Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.
Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.
Principality of Andorra, view of the parish of Encamp, with Sant Roma de les Bons Church and the medieval Torre del Moros defense tower overlooking the village from the hillside.
Principality of Andorra, view of the parish of Encamp, with Sant Roma de les Bons Church and the medieval Torre del Moros defense tower overlooking the village from the hillside.
Photo: Manfred Gottschalk (Getty Images)
Wiki WormholeWe explore some of Wikipedia’s oddities in our 5,664,405-week series, Wiki Wormhole.

We explore some of Wikipedia’s oddities in our 6,079,214-week series, Wiki Wormhole.

Advertisement

This week’s entry: Co-Princes of Andorra

What it’s about: One two, princes kneel before you, that’s what I said now. Princes, princes who co-rule Andorra, just go ahead now. (And you thought we were kidding last week about trying to get that song stuck in your head.) The principality of Andorra, one of those strange, tiny, European countries you forgot existed because it’s only 181 square miles (that’s roughly 2/3 the size of Austin, Texas) and has a population of 77,000 (the average attendance at Lambeau Field). Yet that country, folded into the French-Spanish border, is somehow big enough for both of its two co-monarchs.

Advertisement

Biggest controversy: We’ll get into why Andorra has two monarchs, who they are, and how that all works in a second. First comes the most controversial thing you can introduce into a two-monarch state: mono-monarchy. In 1934, Boris Skossyreff, who Wikipedia here describes as an “adventurer,” declared himself King Boris I, and despite being Lithuanian, had some support from the political establishment. But not from the bishop of Urgell, Spain, one of the co-rulers. King Boris declared war on the bishop, and was subsequently arrested by Spanish authorities eight days after assuming power. (He’s not considered to have been in charge for any length of time.)

Strangest fact: It’s a toss-up between Andorra’s bicameral monarchy and the fact that the country exists at all. Andorra began as a feudal state, created by Charlemagne to thank the Andorran people for fighting the Moors. However, in 988, Andorra’s ruler, the Count of Urgell, was ungrateful enough that he traded the territory to the diocese of Urgell in exchange for land elsewhere. The bishop of Urgell has ruled (or co-ruled) ever since. In 1095, a subsequent Count of Urgell wanted to take Andorra back. As the principality had no military, they struck a deal with the French lord of nearby Caboet, in which the bishop would co-rule Andorra in exchange for Caboet’s protection, and the arrangement has largely stayed in place.

Advertisement

Thing we were happiest to learn: Andorra’s odd arrangement survived for centuries despite being completely informal. The co-monarchs ruled on a handshake agreement until 1278, when a dispute between the two led to the first paréage of Andorra, a feudal charter that established the arrangement. (A second paréage with some additional details was added a decade later.) Neither document actually outlined the responsibilities of the two rulers, and those weren’t codified until the country finally passed a Constitution in 1993. Besides delineating the dual sovereigns’ powers and responsibilities, it also eliminated a clause from the original paréage, in which Andorra paid a tribute to the French crown of $460 every odd-numbered year, and in even-numbered years sent the Bishop of Urgell six hams, six cheeses, six live chickens, and roughly $12.

Thing we were unhappiest to learn: Napoleon burst Andorra’s tiny bubble. Over the centuries, Andorra’s secular title passed from the lords of Caboet to the counts of Foix to the kings of Navarre. In 1589, King Henry III of Navarre also became Henry IV of France, and declared all subsequent French kings co-ruler alongside the bishop of Urgell. However, when Napoleon invaded Spain, he annexed Catalonia (the Spanish region that includes Barcelona), and folded Andorra into it. When Napoleon was deposed and the monarchy restored, a royal decree also restored Andorra, and through every subsequent change in France’s government, their head of state, whether inherited or elected, has also served as co-Prince of Andorra.

Advertisement

Also noteworthy: Now that Andorra is a constitutional monarchy, the co-princes’ power is somewhere in between a ceremonial monarch like Olivia Colman Queen Elizabeth, and an all-powerful one like Cate Blanchett Queen Elizabeth. While the country is largely run by a legislature (the Síndic General, or General Council), the co-princes appoint government officials, approve treaties, question the constitutionality of laws, and can grant pardons with the wonderfully-named “prerogative of grace.” They can also work with the prime minister to call for elections or referendums, and appoint subsequent prime ministers. Each co-ruler can appoint a “personal representative,” so that French Prime Minister Édouarde Philippe can delegate and not spend all his time worrying about Andorra.

Best link to elsewhere on Wikipedia: Let’s go back to that adventurer for a minute. Boris Skossyreff had a colorful life before and after his eight-day reign over Andorra. Born in Lithuania when it was still part of Russia, he fled after the 1979 revolution for England, where he was granted political asylum and enlisted in the army. Through the foreign service, he travelled the world before settling down in the Netherlands, where he later claimed to have worked for the royal family, who rewarded him with the title “Count of Orange,” a title that seemed to exist only in Skossyreff’s mind. From there he moved to Andorra. He drew up a list of political reforms he wanted to make, but when he presented it to the government, they requested “that he does not meddle in political affairs in the Valleys,” and threatened to punish a repeat offense.

Advertisement

He left for Catalan Spain, just 5k away from Andorra, where he began dressing for the job he wanted. He paraded around town with a monocle and baton, meeting with other questionable heads of state like Jean d’Orleáns, who claimed to be the rightful King of France. The act worked well enough that at least some people started treating Skossyreff like legitimate royalty. This gave him enough confidence to write a new constitution for Andorra that he hoped would modernize the country (largely by turning it into a tax haven, which it would eventually become until Andorran co-prince Nicolas Sarkozy put a stop to things in 2009).

Constitution in hand, Skossyreff returned to Andorra, promising to make his proposed tax haven one of Europe’s most important financial centers. The General Council was dazzled, and voted 23-1 to install him as the secular monarch. (The French monarch at the time didn’t seem to care or much notice that he was being overthrown.) The Spanish put an end to Boris I’s reign, responding with overwhelming force in the form of three constables and a sergeant, who handcuffed him and dragged him out of the country.

Advertisement

After serving some jail time, Skossyreff returned to France, where he was arrested, imprisoned, and deported to Portugal, where he was again arrested for being in the country illegally. He then went to Spain, but the Spanish Civil War broke out almost immediately. So he fled to France, who arrested him again and put him in a prison camp with Spanish anti-fascists. He was released by the Nazis when they occupied France, and after the war was treated as a Nazi collaborator. He fled for West Germany, but visited East Germany long enough to be arrested by the Soviets and sentenced to 25 years in Siberia. He served about 10, then returned to West Germany, where he lived out the rest of his life.

Further Down the Wormhole: It is of course more traditional for a country to have a singular head of state. America was once known for morally upright, inspiring heads of state like Abraham Lincoln, who ended slavery, saved the Union, and established the Republican Party as a dominant political force for half a century. That era ended when Teddy Roosevelt’s Progressive Party split the Republican electorate, and the party hit a nadir with the candidacy of Alf Landon, the Kansas governor who got steamrolled by FDR’s first re-election campaign. He was otherwise lucky electorally, somehow garnering the 1936 Republican nomination despite getting half as many votes as competitor William Borah. Four years earlier he won the governor’s race in Kansas by less than one percent of the vote, thanks in part to an unlikely spoiler candidate, John R. Brinkley, who came in very close third as an independent. Brinkley is better remembered now as a famous quack who, despite having no medical training, gained fame and fortune through a cure-all technique of his own invention—transplanting goat testicles into the human body. Next week, we’ll look at a doctor who’s dangerously unqualified even by 2020’s standards of questionable medical advice.

Advertisement

Author of five books, including Selfdestructible, his first novel. He tells people he lives in New York, but he really lives in New Jersey.

Share This Story

Get our newsletter