French Royalty: The Bonapartes -- Napoleon II (1811-32)

Figure 1.--This portrait shows Francois Charles Joseph Bonaparte at the Schönbrunn Palace. I'm not sure about the date, it looks like anou 1816-18. He was a beautifull child with long blond curly hair. He was very loved by his grandfather the Emperor Francis II and l'Aiglon loved his grandfather. This portrait was painted by Carl Von Sales in 1815. That of course was the year his father left Elba and launched his last military campaign ending at Waterloo.

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 boyhood or the clothes he wore. Napoleon reportedly adored him. After his birth the Emperor, 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.


Napoleon II had perhaps the mmost illustrios linneage of any European boy. He was a product of Napoleons desire not only to have a son, but to legitimize the Bonaparte linneage. Francois Charles Joseph Bonaparte was thus related to the Bonapartes, which at the time of his birth was the most powerful family in Europe. And through Princess Marine Louise, he was directly relate to the Hapsburg emperor. The Hapsburgs were one of the most illustrious royal families of Europe. Napoleon's son was thus the merger of two powerful royal families.


Napoleon II's mother's family was the Hapsburg Princess Maria Louise, daughter of Austrain Emperor Francis II. He was one of the leading European royals, first resisting the French Revolution and then Napoleon. Frances was born in 1768. His father was Leopold II, Holy Roman Emperor (1747- ). His mother was Maria Luisa of Spain (Bourbon) (1745- ). He acceded to the throne in 1792. He abdicated as Holy Roman Emperor in 1806 and Austrian Emperor 1804. He mairred Elizabeth Wilhelmine von Wurttemberg (1788- ). They had one child: Ludovika (1790- ). He then married Maria Theresa of Naples (1790- ). They had 13 children: Marie Louise, Archduchess of Austria (1791- ), Emperor Ferdinand I (1793- ), Caroline (1794- ), Caroline (1795- ), Leopoldine (1797- ), Clementine (1798- ), Joseph (1799- ), Caroline (1801- ), Arch Duke Franz Karl (1802- ), Marie Anna (1804- ), Johann (1805- ), and Amalie (1807- ). Frances married twice more to Marie Ludovika in 1808 and Charlotte of Bavaria in 1816, but had no more children. Two of the children are notable. Ferdinand succeeded his father. Marie Louise married Napoleon I after the Emoperor divorced Josephine.


Napoleon II's father was one of the central figures of modern European history--the Emperor Napoleon Boneparte. Napoleon came from a minor but impoverished and non-French family. His rise was one of the most spectacular in European history. 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.


His mother was Marie Louise, an Austrian princess, who Napolean mairred after divorcing Josefine. Maria Louise was quite young at the time of the mairrage. Like most Europeam royals, she despised Napoleon. He father, Austrian Emperor Francis II, whose armies had been desimated by Napoleon, ordered his daughter to marry him for obvious political reasons. By all accounts she came to love him. She returned to Austrian with her 2-3 year son after Nepoleon's defeat in 1814.

Childhood in France

Napoléon François Joseph Charles Bonaparte was born in Paris to the Emperor and Marie Louise (March 20, 1811). He was as a toddler the succesor to his father. He was given the title of King of Rome in infancy. Napoleon reportedly absolutely adored him. After his birth the Emperor who had been a work-aholic began to devote himself to domestic familiar affairs. He must have been the most pampered child in Europe. We do not yet have information about his clothing. And we have been able to find few other details about his life in Paris.

Napoleon's Abdication

Napoleon II never actually ruled France. He was still a very young child wjen his father was forced to abdicate. He was for a brief time, however, the titular emperor of France. When his father abdicated in April 1814, he named his son Emperor. He thus became the titular French Enperor (1814). The French Chamber of Representatives and Chamber of Peers recognized the boy as emperor from the moment of his father's second abdication (June 22, 1815). Allied armies soon entered Paris (July 7). The Allied coalition partners that had defeated Napoleon refused to acknowledge his son as successor and Napoleon II never actually reigned. Louis Napoleon when he became Emperor, however, took the name Napoleon III in deference to his cousin.

Childhood Clothing

Napoleon II was always beautifully dresses, both in France and Austria. We have few details at this time. He wore at first high wasted Empire dresses as a little boy. While learning to walk we notice him in some kind of harness which look more like a restrining device than a waking aid. When he was older he wote high waisted skeleton suits (figure 1). His grandfather Emperor Francis II had a tendency to economize, but not apparently when his grandson was involved.

Childhood Hair Styles

I have noted an early drawing of the boy and he has ringlet curls. He wore below the shoulders ringlet curls until he was 9 or 10 years old (figure 1). He disliked the curls but his hair was put up in curl papers every night on orders from his mother. He pleaded to have his curls cut, but on was about to overrode the orders of his mother, the daughter of the Austrian Emperor. As a young man he wore heavily curled, but not long hair.

Return to Austria

After his father's defeat in 1814, Marie Louise took her son, popularly known as l'Aiglon (the Eaglet) to the Austrian court at Vienna. This was the last time Napoleon saw his son who he treasured. The Emperor was exiled to Elba. 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 Prince of Parma (1814).

European Power Politics

The boy actually became a pawn in European power politics. Most of the victorious Allies opposed granting any nobel title to Napoleon;s son. The Austrian Foreign Minister, Count Meternich, used the boy as a pawn at the Congress of Vienna and subsequent dealings, epecially with France. He was known to occassinally use the title Napoleon II as a threat to the French Bourbons. Some Italian natuinalists championed the boy. They saw his position as the future Duke of Parma a possible leader who could promote Itlian unification. The legitimacy of the restored Bourbons was tenuous as regards the French people who had been radically changed by the Revolution. And those who opposed the Bourbons woud use the name Napoleon II.


The Treaty of Fontainebleau after Napoleon's abdication allowed Marie Louise to retain her imperial rank and style--Her Imperial Majesty The Empress Marie Louise (April 11, 1814). It also designated her the ruler of the duchies of Parma, Piacenza, and Guastalla in Italy. Her son Francois Charles was designated her heir. After Napoleon escaped from Elba and launced another military campaign, the Congress of Vienna changed the the provisions of the Treaty of Fontainebleau. Marie Louise was made the Duchess of Parma for her life only. This essentially disinherited Francois Charles. although who would become the Duke of Parma after she died was left unspecified. A separate treaty designated a Bourbon to inherit the duchies (1817).

Childhood in Austria

After returning to Austria with his mother as a toddler, he was raised in luxury at the famed Schönbrunn Palace. He was a beautifull child with long blond curly hair and called Franz. He was reportedly much loved by his grandfather the Empereur Francis II and Francois Charles loved his grandfather. The Emperess Caroline-Augusta adored this orphan and called him "Fränzchen". His grandfather provided all the neccesary confort to his grandson: a big house staffed by 1 huissier, 2 postillons, 5 cochers, 4 laquais, 1 aide garde-magasin, 1 palefrenier, 1 adjoind de bureau, 2 cuisiniers de cour, 1 cuisinière pour les entrements, 1 confiseur, 1 valet, 1 sommelier, 1 porteur d'eau, 1 blanchisseur, 1 valet chargé de l'éclairage and so on. The Imperial family loved the Prince who had a keen mind. As a boy he was given the title of the Duc de Reichstadt (1818). He was treated with great respect and addressed as " Hoheit Durchlaucht ", meaning "His Most Serene Hightness". He grew up in Austria speaking German. (Interestingly, his cousin the future Napoleon III grew up in Switzerland and Bavaria, also learming to speak German fluently.) Above his bed there was a large portrait of his father Napoléon I. I am not sure at what age he put in there or if was difficult for him to obtain permission to do so.


Franz was educated by tutors and apparent was a bright student. L'Aiglon could write and speak French, German, and Italian fluently. And when we read some of his letters, we are stupefied by the quality of the writing. He also was well versed in Latin and Greek. He was especially interested in military history.


Marie Louise four months after Napoleon's death, married morganatically (1821). Her lover was Adam Albert von Neipperg (1775-1829). They had three children. The first two were born before the marriage. The children were one boy and two girls. Albertine was Countess of Montenuovo (1817-1867). She married Luigi Sanvitale, Count of Fontanellato. Wilhelm Albrecht was the Count of Montenuovo and created Prince of Montenuovo (1819-1895). He married Countess Juliana Batthyány von Németújvár. Mathilde was the Countess of Montenuovo (born 1822).

Political Threat

As a youth he was a virtual prisioner in Vienna, dominated by the Austrian statesman Metternich. The Austrians and French Bourbons were still afraid of Napoleon and considered his son to be a threat as well. As a potential symbol of French nationalism and the possible heir to a future Bonaparte restoration, the boy was a potential danger to the conservative royal families that had been restored following Napoleon's defeat. After his father's death he became an even greater threat. He was kidnapped once by his French nanny. His grandfather Emperor Francis II was afraid the French would steal him away and declare him Neopolean's successor.


Francois Charles was reportedly very intelligent, cultivated, and always well-dressed. He was also very handsome. The women in Vienna apparently adored this young man. A reader describes a portrait of Francois Charles as a youth. He writes, "An 1831 portrait depicts the same eyes and brown wavy hair though of course a bit shorter as he was older. He is wearing an Austrian military tunic, pink, no epaulets, but with the badges of a couple of orders on it and a high black collar. Believe he also had his father's sword." The portrait was done by a Rodolf Hille in Vienna. [Weil] His grandfather, the Austian Emperor had a great affection toward him, but also feared him as a political threat. After his step-father, Neipperg, died, Francois Charles learned that his mother had two illegitimate children before she actually married Neipperg. Francois Charles told his friend, Prokesch von Osten, "If Josephine had been my mother, my father would not have been buried at Saint Helena, and I should not be at Vienna. My mother is kind but weak; she was not the wife my father deserved". [Markham, p. 249.] Francois Charles developed a friendship with Princess Sophie of Bavaria. Some have suggested that he was the actual father of Maximilian, the prince that Napoleon III tried to install in Mexico. [Smith]


Napoleon II conveniently died at the young age of 21 while the Bourbons still ruled France. Some speculate that he may have been done away with. L'Aiglon just as he died said, " Den Tod will ich, nur der Tod ist für mich" and also "Entre mon berceau et ma tombe, il y a un grand zéro ".


His funeral took place in Vienna. He was burried in the Kaisergruft (the Austrain Imperal burial vault). As the son of Marie Louise d'Autriche, he was a member of the Austrian royl family. His body has, however, been reclamend by France and nne other than Adolf Hitler was responsible. Hitler who saw himself as a modern Napoleon, visited Napoleon's tomb at the Invalide in Paris after the Germans defeated France and occupied Paris (June 1940). Hitler ordered that Napoleon's son be returned to France (December 15, 1940). So now the the son rests near his father at the Pantéon in Paris. Every day large crowds of people from France and abroad visit this monument.


The King of Rome.

Markham, Felix. Napoleon.

Smith, Gene. Maximilian and Carlota.

Weil, Richard. Email, February 11, 2003.


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Created: June 6, 1998
Last updated: 8:55 PM 7/28/2011