1808 – Birth of Louis-Napoleon Bonaparte
The future emperor Napoleon III was born in Paris during the night of 20/21 April. He was given the names Charles-Louis-Napoleon but he very quickly became known as simply Louis-Napoleon. His parents were Louis Bonaparte, king of Holland and brother of Napoleon I, and Hortense de Beauharnais. Charles-Napoleon’s uncle was Napoleon I, who reigned over France and a vast European empire.
Painting: Louis-Napoleon sits on the emperor’s knee! They are surrounded by the children of Napoleon’s other brothers and sisters. (L. Ducis, Napoleon I after lunch, surrounded by the young princes and princesses of his family, on the terrace of château de Saint-Cloud in 1810 [detail], Versailles, châteaux de Versailles et de Trianon © RMN)
1815 – Exile in Switzerland
In 1815, Napoleon I was defeated by the English and had to give up power. He was exiled and his family could no longer live in France. Louis-Napoleon and his mother moved to the château d’Arenenberg in Switzerland. His father, Louis, chose to live in Italy. Until the age of 13, Louis-Napoleon did not go to school. Instead, he had his own teacher who taught him French, history, mathematics and art. He liked sports, gymnastics, swimming and horse-riding. Like his uncle Napoleon I, he wanted to become an artillery officer (they learnt to use the cannons in the army).
Did you know… that you can visit the château d’Arenenberg?
Painting: Château d’Arenenberg © Napoleonmuseum, Arenenberg
1840 – An unsuccessful coup!
Louis-Napoleon had always been interested in politics. He organised a coup d’état to take power and bring an end to the reign of the king Louis-Philippe. However, he was arrested and sentenced to life in prison. He was imprisoned in the fort of Ham, which is in the département of the Somme (north-west France). In prison, he read a lot of books on history and politics. Thanks to help from his friends, he was able to disguise himself as a painter and escaped from prison in 1846. He sought refuge in London, in England, where he stayed for two years.
Illustration: The fort of Ham (detail), archives départementale de la Somme, Amiens © RMN
1848 – Louis-Napoleon elected President of the Republic!
Revolution broke out in France again! The French no longer wanted the king, Louis-Philippe, in power. Instead, they wanted to be able to decide who would rule France. Elections were organised and on 10 December 1848, Louis-Napoleon was elected president of the new Republic. He moved into the Palais de l’Elysée.
Did you know… that Louis-Napoleon was called the ‘prince-président: he was elected president of the Republic, but he was also a prince because he was a descendent of the brother of Napoleon I. He was the first president to be elected by universal suffrage (although at the time, only men could vote).
Portrait: Louis-Napoleon Bonaparte, representative of the people, president of the French Republic (detail), Musée des Civilisations de l’Europe et de la Méditerranée © RMN
1852 – Napoleon III and the Second Empire
On 2 December 1852, Louis-Napoleon became emperor; he was given the name of Napoleon III. This was because in 1814, the son of Napoleon I had become emperor for a very short time and he was given the name of Napoleon II.
Portrait: Napoleon III, looking very proud, wears a coat of ermine fur, just like the other kings and emperors of France. He holds the ‘hand of justice’, which is representative of his power. The imperial crown sits on the table (F.X. Winterhalter, Napoleon III, emperor of the French (1808-1873) [detail], Versailles, châteaux de Versailles et de Trianon © RMN)
1853 – Napoleon III transforms Paris!
During his reign, Napoleon decided to modernise Paris, the capital of France. Old houses were destroyed to all the construction of grand new buildings and wider roads that would improve traffic flow. Large parks, such as the Bois de Vincennes, were created to give Parisians somewhere to go for walks.
Did you know… that Paris also become cleaner? During the works, the sewers were developed and the distribution of water was improved thanks to the construction of an aqueduct, called the ‘aqueduc de la Vanne’.
Painting: G. Caillebotte, Rue de Paris, a rainy day © Art Institute of Chicago
1854 – The Crimean War
In 1854, the French and the English went to war with Russia in Crimea, near to the Black Sea. On 20 September 1854, the English defeated the Russians at the battle of Alma (the name of a river). After a siege that lasted a year, the French and their English allies took the port of Sebastopol. Peace was signed in Paris on 30 March 1856.
Did you know… that during a long-lasting and terrible storm, French scientists tried to work out how long it would last so that they could inform the generals. It was the first weather bulletin of its kind!
Illustration: I.A. Pils, Landing of allied troops in Crimea in 1854 (detail), Musée Fesch, Ajaccio © RMN
1855 – The Première Exposition universelle
The Première Exposition universelle was held in Paris. It was a huge exhibition and people came from all over France and Europe to find out about new inventions, works of art and exotic plants and animals. A huge building was specially constructed to house the numerous pieces on display, many of which had come from abroad. More than five million people visited the exhibition, including Queen Victoria.
Did you know… that visitors could find out about the saxophone and black and white photography (colour photography would be invented in 1870).
Illustration: Visit to the exposition universelle © DR
1856 – The Empire has a prince!
In 1853, Napoleon III married Eugénie de Palafox Guzman, the countess of Teba. Three years later, Prince Napoleon-Eugène-Louis was born. He was known as the Prince Impérial. He was a charming, athletic and loved by his parents. While still very young, he attended official parades on horseback and accompanied his parents on their travels in France and abroad (including England and Algeria). This was all to prepare him for his future role as ruler of France.
Illustration: Napoleon III, the Empress Eugénie and the Prince Impérial, Château de Compiègne © RMN
1859 – Battle for Italian unity
During the period of the Second Empire, Italy was made up of many small states who wanted to join together to form one country. Napoleon III supported this idea and joined forces with many of the Italian states to wage war against Austria. He was successful in the battle of Solferino on 24 June 1859.
Did you know… that the battle of Solferino was terrible and bloody? Upon seeing so many injured soldiers, a young Swiss man decided to organise rescue aid to care for the injured, regardless of their nationality or allegiance. This organisation was called the Red Cross.
Painting: Y. Adolphe, Battle of Solferino, 24 June 1859 (detail), Château de Compiègne © RMN
1865 – The great train adventure
In 1865, the construction of the Gare du Nord in Paris was completed. It became the symbol of the development of the railway in France. This means of transport made travel easier between the provincial towns and Paris, and allowed goods to be transported more quickly and in greater quantities. French habits also changed: the richer members of society discovered the joys of trips to the seaside, in towns such as Biarritz, and holidays in the mountains!
Painting: Th. Foy: The railway line in Nantes, 1851, Musée de la voiture, Compiègne © RMN
1867 – A museum dedicated to history
Napoleon III was passionate about history and archaeology (the scientific study of our past through material evidence, such as ruins of buildings, pottery shards, coins, jewellery, arrows and weapons). He decided to build a museum devoted to the study of archaeology: the musée de Saint-Germain-en-Laye, near Paris. It was particularly focussed on the history of the Gauls.
Did you know… that you can still visit the museum which is found in the Château de Saint-Germain-en-Laye?
Illustration: On the left, the reverse of a Gallic stater (ancient coin) with the effigy of Vercingetorix, the Gallic chief, 1st century B.C., Musée de Saint-Germain-en-Laye © RMN; on the right, gold tableware, bronze age, Musée de Saint-Germain-en-Laye © RMN
1870 – The end of the Second Empire
Prussia (an old name for Germany) and France went to war. Napoleon III led his army into battle but he and his soldiers were defeated and captured at Sedan on 2 September 1870. This was the end of the Second Empire. Napoleon III was imprisoned for several months before being exiled to England. He would never return to France. Like his uncle Napoleon I, Napoleon III died in exile, on 9 January 1873. He is buried in England, in the Abbey of Farnborough.
Illustration: Napoleon III surrenders to the Prussian king © DR
Timeline by Emmanuelle Papot and Irène Delage ; translation by Peter Hicks, 2008