Monday 22 July 2013

"My story is my birth and death": Napoléon II

Napoléon François Charles Joseph Bonaparte, Prince Imperial, King of Rome, Prince of Parma (Paris, France, 20th March 1811 – Vienna, Austria, 22nd July 1832)
Known as Franz, Duke of Reichstadt, after 1818

Portrait of Napoleon II as a boy

Well, I'm a continental type so after our jaunts to Austria and Russia, the time seems right for a trip to France to meet a young man who would live an eventful if tragically short life: Napoleon II, affectionately known as "Franz".

Born to Napoleon I and Marie Louise of Austria at the Tuileries Palace, Napoléon II was named Prince Imperial and King of Rome from his birth as well as given the diminutive nickname, L'Aiglon ("the Eaglet").

The child was baptised at Notre Dame de Paris Cathedral by Joseph Fesch, with both nobles and members of the public in attendance. His childhood care was provided by Louise Charlotte Françoise Le Tellier de Montesquiou, the Governess of the Children of France, and he developed a strong bond with her as his education progressed. Fluent in French, German, Italian, Latin and Greek, he was fascinated by military history and enjoyed outdoor pursuits

Portrait of  Marie-Louise, Empress of the French, and the Roi de Rome by François Gérard, 1813
Marie-Louise, Empress of the French, and the Roi de Rome by François Gérard, 1813

When his son was only three years old Napoléon abdicated and named his son as Emperor; though the government refused to acknowledge his office and he never ruled France, the boy remained known as Napoleon II. The child's final meeting with his father took place on 24th January 1814; the two would never see one another again and when Napoleon abdicated in April of that year he gave up his familial rights to the French throne, depriving his son of the right to rule.

Marie Louise and Framz left the Tuileries in March 1814 and travelled to Rambouillet where they were reunited with Marie Louise's father, Emperor Francis II of Austria; barely a month had passed before they departed from France forever to begin a new life in her native land of Austria. Although a movement began to put Napoleon II on the throne of France following his father's defeat at Waterloo, the new French Commission never called him to power and the four year old boy's short reign as Emperor was in name only and even then, only by the most avid Bonapartists. However, when Louis-Napoléon Bonaparte ascended the throne in 1852, he took the title Napoleon III, thus recognising Napoleon II's claim to France.

With Napoleon exiled to Elba, mother and son made their home at Schönbrunn Palace in Vienna. Though his life here was one of luxury and privilege, the boy became a pawn of the court and fell under the particular influence of Austrian Foreign Minister, Prince Metternich of Vienna, who used the boy for political gain. It was Metternich who scotched his chance to take the French throne in 1830 when the Bourbons fell.

As he grew older, Franz developed a strong bond with his cousin, Princess Sophie of Bavaria. When Napoleon III took an interest in the career of her son, Maximillian, rumours spread that Franz was the boy's father. Now, my mother Gilflurt knew a few continentals and always said that this was nothing but gossip; I tend to agree with her on that!

Deathbed portrait of Napoleon II by Johann Nepomuk Ender, 1832
Deathbed portrait by Johann Nepomuk Ender, 1832

Franz died of tuberculosis at Schönbrunn Palace in Vienna on 22nd July 1832; his last words were, "Ma naissance et ma mort, voilà toute mon histoire. Entre mon berceau et ma tombe, il y a un grand zéro." ("My story is my birth and death. Between my cradle and my grave, there is a big zero.")

Photograph of the tomb of Napoleon II
The tomb

Life in the Georgian Court, true tales of 18th century royalty, is available at the links below.

Pen and Sword
Amazon UK
Amazon US
Book Depository (free worldwide shipping)


Gem Twitcher said...

Yes! Very sad.

Catherine Curzon said...

Poor lamb!

Michelle Stanley said...

His last words confirm how much he was aware of his unfortunate circumstances. That's sad.

Catherine Curzon said...

I think so too, it's very melancholy.

Cassandra Samuels said...

Destined to have no destiny. Very sad indeed.

Mari Christian said...

Metternich was a formidable political player--not a good person to grow attached to. Poor Franz.

Catherine Curzon said...

A tragic life!

Catherine Curzon said...

Very definitely a pawn of ambitious courtiers.