, archbishop of Reims
Robert I
(d. 14 Jun 923)
30 Jun 922Reims
(abbey of Saint-Remi)
Gautier I, archbishop of Sens
(d. 15 Jan 936)
13 Jul 923Soissons
(abbey of Saint-Medard)
Gautier I, archbishop of Sens
Louis IV
(d. 10 Sep 954)
19 Jun 936LaonArtaud, archbishop of Reims
(d. 2 Mar 986)
12 Nov 954Reims
(abbey of Saint-Remi)
Artaud, archbishop of Reims
Louis V
(d. 21 May 987)
8 Jun 979CompiègneAdalberon, archbishop of Reims
(d. 24 Oct 996)
1 Jun or 3 Jul 987NoyonAdalberon, archbishop of Reims
Robert II
(d. 20 Jul 1031)
25 Dec 987Orléans
Adalberon, archbishop of Reims
(d. 17 Sep 1026)
19 Jun 1017Compiègne
(church of St. Corneille)
Arnoul, archbishop of Reims
Henri I
(d. 4 Aug 1060)
May 1027Reims
Ebles, archbishop of Reims
Philippe I
(d. 29 Jul 1108)
23 May 1059
Gervais de Bellesme, archbishop of Reims
Louis VI
(d. 1 Aug 1137)
2 Aug 1108Orléans
(cathedral Ste. Croix)
Daimbert, archbishop of Sens
(d. 13 Oct 1131)
14 Apr 1129
ReimsRenaud/Arnaud, archbishop of Reims
Louis VII
(d. 18 Sep 1180)
25 Oct 1131Reims
Innocent II, pope
Philippe II
(d. 14 Jul 1223)
1 Nov 1179
All Saints
Guillaume de Champagne, archbishop of Reims
Louis VIII
(d. 8 Nov 1226)
6 Aug 1223ReimsGuillaume de Joinville, archbishop of Reims
Louis IX
(d. 25 Aug 1270)
29 Nov 1226ReimsJacques de Bazoches, bishop of Soissons (see of Reims vacant)
Philippe III
(d. 5 Oct 1285)
30 Aug 1271ReimsMilon de Bazoches, bishop of Soissons (see of Reims vacant)
Philippe IV
(d. 29 Nov 1314)
6 Jan 1286ReimsPierre Barbet, archbishop of Reims
Louis X
(d. 5 Jun 1316)
24 Aug 1315ReimsRobert de Courtenay, archbishop of Reims
Jean I
(d. 19 Nov 1316)
Philippe V
(d. 3 Jan 1322)
6 Jan 1317ReimsRobert de Courtenay, archbishop of Reims
Charles IV
(d. 1 Feb 1328)
21 Feb 1322ReimsRobert de Courtenay, archbishop of Reims
Philippe VI
(d. 22 Aug 1350)
29 May 1328ReimsGuillaume de Trie, archbishop of Reims
Jean II
(d. 8 Apr 1364)
26 Sep 1350ReimsJean de Vienne, archbishop of Reims
Charles V
(d. 16 Sep 1380)
19 May 1364ReimsJean de Craon, archbishop of Reims
Charles VI
(d. 21 Oct 1422)
4 Nov 1380ReimsRichard Picque, archbishop of Reims
Charles VII
(d. 22 Jul 1461)
17 Jul 1429ReimsRenaud de Chartres, archbishop of Reims
Louis XI
(d. 30 Aug 1483)
15 Aug 1461ReimsJean Jouvenel des Ursins, archbishop of Reims
Charles VIII
(d. 7 Apr 1498)
30 May 1484ReimsPierre de Laval, archbishop of Reims
Louis XII
(d. 1 Jan 1515)
27 May 1498ReimsGuillaume Briçonnet, archbishop of Reims
François I
(d. 31 Mar 1547)
25 Jan 1515ReimsRobert de Lenoncourt, archbishop of Reims
Henri II
(d. 10 Jul 1559)
26 Jul 1547ReimsCharles de Lorraine, archbishop of Reims
François II
(d. 5 Dec 1560)
17 Sep 1559ReimsCharles de Lorraine, archbishop of Reims
Charles IX
(d. 30 May 1574)
15 May 1561
ReimsCharles de Lorraine, archbishop of Reims
Henri III
(d. 2 Aug 1589)
13 Feb 1575ReimsLouis de Lorraine, archbishop of Metz (*)
(*) with consent of the bishop of Soissons; the see of Reims was vacant
Henri IV
(d. 14 May 1610)
27 Feb 1594ChartresNicolas de Thou, archbishop of Chartres
Louis XIII
(d. 14 May 1643)
17 Oct 1610ReimsFrançois de Joyeuse, archbishop of Rouen (see of Reims vacant)
Louis XIV
(d. 1 Sep 1715)
7 Jun 1654ReimsSimon Le Gras, bishop of Soissons (see of Reims vacant)
Louis XV
(d. 10 May 1774)
25 Oct 1722ReimsArmand-Jules de Rohan-Guéméné, archbishop of Reims
Louis XVI
(d. 21 Jan 1793)
11 Jun 1775ReimsCharles-Antoine de La Roche-Aymon, archbishop of Reims
Charles X
(d. 6 Nov 1836)
29 May 1825ReimsJean-Baptiste de Latil, archbishop of Reims
See also

The privilege was disputed between the archbishop of Sens and that of Reims for a period of time. Formal recognition began with the bull "apostolici culminis" of 31 Dec 999 (cited in Regeste Pontificum Romanorum 3908, full text in Migne, Patrologie Latine, vol. 139 col. 273). Adressed to the bishop of Reims, the bull states in part "... benedictionem regum Francorum et tibi subjectorum episcoporum obtineas" (note that Sylvester II was archbishop of Reims from 991 to 995). At the coronation of Philippe I in 1059, in the presence of papal legates, the archbishop of Reims reaffirmed this privilege. But Philippe's relation with the archbishop turned sour and he had his son and successor Louis VI consecrated by the archbishop of Sens in 1108.

The privilege was made more explicit by a bull of Urban II, "potestatem ligandi" of 25 Dec 1089 (Migne vol. 151. col. 309), conferring various privileges on the archbishop of Reims:
Primam praeterea praecipuamque tibi tuisque successoribus potestatem contradimus Francorum reges consecrandi: ut sicut B. Remigius ad fidem Clodoveo converso primum illi regno regem christianum instituisse cognoscitur; ita tu quoque tuique successores, qui ejusdem S. Remigii vice in Remensi ecclesia Domino disponente fungimini, ungendi regis et ordinandi sive reginae prima potestate fungamini. Statuimus etiam praesentis nostrae paginae auctoritate firmantes, ut sicut primum diadematis insigne per vestrae manus impositionem Francorum reges suscipiunt, ita quoque in solennibus processionibus quibus eosdem reges fuerit coronari, te praesente vel tuorum catholicorum quomodolibet successorum a nullo alio archiepiscopo vel episcopo coronetur. First and foremost we confer upon you and your successors the power to consecrate the kings of France; so that, just as St. Remi, having converted Clovis to the faith, is known to have instituted the first christian king in this kingdom, so you and your successors, who perform in the place of St. Remi in the church of Reims by God's will, may perform the function of anointing and ordaining the king or the queen. We have also decided, and establish by the present, that just as the kings of France first receive the crowned insignia from your hands, likewise in solemn processions in which the same kings are crowned, they shall be crowned by no other archbishop or bishop in your presence or that of your successors.
Note that this concerns the consecration of queens as well as kings, and that the consecration rather than the coronation is the important ceremony. Incidentally, the same bull confers on the archbishop of Reims the title of "primate of the second province of Belgium" (there were a number of disputes among French archbishops over the title of primate).

Nevertheless Hugues de Toucy, archbishop of Sens, crowned Constance, wife of King Louis VII at Orléans in 1152. In response, a final confirmation of the privilege of Reims came in the bull "cum sis per Dei gratiam" of Alexander III, 13 Apr 1179 (Migne, vol. 200, col. 1231):
...auctoritate apostolica statuimus, ut nemini nisi Remensi archiepiscopo liceat regem Francorum inungere, vel ei primam coronam imponere, sicut antiqua consuetudine fuerat obtentum. We have decided by apostolic authority, that none other than the archbishop of Reims is permitted to anoint the king of France, or to crown him, as has been established by ancient custom.

The Ceremonial

Royal Princes


In France, the Salic Law prevailed, excluding females from the throne. Conversely, all male descendants of a king, no matter how distant, were eligible to succeed.

As a consequence, at least by the late 16th century, all male agnates of the French king had a special status, that of prince du sang or "prince of the (royal) blood". Among these, however, those closest to the monarch held even higher rank. We start from those closest to the king and move away.

Fils, Fille de France

The enfants de France (fils, fille de France) were sons and daughters of the sovereign, and styled in medieval seals filius/filia regis: their high rank was similar to that of infante in Spain. They were called N. de France, and they had no other family name. As lifespans increased, it seems that the concept of "fils de France" was extended to the children of the eldest son of the sovereign, and even to the children of the eldest grandson of the sovereign: in other words, to children of the current, past or future king. Finally, according to Guyot (Traité des Droits, vol. 2, p. 307; see infra) in 1773 it was decided that the children of the comte d'Artois, younger son of the Dauphin son of Louis XV, would have the rank of Enfants de France, so that his eldest son the duc d'Angoulême would not be first prince of the blood.

At the birth of the duc d'Angoulême, his father was disappointed that the infant was not presented with a blue ribbon of the order of the Saint-Esprit, and the king, on the advice of his Council, replied that he was not Premier Prince du Sang and hence not born a knight ("On ne lui a point remis le cordon bleu sur-le-champ, ce qui a fort affecté M. le comte d'Artois. Il s'en est plaint au Roi, qui, ayant demandé l'avis de son Conseil, lui a répondu que le Duc d'Angoulême n'étant pas Premier Prince du sang, il n'étoit pas chevalier-né des Ordres"; Correspondance secrète, vol. 2, p. 107 1775).

There was nonetheless a difference between the comte d'Artois, born fils de France under the traditional definition, and his eldest son the duc d'Angoulême: the former's name was Charles Philippe de France, the latter's name was Louis Antoine d'Artois (see the Almanach Royal of 1789; see also a proclamation of 1823 cited by Châteaubriand in his book on the Congress of Verona: "Nous, Louis-Antoine d'Artois, fils de France, commandant en chef l'armée des Pyrénées").

The case of the duc d'Angoulême illustrates another point, which is that one need not be born fils de France. In 1824, his father became king as Charles X and he became Dauphin. Consequently, in the Almanach Royal of 1830, he is listed as "Louis-Antoine de France (Dauphin)". Becoming the son of a king changed his last name to "France" (more precisely, to having no last name). Note, however, that the family name remained "d'Artois" (see the example of the duc de Bordeaux below).

A son became fils de France upon accession of his father, but a sibling did not become fils or fille de France upon accession of a brother. This is shown by the fact that Henri IV gave his only sister the rank of fille de France by a declaration of February 1599.

Petit-Fils, Petite-Fille de France

In the 1630s, a lower rank was created, namely petit-fils, petite-fille de France, for the children of the younger sons of a sovereign. This was designed for Anne-Marie-Louise d'Orléans, duchess of Montpensier, daughter of Gaston d'Orléans, at a time when the king Louis XIII had no children and his brother Gaston (heir presumptive) had only one daughter. The petits-enfants de France ranked after the enfants de France but before all other princes of the blood.

Collectively, the enfants de France and petits-enfants de France formed the Royal family.

There is some variance in opinion on the definition of "fils de France". Guyot, in his Traité des droits (Paris, 1787; vol. 2, p. 307), says:

"On appelle Fils de France, les enfants & petits-enfans mâles des Rois.
Ce titre appartient aussi à leurs arrières-petits-enfans, lorsque le Roi régnant n'est lui-même que petit-fils de Roi, & que par là ils ont l'avantage d'être neveux du prince qui occupe actuellement le trône.
Notre définition ne quadre point avec celle de l'auteur du Cérémonial diplomatique des cours de l'Europe: "je n'appelle Fils de France, dit-il, que les prince qui sont fils de Roi. Ils n'y a de Fils de France que ceux dont les pères ont régné ou règnent, parce que le prince qui monte sur le trône perdant son surnom, ne peut donner que celui qu'il acquier à ceux qui sont nés de lui. Or il n'acquiert que celui de France, ainsi il ne peut donner que le nom de France à ses enfans: mais comme les Fils de France ont des apanages, les princes qui sont issus de ces Fils de Fance, qui ne viennent point à régner, portent le nom de l'apanage de leur père, & font dans la suite une branche de la maison royale."
Mais en parlant ainsi, cet auteur a plus consulté son imagination que les faits. Sans remonter à des temps bien reculés, il avoit devant les yeux l'exemple du dernier régent, qui quoique petit-fils de Louis XIV, a toujours porté le titre de Fils de France.
Aujourd'hui Monsieur, frère du Roi & monseigneur comte d'Artois portent également ce titre; ils le portoient même du vivant de Louis XV leur ayeul. C'est ce que prouvent notamment les lettres-patentes de Monsieur, du 26 juin 1773, confirmées par un édit du mois de juillet suivant, l'édit du mois de janvier 1774, les lettres-patentes du premier décembre 1776, celles des 18 février & 18 mars 1779, & celles du 4 février 1783.
Il y a plus. M. le duc d'Angoulême, quoiqu'arrière-petit-fils de Roi, porte le titre d'Enfant de France.
Mais s'il a un jour des enfans, on appellera son fils aîné premier Prince du Sang.
C'est ce qui a été décidé par le Roi à la naissance de ce prince."

The way I make sense of Guyot's text, however, is that he conflates the ranks of "fils de France" and "petit-fils de France" (the latter is not mentioned in his book).

Princes du Sang

In France, aside from a few exceptions, prince was not a title, but a rank that denoted dynasts, i.e., individuals with an eventual succession right to the throne. The word, and its connotation of sovereignty, was felt to be their preserve. Collectively known as the Princes du Sang (less often princes du sang de France, princes des lys) they were, in theory, all descendents in legitimate male line of a French sovereign outside of the royal family itself. The term dates from the 14th century. The princes of the blood all had a seat at the Conseil du Roi, or Royal Council, and at the Paris Parlement.

In the 17th and 18th centuries it became customary to restrict the term of prince du sang to those dynasts who were not members of the Royal family, i.e. children or grandchildren in male line of the sovereign, since those became known as the enfants and petits-enfants de France.

Kings were somewhat selective in their choice of who was treated as prince of the blood. In the late 15th century, for example, the Bourbons-Carency, the most distant branch of the Bourbon family (extinct 1530), were never invited to take seat in the Conseil du Roi. In the 17th and 18th c., the princes of the blood were only members of the Bourbon family (descended from a son of Louis IX), in spite of the existence of the Courtenay, descended from Louis VI, and the only remaining non-Bourbon line of Capetians. The Courtenay were denied the title of "seigneurs de sang royal" by the Paris Court of Accounts, and never acknowledged as princes of the blood by any king, in spite of their repeated requests to Henri IV, Louis XIII, and Louis XIV. The latter implicitly denied that they had any rights to the throne when he signed with the duc de Lorraine the treaty of Montmartre (6 Feb 1662; 7 CTS 65) in which it was stipulated that the French throne would pass to the house of Lorraine upon extinction of the "August House of Bourbon." The Courtenay vainly protested and asked that the phrase be replaced with "the royal house issued in legitimate male line from the kings of France" (see the printed protest dated 11 Feb 1662 in BN, mss Fr 3886, fol. 17). The Parlement of Paris refused to register the treaty but was forced to do so in a lit de justice on February 27, 1662, but the treaty was renounced by the duke of Lorraine soon after, and replaced by the treaty of Metz of 31 Aug 1663. In 1715, at the accession of Louis XV, the last remaining males (Louis-Charles, his son Charles-Roger and his brother Roger) once again asked the king for the rank of princes of the blood, without any success (see below the text of their plea). Louis-Charles died in 1723, Charles Roger committed suicide in 1730, and Roger, abbé de Courtenay, the last of his name, died on 5 May 1733. His sister Hélène (7 Apr 1689-20 Jun 1768), married to the marquis de Bauffremont, appealed to the king (22 Feb 1737) after the Parlement de Paris struck out the phrase "princesse du sang royal de France" from court documents filed with the Parlement de Besançon (see the text here, as well as excerpts from Saint-Simon's Memoirs). Since 1733, all Capetians are descended from Robert, son of Louis IX and founder of the house of Bourbon.

Protest of the princes of Courtenay, addressed on Oct 1, 1715 to Louis XV (Gazette d'Amsterdam, 1715, n. 89, p. 5).

Les princes de la Maison de Courtenay ayant l'honneur de décendre par Mäles légitimes de Pierre de France, seigneur de Courtenay, fils puisné du Roi Louis VI. du nom, dit le Gros, doivent sous la protection de Vôtre Majesté, et par un effet de sa justice jouir de tous les Droits attachez à leur naissance; sur cette confiance ils renouvellent à V. M. les très-humbles remontrances et instances qu'eux et leurs Peres ont faites aux Rois vos Prédecesseurs pour obtenir le rang qui leur apartenoit; ils osent pareillement, Sire, renouveller les Protestations qu'ils ont faites en differentes occasions pour être conservez dans tous les Droits de Princes de la Maison et du Sang de France. Ils craindroient avec raison que V. M. ne les en jugeât indignes, si dans les commencemens d'un Regne si rempli de justice que celui de V. M. ils ne protestoient, comme ils le font, avec un très-profond respect contre tout ce qui a pu être fait à leur préjudice sous le dernier Regne, et même depuis, ou qui pourroit être fait dans la suite contraire aux Droits légitimes de leur Naissance; protestant pareillement dès à présent de se pourvoir, lorsque les voyes de la Justice leur seront permises, ainsi qu'ils l'ont toujours demandé, et le demandent à V. M. Ils ne cesseront jamais, Sire, de prier Dieu qu'il vous comble de toutes sortes de graces et de bénédictions.

[signed] Louis-Charles de Courtenay
Charles-Roger de Courtenay
Roger de Courtenay

Premier Prince du Sang

Ranking among the princes du sang was by order of succession rights. The closest to the throne (excluding any fils de France) was called Premier Prince du Sang. In practice, it was not always clear who was entitled to the rank, and it often took a specific act of the king to make the determination.

From 1562 to 1589, the Premier Prince du Sang was Henri de Bourbon, king of Navarre (who was acknowledged as such and received at the Paris Parlement). From 1589 to 1709 the title was held by the prince de Condé (received by Parlement in 1595). At the death of the prince in 1686, it was unclear whether the title ought to go to the duc d'Anjou, younger son of the Dauphin, but a fils de France, or the duc de Chartres, son of the king's brother, but still a petit-fils de France, or the duc d'Enghien, son of the deceased. As the first two were members of the Royal Family and thus outranked other princes of the blood, it was felt that the rank would not honor them enough, and the deceased's son Louis de Bourbon-Condé took the rank, although the duc de Chartres drew the pension (the source for this is Sainctot, cited in Rousset de Missy).

On the death of Louis de Bourbon-Condé in 1709 the title would have passed to the duc d'Orléans, nephew of Louis XIV, but he did not use it (he did, however, call himself first prince of the blood on occasion: when cardinal Dubois died in August 1723, the duc d'Orléans asked the king for the vacant position of prime minister "sans faire attention à mon rang et à ma dignité de premier prince de votre sang"; Journal de Buvat, 2:451). After the duc d'Orléans's death in December 1723, his son officially received the title. It remained to the head of the Orléans family until 1830. However, at the death of the duc d'Orléans in 1785, it was decided that, once again, the duc d'Angoulême, son of the king's brother, ranked too high for the title, and it was granted to the new duc d'Orléans (letters patent of 27 Nov 1785); but Louis XVI decided that the duc d'Orléans would hold the title until the duc d'Angoulême had a son who could bear it (this is what Guyot writes, citing the Journal Politique de Bouillon, second half of 1785).

Entries from Dangeau's Journal in the 1854 edition available from Gallica)
  • 3 Jun 1686, after the induction of the duc de Chartres, nephew of the king, and the duc de Bourbon, eldest son of the prince de Condé, into the order of the Saint-Esprit (Vol. 1, p. 345):
    " dans la cérémonie d'hier, M Le Duc De Bourbon prétendoit marcher côte à côte de M Le Duc De Chartres, disant que M Le Duc De Chartres ne devoit être considéré que comme premier prince du sang, et qu'il n'y avoit point d'exemple contraire; cependant le roi jugea en faveur de M Le Duc De Chartres, parce qu'il lui a donné un rang au-dessus des princes du sang."
  • 14 Dec 1686, following the death of Louis de Bourbon, prince de Condé (Vol. 1, p. 429):
    " M. Le duc n' aura pas les priviléges de premier prince du sang. M. Le prince en jouissoit parce l' on n' ôte point à ces gens-là les honneurs qu' ils ont eus, et qu' il avoit été longtemps premier prince du sang ; c' est présentement M De Chartres qui l' est et qui, par-dessus cela, a des honneurs particuliers comme petit-fils de France."
  • 16 Dec 1686 (p. 430):
    " Le roi a dit à m. Le duc de s' appeler m. Le prince, et M De Bourbon gardera le nom de Duc De Bourbon, mais on ne l' appelera que m. Le duc tout court."
  • 14 June 1701, following the death of Monsieur (vol. 12, p. 128):
    "M. le Prince aura le traitement de premier prince du sang."
    Saint-Simon's addition: "le roi donna à M. le Prince les avantages de premier prince du sang devenus vacants, et au-dessous de M. le Duc d'Orléans au point où il fut élevé alors."

    The rank of "premier prince du sang" was not purely a court title or a precedence. It carried with it legal privileges, notably the right to have a household (maison), such as the king, the queen, and the enfants de France each did. A household was a collection of officers and employees, paid for out of the State's revenues, and constituted a miniature version of the royal administration, with military and civil officers, a council with a chancelor and secretaries, gentlemen-in-waiting, equerries, falconers, barbers and surgeons, a chapel, etc. (See a description of the King's Household). The duc d'Orléans's household, set up in 1724, had 265 officers.

    Styles and Precedence of the Princes du Sang


    Until the 15th century, precedence among princes of the blood, or even between them and other lords, depended on the title. In the 15th century debates arose between princes of the blood, particularly between the duc de Bourbon and the comte d'Alençon (the former was further in the line of succession, but a duke ranked above a count; the dispute was resolved by making the latter a duke himself). Finally, an edict of 1576 set that princes of the blood would have precedence over all lords, and between them by order in the line of succession rather than by their titles.

    Precedence was set according to the following rules (Guyot, loc. cit., vol. 2, p. 382; he is in fact citing Rousset de Missy, who is himself citing Sainctot Sr., who was introducteur des ambassadeurs under Louis XIV).

    All princes of the blood were divided into:

    1. children of the current sovereign and children of his eldest son,
    2. children of the previous sovereign and children of his eldest son,
    3. all others.
    The first two categories formed the royal family (Guyot says children and grandchildren, but I interpret his words strictly).

    Precedence was set:

    1. by category (i.e., anyone of category 1 outranked anyone of category 2)
    2. within category:
      • between males, according to the order in the line of succession,
      • between males and females, according to the right of succession (that is, males before females),
      • between females, according to the degree of kinship with the king.
    Thus the son of the Dauphin outranked the king's brother or younger son, but the daughter of a Dauphin was outranked by the king's daughter; the king's daughter in turn outranked the king's brother or sister. Wives took the rank of their husbands, so a Dauphine outranked a king's sister.

    There is a famous moment at the death of Louis XVIII in 1824 that illustrates these rules. When the king had drawn his last breath, Monsieur, brother of the king, was told by the physician: "Sire, le Roi est mort", as he had instantly become Charles X. When the moment came to step out of the bedroom, the new king went first. His eldest son, the duc d'Angoulême, had married the daughter of Louis XVI, and, until that moment, she had outranked him (being in group 2, he in group 3). He was about to let her step before him, when she stepped back and said: "Passez, Monsieur le Dauphin". He had just moved from group 3 to group 1, and now outranked his wife.

    Another illustration of these rules is found in the listing of French princes and princesses in the Almanach Royal of 1789, a semi-official directory of the French state (see p. 33 and p. 34). The order is:

    • the king and the queen
    • the king's two sons (group 1, males)
    • the king's daughter (group 1, females)
    • the king's brothers and their wives (group 2, males)
    • the king's sisters (group 2, females)
    • the king's aunts (group 2, females)
    • the children of the king's younger brother (group 3)
    • the Orléans branch, males followed by females
    • the Bourbon-Condé branch, males followed by females
    • the Bourbon-Conti branch, males followed by females

    Formal Styles

    The following styles were highly formal and used only in the most official documents, such as treaties, contracts, tombstones, and the like, according to a règlement of 1688 cited by Guyot (Traité des droits, vol. 2, p. 371):

    • The heir apparent, titled Dauphin de Viennois (and not "du Viennois" as sometimes written) or more commonly Dauphin, was called très haut, très puissant et excellent Prince
    • The eldest brother of the King and the Premier Prince du Sang was très haut et très puissant Prince (e.g., Bossuet's Oraison funèbre de Louis de Bourbon, where the deceased is named très haut et très puissant prince Louis De Bourbon, prince De Condé, premier prince du sang; Oeuvres Oratoires, 1922, vol. 5, p. 425).
    • The other Princes of the Blood were très haut et puissant Prince.
    • Foreign princes at the Court were haut et puissant Prince.
      A dispute in 1752 over the use of this style by a member of the Rohan family, which provoked an outcry from the princes of the blood, led to a decision by the king reaffirming a usage that was over a hundred years old.
    • See the page on nobility for equivalent styles of non-royals.

    The enfants and petits-enfants de France were entitled to the style of Royal Highness (Altesse Royale) since the 17th century (thus, the duc d'Orléans, Regent from 1715 to 1723, is styled SAR in the Almanach Royal of 1717). Other princes of the blood were only entitled to Most Serene Highness (Altesse Sérénissime) from 1651 to 1824, when they received the style of Royal Highness. Princes of the blood were the only ones in France entitled to the style of "Highness", according to an arrêt of the Parlement of Paris of 14 Dec 1754 which forbade the bishop of Metz to use that style (Guyot, Traité des droits, vol. 2, p. 371).

    On ne le traitera point d'Altesse, mais de Monseigneur. Il ne peut y avoir une Altesse Royale, mais aussi il lui faut un autre titre qu'Altesse Sérénissime pour ne pas avoir le même titre que M. le Duc, le duc d'Orléans étant héritier présomptif de la couronne." (Matthieu Marais, Journal, vol. 3 p. 62; Dec. 1723.)


    A younger son was usually given a title fairly early, although for some reason the French royal family developed the habit of baptizing royal children at a late age, sometimes as late as 16. The child received a private baptism at birth (ondoiement) and would be known by his title, which was announced by the king immediately after the birth. When a younger son reached maturity, he was usually given an apanage: whereas the title might not carry any actual possession of lands and fiefs with it, an apanage would. The rule on apanages was that they would return to the crown after extinction of the male line, although any other property acquired by the apanagiste could pass on to a daughter. The custom of the apanage was adopted on a systematic basis in the early 13th c. Usually, the most recently acquired domains were given out as apanages. Among the lands used as apanages are Artois, Anjou, Maine, Poitiers, Valois, Alençon, Blois, Chartres, Clermont, Bourbon, Evreux, Orléans, Touraine, Berry, Auvergne, Bourgogne, Guyenne, Angoulême, Provence.

    The heir apparent initially did not have a special title. Under the "Capetians in direct line" (987-1328) the eldest son was crowned while his father was alive, until 1179. On seals, the heir apparent was called filius regis or filius regis primogenitus. Philippe VI (1328-50), the first of the house of Valois to reign, gave the duchy of Normandy to his eldest son, on condition that it would revert to the crown upon his accession. Jean became king in 1350, and in turn gave Normandy to his eldest son Charles in 1355. But Charles had also been given the title of Dauphin de Viennois in 1349 (dauphin was the peculiar title of the count of the Dauphiné; another such title was that of Dauphin d'Auvergne), following the cession of the Dauphiné by the last dauphin, Humbert, on the condition that it be held by the king's eldest son henceforth. The title of Dauphin was bestowed on the eldest son of the king, reverting to the crown upon accession; the future Louis XI was the last dauphin to actually rule over the Dauphiné, until 1461. Contrary to the title of prince of Wales in England, the title soon became automatic at birth, or upon accession of his father to the throne. The last to bear the title was the son of Charles X, the duke of Angoulême. The arms of the Dauphin were quarterly France and Dauphiné (Or, a dolphin azure, crêté, oreillé and barbé (crest, ear and wattle) gules).

    Arms of Louis de France, dauphin (1729-1765) and Marie-Josèphe de Saxe (1731-67), on their tomb, Sens cathedral.

    As life-spans extended, new customs emerged: for the eldest son of the Dauphin, the title of duc de Bourgogne was used twice (Louis XIV's grandson and Louis XV's grandson). For the duc de Bourgogne's eleest son, the title of duc de Bretagne was used: The eldest son of François Ier had also been duke of Brittany, until the union of the duchy with France in 1532.

    In the 16th and 17th c., the titles of Orléans, Anjou, and Berry became customary for younger sons. The brother of Louis XIV was given Orléans as apanage and his line continued, so the title became unavailable. Every duc d'Anjou, on the other hand, seemed to die without posterity or accede to some throne: the title was thus used repeatedly: by Charles IX's brother (future Henri III), by Henri III';s brother (died 1584 s.p.), by Louis XIII's brother until 1626 (died s.m.p. 1660), by Louis XIV's brother until 1660, by two infant sons of Louis XIV, by Louis XIV's younger grandson who became king of Spain, by the future Louis XV, by Louis XV's infant second son. When Louis XV's eldest son had a second son, the king was set against using Anjou, apparently because of the bad luck associated with it (duc de Luynes, Mémoires, 13:49; see also Journal de Barbier, 5:416), and used Aquitaine instead, a title unused since the Middle Ages. Indeed, a medieval taste is apparent in the choice of the titles of Louis XV's children: after the traditional Bourgogne, Aquitaine was chosen (a title inexistent since the 13th c.), then Berry (a traditional for third sons), followed by Provence and Artois, both of whom recall the family of St. Louis IX (Barbier, 6:588, speculates that it was a way for the king to tell the province of Artois that he bore no grudge for the province of origin of Damiens, who had tried to kill him). Louis XVI's younger son was titled duc de Normandie, as a snub to the English according to some (?). The comte d'Artois' children Angoulême and Berry were traditional titles, but the latter's posthumous son was titled duc de Bordeaux in 1820 to thank that city for its early submission to the returning Bourbons in 1814.

    See the page on the Bourbons for additional information on the titles used in the Bourbon family.

    The titles of younger sons can only be understood within the concept of the apanage.

    The Constitution of 1791 reserved the title of Prince Royal to the heir to the throne, and that of prince français to all those formerly called "princes du sang". It also prohibited any other use of the title of "prince" (recall that all titles of nobility had been abolished in 1790). Napoleon used the same styles (except that the heir was called Prince Impérial). The Restoration returned to the Old Regime usages. The July monarchy partly returned to 1791 usages. By an ordinance of August 13, 1830, it was decided that the king's sister and his children would continue to bear the arms of Orléans, that Louis-Philippe's eldest son, as Prince Royal, would bear the title of duc d'Orléans, that the younger sons would continue to have their existing titles, and that the sister and daughters of the king would only be styled "princesses d'Orléans" and distinguished by their given names. The Sénatus-consulte of December 25, 1852 (art. 6), following the constitution of 1804, gave the title of prince français to all members of the imperial family apt to succeed and their descent; the eldest son of the emperor was titled prince impérial. The style of Prince de France was never used. In the late 19th century, the term of princes d'Orléans was sometimes used to refer to members of the Orléans family, and, nowadays, that family uses the style of prince de France.

    Family Names and Titles of Younger Sons

    A son of France was born de France: all his descendants, however, had his main title (whether an apanage or a courtesy title) as their family or last name. Thus the son of Philippe de France (1640-1701), duke of Orléans, was born Philippe d'Orléans, even though he was also petit-fils de France (see, for example, the text of his renunciation to his rights to the crown of Spain in 1712: the renunciation begins "Philippe, petit-fils de France, duc d'Orléans" but he signs "Philippe d'Orléans"; his cousin the duc de Berry signs his renunciation "Charles"). Charles de France (1757-1836), son of Louis, Dauphin, and grandson of Louis XV was given the title of Count of Artois, supposedly at the suggestion of the Queen Marie who thought of Robert d'Artois, brother of St. Louis (Luynes, Mémoires, 16:205). His children's names were Louis d'Artois and Charles-Ferdinand d'Artois. The latter's son, born in 1820, was "Henri-Charles-Ferdinand-Marie-Dieudonné d'Artois, Duc de Bordeaux." That is the way he is listed in the Almanach Royal of 1830 (p. 17). (The difference they used was a border embattled gules). Had the throne of France been restored in 1873, he would have become Henri V, and we would probably have spoken of the house of Bourbon-Artois, or Artois.

    Obverse of a token struck by the Paris mint to commemorate a visit by "S.A.R. Monseigneur le duc de Bordeaux" on 24 Dec 1828. The legend reads "Henri Charles Ferdinand Marie Dieudonné d'Artois" and the arms show France differenced by a bordure embattled gules, with the open coronet of fleurs-de-lys of a prince of the blood. This token was struck when his grandfather was reigning as Charles X.

    Although the king of France had no family name, and his children were born "de France", there was a sense in which a certain house was on the throne. The legitimized children of kings took as family name the name of the house: for example, the son of Charles IX, was known as Charles de Valois, duke of Angoulême (the name of the house was officially Valois because François I had been made duc de Valois in 1498 before ascending the throne). The legitimized children of Henri IV and Louis XIV all had Bourbon as family name.

    During the Revolution, the family names of the members of the king's family with eventual succession rights (i.e., all agnates) were deprived of any patronymic name, by a decree of August 26, 1791 ( Archives Parlementaires, vol. 29, p. 737); henceforth their name consisted of their given names followed by the title of "French prince" (prince français). This provision was embodied in the constitution of 1791, title 3, chapter 2, section 3, article 6.

    Recently, the head of the house of Orléans, the comte de Paris, sued in French courts to have his family name changed from "Orléans" to "Bourbon" (note that he refers to himself as Henri de France, but that is not his legal name). In France, the only names one is allowed to use are thegiven and last names registered in the Etat civil. There are two ways to change one's surname: either sue in civil courts to have the register (registre de l'État civil) changed because it is somehow erroneous; or else petition the minister of Justice who refers the matter to the conseil d'État, and, upon approval, to the Prime Minister for an official decree. The former method relies on some right which can be proven in court, the latter is at the discretion of the authorities and there is no recourse against a rejection.

    The comte de Paris claimed that his ancestors had stopped using the surname of Bourbon, but it had remained his true patronym, and he had a right to resume its use. The courts found against him, successively the lower court in Paris, the Appeals Court of Paris (Feb 1, 2001) and finally the Court of Cassation (Sept. 30, 2003, 01-03219, see Legifrance and search by "numéro d'affaire" 01-03219).



    LA COUR DE CASSATION, PREMIERE CHAMBRE CIVILE, a rendu l'arrêt suivant :

    Sur le moyen unique, pris en ses deux branches :

    Attendu que, M. Henri d'X... reproche à l'arrêt confirmatif attaqué (Paris, 1er février 2001) d'avoir rejeté sa requête en rectification d'état civil à fin de rétablir son nom d'origine de Y... et se nommer à l'avenir Henri de Y..., alors, selon le moyen :

    1 / qu'en lui déniant le droit de se faire enregistrer sous le nom "de Y...", aux motifs que ses ascendants n'auraient pas fait usage de ce nom, et auraient porté pendant trois siècles et demi le nom "d'X...", tiré d'un titre ducal, ce qui ne permettait pas de caractériser leur renonciation à se prévaloir de leur rattachement aux Y..., et à posséder ainsi, en sus du nom "d'X...", le nom dynastique "de Y...", la cour d'appel a privé sa décision de base légale au regard des articles 99 du Code civil et 1er de la loi du 6 fructidor an II ;

    2 / qu'en affirmant que sa demande tendant à recouvrer le nom ancestral "de Y..." n'aurait présenté aucun intérêt légitime, au prétexte qu'il se serait agi d'une "querelle dynastique" dont l'issue "ne peut trouver une solution de nature judiciaire", la cour d'appel a méconnu l'étendue de ses pouvoirs et violé les articles 99 du Code civil et 1er de la loi du 6 fructidor an II ;

    Mais attendu que si la possession loyale et prolongée d'un nom ne fait pas obstacle en principe à ce que celui qui le porte, renonçant à s'en prévaloir, revendique le nom de ses ancêtres, il appartient alors au juge, en considération, notamment, de la durée respective et de l'ancienneté des possessions invoquées, ainsi que des circonstances dans lesquelles elles se sont succédé, d'apprécier s'il y a lieu d'accueillir cette revendication ;

    Attendu qu'en l'espèce, par motifs adoptés, la cour d'appel a souverainement estimé que c'était volontairement que le nom d'X... avait été substitué à celui de Y... par le fils cadet de Louis XIII et tous ses descendants qui avaient ainsi abandonné le nom de Y... et que cette volonté de porter le nom d'X... avait été confirmée par le roi Louis-Philippe lors de son accession au trône ; que, par des seuls motifs, elle a légalement justifié sa décision ;


    REJETTE le pourvoi ;

    Condamne M. d'X... aux dépens ;

    Ainsi fait et jugé par la Cour de Cassation, Première chambre civile, et prononcé par le président en son audience publique du trente septembre deux mille trois.

    Forms of Address


    In general, a titled person was called Monsieur le duc de Villeroy, or Monsieur le comte d'Alaincourt and addressed as Monsieur le duc, Monsieur le comte; the same went for members of the royal family, until the 16th century, when a certain number of forms of address came into use. Starting under Henri III, the eldest brother of the king was called Monsieur (frère du Roi), his wife was Madame (See Brantôme). These usages only became established with Gaston, younger brother of Louis XIII. The king's younger brother retained this style after the death of his brother, so that, from 1643 to 1660 there were two Monsieurs, the brother of the deceased Louis XIII and the brother of the reigning Louis XIV (they were called le Grand Monsieur and le petit Monsieur). The style was later used for the count of Provence, brother of Louis XVI, and later for the count of Artois when Louis XVIII reigned.

    The princes of the branch of COndé had their peculiar styles. The head of the house was "Monsieur le Prince", his eldest son "Monsieur le Duc". According to Duclos (Oeuvres complètes, 10:200), the style dates back to Louis de Bourbon, the younger brother of Antoine de Bourbon, father of Henri IV: this prince de Condé, being the only royal prince of the Protestant party, was called by them "Monsieur le Prince"; his son Henri (d. 1588) was called similarly because the other royal prince among them, the future Henri IV, was called prince de Béarn (until 1572) and later roi de Navarre. The third of the line, Henri (1588-146) was taken to the Court in 1595, and styled similarly as first prince of the blood. His uncle the comte de Soissons adopted the style of "Monsieur le Comte" which his son (d. 1641) also used. It was Louis, the "Grand Condé" (1621-1686) who had his eldest son Henri Jules, duc d'Enghien (1643-1709) called "Monsieur le Duc" and he in turn took the style of Monsieur le Prince in 1686 and gave that of Monsieur le Duc to his son Louis (1668-1710). But Louis, in 1709, kept the style of Monsieur le Duc, being known as duc de Bourbon, and so did his successor Louis-Henri (1692-1740). The last two of the line used the style of prince de Condé.

    The Dauphin, son of Louis XIV, was known simply as Monseigneur, although that seemed to be peculiar to Louis XIV's son: the usage originated with Louis XIV, perhaps as a jest, and no other Dauphin was ever known as Monseigneur (they were called Monsieur le Dauphin). The grandsons of Louis XIV were also called Monseigneur: Monseigneur duc de Bourgogne, Monseigneur duc d'Anjou, Monseigneur duc de Berry (Almanach Royal, 1706), or more formally, Monseigneur Fils de France duc de *** (Almanach Royal, 1713). Similarly, in the 1789 Almanach Royal one sees "Monseigneur comte d'Artois" and his wife "Madame comtesse d'Artois".


    At the Bourbon court, all the daughters of the king and of the dauphin were called "Madame" and collectively known as "Mesdames de France", and for all but the eldest one the given name was added. Thus, the daughters of Louis XV were known as Madame [Adélaïde], Madame Victoire, Madame Sophie, Madame Louise; before their baptism, they were known as "Madame [de France] première/Aînée", "Madame [de France] seconde", etc (see the Almanach Royal, 1738). Note, however, that at their birth in 1727 the twin daughters of Louis XV were called "Madame de France" and "Madame de Navarre". The first three (surviving) daughters were baptized the same day, on Apr. 27, 1737 (Louise Elisabeth, Henriette Anne, and Marie Adélaîde).

    The eldest of the "dames de France" was either known as "Madame de France" (e.g., Elizabeth, eldest daughter of Henri IV and later queen of Spain), "Madame", or, if that title was used by the wife of Monsieur, brother of the king, as "Madame Royale". Thus Louis Louise-Elisabeth (1727-59), eldest daughter of Louis XV (who had no brother), was known as Madame from her baptism in 1737 until her marriage to the Infante Felipe of Spain in 1739, when she became Madame Infante (and later Madame Infante Duchesse de Parme). Adélaïde, daughter of Louis XV, was called Madame from 1752 until 1771 when she became Madame Adélaïde. The daughter of Louis XVI (who had a married brother) was known as Madame Royale until her marriage to her cousin the duc d'Angoulême.

    Until 1700 or so, the title of "Madame Royale" seemed to be used for princesses of collateral branches. Here are some examples:

    1. Christine (or Chrétienne), {\it second\/} daughter of Henri IV, wife of the duke of Savoie, is called (after her marriage) "Madame Royale Chrétienne de France, Duchesse Régente de Savoie" in a 1645 treaty.
    2. Henriette-Marie, third daughter of Henri IV, is said to have invented the English style of "Princess Royal" for her eldest daughter.
    3. Anne Marie d'Orléans (1669-1728), second daughter of Monsieur (but at the time the most senior unmarried princess) is called "Madame Royale" by Dangeau in 1684 (Journal, 1:6, 1854 ed.); that year, she married the duke of Savoy, but Dangeau still referred to her as "Madame Royale" after her marriage: "On eut nouvelles que madame royale étoit accouchée d' une fille ; M De Savoie en envoya ici porter la nouvelle"; and even decades later, he calls her "Madame Royale de Savoie" (19 May 1716), "Madame la duchesse Royale de Savoie" (17 May 1718) or "Madame la duchesse royale" (28 Aug 1719).
    4. Elizabeth Charlotte d'Orléans (1676-1744), third and last daughter of Monsieur (again the most senior unmarried princess at the court) is called "Madame Royale" by Dangeau in 1698 (ibid.,, 7:74) just before and after her marriage to the duke of Lorraine: "M Le Duc De Chartres devoit partir mercredi pour aller en Lorraine voir Madame Royale, sa soeur".
    5. Mme de Sévigné's Correspondance, Jul 1676 (2:352, 1974 edition), Dec 1679 (2:770) uses it for Marie-Jeanne-Baptiste de Savoie-Nemours, wife (and after 1675 widow) of the duke of Savoy: "Vous savez que Madame Royale ne souhaite rien tant au monde que l' accomplissement du mariage de son fils avec l'infante de Portugal".

    The first three examples have in common that the French princess married "beneath her", and retention of the style "Madame Royale" may have been intended to to recall the royal rank that the person held by birth, a rank deemed superior to that of her husband at a time when neither Savoy nor Lorraine enjoyed the style of Royal Highness. Indeed, Diderot's Encyclopédie states (s.v. Royale): "On a donné le titre de royale à des princesses filles ou petites-filles de rois, quoiqu'elles ne fussent pas reines. Ainsi l'on a appellé la duchesse de Savoie, madame royale, & les duchesses d'Orléans & de Lorraine ont eu le titre d'altesse royale." I can't explain the fourth example.

    In the junior branches, starting with the children of the king's brother, the daughters were called "Mademoiselle" either followed by the given name, or by a name recalling the titles of the family: thus Gaston's eldest daughter was known as Mademoiselle, but his other daughters were Mademoiselle d'Orléans, Mademoiselle d'Alençon, Mademoiselle de Valois, Mademoiselle de Chartres. This is probably due to the fact that baptisms took place quite late: Louise-Diane d'Orléans (1716-36) was baptised three days before her marriage in 1732. In 1720, Louise-Élisabeth d'Orléans (1709-42), daughter of the duc d'Orléans and called Mademoiselle de Montpensier, received the title of "Mademoiselle" after the marriage of her elder sister to the duke of Modena (Jean Buvat: Journal de la Régence, Paris 1875, 2:29). She was then the eldest unmarried French princess, excepting the abbess of Challes. She became queen of Spain in 1722, but was widowed in 1724 and returned to France where she was known as "la reine douairière d'Espagne" (dowager queen of Spain). In 1726 the duc de Bourbon (then prime minister) secured by brevet the style of Mademoiselle for his sister Louise-Anne, who was the only unmarried princess.

    See the French royal genealogy to see the titles given to children.

    The widow of a prince was called "douairière" (dowager) when there was a need to distinguish her from the wife of his successor. The widow of the prince de Condé (d. 1709) was called until her death Madame la Princesse because her daughter-in-law were called Madame la Duchesse. When there were several widows, they were numbered, thus between 1727 and 1732:

    • Marie-Anne de Bourbon (Mlle de Blois) (6 Oct 1667- 3 May 1739), widowed in 1685, was styled "Mme la Princesse de Conti Première Douarière"
    • Marie-Thérèse de Conde (1 Feb 1666- 22 Feb 1732), widowed in 1709, was "Mme la Princesse de Conti Seconde Douarière"
    • Louise Elisabeth de Conde (1693-1775), widowed in 1727, "Mme la Princesse de Conti Troisième/Dernière Douarière"

    A good source on matters of etiquette and styles:

    • Thédore and Denys Godefroy: Le Cérémonial françois, Paris 1649: vol. 1 and vol. 2.
    • Jean Rousset de Missy: Cérémonial diplomatique des cours de l'Europe, Amsterdam 1739, 2 vols: vol. 1 (ceremonial of the French court) and vol. 2 (ceremonial of other courts; badly scanned by GoogleBooks) (vols. 4 and 5 of the Supplement to Jean Dumont: Corps universel diplomatique du droit des gens)

    Given Names in the Royal Family

    There is a famous poem by Jacques Prévert:

    Louis I
    Louis II
    Louis III
    Louis IV
    Louis V
    Louis VI
    Louis VII
    Louis VIII
    Louis IX
    Louis X
    Louis XI
    Louis XII
    Louis XIII
    Louis XIV
    Louis XV
    Louis XVI
    Louis XVII
    Louis XVIII
    Mais qu'est-ce que c'est que ces gens qui ne savent pas compter jusqu'à 20?
    So how did French kings go about naming their children?

    There is definitely a pattern to name-giving, which appears when the given names are lined up by order of birth in each generation, starting from Hugues Capet. In the following table, the eldest surviving son in each generation (and father of the next generation) is indicated in italics. Each generation is indexed by the birth date of the first-born in that generation.

    Direct Capetians

    Initially, the Capetians used the traditional family names: Eudes (Odo), Hugues (Hugo), Robert (Rodbert), and avoided the traditional Carolingian names of Louis (Hlodowig) and Charles (Karl). But Henri I's first-born by Ann of Kiev was given the extremely unusual Greek name Philippe, alledegly because of Ann's admiration for the father of Alexander the Great. Philippe I himself gave Carolingian names Louis and Charles to his children. From then on to the end of the direct Capetian line, a tradition was established to alternate between Philippe and Louis: the first-born of a Philippe was christened Louis and the second-born was christened Philippe; and vice-versa for the children of a Louis. By the 14th century, Charles was the usual name for the third born and Robert for the fourth-born.

    With the Valois, a slightly different tradition takes hold. Names are not alternated from one generation to the next, but rather the ordering remains rather the same. Also, the name Jean enters the list of preferred names, either as first or 3d name. At the end of the 15th century, unusual names appear. François is certainly an expression of nascent patriotism after the final expulsion of the English in 1453. As it happened, François was given to the heir of the Orléans-Angoulême line who became king in 1515. The last Valois used François, Henri, Charles and Louis as their given names.

    Junior branches of the Valois also drew on the same stock of names, although adopting their own favorites (Antoine in Bourgogne, René in Anjou). Here is the lines of Bourgogne, Anjou and Orléans, with the cadet lines indicated as well.
    Charles Jean Charles Philippe Jean
    Louis | Charles
    | François

    When the Bourbons came to the throne, their nearest royal ancestor was 9 generations and 300 years away, which made them very distant cousins. Coincidentally, that royal ancestor was a saint, Saint Louis IX, which made him a natural namesake for the dynasty. Thereafter, first-borns were always christened Louis, the feast of Saint Louis (August 25) became the dynasty's holiday, churches were dedicated to Saint Louis (e.g. the Royal Chapel in Versailles), etc.

    Names of younger sons could reflect a variety of influences. The name of Gaston, Henri IV's second-born, comes from the viscounts of Béarn who numbered ten Gastons from the 10th to the 15th century. Gaston IV de Foix, viscount of Béarn, was Henri IV's great-great-grandfather. Gaston is the same as Vedast or Waast, the name of a bishop of Arras at the time of Clovis. Gian Gastone de Medici (d. 1737) was Gaston's grandson.

    Philippe was the name of Anna of Austria's father and also that of her second-born; likewise for Maria-Teresa of Austria. By then, Philippe was fast becoming a tradition for the second-born and would remain so until the 1750s. Curiously, the fondness of the Spanish princesses for the name Philippe (Felipe) stems from its use by the Spanish dynasty as a reminder of Charles V's Burgundian roots, to which he was very attached: but the tradition of Philippe in the Burgundian dynasty stems from the Capetians' own use of the name. In turn, with the accession of a French second-born to the throne of Spain in 1700, the name went back to Spain once more, and the present Prince of the Asturias bears that name.

    By the 1730s, the growing use of compound names in France allowed princes to have multiple namesakes: the first (usually Louis or Charles) for dynastic purposes, the others to satisfy the in-laws (as with Joseph and August for the Saxon in-laws, or Stanislas for the Polish in-laws). The devotion to St. Francis Xavier among the children of the Dauphin is striking. The princes, or at least the younger ones, signed with their full names: "Louis Stanislas Xavier" (future Louis XVIII), "Charles Philippe" (future Charles X), "Louis Charles" (future Louis XVII). When Louis XV died, his successor Louis Auguste was asked under which name he wished to reign (Journal de l'abbé de Véri).

    Louis Gaston
    Louis Philippe
    Louis Philippe François
    Louis Philippe Charles
    Louis Philippe

    The Bourbon-Artois dynasty did not reign long, but the name given to the first French prince born after the Restoration of 1814 is significant: Henri was probably going to displace Louis as the dynastic namesake, since Henri IV (the only popular king of the past few centuries) was replacing Saint Louis as mythical founding figure. Dieudonné (given by God) alludes to the "miraculous" posthumous birth of a male heir to the dynasty threatened by extinction in 1820.



    A good source for the customs of the French royal court are the memoirs or diaries of its participants. Two stand out, namely Dangeau (who was also master of ceremonies, hence particularly attuned to questions of etiquette and protocol) and Saint-Simon. Parts of their works are available online at Gallica.

    • Dangeau's Journal, Didot edition (1854-60) (18 volumes + index volume)
      Gallica has volumes 1-3 and 5-13 in image mode, and volumes 1, 7, and 14 in text mode
    • Saint-Simon, Chéruel edition, Hachette 1873-93
      the complete run (volumes 1 to 20, with general index in volume 20) on Gallica
    • Saint-Simon, Mémoires, Boislisle edition, Hachette 1879-1930, in 43 volumes, reprinted in 1975
      Gallica does not have the complete set; the Boislisle edition is nevertheless useful for its supplements in each volume: vol. 1 (1691-93), vol. 2 (1694-95), vol. 3 (1696), vol. 4 (1697), vol. 5 (1698), vol. 6 (1698-99), vol. 7 (1700), vol. 8 (1701), vol. 9 (1701), vol. 10 (1702), vol. 11 (1703), vol. 12 (1704-05), vol. 13 (1705), vol. 14 (1706-07), vol. 15 (1707-08), vol. 16 (1708), vol. 17 (1709), vol. 18 (1709-10), vol. 19 (1710), vol. 20 (1710-11), vol. 21 (1711), vol. 22 (1711-12), vol. 23 (Feb 1712-13), vol. 24 (1713- Aug 1714), vol. 25 (1714), vol. 26 and vol. 27 (1715) (vol. 28 is an index to the reign of Louis XIV published in 1918; the availability of the last volumes may be restricted by copyright issues)

    Gallica also has several copies of the Almanach Royal: 1733, 1742, 1750, 1758, 1767, 1770, 1772, 1776, 1778, 1780, 1782, 1784, 1786, 1788, 1789-90

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    Last modified: Jul 12, 2021