Joseph Bonaparte’s Secretary, Louis Mailliard

Painted miniatures of Louis Mailliard and his wife Marguerite Angelique Redet, before 1820

Painted miniatures of Louis Mailliard and his wife Marguerite Angelique Redet, before 1820

When Joseph Bonaparte arrived in the United States in August 1815, he was accompanied by four people, including his secretary Louis Mailliard. Mailliard served Joseph faithfully for 36 years and became his closest confidant. In 1817 Joseph sent Mailliard on a hunt for buried treasure in Europe.

From Mortefontaine to America

Mailliard was not Joseph Bonaparte’s son, although it is sometimes stated that he was. Louis Hypolite Mailliard was born in Mortefontaine, France, on May 22, 1795. In 1798, Joseph bought the château of Mortefontaine, north of Paris. In 1808, Mailliard entered Joseph’s service. He accompanied Joseph when the latter became King of Spain, and stayed with him through the fall of Napoleon’s Empire. In 1815 he fled with Joseph into exile in the United States.

Mailliard married Marguerite Angelique Redet, whose father was Master of Horse for Joseph’s wife Julie. At some point Marguerite followed her husband to America. Their son Adolphe was born at Point Breeze, Joseph’s estate in Bordentown, New Jersey, on August 5, 1819. Sadly, Marguerite died 10 days later, leaving Mailliard heartbroken. At age two and a half, Adolphe was sent to France to be raised by his grandfather, who sent him to boarding school and college under the name of “Henri Lustre.” (1)

A Swiss treasure hunt

In 1817 Joseph sent Louis Mailliard back to Europe to retrieve a cache of diamonds, papers and money he had buried in 1815, with Mailliard’s help, in a foxhole at his Swiss estate of Prangins. The ship on which Mailliard sailed was wrecked in a storm off the coast of Ireland, but the passengers and crew were saved. Mailliard stopped in Brussels, where – as instructed by Joseph – he tried to persuade Joseph’s wife Julie and their daughters to come to America. Julie demurred, saying her physicians told her she could not stand the sea voyage.

Mailliard continued on to Switzerland and presented himself to a man named Véret, Joseph’s financial administrator. Just as he assumes a disguise for his mission to Europe in Napoleon in America, Mailliard was disguised as an Englishman, complete with a red wig and a fake accent. This was convincing enough to deceive Véret, who laughed when Mailliard revealed his identity.

The two agreed that Mailliard should pose as an English speculator who wanted to prospect for coal at Prangins. Véret hired two unsuspecting workmen to help with the digging. Mailliard instructed them to start at some distance from where he knew Joseph’s treasure was buried. Gradually he brought them closer, and finally to the exact spot, where he had them dig only to a certain depth, after which he dismissed them. That night, he returned with Véret to remove the final layer of dirt and uncover the iron box. Back at Véret’s house, they opened the lid and inventoried the contents against a list Mailliard had brought with him. After drying out the parcels, among which were 16 diamonds worth approximately five million francs, they ascertained that nothing was missing. Mailliard returned to Point Breeze with the treasure. (2)

Joseph Bonaparte’s “right hand”

Louis Mailliard stayed with Joseph until the latter’s death in 1844. Joseph clearly thought highly of him. He wrote to Julie:

I cannot do without [Mailliard]; he is my secretary, my intendant; he is my right hand. (3)

Mailliard kept a journal, which is held at the Yale University Library in New Haven, Connecticut. There are some extracts in an excellent article by Peter Hicks in Napoleonica. La Revue, entitled “Joseph Bonaparte and the ‘Réunion de Famille’ of 1832-33.” Focusing on Joseph’s return to Europe in 1832 and a family meeting in London in 1833, Hicks reports how Mailliard noted the division between Joseph and his nephew Louis-Napoléon (the future Napoleon III).

We don’t see the same for our cause in France. That is unfortunate for the cause. (4)

Mailliard also made clear that Joseph thought little of his brother Lucien:

Lucien is all imagination but without perseverance, changing all the time. (5)

Mailliard was the executor of Joseph’s estate. Joseph noted in his will:

I here declare that no man has more right to my confidence and esteem than Mr. Louis Mailliard…. I would like to show my attachment to him by a great legacy: but his modesty equals his fidelity. I know that what I am about to give him will satisfy him. I bequeath, then, to Mr. Louis Mailliard, the farm of Groveville, near the village of the same name, of about 250 acres, more or less, such as it is, and as I bought it…. This farm, situated in America, forms part of the domain that I have designated for the above. I give and bequeath equally to Mr. Louis Mailliard, six thousand dollars in stock of the Union Canal, of Pennsylvania. (6)

Joseph also left Mailliard an annual lifetime income of $400, a gold watch, and a miniature portrait of himself in the uniform of his guard. He left Mailliard’s son, Adolphe, stock in the Union Canal Company and his silver toilet articles.

Once Louis-Napoléon was on the throne in Paris, Louis Mailliard was instrumental in getting Joseph’s remains returned to France in 1862 (Joseph had specified in his will that he wanted to be interred there). Mailliard retired to Mortefontaine and died in 1872 at the age of 77.

In 1846, Mailliard’s son Adolphe married Ann Eliza Ward, the sister of Julia Ward Howe, author of “The Battle Hymn of the Republic.” Adolphe died in California in 1890.

  1. William Somers Mailliard, The Mailliards of California, A Family Chronicle, 1868-1990 (Berkeley, 1993), p. 26.
  2. Georges Bertin, Joseph Bonaparte en Amérique: 1815-1832 (Paris, 1893), pp. 51-53.
  3. E. M. Woodward, Bonaparte’s Park, and The Murats (Trenton, NJ, 1879), p. 98.
  4. Peter Hicks, “Joseph Bonaparte and the ‘Réunion de famille’ of 1832-33,” Napoleonica. La Revue, 2010/2, No. 8, p. 39.
  5. Ibid., p. 40.
  6. Bonaparte’s Park, and The Murats, pp. 90, 95.

4 commments on “Joseph Bonaparte’s Secretary, Louis Mailliard”

  • John Adan says:

    These are such good life stories.

    Highly relevant even today.

    • Shannon Selin says:

      Thanks, John. I love researching all these people – even the minor characters have interesting stories.

      • Owen Clapp says:

        Thank you for this wonderful article! I am writing a book on the history of the San Geronimo Valley – the Rancho that Adolphe purchased in Marin County, CA. It has been stated in many newspapers in Marin that Adolphe was Joseph’s grandson, but this confirms that the Malliards of California were not related by blood to the Bonapartes!

        • Shannon Selin says:

          I’m glad you enjoyed the article. Your book sounds fascinating. I gather that Louis Mailliard’s descendants have an interesting history in California.

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I cannot do without [Mailliard]; he is my secretary, my intendant; he is my right hand.

Joseph Bonaparte