Louis Bonaparte

[boh-nuh-pahrt; Fr. baw-na-part]

Louis Napoléon Bonaparte, Prince Français, King of Holland, Comte de Saint-Leu (Lodewijk Napoleon in Dutch) (September 2, 1778July 25, 1846) was the fifth surviving child and fourth surviving son of Carlo Buonaparte and Letizia Ramolino.

Early life

Louis was born Luigi Buonaparte in Ajaccio, Corsica. He was a younger brother of Joseph Bonaparte, Napoleon I of France, Lucien Bonaparte and Elisa Bonaparte, and the older brother of Pauline Bonaparte, Caroline Bonaparte and Jérôme Bonaparte.

His early career was spent in the army and he served with Napoleon in Egypt. Thanks to Napoleon, he was a general by the age of 25, although he himself felt that he had risen too far in too short a time.

Upon his return to France he was involved in Napoleon's plot to overthrow the Directory. After becoming first consul Napoleon arranged a marriage for Louis to Hortense de Beauharnais, the daughter Empress Josephine and Napoleon's stepdaughter. Hortense, who was opposed to the marriage, was convinced by her mother to marry Louis for the sake of the family.

Louis supposedly had a poor mental condition and suffered from bouts of lunacy . This would plague him and Napoleon throughout his life.

King of Holland

Napoleon made him king of Holland on June 5, 1806. Though his older brother had intended for him to be little more than a French governor, Louis took his duties as king seriously, calling himself Koning Lodewijk I (adopting the Dutch form of his name), attempting to learn the Dutch language and trying hard to be a responsible, independent ruler of Holland. Allegedly, when he first arrived in Holland, he told the people he was the Konijn van 'Olland ("rabbit of 'Olland"), rather than "Koning van Holland" ("King of Holland"), because his Dutch was not perfect. However, his attempt at speaking the language earned him some respect from his subjects.

While in Holland he declared that he was Dutch and renounced his French citizenship . He also forced his court and ministers (mostly supplied by Napoleon) to speak only Dutch and to also renounce their French Citizenship. This was too much for his wife Hortense who, in France at the time of his demands, refused his request.

Louis could never settle on the location for his capital while in Holland. He changed capitals over a dozen times, trying Amsterdam, the Hague, Rotterdam, and other places. On one occasion, after visiting the home of a wealthy Dutch merchant, he so liked the place that he had him evicted so he could take up residence there; he moved again after seven weeks. His constant moving kept the court in upheaval as they had to follow him everywhere. The European diplomatic corps went so far as to petition him to remain in one place so they could keep up with him. This restlessness was later attributed to his alleged lunacy.

Hortense bore Louis's son while he was in Holland. In 1806 he called for the boy to be sent to him in Holland but again was refused by Hortense, who believed her son would never be returned. When Louis appealed to Napoleon for help, Napoleon sided with Hortense. Napoleon kept the boy in his own court and even had him named heir to the French throne prior to the birth of his own son.

Two major tragedies occurred during his reign: the explosion of a ship filled with gunpowder in the heart of the city of Leiden in 1807, and a major flood in 1809. In both instances, Louis personally and effectively oversaw local relief efforts, which helped earn him the moniker of Louis the Good.

His reign of the Netherlands was short lived, however, which was due to two factors. The first was that Napoleon wanted to reduce the value of French loans from Dutch investors by two-thirds, meaning a serious economic blow. The second was what became the pretext for Napoleon's demand of abdication. As Napoleon was preparing an army for the campaign into Russia, he wanted troops from the entire region under his control, the allied border countries. This included troops from the Netherlands. Louis, confronted by his brother's demand, refused point-blank. Napoleon then accused Louis of putting Dutch interests above those of France, and removed most of the French forces in Holland for the coming war in the east, leaving only about 9,000 garrison soldiers in the country. Unfortunately for Louis, the English landed an army of 40,000 in 1808 in an attempt to capture Antwerp and Flushing. With Louis unable to defend his realm, France sent 80,000 militiamen and successfully repelled the invasion. Napoleon then suggested that Louis should abdicate, citing Louis's inability to protect Holland as a reason. Louis refused. Napoleon finally forcibly removed Louis from the Dutch throne and annexed the entire Kingdom of Holland on July 1, 1810.

Return to France

Louis Bonaparte had also been created the Count of Saint-Leu . He was created Constable of France in 1808, a strictly honorary title.

After has his kingdom taken from him Louis remained in Holland for nearly three years and turned to writing and poetry. Louis wrote to Napoleon after the latter's defeat in Russia to request the Dutch throne be restored to him; predictably, Napoleon refused. Louis finally returned to France in 1813 where he remained for the rest of his life.

After the death of his elder brother Joseph in 1844, Louis was seen by Bonapartists as the rightful Emperor of the French, although he took little action himself to advance the claim. (His son and heir, the future Napoleon III, on the other hand, was at that time imprisoned in France for having tried to engineer a Bonapartist coup d'état).

Louis died on July 25, 1846 and is buried at Saint-Leu-la-Forêt, Île-de-France.

Marriage and children

Louis was married on January 4, 1802 to Hortense de Beauharnais, daughter of deceased general Alexandre, Vicomte de Beauharnais and his wife Josephine Tascher de la Pagerie. Josephine was the first wife of his brother Napoleon. Thus Hortense was also a step-niece to Louis.

The marriage had been forced upon them and was quite loveless. As a rule, the Bonapartes, with the exception of Napoleon, loathed the Beauharnais. Louis even doubted the legitimacy of his sons.

Louis Napoleon Bonaparte and Hortense de Beauharnais had three sons:

  1. Napoleon Charles Bonaparte, born November 10, 1802 , Prince Royal of Holland. When he died on May 5, 1807 at 4½ years of age, his body lay in state at Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris. He is buried at Saint-Leu-La-Foret, Ile-de-France.
  2. Napoleon Louis Bonaparte, born October 11, 1804. Became Prince Royal of Holland on his brother's death, and was King Lodewijk II for one week between his father's abdication and the fall of Holland to Napoleon's invading army. He died on March 17, 1831, and is buried at Saint-Leu-La-Foret, Île-de-France.
  3. Charles Louis-Napoleon Bonaparte, (1808-1873). Born in Paris, he was the third and last son, and would become Emperor Napoleon III of France (1852-1870).

Louis was also father to illegitimate son François de Castelvecchio (April 26, 1826 - May 29, 1869) . He was born in Rome and died in Rennes.

See also


  • Napoleon Bonaparte: A Life, by Alan Schom

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