A French aristocrat descended from one of France’s last monarchs has demanded the return of an historic chateau that once belonged to his family amid a row over turning part of it into a hotel and accusations that artworks have gone missing.
Jean d’Orleans, a descendant of Louis Philippe I who ruled France during the July Monarchy, has written to prosecutors to say that Chateau Chantilly – located 30 miles north of Paris – should be returned to his ownership.
Jean, 56, says the chateau’s current owner – the Institute of France – has mismanaged the property and in doing so has violated the terms on which it was donated to them in 1886 by his ancestor, Henri d’Orleans.
The chateau and its huge collection of art is one of the best-known in France, but it has run into financial trouble in recent years despite a £70million restoration carried out by the Aga Khan and £4million in government grants from Covid recovery funds.
It featured in the 1985 Bond film A View To A Kill as the lair of villain Max Zorin, with 007 remarking on its huge horse stables as he visits Zorin at the property.
Chateau Chantilly, a French palace located 30 miles north of Paris, has been owned by the Institute of France since it was bequeathed to them by the king’s son in 1886
The house contains the largest collection of artworks in France outside of the Louvre, including works by Raphael, Van Dyck, Ingres and Delacroix
The house featured in 1985 Bond film A View To A Kill when it served as the lair of villain Max Zorin, with 007 paying him a visit there (pictured)
The Institute of France had been floating plans to turn the Château d’Enghien, a large out-building on the Chateau Chantilly estate, into a hotel for years before finally accepting proposals in April this year.
Three applications were submitted and one was accepted, which would have seen the building leased to a French entrepreneur for 50 years, who would have kitted it out with a top-end restaurant and spa, before renting rooms for £650 per night.
But the process was mired in scandal when Christophe Tardieu, administrator of the estate, resigned in May and was replaced by Didier Selles.
Mr Selles quit after just 15 days in the job while raising concerns about the tender process amid accusations of favouritism and insider dealing, Le Parisien reports.
That led France’s National Financial Prosecutor’s Office to open an investigation into the tender process in August, with plans to create the hotel scrapped.
News of the investigation hit the headlines in October, and the following month Jean and his brother Eudes wrote to the prosecutor’s office demanding the property be returned to family ownership.
According to the pair, Henri donated Chateau Chantilly on the understanding that none of the interior or exterior architecture would be changed and none of the artworks moved or sold.
In their letter, the pair say the apparent mismanagement of the hotel tender has led to ‘growing concern’ that the terms of Henri’s deal are not being kept, while also referencing ‘suspicions of the disappearance of works’, La Voix du Nord reported.
Jean d’Orleans, ancestor of the house’s last owner Henri and descendant of France’s last king, (pictured with wife Philomena de Tornos Steinhart) now wants the property back
Jean claims the institute has mismanaged the property and, in doing so, has violated the terms on which it was donated to them in 1886
Louis Philippe I (left) took the French throne in 1830 after the July Revolution, and his son Henri (right) inherited Chateau Chantilly which he fully renovated between 1875 and 1882
Jean d’Orleans complained to French prosecutors after plans to turn the Château d’Enghien (pictured), which sits on the estate’s grounds, into a hotel sparked a corruption probe
Originally constructed in the 1500s, the Chateau Chantilly was partially destroyed during the French Revolution before being inherited by the eight-year-old Henri d’Orléans when his father, Louis Philippe, was crowned king in 1830.
Though modest restoration work had been carried out before, Henri undertook a complete renovation of the property between 1875 and 1882 – adding the stables which Bond remarks on after falling in love with horse racing while living in London.
Exiled from France in 1886 under a law that expelled the families of former monarchs, Henri bequeathed the property to the Institute of France – an academic society that also runs some historic properties – as an act of public goodwill.
As well as the main house, outbuildings and ground, Chateau Chantilly features a garden designed by André Le Nôtre
He was allowed to return to France three years later as gesture of thanks for his generosity, and the property passed to the Institute on Henri’s death in 1897.
Since then it has been managed and maintained by the Institute as a public attraction and art gallery, housing the second-largest collection of paintings in France after the Louvre.
But the huge upkeep costs saw the property run into financial difficulty, and in 2005 then-chancellor Pierre Messmer was forced to beg for funds for a refurbishment.
Aga Khan, Imam of 15million Shia Muslims, stepped up as a benefactor and donated £70million of his personal fortune – estimated to be in the billions – for the chateau’s upkeep, The Times reported.
The project was due to run until 2025, but the Khan decided to wrap up his involvement five years early in 2020.
That left the chateau once-again struggling for funding, despite a grant of £3.8million from Covid recovery funds which the government said was ‘essential to help this French historical and cultural jewel.’
As well as historic houses, horse stables and gallery, the Chateau Chantilly estate includes a 115-hectare garden designed by André Le Nôtre, 6,000 hectares of forest and a tennis court that dates back to 1756.
Before the pandemic, some 425,000 people per year visited the property and it had an income of £6.4million – though this was insufficient to cover the upkeep costs.
The chateau has been in financial difficulty in recent years, after billionaire Aga Khan – Imam of 15million Shia Muslims – wrapped up a £70million restoration project
The chateau was given some £3.8million in government grants from the Covid recovery fund, but was still struggling for cash which led to the idea of turning part of it into a hotel
Olivier Baratelli, the French lawyer representing the Orleans family, told AFP this week: ‘If the Chantilly estate is indeed as badly managed as rumors say, a lasting solution must be found to save this jewel in the history of France.
‘If the facts are true, it is expected that the family will recover the entire estate.
‘It will then remain to be determined to whom to entrust its management: the Family of France is open to finding a French administration or institution, worthy of confidence and capable of keeping this historic jewel open to the public.’
The Orleans family, as the descendants of Louis Philippe I, have the strongest and best-supported claim to the throne of France, if the country were ever to become a monarchy again.
Backers say that he would be the rightful heir because his father was the last French King, and would therefore inherit the crown.
Rival claims come from the Bourbon family, whose descendants ruled France for hundreds of years and whose ancestor Louis XVI was the last king to occupy the throne before the French Revolution.
Another ancestor, Louis XVIII, then occupied the throne during the brief restoration of the monarchy, as did Charles X who was deposed in the July Revolution of 1830 with the crown passed to Louis Philippe.
Their current claimant is 47-year-old Louis Alphonse de Bourbon, the Duke of Anjou.
The third claimant is the Bonaparte clan, who say the crown should rightfully be theirs because ancestor Napoleon III was France’s last monarch – ruling as Emperor from 1852 until 1870, which marked the beginning of the Third Republic.