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Sunday, 14 August 2016

Napoleon III


Charles-Louis Napoléon Bonaparte, later known as Napoleon III, was born in Paris on April 20, 1808.

His father was Louis Bonaparte, the younger brother of Napoleon Bonaparte, who was Louis the King of Holland from 1806 until 1810.

His mother was Hortense de Beauharnais, the daughter by the first marriage of Napoleon's wife Joséphine de Beauharnais.

Louis-Napoléon was a second son and a replacement child as his older brother, Napoléon Charles Bonaparte, died at age four.

After Napoleon I's military defeats and deposition in 1815 and the restoration of the Bourbon monarchy in France, all members of the Bonaparte dynasty were forced into exile. Charles-Louis spent much of his youth and exile at a lakeside house at Arenenberg, Switzerland.

Charles-Louis received some of his education in Germany at the gymnasium school at Augsburg, Bavaria. As a result, for the rest of his life his French had a slight but noticeable German accent.

Louis-Napoleon in 1836.


In 1844, Charles-Louis's uncle Joseph died, making him the direct heir apparent to the Bonaparte claim. Two years later, his father Louis died, making Charles-Louis (now known as Louis-Napoléon) the clear Bonapartist candidate to rule France.

Louis-Napoléon was living in the United Kingdom when the revolution of February 1848 forced King Louis Philippe I to abdicate. It opened the way for Louis-Napoleon to return to France and to run for the National Assembly.

Louis-Napoleon was elected President of France in a land slide victory later in 1848, capturing 74.2 percent of votes cast.

He was blocked by the Constitution and Parliament from running for a second term, so Louis-Napoleon organized a successful coup d'état in 1851. He emerged as master of France and took the throne as Napoleon III on December 2, 1852, the forty-eighth anniversary of his uncle's coronation.

Napoleon III by Alexandre Cabanel 
Four years later, Louis-Napoleon crowned himself as Emperor Napoleon III and the Second French Empire was born.

The earliest surviving blue plaque in the UK is in King Street, St James's, Westminster. It was erected in 1867 and commemorates Napoleon III.


Louis Napoléon first met Eugénie de Montijo after he had become president of the Second Republic at a reception at the Elysée Palace on April 12, 1849. Her beauty immediately attracted him.

They married on January 29, 1853, in a civil ceremony at the Tuileries, and a day later there was a much grander religious ceremony at Notre Dame.

The Empress Eugénie in 1853, after her marriage to Napoleon III
The Empress Eugenie held sway over the world of feminine fashions. Her royal couturier (designer) was Charles Frederick Worth, an Englishman, who established the first fashion house in Paris during the 1850s.

In 1856, Eugenie gave birth to a legitimate son and heir, Louis Napoléon, the Prince Impérial.

Eugénie and the Prince Imperial in 1862.

The emperor was particularly fond of barley sugar sweets, which became very fashionable because of his liking for them.

While passing through the Vallee d'Auge region of Normandy, Napoleon III tasted the local Camembert cheese and found it delicious. He named it after the village in Normandy in which the creator of the cow's milk cheese, Marie Harel, lived.


In 1866, France saw its dominance on the continent of Europe eroded by Prussia's crushing victory over Austria in the Austro-Prussian War in June–August 1866. The Prussian forces under Chancellor Otto von Bismarck then began the Franco-Prussian War.

The French army was rapidly defeated and Napoleon III was captured at the Battle of Sedan on September 1, 1870. He was deposed by the forces of the Third Republic in Paris two days later.

Bismarck with Napoleon III after his capitulation

When peace was arranged between France and Germany, Bismarck released Napoleon. He decided to go into exile in England and arrived on March 20, 1871.

Napoleon, Eugénie, their son and their entourage settled at Camden Place, a large three-story country house in the village of Chislehurst, a half-hour by train from London.

In his later years, Napoleon III suffered agonies from stones in the bladder. The pain damaging his health and prematurely aged him. He had to be lifted on and off his horse and was incapable of command. On one occasion a witness saw him holding his arm against the flame of a candle in an attempt to find some relief through a change of pain.

The last photograph of Napoleon III (1872)
In the summer of 1872, Louis-Napoleon's health began to worsen. Doctors recommended surgery to remove his gallstones. After two operations he became very seriously ill. Louis-Napoleon was haunted to the end by bitter regrets and by painful memories of the battle at which he lost everything. His last words were, "Isn't it true that we weren't cowards at Sedan?" He was given last rites, and died on January 9, 1873.

Napoleon III after his death; wood-engraving in the Illustrated London News 

He was originally buried at St. Mary's, the Catholic Church in Chislehurst. However, after Louis-Napoleon's son died in 1879 fighting in the British Army against the Zulus in South Africa, the bereaved Eugenie decided to build a monastery. The building would house monks driven out of France by the anti-religious laws of the Third Republic, and would provide a suitable resting place for her husband and son.

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