French Royalty: The Bonapartes

Figure 1.--This is Napoléon II, the Emperor's only son as a child. The portrait was painted in 1818 after the tumultous reign of his father. The portrait was painted in Vienna by the famed English portratist Thomas Lawrence.

The Bourbons and the Bonapartes have dominated the history the French nation. Several dynastic families, however, have provided their lines to long list of French kings. Napoleon Bonaparte changed not only France, but the face of modern Europe. Major reforms such as the new legal system--the Napoleonic Code brought France into the modern era. Despite his defeats in 1814-15, the impact of Napoleon launched unwitingly the nationalist movements in many European countries--especially Italy and Germany. France itself was to experience another Bonaparre regime after the liberal revolution of 1848 which shook Europe. Napoleon III's regime, however, proved disastrous for France.

The Reign of Terror and First Republic

Following the execution of the King on 21 January 1793 there followed a reign of terror with many political trials. By the end of 1793 there were 4,595 political prisoners held in Paris. As the Revolution progressed, lopping off the heads of aristocrats, empowering the ordinary toiling people, breaking up estates among the peasants and threatening the established order in neighbouring monarchies, the wealthier and more powerful among the middle classes also began to take fright. They had gained what they wanted from the revolution--political power. The middle class now became frightened of the people in the streets as the aristocracy was. The middle class conspired against the revolution, and after less than 6 years of revolution, counter revolution triumphed in 1795 with the execution of Robespierre. By 1799, only one decade after the fall of the Bastille, it was all over, and Napoleon was in power. France began to have better times as their armies, under the command of Napoleon Bonaparte, won victory after victory.

Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte (1800-14)

A fascinating footnote of modern history is that perhaps the greastest French leader of all time, Napoleon Bonaparte, as a boy did not speak French and grew up hateing France. He was sent by his father, who has decided to collaborate with the French invaders, to study in a French military school. Napoleon never really forgave his father for collaborating with the French. It was in these schools, however, where he was dismissed as a foreign nobody that Napoleon virtually slowly became French--although he was unaware of it at the time. Napoleon Bonepart was born on the island of Corsica on Aug 15, 1769. Fascinatingly the most celebrated French leader of all time as a boy and youth hated the French and and France. Corsica for generations had been ruled by Genoa and historically and linguistically Corsica was more Italian than French. A year before Napoleon's birth, the French had ceased Corscia in 1768 and suppressed local resistance with over powering military force. Napoleon's father was part of the local nobility, but had little money. While bitterly resenting the French invasion, decided that it was futile to resist and accepted French. His son never forgave him for this. His father realizing that little opprtunity existed for his son decided to educated him at a French milutary school and usug his positn secured a scolarship for him. Napoleon married Josephene de Beauharnas on March 9, 1796. Napoleon became 1st Consul in 1800 and then Emperor in 1804. The French armies continued a conquest of Europe while Napoleon's power became more and more secure. Napoleon crowned himself Emprorer of the French and created an empire that covered most western and central Europe. He was the greatest military genius of his time. Napoleon's armies crushed one foe after another until he seemed invincible. For nearly 20 years, many European nations fought him. Napoleon had an unimpresslve appearance, but he carried himself well. He pioneered new strategy and tactics, and became one of the great military commanders in history. Napoleon also proved himself a talented adminstrator. He supervised the work of preparing the system of laws called the Code Napoleon or Napoleonic Code. In addition, he founded the Bank of France, reorganized the French education system, and established a strong centralized government. Napoleon created and juggled kingdoms at will. He placed his relatives and friends on the thrones of Europe. And, finally, he brought about his own downfall. Napoleon's collapse came partly because his pride and stubbornness forced him to go ahead with doubtful plans, and partly because he betrayed the faith of many people. Josephine was the love of Napoleon's life. But she did not produce an heir that the Emperor so desperately needed. He reluctantly divorced her and on 1810 mairred the Austrian Hapsburg Princess Marie Louise. She regarded him as an ogre. But her father Francis II, whose troops Napoleon had repeately defeated in the battlefield, insisted that she marry him. She was reluctantly sent off to Paris where Napoleon won her over. Within a year the Emperor had a son. After Napolen's abdication, Marie Louise's father refused to let her or her son see him again. England was Napoleon's obsession. It was the Russians, however, who finally defeated him. Napoleon in 1811 was at the height of his power. Czar Alexander refused to comply with the terms of their treaty and participate in Napoleon's Continental System. Napoleon assembles a huge army of 600,000 men and invades. The Russians refuse to give battle until the brusing battle of Boradino before Moscow. After occupying Moscow he is eventually forced to withdraw. On the retreat his Army is desimated by the Russian wnter and harrying tactics. He assembles another army, but is defeated by a coalition which eventually includes his father-in-law, Francis II. The Allies enter Paris on March 31, 1814. Napoleon abdicated on April 6 and is installed on Elba. The Bourbon Louis XVIII was installed as King of France by the Allies. Louis XVIII proves to be an unispired leader. The year 1815 saw the famous 100 hundred days. Napoleon slips away from Elba and is enthusiastically received by the French people, He enters Paris on March 20. The allies began to descend on France. In a premtive stroke he gathered an army an attempted to defeat the British and Prussians in Belgium before the Austrians and Russians arrived. He was defeated at Waterloo on 18 June. Wellington was to say that it was the clost thing you could imagine. But even if Napoleon had won at Waterloo he would almost cetainly have been eventually defeated by the power of the Allies. He abdicated for the second time on June 22 and was exiled to St Helena, virtully the most isolated spot on earth.

Bourbon Restoration

The monarchies of Europe and the Prime Minister of Austria (Count Meternich) at the Congress of Vienna restored the Bourbons to the French throne after the fall of Napoleon. Louis XVIII made an effort to legitimize the Bourbons in the eyes of the French people. The reactionary Charles X acted as the Revolution and Napoleon never exsisted. There was, however, no going back to the Ancin Regime. The Bourbons were no longer legitimate in the eyes of the French people, but rather rulers that were being imposed upon them. The people of Paris again put an end to Burbon absolutism when they overthre Charles. Louis Phillipe prolonged the Bourbon period for only a few more years.

Louis XVIII (1814-24)

After the defeat of Napoleon I in 1814, a brother of Louis XVI was restored to the French throne as Louis XVIII. Louis was born at Versailles in 1755, the son of the Dauphin Louis, a grandson of Louis XV and a younger brother of Louis XVI. He was baptised Louis Stanislas Xavier and given the title of Count de Provence. He married Marie Joséphine, daughter of the King of Savoy, in 1771. The marriage was childless. The Count had literary and political interests and was more liberal than his older brother or his younger brother the Count d'Artois--the future Charles X. He attempted to work with the Revolution and enjoyed some popularity. As the Revolution became more radical he finally emigrated in June 1791. After Louis XVI's execution in 1793, he was proclaimed Regent for Louis XVII who was held captive in Paris. When Louus XVII died, the émigrés proclaimed the Count Louis XVII. After several moves he settled in London where he endured the Napoleonic era. Louis XVIII was reinstated as King. He accepted his role as constitutional monarch and pursued a moderate policy attempting to end past recriminations, end foreign military occupation, and restore the international prestige of the monarchy. He sought as he wrote to Decazes "to nationalize royalty and royalize the nation." Louis was, however, sickly and as his health deteriorated he took less interest in politics. He died in September 1824. Louis' younger and reactionary brother, Charles became king.

Charles X (1824-30)

At the death of Louis XVIII, a younger brother, Charles X, acceded and was the last Bourbon king of France. He set about re-establishing the old regime. But you cannot kill ideas and a whole generation had experienced the power of ideas that grip the mind of the masses. France was becoming a capitalist country and the new capitalist class was busy developing its own gravediggers in the form of a working class for its growing number of factories and mills. The people, including the new capitalists, had had enough of the old regime, however. They and especially the peoople of Paris knew how to get rid of kings. A popular 1830 Parisian insurection deposed Charles and his reactionary regime. A popular assembly elected a new liberal king, Louis Phillipe, the former Duke of Orleans.


The descendants of Charles X became pretenders to the throne in the view of the adherents of the House of Bourbon, known as Legitimists.

Louis Philippe (1830-1848)

At the time of the French Revolution, under the name Citizen Egalite Equality), he had joined the citizens' militia, the National Guard, under Lafayette (who had fought in the American Revolution). The regime of the "citizen king" however became increasingly reactionary and corrupt, until it was ousted in the torrent revolutionary activity that burst forth in 1848.

The Second Republic (1848-51)

The short-lived Second Republic lasted from the fall of Louis Felippe in 1848 to the seizure of power by Nappoleon III in a 1851 coup d'etat. The despite its short life, the Revolution of 1848 that inspired it shook Europe to its foundation. The French Revolution of 1848 was still a bourgeois-democratic revolution, but carried to a higher stage and influenced by the Communist League of Marx and Engels. Revolutionary sentiments and aims spread across Europe. In March, revolutionary uprisings erupted in Germany. In June, the workers of Paris rose up. Engels called this "the first great battle for power between the proletariat and the bourgeoisie". 100,000 soldiers confronted 30,000-40,000 workers behind street barricades. For three glorious days the armed people held the army at bay. When the workers' districts fell, the heroic insurgents were massacred, the survivors hanged or transported. Marx and Engels, through their paper in Germany, the Neue Rheinische Zeitung, vigorously supported the Parisian workers. "If 40,000 Parisian workers", wrote Engels, "could achieve such tremendous things against forces four times their number, what will the whole mass of Paris workers accomplish by concerted and co-ordinated action!" The example of the Parisian workers inspired other mass revolutionary uprisings that year in Poland, Italy and Bohemia, all countries suffering under the rule of foreign monarchs. Late in the year there was a second revolutionary uprising in Germany. These were not localised events. Revolutionary armies were formed and campaigns waged. Engels joined the revolutionary army in Germany, and exposed the fatal timidity and poor tactics of the revolutionary leaders. In Hungary, revolutionary war raged and continued on into much of 1849 before being finally defeated by the sheer power of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. In Germany, during 1849, there were more uprisings, this time against the counter-revolution. Again, the soldiers in many areas sided with the people, and pitched battles were fought between revolutionary and counter-revolutionary armies. Meanwhile, the nephew of Napoleon, a wily demagogue, had returned to France from exile shortly after the February revolution of 1848 and got himself elected to the new Constituent Assembly. Posing as the protector of popular liberties and national prosperity, he was elected President and in 1851 he dissolved the Constitution and a year later proclaimed himself Emperor as Napoleon III. coup d'etat. Meanwhile, the nephew of Napoleon, a wily demagogue, had returned to France from exile shortly after the February revolution of 1848 and got himself elected to the new Constituent Assembly. Posing as the protector of popular liberties and national prosperity, he was elected President and in 1851 he dissolved the Constitution and a year later proclaimed himself Emperor as Napoleon III. >

The Bonaparte Descendents

Napoleon's descendents played important roles in the politics of mid-19th century Europe. Napoleon II was the Emperor's son, but was raised in the Austrian court. Louis Napoleon was only a child when his great uncle was driven from power. He apparently wore skeleton suits as a boy. He was schooled in Bavaria and acquired a French accent. Eager to regain the throne, he portrayed himself as a polictical liberal, military expert, and social reformer. His reign ended with the disasterous Franco-Prussian War.

Francois Charles Joseph Bonaparte--Napoleon II (1811-32)

Francois Charles Joseph Bonaparte (1811-32), as a toddler, was the succesor to his father and titular French Enperor (1814). He was born in Paris. Napoleon I was his father and Marie Louise his mother. He was given the title of King of Rome in infancy. I have noted an early drawing of the boy and he has ringlet curls. Other than that I have no details on his bouhood or the clothes he wore. Napoleon reportedly adored him. After his birth the Eperor who had been a work-aholic began to devote himself to domestic affairs. When his father abdicated in April 1814, he named his son Emperor, but the coalition partners that had defeated Napoleon refused to acknowledge his son as successor and Napoleon II never actually reigned. After his father's final defeat in 1815, Marie Louise took her son, popularly known as l'Aiglon (the Eaglet), to the Austrian court at Vienna. She writes Napoleon telling him that her father, Austrian Emperor Francis II, refuses to allow her to ever see him again. Napoleon's son was first given the title rince of Parma (1814) and then the Duc de Reichstadt (1818). For the rest of his life he was a virtual prisinor in Vienna, dominated by the Austrian statesman Metternich. He died at the young age of 21 while the Bourbons still rule France.

Charles Louis Napoleon Bonaparte--Napoleon III (1851-70)

Louis Napoleon (1803-73) was the French emperor from 1852 to 1870 who revived the empire of Napolean in the mid-1800's. The future Napoleon III, was born in Paris. His father was Louis Bonaparte, King of Holland, third brother of the first Emperor, and his mother Hortense Eugenie Beauharnais, stepdaughter of the Emperor. Charles was not close to his brother and after quareling with him, abandoned the Dutch throne in 1810 and eventually settled in Rome and devoted himself to literature. Louis Napoleon was only a child when his great uncle was driven from power. He apparently wore skeleton suits as a boy. He was schooled in Bavaria and acquired a French accent. Eager to regain the throne, he portrayed himself as a polictical liberal, military expert, and social reformer. He attempted to overthrow King Louis Phillipe in 1836 and 1840, but was unsuccessful. After Louis Phillipe was ousted in 1848, Louis Napolean won the presidency by a landslide. Although, he reigned by dictatorship, he recieved considerable popular support. His idealistic foreign policy blinded him to the threat of Prussia in 1870, and his regime was overthrown. He maired a Spanish aristicrat. He and the Emperess Eugené had one child, the Prince Imperial--Eugene. Napoleon III pursued no notable social reforms, but engaged in military camapigns which in the end Bismark and Wilhelm I forge a powerful unified German state on France's eastern border. He was taken prisioner by the Germans in the Franco Prussian War. A Third Republic was declared and struggled on valiantly, but unsuccessfully against the Germans. Napoleon III himself was released by the Germans in 1871 and joined the Emperess at Chiselhurst, Kent in England where he resided until his death 2 years later. Napoleon III's tomb is oddly enough in Farnborough, Hampshire. It is in a lofty French-style chapel erected by the Empress Eugenie. The Prince Imperial is also buried there.

Eugene Louis Jean Joseph Bonaparte--Prince Imperial (1856-79)

Eugene Louis was born with the proverbial silver spoon. He was brought up surrounded by Napoleonic legend. I have no details yet on his childhood, including how he was dressed. One thing is clear, he probably rarely had to saddle his own horse. Eugene was Napoleon III's and the Empress Eugenie's only son. He was known as the Prince Imperial and took the title Count of Pierrefonds. After his father's fall from power, Eugene was proclaimed Napapoleon IV by his father's adherents. He applied for permission to join British forces in Zululand and was permitted in 1879 to go as a guest of the British Army. While on a reconnoitering party they were surprised by the Zulus. The British mounted a retired. The girth on Eugene's saddle broke. He was seized by the Zulus and killed.

Figure 3.--Prince Joseph Bonaparte (1822-91) and his two sons Victor (1862-1926) and Louis (1864-1926) in a photograph taken about 1875. Knee pants for boys were becoming increasingly common in the 1870s, but both boys wear long pants. The boys were raised in both France and England where for several years they lived in exile.

Joseph Charles Paul Napoleon (1822-91)

Joseph was the son of Jerome Bonaparte, Napoleon I's yonger brother. His father married in America, but the Emperor refused to recognize the marriage. Jerome later participated in the Napoleonic Wars, was made King of Westphalia in 1807. He was forced to marry Catherine, daughter of King Ferederick I of Wurttemberg, Joseph Charles' mother. Joseph became a pretender to the French throne and was known as Prince Napoleon. He was born in Trieste several years after the Napoleonic Wars. He returned to France, but was banished by the ruling monarchy for involvement in republican groups. He returned to France with his father in 1847 and after the Revolution of 1848 was elected to the National Assembly. He commanded an infantry division in he Crimean War. He mairred Princess Clotilde , daughter of King Victor Emmanuel II of Sardinia and future King of a united Italy. On the outbreak of the Franco Prussian War, he sought Italian assistance. (Napoleon III has assisted Sardinia in its war with Austria.) His mission, however, was unsuccessful. After the fall of Napoleon III's Second Empire, he fled to England and lived there until returning to France in 1872. After the Prince Imperial (Napoleon III's son) died in Zululand, Joseph became the Bonapartist pretender. The Republic exiled the Bourbon family heads in 1886 and Joseph and his eldest son Prince Victor (1862-1926). On his father's death, Victor became head of the Bonaparte family.

Victor Napoleon (1862-1926)

Prince Victor was the oldest son of the Prince joseph Napoleon (1822-91), the heir apparent, and his wife, Princess Marie Clothilde of Savoy, daughter of Victor Emmanuel II of Italy. He was born in the Palais Royal of Paris. The Second French Empire was very well established at the time. Two younger siblings would soon follow: Prince Louis (1864–1932) and Princess Maria Letizia Bonaparte (1866–1926), later the Duchess of Aosta. At the time of his birth, he was third in the line of succession to the throne behind the Prince Imperial and his father. The Empire came to an end with the abdication of the Emperor Napoleon III during the Franco-Prussian War (1870). The boys were raised in both France and England where for several years they lived in exile. Here we see Prince Victor and his youngr brother in exile in Britain about 1875 (figure 3). Knee pants for boys were becoming increasingly common in the 1870s, but both boys wear long pants. Victor became the Bonapartist pretender to the French throne (1879-1926). He was thus known as Napoléon V by Bonapartists.

Louis Napoleon

Louis Napoleon was the son of Bonaparte claimant Victor Napoleon, at the time often referred to as Prince Napoleon. His mother was Princess Clementine of Belgium (daughter of King Leopold II of Belgium. Louis asnd his sister lived with his parents in Brussels, as he was a claimant to the Imperial throne of France, he could not live in France. French law banned members of the French royal family (both the Bourbons and the Bonapartes) from residing in France. He was educated in French-lsnguage schools in both Brussels, Belgium and Lausanne in Switzerland. They seem to have moved in the same social cirles as their Belgiasn royal cousins and were dressed similarly.

Third Republic

The Third Republic was set up after the Franco-Prussian war disaster in 1870, the fall of the second Bonaparte empire, and the suppression of the great Paris Commune. As the German armies approached Paris in 1870, a Government of National Defence was immediately formed in Paris, the Third Republic proclaimed, and the might of Prussia defied. For four months Paris held out against German siege, but January 1871, when Paris neared the end of its food supply and provincial military operations appeared hopeless, the French Government capitulated. Bismarck imposed harsh peace terms. Two months later, the French Government moved to disarm the workers. In Paris, the workers, supported by the men of the National Guard (the same body that "Citizen Egalite" had joined in 1789), rose up under the banner of the Red Flag, and proclaimed a Commune. Similar Communes were established at Lyon, Toulouse, Marseilles, Saint- Etienne, Le Creusot and Narbonne, but were short lived. Paris was isolated. After a heroic struggle the city fell to the counter-revolutionary government forces in May 1871, and a week-long massacre of Communards ensued. But as Marx commented: "The principles of the Commune were eternal and could not be crushed; they would assert themselves again until the working classes were emancipated." The great statesman Thiers, who had been minister under Louis Phillipe before Napolean Bonaparte the younger made himself Emperor on the back of the 1848 Revolution as it were, really wanted a return to a Liberal Monarchy like the Kingdom of France under Louis Phillipe (1830-1848), retaining the tri-colour flag - not going back to the old lovely Bourbon Fleur de Lys flag on the blue ground, and, of course, accepting a responsible Parliament. The Count de Paris refused to become king with the tri-colour flag, so President McMahon dropped the whole question, and the 3rd Republic soldiered on through the 1914 war, and down to the disaster of 1940 in total defeat of France by Germany.


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Created: June 6, 1998
Last updated: 8:26 PM 8/4/2017