September 22, 2023 - 7:00am

That was worth waiting for. This week’s state visit to France should have happened in March, but was postponed for very French reasons (widespread rioting). 

In the event, it was rather splendid. The most significant moment was King Charles’s speech in the French Senate — the first by a British monarch — which received a standing ovation. Yet the highlight might just have been the King’s walkabout in Paris, accompanied by the French President. Cries of “Vive le Roi!” went up from the crowd.

Being half-French, I wasn’t entirely surprised. Growing up, my French relatives were bigger fans of the British Royal Family than their counterparts in the UK. Indeed, I’ve come to realise that both countries are deeply marked by monarchy — in one case by its remarkable continuity, in the other by its echoing absence.

Europe is a mix of monarchies and republics, and most of the latter seem happy enough without a crowned head of state — but not the French. For all their showy republicanism, deep down they know there’s something missing. France is just too grand not to have a king.

They try to fill the void. Their militarised pomp and ceremony is second only to Britain’s own. And yet it’s not quite the same. French Presidents do their best, putting on regal airs that British PMs couldn’t get away with. However, the role of monarch-substitute is forever at odds with the raw politics of the job.

Therefore, it’s time to stop pretending and send for a king. But which one? There are at least four choices. The last king — or, rather, emperor — of France was Napoleon III, nephew of Napoleon I. France could certainly do with some Bonapartist vigour, but European empires are rather out of fashion these days, so perhaps not.

What about the proper French royal family — the one that goes back to the Carolingians? That would be interesting, but there’s a little problem: the need to choose between the Legitimist and Orléanist claims to the French throne. It’s all terribly complicated and rather awkward.

Luckily, there’s another choice — none other than our own King Charles III (or Charles XI, as he’d be in France). Though the English claim to the French throne was dropped by George III in 1802, there’s no reason why the two countries can’t agree to share a king.

That doesn’t mean that Britain and France would enter into a political union (as Winston Churchill proposed in 1940). Rather, there’d be a personal union just as there is with Canada, Australia, New Zealand and all the other royal realms in the Commonwealth. 

These proposals are not entirely serious, but there would be advantages. Firstly, France could become a fully-functioning parliamentary democracy. Secondly, sharing with the Brits would be a speedy way of rebooting the monarchy in France. We’ve already got the crowns and costumes, so if we restored the fleur-de-lis insignia we’d be all set. What’s more, it would make a political point. Geography might condemn France to partnership with Germany in the EU — but a joint monarchy would provide the French with a plan B. We’re here if you need us, Mr Macron.

Peter Franklin is Associate Editor of UnHerd. He was previously a policy advisor and speechwriter on environmental and social issues.