News footage of the newest French President, Emmanuel Macron, assuming his title as President of France has been awash for the past few weeks, as the youngest leader of France since Napoleon begins to take upon himself the new duties and responsibilities of office. As well as receiving codes for France’s nuclear arsenal and the badge of office as Grand Master of the Légion d’Honeurr, Macron would have also been informed of another lesser-known title he would have inherited upon his inauguration — that of Prince.
While France has been a republic since the fall of the Second French Empire under Napoleon III in 1870, the French head of state has always been a prince by virtue of a little arrangement with a nearby tiny Catalan-speaking nation called Andorra.
In 1278, tensions had arisen between the Bishop of Urgell and the Count of Foix over control of a slim slip of land running along the Pyrénées mountains. In the aftermath of the Cathar Crusade disagreements between the two over matters of jurisdiction and feudal rights threatened to break out into open conflict, and a resolution needed to be found quickly. As a compromise, after the intervention and mediation of King Peter II of Aragon, the two agreed to share sovereignty of the region with the Bishop of Urgell and the Count of Foix being invested together as Co-Princes of Andorra. The arrangement has stuck, and continues even to this day. Eventually the County of Foix would pass to the French King in the person of Henry IV of France, and with it the title of Co-Prince. As well as Henry IV’s other title as King of Navarre, this would continue to be held by the King of France up until King Louis XVI.
When the French Revolution erupted, Andorra remained more or less intact save for a brief interruption during the Peninsular War. The Co-Principality was reaffirmed by Napoleon I in 1809, who inherited the title from the deposed French kings, although the Catalonia region (including Andorra) would later be annexed by the First French Empire. Upon the Bourbon Restoration, Andorra’s independence was reestablished by King Louis XVIII. The Co-Principality has remained in effect ever since, surviving later revolutions, empires and republics with almost little to no change. This makes the President of France, by queer development, an elected monarch, even though the Andorran people themselves have no ability to vote for either Prince.
Macron’s new role as Co-Prince of Andorra is, for the most part, merely a ceremonial legacy, a curious artefact of medieval power struggles and feudal politics. It affords him a few constitutional powers and roles within Andorra, but very few can be exercised autonomously. The majority of heavy-hitting powers, such as calling and dissolving assemblies or affirming new laws, have to be done jointly with the Bishop of Urgell. Before 1993 Macron could also have looked forward to a regular “tribute” of $460 on odd-numbered years, however, the new Andorran constitution brought an end to this practice.
Chances are Macron may well often forget that he has, by ancient technicality, a royal title now as President of the French Republic and Co-Prince of Andorra.