The Foreign Princes were representatives of other nations or areas outside France. Within this title there were further three different types of Foreign Princes (just for the simplicity of it all):
- First, there were those who belonged to foreign royal families but just lived at the French court. Often these would be younger members of their nation's royal family who could not expect to inherit anything great. These were also officially recognized by the King as being of that particular royal family.
- Second, there were those who ruled a minor principality - also outside France. This could be the Prince de Monaco.
- Third, nobles who claimed to be related to foreign royal dynasties. These were - unlike the first group - not acknowledged by the French King as a relative of other royalties.
Some of those who held this title had been granted it due to their lineage - they would often descend from areas that used to be independent but were now a part of France. For example the Rohan family claimed to be descendants of the sovereigns of Brittany and were given the title because as non-relatives of the Crown they could not claim to be Princes of the Blood. In some cases the title of Prince could be adjoined with an ecclesiastical title such as Archbishop.
The title of Foreign Prince was quite complicated. It was in particular the third classification that proved an issue. The third group was not added until the 16th century whereas the first and second had been in existence for centuries. And what of those families that had lived in France for many generations? They were already married into many of the French noble families and by now owned land that were under the jurisdiction of the King of France - whereas normally a person holding the title of Foreign Prince was not considered the French King's subject.
Ever since Henri III's time (more accurately after 1581) there had been four principal families in France who could claim the title: Lorraine, Savoy, Gonzaga and Luxembourg.
Either way, the Foreign Princes ranked above the gentry of France which meant that they even took precedence of the Ducs and Marquises. However, they ranked below the Princes of the Blood, the Children of France and other direct members of the royal family. These were some of the families who held the title of Foreign Prince as well as the area that supposedly gave them a claim to the title:
Rohan - Brittany
La Tour d'Auvergne - Originally a French family but claimed family relations to the House of Cleves
Guise - Lorraine
Soissons - Savoy
Nemours - Savoy
Carignan - Savoy
Some families were simply referred to according to the land they possessed - these would usually be located outside France. Consequently, the Prince d'Orange, Prince de Mantua and the Prince de Monaco were all Foreign Princes.
|House of Rohan. This family had the most|
success with playing on their connection to foreign
|House of Lorraine. The Guise family attained the|
title of Foreign Prince and kept it even after Lorraine
was "absorbed" by France