Napoleon III (1808-73)


Figure 1.--This portrait is of Queen Hortense of Holland and her two sons painted about 1812 when the world of the Bonaparte's was about to be shattered in the snows of Russia. The boys were the Emperor's nephews. The older prince was Napoléon Louis Bonaparte. His younger brother was Charles Louis Napoléon Bonaparte, the future Napoleon III. We are not sure who the artist was. The Emperor installed their father and mother as King and Queen of Holland. They were the Emperor's broher and step-dughter Hortense. Napoleon III went on to seize power in France from the short-lived Second Republic. He conducted a disastrous foreign policy, leading to the unification of Italy and more importantly the emergence of the militariy orinented Prussians as the leading power in Germany. This was to leading to the loss of his crown and Alsace-Loraine in the Franco-Prussian War and the unification of Germany by Prussia.

French Emperor Louis Napoleon or Napoleon III was a nephew of Napoleon I. Louis was the son of Louis Bonaparte who his brother had installed as King of Holland for a brief time. Napoleon III seized power in France from the short-lived Second Republic. He conducted a disastrous foreign policy, leading to the unification of Italy and more importantly the emergence of the militariy orinented Prussians as the leading power in Germany. This was to leading to the loss of his crown and Alsace-Loraine in the Franco-Prussian War and the unification of Germany by Prussia.

Family

Napoleon III had an unusual family tree in that Emperor Napoleon was his uncle, but the Emperess Josepine was his gramdmother. He was largely raised by his mother, Queen Hortense and his father who was estrainged from his mother was rarely present. He was very closed to his older brother.

Father

Charles Louis Napoleon Bonaparte's father was Louis Bonaparte, who the Emperor had installed as King of Holland--third brother of the first Emperor. Louis was not close to his brother and after quareling with him, abandoned the Dutch throne in 1810. King Louis moved to Germany and then in Switzerland. Hortense remained in France with his two sons. Louis eventually settled in Rome and devoted himself to literature.

Mother

Louis' mother was Hortense Eugénie Beauharnais, step daughter of Emperor Napolon I. When the Emperor mairred Josephine, she was a widow returned from Martinique with two children. Hortense was the youngest. She was educated in Paris at a ???. It was her mother that chose Louis and the Emperor supported her. Both Hortense and Louis objected to the mairrage, but Josephine had her way. The two were married in 1802. There were children, but it proved to be a dismal marriage.

Brothers

Louis and Hortense had three sons. They were of consdiderable importance in the years before the Emperor fostered a male heir as they were related by blood to both the Emperor and Josephine.
Napoléon-Louis Charles (1802-07): Their first son was born in 1802 in a château in the Ile de France. He was taken to Holland after his father had been installed as King of Holland, becoming the Prince Royal of Holland. He was a sickly child and died at age 4 in his mother's arms at the Hague.
Napoleon Louis ?? (1804- ): A second son was born in 1804. After his brother's death, he was sent to live with his grandmother in Paris. He was styled the Comte de Flahaut. After the fall of the Emperor, a French court awarded custody to his father.
Charles Louis Napoleon Bonaparte (1808-73): Louis was born in 1808, good news for his mother who longed for the company of children as her marriage coninued to deteriorate. He was styled the Duc de Morny. After her husband was deposed and then the fall of the Emperor, a French court awarded custody to his mother.

The two surviving brothers were reportedly inseperatble, although there was 4 years difference between them which at a young age is a considerable difference.

Childhood

The future Napoleon III, was born in Paris in 1808 at the height of his grandfather's rule. Imperial infancy was apparently uneventful, but impressive. He was a sickly boy. His life changed radically at a young age when Emperor Napoleon was defeated and then exiled.

Imperial era

When Louis Napoleon as was born in 1808, his father Louis Bonaparte was the King of Holland and he was a prince. The Emperor was his Godfather. The Emperor eventually quareled with his brother and deposed him. Louis abdicated in favor of his son, who never ruled. Holand was quickly annexed to the French Empire. Emperor Napoleon also divorced the boys' grandmother--the Emperess Jesephine. His father who had never wanted to marry Hortense, left her. Louis Charles and his brother initially lived with their mother and grandmother. They live in Breteuil at Saint-Cloud rather than in Holland where their father was king. It was in many ways an idyllic childhood. Their father was rarely with them. Louis was an intelligent boy, but sickly. He is sometimes aflicted with terrible pains which leave feet and hands paralysed on one side. He fell off a horse which may have affected his spinal cord. The boys visit the Emperor occasionally at the Tuileries who would lift them about by their hreads. They ran riot at Malmaison and received the most exciting presents. Louis was pampered as a small boy. He was his mother's favorite. His healthbwas considered delicate. His governess reportedly warmed the water in the watering can when he went out to water the flowers. He would walk in the woods or drill the Grenadiers who guarded his grandmother.

Fall of the Empire

Louis was only 5 years old when his great uncle was driven from power. The family subsequently fled and then returned to Paris. Louis and Hotense who had never wanted to marry in the first place, but were forced to by Joesephine and the Emperor seperated. Hortense takes refuge with her mother in the castle of Navarre at Malmaison. Tsar Alexander I is reportedly touched by their plight and grants a pension with the title of Duchess of Saint-Leu. Their grandmother died before their uncle the Emperor returned briefly from Elba in 1815. After returning from Elba, Napoleon reproaches Hortense for her attitude in 1814, but forgives her. Napoleon's brief Hundred Days is significant for Louis-Napoleon because it provided him the only contact with his uncle that he would later remember.

Custody dispute

Some authis have called Louis "an odious husband". Problems were intensified by the dislike of the Bonaparte family for the Beauharnais (Hortense's family). Louis begins a lawsuit in January 1815 against Hortense, who he is seperated from, to at least have custody of the elder son. Benefiting from his brother's brief return to power, Louis convinces a French court to split custody of the boys between him and Hortense.

Exile

The restored Bourbon royal Government on January 1, 1816, banished all Bonapartes from the French territory. Hortense with Louis sought refuge in Switzerland, Baden, and finally Bavaria. Hortense in 1817 buys the castle of Arenenberg which overlooks Lake Constance. Louis-Napoleon proves to be a sensitive child, no doubt affected by the dofficulties between his parents.

Switzerland

Hortense took Louis moved to a château in Thurgau Canton Switzerland. It was here on the shores of Lake Constance that Lois passed out of boyhood in an atmosphere of rural gentility. He diverted himself with riding, shooting, and swimming--winning prizes in local competitions. He performed acts of fedual beneficence. He felt that as a Bonaparte he needed to learn the family trade. He attempted to join the Russian Army in a campaign against the Turks. His father forbade it, lecturing him that all war was barbaric except for national defense. So he joined a volunteer unit of the Swiss Artillery.

Childhood Clothes

I have few details yet on how the boys were dressed as children. One biographer writes, The little Louis was dressed in "the costune which delights the admirers of Miss Kate Greenaway..." [Guedalla, p. 52.] I assume that means a skeleton suit. The one image that we have shows Louis Charles with long hair that does not apper to have been done in ringlet curls and a long dress. His older brother wears a short dress or tunic, I think with long stocksings (figure 1).

Rumors

There were rumors about Charles Louis' parantage. The rumour suggest that he was not the son of his father. Victor Hugo sees in him "the child of the chance whose name is a flight and the birth a forgery". His uncle Jerome tells him, "You do not have anything Napoleon". He answered, "I have his family!" Charles Louis himself never doubted his parentage. The attitude of his father was unambiguous. He wrote, "I leave all that constitutes my heritage with my universal heir, Napoleon-Louis, only son who remains me".

Education

Louis' eraliest education is entrusted to Philippe Bottom, son of a friend of wire of the conventional friend of Robespierre. Louis attended the St. Anna Gymnasium at Augsburg near Munich the future French Emperor became a German school boy. He had a French tutor, but for four years he studied as a German school boy. His German instructors, according to one biographer, "... his education was in the hands of German teachers who observed in him those signs of ability which academic persons have never failed to detect in royal persons." It was a Augsburg that he acquired a German accent and a tendancy toward Teutonic romanticism. One observer believes that the atmosphere of German education in 1820 was "unfriendly toward undue precission of thought". His mother dis nothing to correct this tendency. The summer meant to Swiss resorts to pursue his mother's health, to southern German palaces to visit friends and cousins. There were also more stressful visits to his father and brother in Italy. He was not allowed to return to France. Thus while while French Romantic thougt was becoming increasingly vocal, Louis was a mild-mannered German school boy studying philosophy in a ruined German castle. [Guedalla]

Political Intrigues

Louis joined Hortense on a trip to Italy to see his brother who abjured politics and has launched a career in industry. On a trip to Rome he carlessly attended suspicious meetings ans was conducted to the border. He soon convinced his brother to join Itlalian recvolutiionaries as was almost killed by the Austrians. His brother died of fever and Louis faced execution until his mother succeed in spiriting him to saftey in England. Louis Napoleon as a young man began plotting to seize power and reestablish the Empire. He attempted in 1836 to lead a movement within the French Army but was discovered and forcibly conved to the United States. He returned to Europe in 1837 and settled in England. He returned to France illegally and attempted another insurection at Boulogne in 1840. He was again unsuccessful and imprisoned for more than 5 years until escaping in 1846.

The Second Republic

The Liberal Revolution of 1848 brouht him back to Paris and in February he was elected a Deputy to the National Assembly for Paris. He was elected President of the new democratic Second Republic in that same year and on December 20 took an oath of allegiance to the republic. The next few years saw a series of struggles between the majority in the Assembly and Napoleon's supporters. Napoleon was elkected a second time, but in 1851 led a coup which seized power in Paris.. [Mansel]

Eugénie de Montijo (1826- )

Eugénie was born in 1826 to a Spanish count with liberal predelections. The Count de Montijo fought with the French in the Napoleonic campaigns. His wife was painted by Goya. Because of his liberal politics his property was seized after the defeat of the French Army (1814) and the family was forced to relocate to France where Eugénie was born (1826). His two little girls thus grew up in the genteel French middle class, far from their magnificent Spanish home. She studied under the sisters of the Screé-Coeur. Her education was steeped in the liberal romanticism of the French Revolution. A family friend took the little girl to have cake with King Louis Phiilippe. Changing French politics allowed their mother, their father died, to bring the girls back to Spain while still teenagers, but they maintained contacts with French friends. The young Eugénie was enchanted by the romanticism of the jailed Bonaparte pretender after an unsuccessful adventure. Eventually the family returned to France and in the social swirl of the new Republic, the beautiful Spanish girl was noticed by the then unmarried President Louis Napoleon who in 1851 had become Emperor.

Marriage

Eugénie and Louis were married in 1853 in a story-book wedding. Unlike other monarchs, Louis had no recognized royal parentage. The Bonapartes by all other European royal families were considered commoners who had usurped the French throne. He had no chance of obtaining a wife to cement a political alliance and thus free to let his heart rule. France now had an Emperess as well as a Empeor. Louis and Eugené charmed Queen Victoria in a visit to England during the Crimean War. Eugené is said to have enchanted Victoria's children. She prouced an heir for the Emperor in 1856, their only son--Eugene. She was deeply Catholic and worked extensively with charity institutions aiding poor children.


Figure 1.--The Prince Imperial is shown here with his father about 1859. The Prince wears a white dress, but rather short hair.

Prince Imperial

Prince Eugene Louis Jean Joseph led a colorful, but short and ultinmately tragic life. He was born with the proverbial silver spoon. In the year 1856, 101 canon blasts announced the birth of the Imperial Prince, Eugene, ensuring the continuation of the Emperor's dynasty. 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. 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 and retired. The girth on Eugene's, however, saddle broke. He was seized by the Zulus and killed.

Second Empire

Louis Napoleon destroyed the short-lived Second Republic. The followers of President Louis Bonaparte on December 2 1851, broke up the Legislative Assembly, overthrew the constitution and established a dictatorship. A year later, Louis Bonaparte proclaimed himself Emperor Napoleon III. He took the Name Napoleon III in deference to Napolen's son, Napoleon II, who was theoretically emperor for a few weeks between the Emperor's abdicatin and the arrival of the Allies in Paris. The early years of the second Empire benefited by the economuc expansion of the late 19th century as railroads and new industrial technology transformed Europe. The radicalism and disorders of 1848 was followed by desire for oder and finalcial success. Napoleon III's rule, however, was marked by supression of the press. Napoleon engaged in a series of eventually disastrous wars and iforeign adventures. Perhaps no French ruler conducted a more flawed foreign policy than Napoleon III. Napoleon and many of his supporters desired to extend the French frontier to its natural boundaries, especially the Rhine.

New Emperor

The followers of President Louis Bonaparte on December 2 1851, broke up the Legislative Assembly, overthrew the constitution and established a dictatorship. A year later, Louis Bonaparte proclaimed himself Emperor Napoleon III. Louis had seen himself predestined to regain the French crown. It was a goal he had worked for most of his life. Yet he had no sweeping goals to change France. He simply wanted the crown. He confessed to associates, "I never form distant plans. I am governed by the exigencies of the moment."

Domesic affairs

The early years of the second Empire benefited by the economuc expansion of the late 19th century as railroads and new industrial technology transformed Europe. The radicalism and disorders of 1848 was followed by desire for oder and finalcial success. Napoleon III's rule, however, was marked by supression of the press.

Foreign Policy

Napoleon engaged in a series of eventually disastrous wars and iforeign adventures. Perhaps no French ruler conducted a more flawed foreign policy than Napoleon III. Napoleon and many of his supporters desired to extend the French frontier to its natural boundaries, especially the Rhine. [Mansel] French politicans like L.A. Thiers warned him of the potential consequences, especially of a united Germany, but Napoleon largely ignored their advise until it was too late. Thiers wrote about Napoleon's foreign policy, "not one mistake remained unmade". Napoleon knew and had met with the Prussian Chancellor Otto von Bismarck. He was fundamentally outclassed. Napoleon either failed to act or acted wrongly as Bismarck carefully crafted the unification of Germany. Bismarck dangled territory before him, primarily Belgium.
Crimean War: Napoleon cooperated with the British in the Crimean War. For France little seems at stake. Russian expansion was checked in the Balkans, but the War moved Russian closer to Prussia which refused to join the alliance, thus complicating French diplomacy with this key European power in the coming decade and making any kind of alliance against the Prussians impossible and France Napoleon faces Prussia without allies in 1870.
Austrain War (1865): A war with Austria followed in which Sardinia and France defeated the Austrian forces. The war, however, proved to be a disaster for France as it played an important role not only in the unification of Italy to the south, but more importantly, Germany to the east. This was contrary to French interests, even though Napoleon III had a romantic attachment to the Italian cause.
Astro-Prussian War (1866): The weakening of Austria speeded up the emergence of unified national states on France's borders--both Germany and Italy. Prussia defeated Austria in a quick war. The Austrias had been distracted and weakend by the war with France which also made cooperation against Prussia impossible. Bismarck cleverly concludes a generous peace with Austria leaving little motivation for the Austrians to seek an allince with the French.
Mexico (1860s): Napoleon III during the American Civil War along with the British seized the Mexican port of Vera Cruz to collect unpaid debts. The French went on to seize Mexico City amd established the brother of Austrian Emperor Francis Joseph, the Archduke Maximillian, on a new Mexican throne, ignoring protests from the United States. Maximillian was not involved in the French sezure of Mexico. He was finally convinced to accept the throne. He landed at Veracruz (May 28, 1864). He had the support of the French and Mexican conservatives who were outraged by Juarez's reforms. The Mexican liberals, however, refused to accept his regime and continued to support deposed President Benito Juárez. The result was continuous fighting between French troops and conservative forces and the Mexican republicans. Maximillian set up their court at Mexico City. The imperial residence was Chapultepec Castle. It was built on a hill located on the outskirts of Mexico City. It had once been the retreat of Aztec emperors. Maximilian had a wide European-style avenue cut through the city from Chapultepec to the city cente--it is today the Paseo de la Reforma. They royal couple planned to be crowned at the Catedral Metropolitana, but the security conditins prevented a ceremonial corranation. The cost of imposing Maximillian on the Mexicans soon escalated beyond what Napoleon had invosioned. The end of te Civil War in America (1865) also meant increased American opposition to this violatin of the Monroe Doctrine. Napoleon evetually withdrew French troops and financial support. Maximillian's government soon collapsed (1867). He was executed by a Mexican firing squad.
Franco-Prussian War: Finally the French military, against Napoleon III wishes, brought on the disastrous Franco Prussian War. While Napoleon was not the prime cause of the War, his diplomatic policies had helped to strengthen Prussia and made it impossibe to look to either Russian or Austria for assistance. He found himself compeled to decklare War and without allies, the Prussians devestated the French Army. The Emperor was captured by the Germans at Sedan and confined at Wilhelmshöhe.

Third Republic

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.

Sources

Guedalla, Philip. The Second Empire: Bonapatism, The Prince, The President, The Emperor (Putnams: New York, 1922).

Mansel, Philip. Paris Between Empires: Monarchy and Revolution, 1814-1852 (St. Martin's, 2003), 559p.

Zins, Ronald. Les Maréchaux de Napoléon III (Ed. Horvath, Lyon, 1996).








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Created: June 6, 1998
Last updated: 9:18 AM 4/5/2017