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, hertog de

Related persons
• employed Aguado, Arthur
• was opponent of Arago, François
• was a friend of Blessington, Margaret Gardiner, countess of
• was the lover of Castiglione, Virginia Oldoini, countess Verasis de
• was opponent of Cavaignac, Eugène Louis
• employed Couture, Thomas
• was pupil to Dufour, Guillaume Henri
• met Dunant, Henry
• was opponent of Favre, Jules
• was advised by Fould, Achille
• employed Haussmann, Georges Eugène, Baron
• attended a performance by Home, Daniel Dunglas
• was the lover of Howard, Harriet, Comtesse de Beauregard
• was advised by Jomini, Antoine Henri, baron
• was a friend of Kastner, Léonie
• was opponent of Ledru-Rollin, Alexandre Auguste
• knew Lind, Jenny
• was admired by Liszt, Franz
• was supported by Magnan, Bernard Pierre
• cooperated with Morny, Charles Auguste Louis Joseph, hertog de
• was the lover of Ozy, Alice
• knew Rossetti, Gabriele Pasquale Giuseppe
• knew Taglioni, Marie
• was opponent of Thiers, Adolphe
• was the lover of Vergeot, Eléonore
• employed Viollet-le-Duc, Eugène Emanuel
• was painted by Winterhalter, Franz Xaver

1846/5/20: Mistress 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 the left the fortress crying, together with the children.
1848/6/12: The 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.
1848/6/15: Louis 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.
1853/1/22: Napoleon 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.
1855/11/15: Ingres 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 Légio d'Honneur on 14 Nov 1855. The next day he received the medal from te emperor himself.
1858/7/21: Secret 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.
1858/8/4: Napoleon III inaugurates the railroad between Cherbourg and Paris
He had arrived at Cherbourg that day accompanied by empress Eugénie.
1858/8/7: Napoleon 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.
1862/5/25: Ingres 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.
1870/9/2: Napoleon 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.

• Bierman, John, Napoleon III and his Carnival Empire, Sphere Books, London, 1990
• Thompson, J.M., Louis Napoleon and the Second Empire, Norton, New York, 1967
Historia 454, Tallandier, Paris, 1984
• Ridley, Jasper, Napoleon III and Eugénie, Constable, London, 1979


'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.

Neander, August

Published: 1 Jan 2006
Last update: 25 Nov 2016