AskDefine | Define legitimist

Extensive Definition

Legitimists are Royalists in France who believe that the King of France and Navarre must be chosen according to the simple application of the Salic Law. Called "Ultra-royalists" under the Bourbon Restoration, they are adherents of the elder branch of the Bourbon dynasty, overthrown in the 1830 July Revolution. Distinguished historian René Rémond analyses the legitimists as one of the three main right-wing factions in France, which was principally characterized by their counterrevolutionary opinions (they rejected the 1789 French Revolution, the Republic and everything that went with it; thus, they progressively became a far-right movement, close to traditionalist Catholics). The other two right-wing factions are, according to Rémond, the Orleanists and the Bonapartists.

The Bourbon Restoration (1814–1830)

Following the Bourbon Restoration in 1814, a strongly restricted census suffrage sent to the Chamber of deputies an ultra-royalist majority in 18151816 (la Chambre introuvable) and from 1824 to 1827. Called as such because they were "more royalist than the king" (plus royalistes que le roi), the Ultras were thus the dominant political faction under Louis XVIII (1815–1824) and Charles X (1824–1830). Opposed to the constitutional monarchy of Louis XVIII and to the limitation of the sovereign's power, they hoped to restore the Ancien Régime and cancel the rupture created by the French Revolution. Just as the Restoration, Ultras opposed themselves to liberal, republican and democratic ideas. While Louis XVIII hoped to moderate the "restoration" of the Ancien Régime in order to make it acceptable by the population, the Ultras would never abandon the dream of an integral restoration, even after the 1830 July Revolution which set the Orleanist branch on the throne and the Ultras back to their castles in the countryside and to private life. Their importance during the Restoration was in part due to electoral laws which largely favored them (on one hand, a Peer Chamber composed of hereditary members; on the other hand, a Chamber of Deputies elected under a heavily restricted census suffrage, which permitted approximatively 100,000 Frenchmen to vote).
Louis XVIII's first ministers, who included Talleyrand, the duc de Richelieu and Decazes, were replaced by the Chambre introuvable dominated by the Ultras. Louis XVIII finally decided to dissolve this chaotic assembly, but the new liberals whom had replaced them were not any more easy to govern. After the 1820 assassination of the duc de Berry, the ultra-reactionary son of the comte d'Artois (Louis XVIII's brother and future Charles X), and a short interval during which the duc de Richelieu governed, the Ultras were back in government, headed by the comte de Villèle.
The death of Louis XVIII in 1824, seen as too moderate, lifted the Ultras' spirits. In January 1825, Villèle's government passed the Anti-Sacrilege Act, which punished of capital punishment the stealing of sacred vases (with or without consecrated hosts). This "anachronistic law" (Jean-Noël Jeanneney) was in the end never applied (except on a minor point) and repealed in the first months of Louis-Philippe's reign (1830–1848). The Ultras also wanted to create courts to punish Radicals, and passed laws restricting freedom of the press.
After the 1830 July Revolution, which replaced the Bourbons with the Orleanist branch, which supported more liberal policies, the Ultras' influence declined, although it subsisted until at least the 16 May 1877 crisis and 1879, and even longer. Thus, they softened their views and made the restoration to the throne of the House of Bourbon their new primary target. From 1830 on they became known as Legitimists.

Legitimists under the July monarchy (1830–1848)

During the July Monarchy of 1830 to 1848, when the junior Orleanist branch held the throne, the Legitimists were politically marginalized, many withdrawing from active participation in political life. The situation was complicated before 1844 by debate as to who the legitimate king was: Charles X and his son Louis-Antoine the Dauphin had both abdicated during the 1830 Revolution in favor of Charles's young grandson, Henri comte de Chambord. Until the deaths of Charles X and his son in 1836 and 1844, respectively, many Legitimists continued to recognize each of them in turn as the rightful king, ahead of Chambord.

Legitimists under the Second Republic and the Empire (1848–1871)

The fall of King Louis Philippe in 1848 led to a strengthening of the Legitimist position. Although the childlessness of Chambord weakened the hand of the Legitimists, they came back into political prominence during the Second Republic. Through much of this time there was discussion of "fusion" with the Orleanist Party. This prospect prompted several sons of Louis Philippe to declare their support for Chambord. But fusion was not actually achieved, and after 1850 the two parties again diverged. The period of the Second Empire saw the Legitimists once again cast out of active political life.

Legitimists under the Third Republic (1871–1940)

Nevertheless, the Legitimists remained a significant party within elite opinion, attracting support of the larger part of the ancien régime aristocracy. After the Siege of Paris in 1870 and the 1871 Paris Commune, the Legitimists returned for one final time to political prominence. The 8 February 1871 democratic elections, held with the manhood universal suffrage sent to the National Assembly a royalist majority, supported by the provinces, while all Parisian deputies were Republican. This time, the Legitimists were able to agree with the Orleanists on a program of fusion, largely because of the growing likelihood that the count of Chambord would die without children. The liberal Orleanists agreed to recognize Chambord as king, and the Orleanist claimant himself, Louis-Philippe Albert d'Orléans (1838–1894), count of Paris, recognized Chambord as head of the French royal house. In return, Legitimists in the Assembly agreed that, should Chambord die childless, Philippe d'Orléans would succeed him as king. Unfortunately for French monarchism, Chambord's refusal to accept the Tricolor as the flag of France and to abandon the fleur-de-lys, symbol of the Ancien régime, made restoration impossible until after his death, by which time the monarchists had long since lost their parliamentary majority due to the 16 May 1877 crisis. The death of the comte de Chambord in 1883 effectively dissolved the parti légitimiste as a political force in France.
The nationalist Action française, founded in 1899 during the Dreyfus Affair, conversed itself to monarchism under Charles Maurras' influence. Although Maurras' integralism and faith in monarchy and the Catholic Church was mostly based on pragmatic reasons, the Action française remained quite popular among French reactionary elements, at least until its 1926 Papal condemnation, and might have attracted in that sense some legitimists. Unsurprisingly, Maurras advocated as soon as 1919 women's right to vote (obtained only by Charles de Gaulle's 1944 ordonnance), on the grounds that just as the countryside had supported the monarchists during the 1871 elections, women would support the more conservative representatives.
Affected by sinistrisme, few conservatives explicitly called themselves right wing during the Third Republic, a term associated with the Counter-Revolution and anti-republican feelings. As soon as 1910, the appellation was thus reserved to radical groups. Those Orleanists whom had rallied the Republic in 1893, after the comte de Chambord's death ten years before, still called themselves Droite constitutionnelle or républicaine (Constitutional or Republican Right). But they changed their name in 1899, and went to the 1902 elections under the name of the Action libérale party. Thus, the only group which openly reinvidicated itself from the right-wing in 1910 gathered some nostalgics royalists, and from 1924 on the term "right wing" practically vanished from the parliamentary right's glossary.
By this time, the vast majority of legitimists had retired to their castles in the countryside and deserted the political arena. Although the Action française remained an influential movement throughout the 1930s, its motivations for the restauration of monarchy were quite distinct from older Legitimists' views, and Maurras' instrumental use of Catholicism achieved setting them apart. Thus, Legitimists didn't much participate in political events in the 1920s–1930s, in particular in the 6 February 1934 riots organized by far right leagues that, apart from the Action française, had little in common with their reactionary nature. These royalist aristocrats clearly distinguished themselves from the new ultra right, influenced by fascism and nazism, which was appearing. However, Legitimists acclaimed, just as Maurras, the fall of the Third Republic after the 1940 Battle of France as a "divine surprise", and many of them joined Philippe Pétain's Vichy regime as an unexpected opportunity to impose a reactionary program in occupied France.

Legitimists under Vichy and after World War II (1940–Present)

However, they returned to prominence during Vichy France, according to historian René Rémond's studies of the right-wing factions in France. Some would also support the OAS during the Algerian War (1954–62). Marcel Lefebvre's Society of St. Pius X, founded in 1970, especially in France, shares aspects with the legitimist movement, according to Rémond.
As of 2006, they remain strongly attached to the traditionalist wing of the Catholic Church and are particularly encouraged by the theological conservatism of Pope Benedict XVI. Such Legitimists are strongly opposed to the proposed European Constitution and anything else perceived as threatening the independence of France. Among French Legitimists, there is diversity of opinion. Some are closer to the mainstream (Orleanist) Royalists. Others, totally devoted to the Bourbon dynasty and the memory of the Vendée, tend to gather around Traditionalist Catholic places, such as the Saint-Nicolas-du-Chardonnet church in Paris, or around far-right parties such as Jean-Marie Le Pen's Front National or de Villiers' Mouvement pour la France. There are small but active Legitimist circles throughout France.
After Chambord's death, only the descendants of Philip V of Spain remained senior in descent to the Orléans branch of the royal dynasty. But Philip's branch had been Spanish for 170 years, having been obliged by the 1713 Treaty of Utrecht to renounce their claim to the French throne. So most French royalists recognized the comte de Paris as the legitimate pretender.


A remnant, known as the Blancs d'Espagne, by repudiating Philip V's renunciation of the French throne as ultra vires and contrary to the monarchical constitution of the ancien régime, upheld the rights of the eldest branch of the Bourbons, represented as of 1883 by the Carlist pretender to the Spanish throne. This group was initially minuscule, but began to grow larger after World War II due both to the political leftism of the Orleanist Pretender, Henri, comte de Paris, and to the active efforts of the claimants of the elder line—Jaime, Duke of Segovia, the disinherited second son of Alfonso XIII of Spain, and his son, Alfonso, Duke of Anjou and Cádiz—to secure legitimist support, such that by the 1980s, the elder line had fully reclaimed for its supporters the political title of "Legitimists". This means that the current legitimist claimant is the Spanish-born Louis-Alphonse de Bourbon (Luis-Alfonso de Borbón y Martínez Bordiú), styled duc d'Anjou. A 1987 attempt by the Orleanist heir (and other Bourbons) to contest Louis-Alphonse's use of the Anjou title and to deny him use of the plain coat of arms of France was dismissed by the French courts in March 1989. The duc d'Anjou, a French citizen through his paternal grandmother, is generally recognised as the senior legitimate representative of the House of Capet.

List of Legitimist Claimants to the French throne since 1792

In the 1870s the rival Orleanist and Legitimist claimants agreed, for the sake of the French Monarchy, to end their rivalry. The comte de Paris accepted the prior claim to the throne of the comte de Chambord. Chambord, who remained childless, in turn acknowledged that the comte de Paris would claim the right to succeed him as heir. Since then, many Legitimists have accepted the descendants of the comte de Paris as the joint Legitimist-Orleanist pretender.
According to those Legitimists who accepted the Orléans successors following the death of the comte de Chambord, the list of claims is as follows:
However, the more ardent Legitimists argued that the renunciation of the French throne by Philip V of Spain, second grandson of Louis XIV, was invalid, and that in 1883 [when Chambord died childless] the throne had passed to Philip V's male heirs, as follows:
legitimist in German: Legitimisten
legitimist in Spanish: Legitimismo
legitimist in French: Légitimisme
legitimist in Italian: Legittimismo
legitimist in Dutch: Legitimiteit
legitimist in Japanese: 正統主義
legitimist in Polish: Legitymizm
legitimist in Russian: Легитимизм
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