Antoine de Tounens was a grand cru nutcase, a real-life Don Quixote who travelled to South America in search of adventure after reading an epic poem by the 16th-century Spanish writer Alonso de Ercilla. The French lawyer landed in the Chilean port of Coquimbo in 1858; two years later, citing the support of indigenous Mapuche tribes, he declared himself King Orélie-Antoine I of Araucanía and Patagonia, publishing a constitution and claiming dominion over a vast territory that stretched from the Pacific to the Atlantic.
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De Tounens’ ‘reign’ lasted for 18 years. During that time, he was expelled, in 1862, after being declared insane by a Chilean court, but tried to return – mostly unsuccessfully – to his ‘kingdom’ on three further occasions. He died a pauper’s death in France in 1878 with no descendants. But to this day, there are still pretenders to his imaginary throne. They are known in French as ‘monarques et souverains de la fantaisie’ (monarchs and sovereigns of fantasy).