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Napoleon I and his family…

Napoleon I, Josephine, Hortense, Napoleon III, the Prince Imperial… Discover the connections between these different individuals, who wrote the history of the First and Second French Empires.

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Napoleon I and his family…

To see the family tree

• Charles-Marie Bonaparte (1746-1785)
This young Corsican aristocrat studied law in Italy and Corsica. He married the beautiful Maria Letizia and they had eight children: five boys and three girls. Anxious to ensure the future and education of his children, Charles insisted on offering them the best schools and travelled several times to Paris to obtain assistance. He was even received at the court of King Louis XVI in 1779.

• Letizia Ramolino (1750-1836)
In Corsica, she was known as the “little marvel”, famed for her beauty far and wide. She married very young, at 14 years old, and brought up her numerous children strictly; Napoleon was certainly one of the most challenging! When Napoleon was crowned Emperor, Letizia was given the official title of “Madame Mère”.

•• Joseph Bonaparte (1768-1844)
One year older than Napoleon, Joseph was the oldest in the family. The two brothers were very close and played together a great deal. Joseph was calmer and more gentle than Napoleon, who was always ready for a fight. He began a career as a merchant, before being drawn along in the triumphant wake of Napoleon, who made him King of Naples, then King of Spain. The end of the First Empire forced him to go into exile in the United States, where he bought himself a fine property. He was able to devote himself to one of his passions: the art of laying out a garden.

•• Napoleon I (1769-1821)
Napoleon was born on 15 August 1769 in Ajaccio, Corsica. He was a child who loved both fighting and studying. At the age of 10, he left Corsica with his older brother Joseph to study at the Ecole Militaire in Paris. His early military exploits were outstanding, especially in Italy. He was very popular in France and took over power there in 1799. He initiated sweeping reforms (the Civil Code, the Banque de France, the post of “Préfet”, the University). He was crowned Emperor of the French on 2 December 1804. During his reign, Napoleon I conquered a number of European countries, however the kings of neighbouring countries (England, Russia, Prussia, Austria) struck up an alliance against him. Napoleon was defeated and sent into exile on the small island of St Helena, in the South Atlantic. He died there on 5 May 1821. His body was repatriated to France in 1840, to be interred at Les Invalides, in Paris.

=> Josephine de Beauharnais (1763-1814)
Josephine (her real name is Marie-Joseph-Rose) was born in Martinique, an island in the French Caribbean, and arrived in Paris at the age of 16. Her first husband, Alexandre de Beauharnais, was an aristocrat and political figure, who was guillotined during the French Revolution. Mother of two children, Eugene and Hortense, Josephine married Napoleon Bonaparte, then a young general with a promising career ahead of him. It was her husband who renamed her Josephine. As Empress, she bore Napoleon no children and was forced to divorce him. Josephine was very elegant and influenced the fashion of the First French Empire. She loved animals and flowers; in her residence at Malmaison, near Paris, she had a greenhouse built in which she cultivated exotic plants, which reminded her of her island home. Her favourite flower was the rose.

=> Marie-Louise, Archduchess of Austria (1791-1847)
Marie-Louise was daughter of the king of Austria, and became Napoleon’s second wife. She gave birth to a single child, a son who was destined to rule the Empire after his father Napoleon. Marie-Louise was sensitive, with a merry disposition. She liked drawing and painting, and even executed several portraits of Napoleon and of their son. On the fall of the French Empire, she returned to Austria to be near her father. She became Duchess of Parma, and went to live in that Italian city.

==> Napoleon II, Napoléon-François-Charles-Joseph (1811-1832)
When Napoléon-François-Charles-Joseph was born on 20 March 1811, a 101-gun salute was fired to let the Parisians know that the Emperor now had a son! He was very spoiled by his father Napoleon, who adored him. He reigned symbolically (since he was only 3 years old!) under the name of Napoleon II, for a few days in 1814, when his father was defeated by the English and Russians. Then in 1815, when the French Empire fell once and for all, he followed his mother Marie-Louise to Austria. He fell ill and died at a very young age, only 21 years old.

•• Louis Bonaparte (1778-1846)
While still a child, Louis joined his brother Napoleon in Paris, who brought him up and promoted his education. Then he accompanied his brother, now a general, on his early military campaigns in Italy and in Egypt. At the age of 28, Louis became King of Holland and went to considerable effort to modernise this small country. He even learned Dutch, a difficult language, spoken by the people of Holland. But he quickly clashed with his older brother Napoleon who did not let him govern as he pleased. His health was delicate, so he decided to go and live in Italy. He married Hortense de Beauharnais and they had three sons, the third of whom was to become the Emperor Napoleon III.

=> Hortense de Beauharnais (1783-1837)
Hortense, the daughter of the first marriage of Josephine with Alexandre de Beauharnais, adored the theatre and put on shows with her brother Eugene or with her friends to entertain Napoleon. She had a gift for music and wrote and composed romantic songs. She married Louis, Napoleon’s brother, and became Queen of Holland. On the fall of the French Empire, in 1815, she went to live in Switzerland with her son Louis-Napoléon, the future Napoleon III.

==> Napoleon III, Louis-Napoléon Bonaparte (1808-1873)
Louis-Napoléon was born in France, but on the fall of the French Empire he had to spend a large part of his childhood in Switzerland, in Arenenberg, with his mother Queen Hortense. Like his uncle Napoleon I, he wanted to be an officer in the artillery and even wrote a book on the different manœuvres in the use of cannon. He was very interested in politics and became president of the Republic in 1848, then emperor in 1852. When he lost the war in 1870, he had to go and live in England with his wife, Empress Eugenie, and their son, Louis.

===> Eugenie de Palafox y Portocarrero, Countess of Teba (1826-1920)
Daughter of a Spanish count, Eugenie became Empress of the French through her marriage to Napoleon III in 1853. They were to have only one son, Louis. She was a passionate woman and was happy to discuss politics with her husband. Over the course of her long life (she died aged 94!), the Empress Eugenie travelled all over the world including to Egypt, South Africa and Ceylon.

====> The Prince Imperial, Napoléon-Louis (1856-1879)
Napoléon-Louis was adored by his parents, who affectionately called him “Loulou”, the diminutive of his forename Louis. From his earliest years, he learned his future career as emperor by taking part in official ceremonies and by visiting military training camps. But when the French army was beaten by the Prussian army, he had to leave France with his parents, Emperor Napoleon III and Empress Eugenie, to live in exile in England. Determined to fight, he chose to become a soldier for the British. He was killed a long way from Paris, in South Africa.

•• Elisa Bonaparte (1777-1820)
Elisa left her family and Corsica, the island of her birth, at the age of 7 to receive a careful education at a boarding school near Paris. Her brother Napoleon appointed her Grand Duchess of Tuscany in Italy. Headstrong and determined she insisted on running her state herself, and for this reason she was said to resemble her brother Napoleon very strongly. Elisa had a great passion for art. She was a patron of artists and commissioned many paintings and sculptures. She was often ill, and tried to take care of herself by going swimming in the sea, which was a very new idea at the time: few people knew how to swim.

•• Lucian Bonaparte (1775-1840)
Lucian had a great deal of character and helped his brother Napoleon take over power in France in 1799. He then became Minister of the Interior. But the two brothers fell out, and Lucian preferred to live in Italy rather than France after this. The two brothers became friends again a few years later, in 1815. Lucian went on to write novels and poetry.

•• Pauline Bonaparte (1780-1825)
Pauline was a great beauty and inspired numerous artists to paint or sculpt her. She became an Italian princess by marrying the son of a distinguished Roman family, the Borghesi. She travelled a great deal and lived in sumptuous residences in Paris, Turin and Florence. Pauline adored her brother Napoleon and visited him during his first period of exile on the island of Elba in 1815. After the fall of the French Empire, she set up home in Italy.

•• Caroline Bonaparte (1782-1839)
She was the youngest of Napoleon’s sisters, and the most self-willed! She was a woman of character, and persuaded Napoleon to accept her marriage to Joachim Murat, an outstanding general, who went on to become Maréchal. Like her other brothers and sisters, she was given a kingdom by Napoleon, which she governed with her husband Joachim: the kingdom of Naples, in the south of Italy. She liked art and promoted the archaeological excavations at Pompeii, a town buried in the lava from the eruption of the volcano Mount Vesuvius several centuries before. On the fall of the French Empire in 1815, she set up home for a while in Austria, before returning to Italy.

•• Jérôme Bonaparte (1784-1860)
Napoleon decided that his youngest brother should be a sailor and put him aboard a ship. Jérôme enjoyed travelling, and he was able to discover the United States for himself, but before long he was finding life afloat too difficult. He therefore became a land-based officer. Napoleon put him on the throne of a small region of Germany, the kingdom of Westphalia. On the fall of the French Empire, he went to live in Switzerland, then in Austria and in Italy. Many years later, in 1847, the French government allowed him to return to live in France.

(December 2020)

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