It looks like a stolen scene from 1900, before World War I, before the Bolsheviks. Before the world was a different good. There is in front of the Orthodox Christian altar a Romanov and his girlfriend, formerly Bettarini and from now on, Romanovna.
There are crowns, gold, pomp and circumstance, royal sumptuousness in all its glory. As if not more than a century has passed since St. Petersburg hosted a royal wedding . Yes, that: a royal wedding in the Russian Federation, in the post-Soviet republic that still preserves monuments to Vladimir Lenin and lingering sickles and hammers.
He is Jorge Mijáloivich Románov, he was born in Madrid 40 years ago and just settled in Moscow in 2019. But that doesn’t matter because blue blood is thick, much more so than citizenships, or passports or visas . He is the heir to the throne of the tsars, great-grandson of the first cousin of Nicholas II, the last emperor of Russia, deposed and assassinated as a result of the October Revolution.
Although in reality he is not the heir because the throne did not exist for more than a century, and perhaps it would not be because the four children of Nicholas II died in that same 1918. That is why today the succession is disputed and there are three men born outside of Russia who proclaim themselves legitimate heads of the Romanov house:a Spaniard, a German, and an Englishman could be czars if the monarchy were to be reinstated one day.
The Romanov wedding of October 1 was striking and curious, but little more than that. Until 2020 there was a single pro-monarchical party in Russia, but it was dissolved at the request of the Ministry of Justice due to electoral inactivity. A new Tsar does not arouse enthusiasm or much interest, but it is difficult not to be fascinated by the artificial paraphernalia of the king who is not a king and who never will be.
There are more than 150 pretenders to thrones that have disappeared all over the planet, either because they reigned over states that have been dissolved or unified with others, or over countries where the monarchy has been abolished. Almost half of them are European.
Although many of these suitors were not even born in the territory over which they could reign, some have some political or diplomatic power, others participate in philanthropic activities, others have turned to party politics and there are even those who do not even show themselves very interested in any kind of monarchical claim. On the other hand, some are sole suitors and others dispute their claim with descendants of other family lines. And it is there that the debate becomes even more complex.
Perhaps the most interesting case is that of Simeon II, the last Bulgarian Tsar who came to the throne in 1943 , during World War II and when he was just six years old. By 1946 the war was over and Bulgaria was de facto controlled by the Soviet army, so it came as no surprise that the referendum to abolish the monarchy and establish a socialist republic was 95% in favor. The royal family was forced into exile and ended up in Franco’s Spain, where Simeon II became a businessman until the fall of communism in his native country.
He returned in 1996, in the middle of a chaotic decade in which Bulgaria was trying to grapple with its brand-new democracy. And the former monarch consolidated himself as a symbol of stability and unity to the point that he formed his own political party and won the 2001 elections. But the idea of the Tsar as the saving messiah was soon exhausted and by 2009 his party definitively left Parliament.
Simeon II, at 84 years old, still usually participates in formal events, has recovered some of the family properties (although the royal palace became the National Gallery of Art), has his own website and social networks in which he presents himself as King and does not officially renounce the throne but neither does he speak of reinstating the monarchy.
To this day Simeon II is the only living person to have held the title of Tsar and is one of only two deposed monarchs who have returned to power through democratic elections. The other case is that of Norodom Sihanouk, King of Cambodia until 1955 and Prime Minister intermittently between 1945 and 1962. With the reinstatement of the monarchy in 1993, Sihanouk regained the throne and held it until his death in 2012.
Weddings between royal families are extremely common, so it is not surprising that Simeon II shares a family tree with the pretenders to the thrones of Montenegro and Yugoslavia, a country that no longer even exists. Nicholas I, the last monarch of Montenegro, was the great-grandfather of the Bulgarian Tsar.
He reigned until 1918, when his country was annexed by neighboring Serbia to form what would eventually become Yugoslavia. His great-grandson is Prince Nicolas, born in France in 1944. In 2011 the Montenegrin government offered him a salary equivalent to that of the president, compensation of more than 4 million euros for the material losses of his family, allowed him to settle in part of the old royal palace and gave him an official position as representative of Montenegro abroad and some power at the local level, not just protocol.
His distant cousin Alexander is also a descendant of Nicholas I of Montenegro and aspires to the throne of Yugoslavia. With the Nazi invasion of their country in 1941, King Pedro II and his wife Alejandra fled to London, where their only son was born in 1945, curiously in a hotel room.
Pedro II died of cirrhosis in the United States in 1970 and became the only European monarch buried in that country. For his part, AlejandroHe pursued a military career in Great Britain before moving on to the business world, marrying María de la Gloria de Orleans-Braganza, a descendant of the Brazilian imperial family, and having three American children.
He first visited Yugoslavia in 1991, in the midst of the Balkan wars, but only settled in Belgrade in 2001, when he regained his citizenship. Since then he has lived in the Royal Palace of the Serbian capital and, although he does not get too involved in party politics and is mainly devoted to philanthropy, whenever he can, he tries to convince his compatriots how convenient a parliamentary monarchy would be.
In Bulgaria, Serbia or Montenegro it is very easy to find the pretender to the throne, but this is not always the case. The case of France is particularly complex because there are different lines of succession.Louis XVI, deposed in 1792 during the French Revolution, was the last king of the House of Bourbon, but there was soon a new monarch with the establishment of the Napoleonic Empire and the appearance of the Bonaparte dynasty.
The Bourbons briefly returned to power with the fall of Napoleon and there was also a king of the House of Bourbon-Orleans between 1830 and 1848. To further complicate the whole matter, this same family linked up with the Brazilian imperial family in 1864 from from the wedding of Princess Elizabeth, daughter of Emperor Pedro II, and Prince Gaston of Orleans, grandson of Louis Philippe I, the only French king of the dynasty. In other words, Juan de Orleans, born in 1965, could aspire to both the throne of Paris and that of Rio de Janeiro, the former imperial capital.
However, it would be too complex because, just as France has three families of suitors, Brazil has two, headed by Luiz and Pedro Carlos, both great-great-grandsons of Pedro II. The first of them, born in France in 1938, promoted the reinstatement of the monarchy, but barely obtained 13% support in the 1993 constitutional referendum and today he is a deputy. The second, a native of Petropolis, Brazil, and second cousin of Prince Gaston of Orleans, was never interested in this possibility. So much so that he, the last American member of a royal family to live in a palace, auctioned off many of his family’s belongings and in 2016 rented part of the Grão-Pará Palace in Petrópolis for the installation of a parking lot.
The descendants of the Iranian monarchy have a similar problem because there were two royal families in the 20th century: the Qayar, until 1925, and the Pahlavi, until the Islamic revolution of 1979. Reza Pahlavi, son of the last Shah of Persia, lived to his 19 years with the luxuries of an heir to the throne, but the establishment of the Islamic republic forced his family to settle in Egypt.
With the death of his father in 1980, Pahlavi proclaimed himself king from Cairo and soon created a government in exile and an organization critical of his country’s regime called the National Council of Iran. Today he lives in the United States and is actively demonstrating against the Ayatollah and in favor of the reinstatement of a secular state., although not necessarily under a monarchical system. Interestingly, it has a remarkable popularity, both in Iran and among expatriate Iranians.
On the other hand, Mohammad Hassan Mirza Qayar II was born in Paris in 1949, studied geology in London and was a university professor in Iran and in the United States, where he still resides. Of course, his low profile and lack of political aspirations are in stark contrast to those of the Pahlavi heir.
In Greece, everything is much simpler because the monarchy was abolished in 1974 and Constantine II, the last king, is still alive. A coup d’etat in 1967 forced him into exile in Italy, although he formally continued to reign until 1973. The following year, without a military dictatorship, a referendum was held in which 70% opted for the republican system.
But Constantine II chose to live in London, where he became godfather to his distant cousin, the British Prince William, and also to Jorge Mikhaloivich Romanov. As Olympic sailing champion in Rome 1960, he joined the International Olympic Committee and attended the Athens games in 2004.
He just returned definitively to his native country in 2013, after almost 50 years and a series of disputes with the Greek State over royal properties: the State demanded unpaid taxes and he, financial compensation for the assets confiscated from the monarchy.
The first point was settled in 1992 when Constantino ceded most of his land to non-profit organizations, while the second reached the European Court of Human Rights in 2002. The court ruling awarded him 12 million euros, so only a small percentage of the 380 million it claimed. Nor was his Greek citizenship returned to him, lost in 1994 because the State required him to have a surname, and today he holds a Danish diplomatic passport with the name “Constantino de Grecia”.
The one who had more luck was his sister Sofía: she married Juan Carlos I and was queen consort of Spain for almost 40 years.
Like Constantine II, the last king of Egypt is still alive. Fuad II was born in 1952 and was less than a year old when he ascended to the throne after his father’s abdication. But in 1953 the republic was declared, the royal family moved to Switzerland and the boy king only returned to his country on sporadic visits from the 1980s, when he regained Egyptian citizenship.
Wilhelm II, the last German emperor or Kaiser, abdicated in 1918 when his country was heading for defeat in World War I and went into exile in the Netherlands, never to return to Berlin. The Kaiser’s great-great-grandson and current head of the Germanic imperial dynasty is 45-year-old George Frederick of Prussia.
He worked as a business advisor and developing projects for university education, but is currently dedicated to reclaiming the restitution of old family properties and managing the “Prusiana” brewery.
The German Empire was created in 1871 with the unification of dozens of different state entities, adding kingdoms, duchies, principalities and free cities. And in each one of them there is today an heir to the royal family, if not two or three who dispute the legitimacy. Something similar happens in India, which had more than 500 principalities at the time of its independence in 1947.
Today there are more than 50 pretenders to those extinct local thrones and, although the Constitution of the republic abolished the authority of the princes in 1971, it is still legal for them to use their titles and names. As if all this were nothing more than a curiosity, a diversion that may have its elegance and its pedantry, but that in practice rarely involves more than a few photos at a fake royal wedding.