Napoleon III Bonaparte, Empereur des Français

BORN 20 Apr 1808, Paris: Palais Royal - DIED 9 Jan 1873, Chislehurst, Kent: Camden Place
REAL NAME Bonaparte, Charles Louis Napoleon
GRAVE LOCATION Farnborough, Hampshire: Abbey Church of St. Michael

Nephew of Napoleon I, being the son of Louis Bonaparte (the King of Holland) and Hortense the Beauhanais. After the death of his elder brothers he inherited the Bonaparte claim to the throne of France. His coup d'état of 1836 failed and he was put on the ship Andromède that took him to Norfolk. He enjoyed himself for a while in New York, but when his friend Dr. Conneau sent him message that his mother Hortense was dying ('Venez, venez!') he took the ship George Washington to London. Using a Swiss passport he travelled incognito to Arenenberg; the French agents that were put on his track failed to stop him and he reached Hortense in time on August 4th, 1837. She died two months later.

In 1840 his second coup d'état failed too and Louis Napoleon was imprisoned at the Ham fortress. There he taught his parlourmaid Alexandrine orthography and she gave him two children in return. On May 20th, 1846 he sent her away and six days later he escaped. By the time it was noticed he was already on a ship to London. After the revolution of 1848 he came to Paris and the National Assembly granted him permission to stay. Soon he was elected in parliament and in December he was elected president with a huge majority over Cavaignac. When he visited his old prison at Ham in 1849 it was inhabited by Bou-Maza, an Arabian who had fought against the French. Louis ordered his release.

On December 2nd of 1851 he imprisoned many of his opponents and this third coup d'état succeeded. 'His' Senate asked him to become emperor and a in a referendum his plan was confirmed with an enormous majority. On December 2nd of 1852 the empire was restored and he took the name Napoleon III, with due respect to the first Napoleon's son who never ruled France at all. On January 30th of 1853 he married Eugénie de Montijo, who provided him with an heir in 1856.

Allthough he was by no means a brilliant military strategist like his famous uncle, he enjoyed some military successes in the Crimean War as well as against the Austrians. Perhaps more important, under his reign France was modernized in many ways. In 1862 Maximilian of Austria became emperor of Austria under protection of French troops. When Louis Napoleon wouldn't continue the french military presence in Mexico in 1867, Maximilian refused to give up his throne and was soon afterwards executed by his rebellious opponents. For Louis Napoleon this was the beginning of the end. His health started to fail and he tried to liberalize his empire in order to preserve it for his son. But in 1870 he was outwitted by Bismarck's secret diplomacy and under pressure of the public opinion he had to declare war on Germany. Unfortunately he was completely misinformed about the strenght of his army and defeat soon became inevitable.

Louis Napoleon joined the troops, but his personal courage was to no avail. He surrendered at Sédan on September 1st, 1870 and was taken to Germany as a prisoner of war. The French refused to accept his capitulation and overthrew his empire. This resulted in the disastrous defeat of 1871 and the loss of Elsace-Lorraine.

As a prisoner of war, Louis Napoleon lived for a while at Wilhelmhöhe (near Kassel). Ater his release in March 1871 he spent his last few years in England. He died after a gall-stone operation and was buried at St Mary's Catholic Church in Chislehurst. Later, Eugénie decided to build a monastery and a chapel and in 1888 his body was buried there as well as that of his son who had been killed by the Zulus in 1879 in South Africa.

• Mother: Beauharnais, Hortense de
• Brother: Morny, Charles Auguste Louis Joseph, Duc de

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• was a friend of Blessington, Margaret Gardiner, countess of
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30/10/1836The first Coup d'État of Louis Napoleon Bonaparte fails. He tried to seize power in Strasbourg but a regiment surrounded the mutineers and they surrendered. Louis fled to Switzerland. The French wanted his extradition to French, but he was a Swiss citizen and the request was refused. He left Switserland voluntarily and after a short time in prison he was put on a ship to the USA. 
9/11/1836Louis Napoleon Bonaparte is put on the stage coach to Lorient. There he would be brought on board of the Andromède. The captain received sealed orders that he was only allowed to open far on the Atlantic Ocean. The orders told him to sail to Rio de Janeiro, wait there for a month and then continue to Norfolk in the USA. It was clear that Louis should be out of the way during the trial of the other conspirators. The French people didn't consider it fair that the leader was freed and the others were tried. This led to their acquittal. 
30/3/1837Louis Napoleon Bonaparte disembarks at Norfolk, Virginia 
12/6/1837Louis Napoleon Bonaparte leaves the USA. He had a good time in New York, but he received a letter from Switzerland from his dying mother Hortense. On the back Dr. Conneau had written 'Venez, venez!'. He decided to return to Europe and boarded on the ship George Washington for London. [Beauharnais, Hortense de]
10/7/1837Louis Napoleon Bonaparte disembarks in London. He had returned from the USA because his mother Hortense was dying in Switzerland. He travelled incognito to Switzerland where he reached Hortense two month before her death. [Beauharnais, Hortense de]
20/5/1846Mistress Alexandrine leaves Louis Napoleon Bonaparte. She was his maid as well as his lover during his imprisonment at the fortress Ham. Because he was planning to escape he sent her and their two children away. At eight in the morning she left the fortress crying, together with the children. [Vergeot, Eléonore]
12/6/1848The French government threatens to arrest Louis Napoleon. He was elected into the National Assembly but the government threatened to arrest him if he would come from England to France. The government referred to the banning of the entire Bonaparte familiy, but Jules Favre wondered how this was possible since Prince Napoleon, Pierre Bonaparte and Lucien Bonaparte had been elected before and were admitted. Louis Blanc and Pierre Joseph Proudhon supported Louis Napoleon as well. After a fake story by Lamartine that the Bonapartists had fired at the National Guard the government recieved more support, but two days later it became clear that Lamartine had lied. [Bonaparte, Pierre Napoleon][Favre, Jules]
14/6/1848The National Assembly votes in favour of admitting Louis Napoleon Bonaparte. De Lamartine had stopped his admission by telling lies about the Bonapartes. After he was found out a large majority of the National Assembly voted in favour of Louis Napoleon. Lamartine's next step was to spread a rumour that Louis Napoleon planned a coup d'état. 
15/6/1848Louis Napoleon gives up his seat at the National Assembly. After much discussions in France whether he was allowed to take his seat he declined it himself. He did this after consternation over his letter from 14 June in which he hadn't used the word republic. The Times had also written that there were strong rumours that a Bonaparte coup would take place. Favre, who had spoken in favour of Louis Napoleon a few days before, now wanted to ask the Minister of Justice if the letter should lead to the prosecution of Louis Napoleon. After he gave up his seat no prosecution took place. [Favre, Jules]
20/6/1848Teresa Gamba writes Lady Blessington about Louis Napoleon Bonaparte. She was now Marquise de Bloissy and she wrote that Louis Napoleon's party was now very strong and especially in the country the name of Bonaparte had an enormous prestige. The fact that the communists support him made the 'honest folk' a bit conspicious. She stated that he would be welcome if he could save 'this poor France'. [Blessington, Margaret Gardiner, countess of]
10/12/1848Louis Napoleon Bonaparte wins the presidential elections in France. He received 5,434,226 votes. The other votes: Cavaignac 1,448,107; Ledru Rollin 370,119; Raspail 36,900; Lamartine 17,190; Changarnier 4,790. [Cavaignac, Eugène Louis][Ledru-Rollin, Alexandre Auguste]
17/12/1848Louis Napoleon triumphantly rides to the Élysée Palace. He had been elected president the week before. 
19/9/1852Louis Napoleon Bonaparte is received enthousiatically at Lyons 
27/9/1852Louis Napoleon Bonaparte visits Toulon 
22/1/1853Napoleon III officially announces his marriage. He presented it as a love match, but it is unlikely that Eugénie loved him. At this day his mistress Harriet Howard left for England. He had asked her to go to London to pay someone who blackmailed him. Because of a storm she couldn´t make the passage. In the morning she read in Le Moniteur about his engagement. She understood that she was meant to be in London at the time the engagement was made public. She returned to Paris to make a scene but Persigny managed to calm her down. [Howard, Harriet, Comtesse de Beauregard]
15/11/1855Ingres receives a honourable medal from Napoleon III personally. Ingres was disappointed that he had to share the medal of the Exposition Universelle with nine others. Because it was feared that he wouldn't show up at the ceremony he was made grand officer of the Légion d'Honneur on 14 Nov 1855. The next day he received the medal from the emperor himself. [Ingres, Jean Auguste Dominique]
14/8/1857Alexandre Dumas fils is decorated by Napoleon III. Princess Mathilde wanted to introduce him to the emperor before the ceremony, but he refused, claiming to be too shy. [Dumas, Alexandre (fils)]
16/8/1857Napoleon III awards the first Médailles de Sainte-Hélène. He gave the medals to his uncle Jérome Bonaparte, Comte Vaillant (Minister of War), admiral Hamelin (Minister of Marine), Duc the Plaisance (chancellor of the Légion d'Honneur), General de Flahaut, Comte Ornano (governor of the Invalides), admiral Perceval-Deschênes and others. [Bonaparte, Jérôme][Flahault de la Billarderie, Charles de]
21/7/1858Secret meeting between Napoleon III and Cavour. It took place at Plombières. Napoleon was there for curing and Cavour had entered the country incognito at Strasbourg. They agreed there would be an uprising in Modena and after Austria would threaten the regio with violence, France would send troops. Their meeting wasn't a secret for long and many guessed what they were up to. 
4/8/1858Napoleon III inaugurates the railroad between Cherbourg and Paris. He had arrived at Cherbourg that day accompanied by empress Eugénie. 
7/8/1858Napoleon III dock inaugurated at the harbour of Cherbourg. Napoleon III and empress Eugénie were there. Queen Victoria and prince Albert had arrived on August 5th as well, but they had left early because they didn't want to witness the unveiling of a statue of Napoleon I that took place on the same day. This statue by Armand de Veel is still there. 
25/5/1862Ingres is awarded a seat in the Senate by Napoleon III. Art critics praised the government because this was a sign that art was a matter of national interest. [Ingres, Jean Auguste Dominique]
24/4/1867Napoleon III attends Offenbach's "La Grande-Duchesse de Gérolstein". It was performed at the Théâtre des Variétés in Paris and Hortense Schneider was the Grand Duchess. [Schneider, Hortense]
30/6/1867Napoleon III bursts out in tears after hearing of Maximilian's death. Maximilian of Austria, emperor of Mexico, was executed on 19 June 1867. The news reached France by telegram from Washington. The young Count of Gontaut-Biron received the message and gave it to Napoleon, who burst out in tears. Eugénie had seen it coming but took it badly as well, because she felt responsible. The news was kept silent for the moment because the closing ceremony for the Exhibition Universelle was planned for the next day and Paris was full of festivities. [Maximilian of Austria, emperor of Mexico]
2/9/1870Napoleon III is taken prisoner of war. At night the French had decided to accept the German conditions for surrender. The French commander-in-chief, Wimpffen, didn't want to continue the negotiations. In the morning Napoleon tried to get better conditions from Bismarck at Donchéry, but Bismarck didn't give them. At 9 AM the armistice ended. The French were given until 10 AM to accept the conditions. At 11 AM the capitulation was signed at castle Bellevue near Frénois. Subsequently Napoleon III met Wilhelm I and was taken away as a prisoner of war. [Wilhelm I, emperor of Germany]


'Napoléon III' by Franz Xaver Winterhalter (Musée National du Château de Compiégne, Compiégne).

Bust of Napoleon III at the Musée Masséna, Nice.
Picture by Androom (03 Dec 2009)


Plaque for Napoleon III at 1c King Street, St James's, Westminster, London.
Picture by Androom (26 Mar 2016)


Plaque for Napoleon III at 1c King Street, St James's, Westminster, London.
Picture by Androom (26 Mar 2016)


The tomb of Napoleon III in the Abbey Church of St. Michael, Farnborough.

Buste of Napoleon III at the Musée d'Aquitaine, Bordeaux.
Picture by Androom (14 May 2017)


• Bierman, John, Napoleon III and his Carnival Empire, Sphere Books, London, 1990
• Vincent, Benjamin, Haydn's Dictionary of Dates, and Universal Information, Ward, Lock & Co, London, 1906
• Duff, David, Eugenie & Napoleon III, Collins, London, 1978
• Haslip, Joan, Imperial Adventurer: Emperor Maximilian of Mexico, and his Empress, Cardinal, London, 1974
Historia 454, Tallandier, Paris, 1984
• Maurois, André, Les Trois Dumas, Hachette, Paris, 1957
Miroir de l'Histoire 108, Paris, 1958
• Richardson, Joanna, Princess Mathilde, Weidenfeld & Nicolson, London, 1969
• Ridley, Jasper, Napoleon III and Eugénie, Constable, London, 1979
• Thompson, J.M., Louis Napoleon and the Second Empire, Norton, New York, 1967
• Tinterow, Gary & Philip Connisbee (eds.), Portraits by Ingres, Image of an Epoch, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, 1999
Winkler Prins Encyclopedie (editie 1909), 1909 - Le site d'histoire de la Fondation Napoléon

Nasse, Erwin

Published: 1 Jan 2006
Last update: 16 Dec 2018