USURPERS, IMPOSTERS, ILLEGAL CLAIMS and FANTASISTS
© Guy Stair Sainty
are those who successfully or otherwise claim the throne of an existing state, with the intention of establishing themselves as monarchs. When successful - as for example with Colonel Reza Pahlavi who in 1925 deposed the reigning Shah of Persia and established himself the following year as Shah - a new dynasty may be founded. When unsuccessful, as with most such attempts, they generally lose their lives or disappear into permanent exile. One such was the claim to the throne of Araucania by Orelie-Antoine de Tounens. Even more bizarre is the revival of the so-called Kingdom of Sedang, without even a claimant to the non-existent throne.
are those who attempt to supplant the reigning Monarch by claiming to be the "real" claimant, or descended from such a claimant. Two early examples of pseudo-princes were Lambert Simnel and Perkin Warbeck, who challenged the power of Henry VII of England. Simnel (c. 1475-1535) was a dupe of Margaret, Duchess of Burgundy, sister of King Edward IV and an Oxford priest, Richard Symonds who had him crowned in Dublin as Edward VI in 1486 (claiming that he was Edward, Earl of Warwick, heir of the unfortunate Princes in the Tower). Simnel's birth as the son of a joiner rendered him singularly unqualified to act the role of a great noble and it seems few who had any contact with him were long convinced by the claims made on his behalf. After a crushing defeat at the battle of Stoke, during which the rebel commander, the Earl of Lincoln, was killed, Simnel and Symonds were captured and imprisoned. While Symonds remained in the Tower, Simnel was released and allowed to work in the royal kitchens.
Warbeck (?1474-1499), was no greater threat and, like Simnel, was the pawn of others. Of Flemish origin, the son of a minor official, he was persuaded to impersonate Richard, Duke of York, the younger of the two Princes murdered in the Tower. Like Simnel he was encouraged by Margaret of Burgundy but was also supported by the Emperor Maximilian and King James IV of Scotland. Eventually landing in Cornwall, his army of 6000 men was routed and he was captured and imprisoned. Henry at first did not take him seriously but after he tried to escape from the Tower he was executed for treason. Both these pretenders, unlike so many of those who appeared later, presented a real threat and were followed by unfortunates who were ready to lay down their lives for them.
Since then there have been some thirty self proclaimed Louis XVIIs, who claimed that they were the unfortunate son of Louis XVI and Marie-Antoinette who did not die in the Temple prison but somehow escaped. The most notorious of these, whose heirs still maintain their claim, was Charles Naundorff (see later). There have been dozens of supposed survivors among the children of Czar Nicholas II. Among the latter there have been at least two purported Czarevich Alexis' - since he had acute hemophilia (disputed by the adherents of one of the claimants) the claim that he could have survived the gun fire in the cellar of the Ipatiev House is astonishing. None of these has ever presented a threat to the established order. The case for one such claimant has been argued in a large, well presented web site.
Earlier Russia had experienced the accession to the throne of a false Czar, who claimed to be the younger son of Ivan the Terrible. When the latter died in 1584 he was succeeded by his second son Feodor (having murdered his elder son, Ivan, in 1581). The latter, a weak and sickly ruler, was dominated by his brother-in-law Boris Goudanov who effectively ruled until Feodor's death in 1598 when Boris was himself proclaimed Czar. Hostility from the nobility led to constant troubles and on Boris's death in 1605 his own son and heir, Feodor II, was quickly murdered and replaced by the first false Dimitri, who claimed to be a younger son of Ivan the Terrible who had secretly survived. His reign lasted only a short time until his murder when he was replaced by a the candidate of the boyars, the Rurikovich Prince Basil Shuiski as Basil IV. He abdicated in 1610 with the appearance of another false Dimitri, this one sponsored by the King of Poland who installed him as a puppet Czar for two years while Polish troops occupied Moscow. Following the expulsion of the Poles and the death of the second Dimitri, a national council was called which established the Romanov dynasty (whose only genealogical connection was the relationship between the new Czar, Michael III, and his great aunt, wife of Ivan the Terrible.
are those generally junior, illegitimate or morganatic members of a reigning or formerly reigning dynasty who claimed the succession by right of a reinterpretation of the laws of succession. Such claims have bedeviled the European Monarchies and whether successful or otherwise, their legacy caused civil wars in Spain, Portugal and Serbia in the last century and several dynastic disputes in this one. One of the most complex, and continuing disputes, is that which has divided the Two Sicilies dynasty since 1960. Another such claimant is Paul Hohenzollern (ex-Lambrino), self-styled H.R.H. Prince Paul of Romania.
The world of self-delusion has for long been inhabited by a variety of pretenders to long-extinct or invented thrones. While sometimes motivated by political ambition - either their own or others - more often these individuals are con-men or fantasists, living in a world of delusion and make-believe.