It’s commonly believed that the French Royal Family ended with the violent recriminations of the French Revolution. In a number of ways, this is true – the absolutist monarchy that had evolved over centuries to rule over the Kingdom of France did meet its demise with the arrival of the guillotine and the famous peasant revolts of the late 18th century. 

But the ancient system of royal supremacy did not disappear without a considerable battle for power and even sporadic returns to sovereign rule. The French Royal Families certainly faced significant turmoil, upheaval and even execution during the famous revolution that changed the world, but they did not disappear completely, nor did they quietly accept the new world order.  

The End of The Ancien Régime

Ancien Régime translates as old regime, and it is the term used to describe the social structure within the Kingdom of France up to the time of the French Revolution. 

This system of governance had its roots in the early Middle Ages, and it became strongly established over the centuries to follow, ultimately flourishing into what may be regarded as its heyday during the late medieval period and the era known as The Renaissance. 

This ancient regime adopted a similar structure to many of the systems of royalty and aristocracy that emerged within medieval Europe, including a feudal system of nobility and a hereditary monarchy that ruled with absolute power and sovereignty, under the claim of divine appointment. 

In this social system, the French Royal Families enjoyed astonishing levels of wealth, influence, prestige and power. The lavish lifestyles of French royals during the height of their power is perhaps best captured in the contemporary vision of the court of Versailles, the opulent and decadent realm of the infamous Sun King, Louis XIV. 

Louis XIV of France
Portrait of Louis XIV (Hyacinthe Rigaud, 1701) Hyacinthe Rigaud, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

The days of rich and splendid living enjoyed by the subjects and families of the French Kings of the 18th century are the stuff of legend, comprising lives of privilege and opulence that even modern billionaires may find shocking. 

Yet these days of power and plenty for the French kings and their royal families were not to last. The political conflicts towards the end of the 18th century would mark the end of this period of absolute royal sovereignty, signaling the demise of the French Monarchy as it had been known for centuries. 

The French Revolution – The End Of An Era

As the 18th century came to a close, the year of 1789 became synonymous with the first political protests that marked the beginning of the French Revolution. 

These events set in motion the end of the Ancien Regime, culminating in the creation of a new republic that would seal the fate of the French Royal Families as well as their ancestors. 

The years that followed would see violent battles for equality – the driving force behind the French Revolution – followed by ongoing battles for a return to royal rule. Many members of the French Royal Families would not survive the conflicts. 

In the decades that followed, the Ancien Régime was abolished forever, and France began its new era as a blossoming Republic. 

Royal Family Battles For The French Throne

In 1792, the King of France, Louis XVI met his fate at the infamous Madame Guillotine – the newly-invented tool of execution made famous by the French Revolution. Many of the remaining members of the French Royal Family also met tragic ends, some would also face the guillotine, while others would be destined to die in prison or poverty. 

For those family members that did survive, their lives would be forever changed as their old world of royal supremacy was gone for good. These survivors of the French Royal Family now face uncertain futures, deprived of their previous status and also their claim to great wealth and property. 

Some of these displaced royals would seek exile in quiet corners of France or in surrounding countries, others would attempt to take control of their fate with a series of battles intended to reinstate members of royalty back into what they deemed their rightful place on the throne of France. 

These battles waged for decades as the French Royalists would face a series of both triumphs and defeats during the Napoleonic Era that followed the French Revolution. While these new branches of the French Royal Family did manage to once again see a French King ruling over the country, this new monarchy would be short-lived. It was also a far cry from the absolutist royal rule of the previous generations. 

The rule of the last King of France, that of Louis Phillippe, was known as a constitutional monarchy, in that many of the powers and privileges enjoyed by centuries of French Kings were greatly diminished. The fact that his nickname within the history books is The Citizen King gives some indication of how much the power and influence of French Royalty had changed following the French Revolution.   

The French Royal Family Today

The last valiant attempts by French Royalists to regain the royal rule of centuries past would not ultimately prevail. France once again secured the strong Republic status that would endure to modern times.  

The French Royal Family members did not give up, however, and various royal houses and descendants have maintained their claim to the throne of France, as well as their determination to see a return to the ancient system of absolute sovereignty. 

In modern times, there are a number of royal family lines that each claim their true place in the line of French kings and queens. These descendants of royalty base their claims on the legitimate rule and rank of their ancestors from a number of royal houses, including The House of Bourbon, The House of Orleans, and The House of Bonaparte.

No doubt these enduring royalists are the legacy of the surviving French Royal Family Members that were dispersed and displaced by the French Revolution. While there is little likelihood of the France of today returning to the days of supreme royal rule, the contemporary descendant of royalty ensure the rich history of France’s monarchy does not meet the same fate as the Ancien Régime, with their legacy enduring for generations to come, even if only in their tales of French Kings and their families.