Sources recounting the birth of Louis-Napoléon, the future Napoleon III

Share it

According to the child's mother in her memoirs, Louis-Napoléon, third son of the King and Queen of Holland was born very early in the morning of Thursday 21 April (1 o'clock), at 8 Rue Cerruti (today 17 Rue Laffitte), in Paris. The child was born slightly premature and so of a weak constitution. It was a difficult birth. The father, Louis Bonaparte, was not present.

The Moniteur Universel

 “Today, Wednesday 20 April, at one in the morning [The Moniteur of 21 April considered ‘one in the morning' both today and Wednesday 20!, ed.], HM the Queen of Holland successfully gave birth to a prince. In conformity with article 40 of the Acte des Constitutions, dated 28 Floréal, An XII, His Serene Highness Monseigneur the Prince Archchancellor of the Empire [Cambaceres, ed.] was present at the birth. His Highness wrote immediately to HM the Emperor and King, to HM the Empress and Queen and to HM the King of Holland, informing them of the news. […] At five o'clock in the afternoon, the certificate of birth was received by His Serene Highness Monseigneur the Prince Archchancellor, accompanied by H. Exc. Monsieur Regnault [de Saint-Jean-d'Angély, ed.], Minister of State, and Secretary of State to the Imperial Family. Given the absence of HM the Emperor and King, the newborn prince has not received a Christian name; he will receive one by a subsequent ‘acte', following the orders of SM. The witnesses to the certificate of birth' were Their Serene Highnesses the Prince Arch Treasurer and the Prince Vice-Grand Elector. They were appointed by the Prince Archchancellor, in conformity with article 19 of the Imperial statute of 30 March, 1806, given the absence of all the blood princes. HIH Madame Mère, HM the Queen of Holland, HIH Madame the Princesse Caroline, Grand Duchess of Berg; His Eminent Highness, Monsignor the Cardinal Fesch, and HE Monsieur the Admiral Verhuel, HM the King of Holland's Ambassador to HM the Emperor and King, were present at the signing of the certificate.” (Moniteur, 21 April, 1808)

“On being informed by a chamberlain that HM had given birth, His Eminence Monsignor the Cardinal Fesch, went immediately to HM's palace [in fact, the town mansion at 8 rue Cerutti, ed.] where, assisted by the Emperor's chaplain, the Vicar General of the Grande Aumônerie, and the Master of Ceremonies of the Imperial Chapel, he summarily baptised the newborn prince […]” (Moniteur 28 April, 1808, trans. P.H.)

The Memoirs of Queen Hortense

“In the night of 20/21 April, 1808, I gave birth to a son. I would have preferred a daughter, but the news delighted my mother and the Emperor had a cannon salute fired along the whole of the Spanish border – he was there at the time. He saw the birth of a second prince in his family as a happy event for his policy. To inform him of the event I had sent to him Monsieur de Villeneuve, my French chamberlain, and to my husband, Monsieur, the Count de Bylandt, my Dutch chamberlain. The King had it announced to the people assembled beneath his balcony and received the usual congratulations. I later learned that this surgeon [Baudelocque, ed.] had said in the “salon de service” (servants' salon): «Queens are allowed to give birth before term; they never count like others.”

My son was so weak that I thought I would lose him at birth. He had to be bathed in wine [so as to improved the circulation of the blood, ed.], and I wrapped him in cotton [to warm him up, ed.] to bring him back to life. I was no longer concerned about my own life: dark forebodings gave me nothing other than the certitude that I would die. I was so convinced of this that I asked my obstetrician I would live one more day. My state seemed to him to be inexplicable. And it just got worse.

A visit from Monsieur de Talleyrand heightened my state of nerves. He had to be present for the writing of the certificate of birth of my son. He usually wore a great deal of powder. The smell was so strong that when he came close to me to congratulate me, I nearly suffocated. I did not dare say anything the whole time he was there, but I felt poorly. […] My youngest child […] made me very worried. I nearly lost him: I had to change his wet nurse. I rushed myself to a village to look for one, and I paid for this energy which I had momentarily in this moment of maternal fear, a few days later. I caught a cold caring for my son and had terrible headaches as a result. Would you believe it? I enjoyed the physical suffering. And to make matters worse, the emperor's family worried about my stay in France. The mother of my husband [Madame Mère, ed.] said out loud that I was abandoning her ill and unhappy son, who could not do without me. […] The idea of returning to Holland  made me shudder…»

Mémoires de la Reine Hortense / publiés par le prince Napoléon ; avec notes par Jean Hanoteau. Paris, Plon 1927, 3 v., vol. 2, pp. 3-6 (trans .P.H.)

Napoleon and Josephine’s letters to Hortense

“My daughter, I have learned that you have successfully given birth to a boy. I am absolutely delighted. All I need to be entirely at ease is to know that you are well. I am surprised that, in a letter dated 20th written to me by the Archchancellor, that he said nothing about this.”
Napoleon to Hortense, 23 April, 1808 (Correspondance n°13775, trans. P.H.)
  “My dear Hortense, I am overjoyed. The news of your labour was brought to me yesterday by Monsieur de Villeneuve. My heart beat fast when I saw him come in, but I was fairly sure that he brought nothing other than news of a happy result, and my premonition was not wrong. I have just received a second letter from the Archchancellor assuring me that you are well, as is the little boy. Mademoiselle Cochelet has also given me very comforting details. I know that Napoléon[-Louis, Louis-Napoleon's elder brother, ed.] is resigned to not having a sister and already loves his brother. Kiss both of them for me. […] But I will not write too much here lest I tire you out. Take great care of yourself. […] Send me your news every day : I cannot wait to receive it. I love you dearly.”
Letter from Josephine to Hortense on the birth of Napoleon III: “Bordeaux, 23 April”, 1808. Impératrice Joséphine, Correspondance, 1782-1814, ed. Bernard Chevallier, Maurice Catinat and Christophe Pincemaille, Paris: Payot, 1996, pp. 221-2, trans. P.H.

Share it