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French pretender's heirs win control of royal treasure

Henri d'Orléans count of Paris, in 1987
Henri d'Orléans count of Paris, in 1987 François Alquier

The heirs to a claimant to the French throne, Henri d'Orléans, Comte de Paris, have been awarded the "historic property of the treasure of the kings of France", including paintings worth millions of euros, a royal china service and sketches made by the future Louis XIV, at the end of a court case that has dragged on for 12 years.

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A Paris court on Friday ruled that d'Orléans, who died in 2001, had no right to hand over the royal treasure to an organisation he himself set up, the Fondation Saint Louis, in 1976 because he had failed to follow the correct legal procedures.

So the foundation must hand over a horde of valuables, including portraits of Louis XIII and Louis XIV by well-known painter Philippe de Champagne, a book of sketches made by Louis XIV when he was seven years old, a Sèvres china service presented to Queen Marie-Amélie in 1840 and the Great Necklace of the Order of Garter.

But it manages to keep hold of the châteaux of Ambroise and Bourbon l'Archambault, the royal chapel at Dreux and another chapel in Paris because no legal action concerning them was taken until 30 years after d'Orléans gave them away.

Ten potential inheritors brought the case but the leading plaintiffs were pretender to the throne's children, "Prince" Jacques d'Orléans and "Princess" Hélène d'Orléans.

They claim that the Fondation Saint Louis has managed the heritage incompetently, for example leaving Louis XIV's sketchbook in the bottom of a drawer.

Relations between the pair and their father had deteriorated so far by the end of his life that he swore he would leave them nothing "except for the tears they will cry".

The Orléanistes want France to become a monarchy again and the throne given to the descendants of France's last king, Louis-Philippe, who was placed on the throne by the restoration of the monarchy of 1830 and displaced by the revolution of 1848.

There are conflicting claims from Légitimistes, who support another line of the royal family, and Bonapartistes, who support descendants of Napoléon Bonaparte and Louis-Napoléon Bonaparte.

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