Volume II


An old illustration which shows the Bonaparte home in Ajaccio (ARR)

“My brothers reigned much more than I did!
They had the pleasure of reigning,
I only had the fatigue.”


This quotation by Napoleon which we chose as an inscription perfectly describes the relationship he had with his four brothers: Joseph, Lucien, Louis and Jerome.

JOSEPH (1768-1844)

After studying at the College d’Autun thanks to a scholarship which his father, Charles Bonaparte, had obtained for him Joseph became a lawyer. In 1788 he left Marseille after marrying the daughter of a rich merchant, Julie Clary, whose young sister, Désirée, had once been courted by General Bonaparte before later marrying Marshal Bernadotte and becoming Queen of Sweden upon her husband’s ascension to the Swedish throne.

After the first Italian Campaign, he was appointed ambassador in Rome before becoming minister plenipotentiary and as such it was he who signed the treaties of Lunéville (9 February 1801) and Amiens (25 March 1802) which put an end to the Second Coalition and – very temporarily to the state of war with England.

Upon the proclamation of the Empire, Napoleon who was far too attached to the members of his family, conferred on Joseph who had already been created prince, the dignity of Grand Elector. Strangely enough the beneficiary hardly seemed to appreciate these honours because “this title [of Grand Elector] and that of Highness are most improper”!

Napoleon’s angry reaction was more than justified:

Joseph, Napoleon’s
older brother

“Joseph refuses to be a prince. Does he imagine that the State pays him two million to walk around the streets of Paris wearing a brown morning coat and a round hat?...It is easy for Monsieur Joseph to make scenes and then leave for Mortefontaine to go hunting and amuse himself, whereas I, upon leaving him have for enemy all of Europe.”

An official portrait of Joseph
as King of Spain

None of the Bonaparte brothers apparently seemed to realize that Napoleon’s presence on the throne of France was not due to the magical transfer of power known as “divine right”, but to his victories and to the work he had accomplished in pulling France out of its revolutionary rut. For this reason his brothers had to be more than the careless and frivolous princes who were characteristic of the ancien régime (the system of government in France before 1789), by showing the example and behaving like responsible individuals who were clearly concerned with advancing the interests of the Empire by helping their brother in his task. But such was never the case.

And it was because he was too attached to his family that Joseph was made King of Naples in 1806. For Napoleon this nomination was just the beginning, for Joseph it was a conclusion. The new sovereign was never interested in the affairs of his kingdom.


In 1808, in spite of his obvious incompetence, the Emperor who refused to be discouraged, set Joseph on the throne of Spain, where his older brother again failed to reveal any talent or aptitude at governing. This situation lasted until 1813, when French troops finally evacuated the country. Had Napoleon been the brute he is generally made out to be even with his brothers, he would have sacrificed his incompetent brother without the slightest hesitation. On the contrary. In reply to a letter from Joseph which was full of recriminations and in which the latter tried to justify his conduct, Napoleon replied simply:

“…As you are convinced that you could have done no better than you did, then I must let you believe so and not upset you, as the past is always without remedy.”

In 1814, during the French Campaign, Joseph who had been appointed Lieutenant-General of the Empire completely lost his head and left the capital – which was a grave error to follow Empress Marie-Louise, before retiring to Switzerland. He returned during the Hundred Days, and after the final defeat he left for the United States, where he lived under the name of Count of Survilliers.

LUCIEN (1775-1840)

Lucien was, on one occasion at least, of some assistance to Napoleon.

In late 1799, as the future Emperor was being badly jostled and about to be declared outlaw by the members of the Conseil des Cinq-Cents during a particularly rowdy session of parliament after he had taken the lead in the coup d’état de Brumaire (10 November), Lucien who presided the session called in the grenadiers who, commanded by Murat, expulsed the deputies manu militari. Without his initiative there would never have been an 18 Brumaire and Napoleon would not have been able to overthrow the Directory and thus pave the way for the French Empire and France would undoubtedly have remained plunged in its post-revolutionary chaos. As a reward, Lucien was appointed Minister of the Interior. While he occupied this post Lucien behaved dishonestly, taking advantage of his position to make himself rich by accepting bribes and commissions on export licences for wheat ….to England!

Lucien often seized the opportunity of making himself rich by taking bribes while he occupied key posts. Napoleon had to hush the scandal more than once.

After forcing him to resign, the First Consul named Lucien ambassador in Madrid. And here he found another opportunity of making himself rich by taking bribes and serving as a go-between between Spain and Portugal in the course of the diplomatic transactions which preceded the signing of the Treaty of Badajoz in 1801.

His big brother had to hush the affair to avoid a scandal.


There was yet another source of conflict between the two brothers. First married to Christine Boyer in 1795, upon her death, Lucien remarried Alexandrine de Bleschamps, who was the widow of a stock-broker. The Emperor disapproved of the marriage because as Joseph had no male heirs and the Empire was about to be proclaimed it meant that Napoleon would have been forced to present as his direct heir, both to France and to the hostile European monarchies, his brother’s son who was born of adultery and who had only been made legitimate by a tardy marriage.

Whatever Lucien may have said later on, if Napoleon remained inflexible against the marriage, his reaction was motivated by purely political considerations.

To make things worse once he retired to Rome where the Pope conferred the title of Prince of Canino upon him, Lucien never stopped making violent attacks against the Imperial regime much to the satisfaction of the rest of Europe which hardly needed any encouragement to contest the existence of the French Empire and Napoleon’s legitimacy.

In 1810, Lucien was captured by the English as he was on his way to the United States and he was only able to return to Rome in 1814.

It was in 1815, during the period that is known as the Hundred Days, that Lucien finally remembered his position and decided to join his brother and stand by him. But after the catastrophe of Waterloo he was unable to persuade Napoleon who was absolutely appalled at the thought of starting a civil war in France to go on fighting. Lucien then returned to Rome where he spent the rest of his life writing his Memoirs.

LOUIS (1778-1846)

Napoleon always behaved much more like a father than a brother with Louis. When he was a young officer in the artillery stationed at Auxonne, he paid for Louis’ education and keep out of his meagre pay and later in order to keep him under his protection, he took Louis with him as his aide-de-camp during the Egyptian and the Italian campaigns. In 1802, he was convinced that he was acting for the best when he married Louis to his step-daughter, Hortense, both to please Josephine and to make Louis happy. But the marriage was a failure by any standard.

In 1804, Louis who had been promoted general thanks to Napoleon was admitted to the Conseil d’Etat to perfect his knowledge in every sphere of the civil service and the governing of the country. The following year he was appointed Governor of Paris, and finally, in 1806, as a supreme favour, he was made King of Holland.

We have just written that the Emperor had made an error of judgement by marrying Louis to Hortense. It was indeed an error. Louis was a really detestable husband who was distrustful and neurotically jealous. So much so that Napoleon, who was then in the thick of the Polish campaign, felt compelled to write to him on 4 April 1807:

But there would be no reply and his words would have no effect.

Napoleon was much more of a father than a brother to Louis paying for his education and keep when he could not afford to do so. Yet his younger brother never showed him the slightest gratitude in later years.

You are treating a young woman as if you were leading a regiment. You have the best of wives and the most virtuous, and yet you are making her unhappy. Let her dance as much as she wishes while she’s young enough to do so. My own wife is forty and yet I write to her from the battlefield telling her to go out to balls, whereas you expect a woman of twenty who sees her life drifting away and who is filled with illusions to live in a convent, and spend all her time washing her child like a wet nurse …Make the mother of your children happy – and there is only way show her how highly you think of her and how much you trust her.”

As a sovereign Louis like his older brother Joseph – considered he was a “real” king and that as such he owed nothing to his brother and therefore nothing to his land of origin. So he began dealing with others and this not only irritated Napoleon it was also prejudicial to his interests.

Without the slightest hesitation, he entered into discreet negotiations with England and this induced him to violate the Continental Blockade despite the fact that he was French and Napoleon’s brother.
Hence Napoleon’s severe reprimand, which was justified.

“Are you allied to France or to England, I do not know?

In order to avert the danger Napoleon was compelled to unite Holland to France. Thereupon, Louis simply abandoned his post and throne – so discreetly that Napoleon only traced him nine days later. He was at Teplice, in Bohemia, on the estates of the Emperor’s father-in-law.

By his stupid and ungrateful conduct Louis had ridiculed both the Emperor and France in the eyes of Europe. Once again, the Emperor had to hush up the matter by accepting the responsibility for his brother’s unforgivable and deplorable conduct but instead of blaming Louis, he gave instructions to the Minister of External Affaires to send out a memorandum which was to “endeavour to wholly excuse the King of Holland, who on the grounds of a chronic disease was not the right man.”

Louis thanked his brother by withdrawing into his persecution complex. He retired to Italy and died at Livorno almost forty years later.

JEROME (1784-1860)

If he was whimsical, Jerome never seriously opposed his older brother as for him Napoleon was someone he had always known already serving in high office. This explains why unlike Joseph, Lucien and Louis he genuinely respected his brother.
As he was too young to have experienced the privations that the Bonaparte family had endured at the beginning he soon developed an extravagant taste for luxury. A typical example is the following anecdote. One day the First Consul who was extremely thrifty was furious upon receiving a bill from the famous goldsmith, Biennais, for 16,000 francs for a complete shaving-case in vermeil and silver. The well-known memorialist, Laure Junot, Duchess of Abrantès, wrote in her memoirs.

“The only thing that was missing in the case was the beard, so that its owner could use it. He was aged fifteen at the time.”

To give him some sense of responsibility and reality, Napoleon made him join the navy. But not to be coddled simply because he was the brother of the First Consul.

“I recommend Jerome to you, wrote the First Consul to vice-admiral Ganteaume, not to let him live comfortably and take it easy, but to make him work.”

We must however pay him credit, for despite his young age (he was only 17 at the time), midshipman Bonaparte acquitted himself bravely. But his naval career was to be short-lived. After being promoted lieutenant-commander he abandoned his ship on 20 July 1802 after a disagreement had sprung up with his superior, Admiral Villaret de Joyeuse, and he left for America. In Baltimore he soon fell madly in love with a young American girl, Miss Elizabeth Paterson, whom he married immediately despite the fact that he had not yet attained his majority and that his family had not given their consent for the marriage. The marriage was annulled and the young American received a pension of 60,000 francs per year as compensation which was paid regularly until 1815.

Napoleon was unbelievably indulgent with Jerome constantly making allowances and forgiving him for his blunders and inconsistent conduct.

Miss Elisabeth Paterson


Yet despite all his failings the Emperor was indulgent with his young brother and he made him a prince and a brigadier general – an appointment for which Napoleon himself said that he had little talent. On 23 August 1807, he married him to a German princess, Catherine of Wurttemberg, whose father had just been made King of Wurttemberg by Napoleon.

Frivolous and spendthrift, Jerome is portrayed here in one of the eccentric costumes he was so fond of.

And last but not least, Jerome was made King of Westphalia, a kingdom made up of territories which had been annexed after Prussia’s defeat on 14 October 1806 at Jena.

Once he was king, Jerome was as madly extravagant and as wasteful as before and he ruined the country by his extravagances. To make things worse, although he was always kind and tender with his wife, he was continuously unfaithful to her in a manner which can only be described as shameful.

Even more serious was his conduct in 1812 during the Russian campaign when Jerome abandoned his command to return to Cassel, but three years later during the Hundred Days he fought bravely, if not intelligently, at Waterloo.

Thus, we may write that to a certain degree he was, together with his sister Pauline, the only one who never betrayed the Emperor. Nevertheless, like the others, he was a heavy and useless burden.

Years later when his nephew (the son of Louis Bonaparte) became emperor under the name of Napoleon III, Jerome was named Governor of the Invalides in 1848, Marshal of France in 1850, and finally as from 1850, President of the French Senate. He was the only member of the Bonaparte family to die on French soil.

As we ended our chapter on the absurd pantomime of the Bonaparte family and their sibling rivalry with Jerome, and as it is always pleasant to honour someone’s memory, we shall honour the memory of Catherine of Wurttemberg, Queen of Westphalia, who died on 30 November 1835.

The wedding of Jerome Bonaparte and Catherine of Wurttemberg

When her father, like all the other little princes of the Confederation of Rhine – except for the King of Saxony (cf. Chapter 29) – incited his daughter to abandon her husband and Napoleon, here is the reply she wrote to him on 17 April 1814:

“However great my tenderness and my obedience to you may have been all my life, my dear Father, you cannot blame me if in a circumstance which is as important as this, I am compelled to listen only to the dictates of duty and honour. I was joined in wedlock to my husband by ties that were only political and I do not wish to remind you now of the happiness I am indebted to him for over the past seven years. But even if he had been the worst of husbands, my Father, if you only consider the dictates of the rules of conduct, then you would tell me yourself that I cannot abandon him now he is unhappy, and above all, because he is not responsible for his misfortune.”

A romantic portrait of Catherine and Jerome after
their wedding which shows them in an idyllic
setting. Yet this picture of married bliss hardly
reflects the truth as throughout their marriage
Jerome was unfaithful to Catherine.

Full of admiration and gratitude, Napoleon paid a well-deserved homage to Catherine for her noble heart, whom as he confessed, he loved like a daughter.

“This princess has written her own name down in history.”

To sum up, the Bonaparte brothers were continually detrimental to the Emperor, which was a fact that he acknowledged when he declared:

“My brothers are of no assistance to me. They possess only the foolish vanity of princes, but have no talent, no energy at all. I must govern in their place.”

To be continued…