The Heir To The French Throne Might Be Living In India

“Ten poor men sleep in peace on one straw heap, as Saadi sings, / But the immensest empire is too narrow for two kings.” —William R. Alger, “Elbow Room”

In A Nutshell

The Bourbon throne of France is vacant, but there are a number of claimants to the title. The man descended from the oldest branch of the family is an Indian lawyer (pictured above, with his family) living in relative obscurity. His ancestor was a nephew of Henry IV, who made his way to the Mughal Empire in the 16th century. Although he wants people to recognize his ancestral claims, he views himself as a regular Indian despite the features of his life that distinguish him from his neighbors.

The Whole Bushel

The country of France is a republic, but for most of its history, a monarchy ruled over the country. The French Bourbons, toppled first during the Revolution of 1789, then again during the upheavals of 19th-century French politics, are one of the best-known royal houses in history. Even today, the Bourbons occasionally make the news headlines. In 1987–1989, Henri, Count of Paris of the Orleanist branch, delivered a suit against Louis-Alphonse, Duke of Anjou and candidate of the Legitimists, over the use of Royal Arms. The courts declined to address the case, as the monarchy doesn’t exist as a legal entity. If it did exist though, they would likely have to deal with another claimant, and this man lives in India.

Balthazer Napoleon Bourbon III is a stocky, brown-skinned lawyer who lives in Bhopal, India in a 2,800-square-meter (30,000 ft2) compound that also serves as a school, and he doesn’t speak a word of French. His schoolteacher wife Elisha and his three children don’t speak French either, but the entire family has French names and practices Catholicism in an area populated largely by Hindus and Muslims. Until the 1992–1993 riots, his law office employed both Hindus and Muslims, but he has since scaled back his practice. This reduction in his law practice is probably necessary, as his attention has focused on his Bourbon ancestors in recent years, and even distant European royal relatives have taken notice of the man.

How did the Bourbons end up in India? Back in the 16th century, the nephew of Henry IV of France, Jean-Phillipe had a spat of trouble. During a duel, he killed a relative, and he desired to escape retribution. His fleeing led to even more hardship. Pirates kidnapped and sold him into slavery in Egypt. Later, the Ethiopian army conscripted him. Somehow, he was able to make it to Goa in 1560, where he began his service to the Mughal rulers of India. His descendants continued in service until the collapse of the Mughal Empire in the mid-18th century. These Bourbon Indians then decided to journey southward to the Bhopal state, where they rose in prominence.

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Unfortunately for the Bourbons of Bhopal, the good times didn’t last forever. By the time of Balthazar’s grandfather, the British had control over the region, and they stopped the income the family had been receiving from the state. Because of the drop in financial and social standing, many of the Bourbons took to alcoholism. The grandfather, Sebastian, stayed around, while many of his relatives left the area.

By the time Balthazar became head of the family with the death of his father, Salvadore II, in 1978, he wasn’t left with much. Court disputes with the state left him with a bungalow, the attached school, and 30 acres of land. Compared to many other Indians’ living situations, it is grand, but it is still a major drop in status for a family that was once one of the wealthiest in Bhopal.

Although Balthazar is proud of his familial legacy, few of his neighbors knew they had royalty in their presence until recently. They just knew that the Bourbons were Catholic, had European names, and had fallen from grace over the years. Some of his neighbors treated him indifferently, while others made fun of the family’s decline.

Balthazar, however, believes that his fortune could change one day. This optimism is due to positive attention given to him because of the recent publication of a historical novel that centers on the Bourbons of Bhopal. Prince Michael of Greece, whose works often has royalty as the topic, decided to write about Jean-Phillipe in Le Rajah de Bourbon.

Not only has Balthazar been in contact with Prince Michael and other distant royal cousins, but he sometimes receives telephone calls and visits from people around the world who are interested in what he will do now that many are extending a friendly hand to the family. There will likely not be any great change, as Balthazar declares himself an Indian with Bourbon ancestry and says he has no desire to leave the country permanently.

To sooth the stirring of the blood, he did have the opportunity to explore Versailles, where he gazed on the fallen glory of his distant ancestors.

Show Me The Proof

Featured photo credit: Thubten Namdrol
Indian Express: The Bourbons of Bhopal
The Telegraph [of Calcutta]: Lost in France, found in India
India Today: House of the Bourbons
GQ: The Lost King of France