Blog category: French History

  • Paris in the Summer of 1820

    Paris in the Summer of 1820

    August 4, 2017

    Feel like being transported to Paris in the summer of 1820? Louis XVIII was the King of France, Napoleon Bonaparte was in exile on St. Helena, and a plot to overthrow the Bourbon monarchy (in which Napoleon in America character Charles Fabvier was implicated) had just been uncovered. Here is a letter written by a visitor to Paris on August 25, 1820.

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  • Gustave Aimard, the Frenchman who wrote Westerns

    Gustave Aimard, the Frenchman who wrote Westerns

    June 23, 2017

    In doing research for Napoleon in America, I read several novels set in Texas in the mid-19th century. One of the authors of such works was Gustave Aimard, a French adventurer who wrote over 70 popular novels about the New World. Aimard was the illegitimate son of the wife of René Savary, Napoleon’s police minister and one of the characters in Napoleon in America. Through his Corsican father, Aimard may have been distantly related to Napoleon himself.

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  • What did the Duke of Wellington think of Louis XVIII?

    What did the Duke of Wellington think of Louis XVIII?

    June 2, 2017

    Though Arthur Wellesley, the first Duke of Wellington, is usually associated with Napoleon Bonaparte, he had an equally large impact on Napoleon’s successor, King Louis XVIII. It was thanks to Wellington’s and Prussian Field Marshal von Blücher’s victory over Napoleon at the Battle of Waterloo in 1815 that Louis XVIII, a member of the House of Bourbon, regained the throne of France. While Louis had a pronounced fondness for the British field marshal, Wellington thought rather less of the French king.

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  • Watching French Kings Rise: The Grand Lever

    Watching French Kings Rise: The Grand Lever

    May 19, 2017

    Have you ever wanted to watch a king get up and get dressed? If so, you would have enjoyed the grand lever, the traditional rising ceremony of French monarchs. It was a moment when people could speak to the king without having to request a formal audience. The grand lever may have started with Charlemagne, who invited friends into his bedchamber when he was dressing. If a dispute was brought to his attention, he adjudicated the matter.

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  • Was Madame de Genlis Napoleon’s spy?

    Was Madame de Genlis Napoleon’s spy?

    January 13, 2017

    Madame de Genlis was a popular and prolific writer of the late 18th and early 19th centuries. Her works were widely read throughout Europe, as well as in her native France. As governor to the children of the Orléans branch of the royal family – a rare position for a woman – Madame de Genlis became known for her innovative approach to education. After losing her husband and fortune in the French Revolution, Madame de Genlis turned to Napoleon Bonaparte for support. In return, Napoleon required her to write him regular letters. This led to suspicions that she was Napoleon’s spy.

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  • Watching French Royals Eat: The Grand Couvert

    Watching French Royals Eat: The Grand Couvert

    December 9, 2016

    The desire to peek into royal lives goes back a long way. In France, people could indulge their curiosity at the “grand couvert,” a ritual in which the king and queen ate their dinner in front of members of the public. The tradition is usually associated with Louis XIV, who dined au grand couvert at Versailles almost every evening. Louis XV disliked the ceremony, which was governed by elaborate rules of etiquette. He took more of his meals in private. By the end of their reign, Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette dined au grand couvert only on Sundays. When Napoleon became Emperor of the French, he re-introduced the grand couvert.

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  • A guillotine execution in Napoleonic times

    A guillotine execution in Napoleonic times

    August 5, 2016

    The guillotine scene in Napoleon in America required me to do some research on beheading in early 19th century France. Best known for its use during the French Revolution, the guillotine continued to be the primary method of judicial execution during Napoleon’s reign and during the Bourbon Restoration. In fact, the guillotine remained France’s standard means of carrying out the death penalty until capital punishment was abolished in 1981. The last guillotine execution took place at Marseilles on September 10, 1977.

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  • How were Napoleonic battlefields cleaned up?

    How were Napoleonic battlefields cleaned up?

    July 8, 2016

    Somewhere in the range of 3.5 million to 6 million people died as a result of the Napoleonic Wars, which lasted from 1803 to 1815. This includes both military and civilian casualties, and encompasses death from war-related diseases and other causes. Estimates of the number of soldiers killed in battle range from 500,000 to almost 2 million. What happened to all of those bodies? What did Napoleonic battlefield cleanup entail?

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  • Claude Victor Perrin, Duke of Belluno, Marshal of France

    Claude Victor Perrin, Duke of Belluno, Marshal of France

    May 20, 2016

    Claude Victor Perrin, the Duke of Belluno, makes a brief appearance in Napoleon in America as the man who delivers the welcome news to the Duke of Angoulême that French forces have resisted Colonel Charles Fabvier’s attempt to subvert them. Victor was Louis XVIII’s Minister of War. He had been one of Napoleon’s marshals, and was thus one of the few senior Napoleonic officers who continued to serve in a high position under the Bourbons. “Not specially dowered by fortune with talents for war, but possessed of a resolute character, a high sense of honour, great courage, and that intrepidity which Napoleon maintained was so absolutely essential for high command, the Duke of Belluno is a striking instance of how large a factor is character in the struggle of life which ends in the survival of the fittest.”

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  • When Princess Caroline met Empress Marie Louise

    When Princess Caroline met Empress Marie Louise

    May 13, 2016

    It’s like a set piece from a movie: the wives of two famous enemies meet, gossip about their estranged husbands, and have a lovely time together, ending in the singing of a Mozart duet. Such was the scene in the Swiss city of Bern on September 23, 1814, when Princess Caroline of England visited Empress Marie Louise of France. Caroline was the lusty, eccentric 46-year-old wife of England’s Prince Regent, the future King George IV. Marie Louise was the 22-year-old second wife of Napoleon Bonaparte. At the time, Napoleon was in exile on Elba.

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  • General Louis Vallin, a man for all masters

    General Louis Vallin, a man for all masters

    April 29, 2016

    Louis Vallin was a competent and long-serving French cavalry officer whose career spanned the French Revolution, Napoleon’s Empire, the Bourbon Restoration and the government of Louis-Philippe. Unlike many of his compatriots, he managed to distinguish himself under all of his various political masters. In 1823, Louis Vallin confronted Charles Fabvier’s band of insurrectionists at the Bidassoa River, both in real life and in Napoleon in America.

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  • The Palace of the King of Rome

    The Palace of the King of Rome

    April 22, 2016

    Imagine in Paris, across the river from the Eiffel Tower, a palace as magnificent as the one at Versailles, with a park covering about half of the present 16th arrondissement. This was Napoleon’s dream. In 1811, work began on a great imperial dwelling on the hill that is today known as the Trocadéro, where the Palais de Chaillot (built in 1937) now stands. Intended as a residence for Napoleon’s infant son, the planned complex was known as the palace of the King of Rome.

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  • Charles Fabvier: Napoleonic soldier & Greek hero

    Charles Fabvier: Napoleonic soldier & Greek hero

    April 15, 2016

    Charles Fabvier was a hotheaded French soldier who began his career under Napoleon Bonaparte. After Napoleon’s defeat, Fabvier tried working for King Louis XVIII. He was so outraged by ultra-royalist excesses that he wound up plotting against the crown. A disastrous attempt to subvert the French army at the Bidassoa River led to Fabvier being branded as a traitor. He salvaged his career by serving with distinction in the Greek War of Independence. Fabvier finished his days as a respected French politician and diplomat. He even gets a mention in War and Peace.

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  • The Marriage of Napoleon and Marie Louise

    The Marriage of Napoleon and Marie Louise

    April 1, 2016

    Fancy a royal wedding? Napoleon Bonaparte and his second wife Marie Louise – the “good Louise” to whom he writes about their son in Napoleon in America – had three of them. They were married in a religious ceremony on March 11, 1810, though Napoleon was not present for the occasion. They then had a civil wedding on April 1 and another religious wedding on April 2. Here’s a look at the festivities.

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  • Napoleon and the Veronese Easter

    Napoleon and the Veronese Easter

    March 25, 2016

    During Napoleon Bonaparte’s Italian campaign, the inhabitants of Verona revolted against the French forces stationed in the area. The bloody fighting started on April 17, 1797, Easter Monday, thus the rebellion became known as the Pasque Vernesi or Veronese Easter. It ended on April 25, with the capture of the town by 15,000 French soldiers. The Veronese Easter gave Napoleon the excuse he had been looking for “to efface the Venetian name from the face of the globe.”

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  • Caricatures of Napoleon on Elba

    Caricatures of Napoleon on Elba

    March 4, 2016

    While Napoleon Bonaparte provided rich fodder for caricaturists throughout his reign, his exile to Elba in 1814 (see last week’s post) occasioned a burst of gleeful activity among the cartoonists of the time. England had been fighting against France for over 20 years. Audiences there were jubilant about Napoleon’s defeat and receptive to anything that made fun of the fallen French Emperor. Here’s a look at some caricatures related to Napoleon’s sojourn on Elba.

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  • How did Napoleon escape from Elba?

    How did Napoleon escape from Elba?

    February 26, 2016

    In April 1814, with a European coalition occupying Paris, Napoleon Bonaparte was forced to abdicate the French throne. He was sent into exile on Elba, a small Mediterranean island located 260 km (160 miles) south of France and 10 km (6 miles) west of the Italian coastline. Ten months later, in one of those life-is-stranger-than-fiction episodes, Napoleon managed to spirit himself off the island and regain the French crown. How did Napoleon escape from Elba?

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  • Last Words of Famous People

    Last Words of Famous People

    February 19, 2016

    Though not as well-known as Napoleon’s last words, here are the reported last words uttered by some of the other famous historical figures who appear in Napoleon in America. King Louis XVIII died suffering from obesity, gout and gangrene at the Tuileries Palace in Paris on September 16, 1824, at the age of 68. He had a long, slow decline, and many of the things he is claimed to have said in his dying days sound like official propaganda. The most credible account is from his good friend Madame du Cayla.

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  • What did Napoleon’s wives think of each other?

    What did Napoleon’s wives think of each other?

    January 29, 2016

    Napoleon Bonaparte had two wives: Josephine and Marie Louise. What did they think of each other? Josephine was born in Martinique on June 23, 1763 as Marie Josèphe Rose Tascher de La Pagerie. Her first husband, Alexandre de Beauharnais, was guillotined during the Reign of Terror. Josephine married Napoleon on March 9, 1796, when she was 32 and he was 26. Though Josephine already had two children (Eugène and Hortense) from her first marriage, she was unable to produce an heir for Napoleon, a matter that troubled him once he became Emperor of France. On December 16, 1809, Napoleon had the marriage dissolved, much to Josephine’s regret.

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  • Napoleon’s First New Year’s Day on St. Helena

    Napoleon’s First New Year’s Day on St. Helena

    January 1, 2016

    In early 19th century France, New Year’s Day was a more important festival than Christmas. Families gathered, friends visited and gifts were exchanged. It was thanks to Napoleon that January 1st was celebrated in France. The New Year’s celebrations had been abandoned in 1793, when the French Republican calendar was adopted. Each Republican year started on the autumnal equinox in September, without fanfare. Napoleon’s official celebration of New Year’s Day in 1800 assured the French that the Revolution was over.

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  • Arnaud Texier de la Pommeraye: French soldier, American teacher

    Arnaud Texier de la Pommeraye: French soldier, American teacher

    October 30, 2015

    Lieutenant Colonel Arnaud Texier de la Pommeraye was yet another Bonapartist who, after 30 years in the French army, wound up scraping a living in the United States after 1815: in this case, by teaching languages and writing grammar texts in Philadelphia. In Napoleon in America, Texier de la Pommeraye has a chance to exercise his military talents once again.

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  • The 1823 French invasion of Spain

    The 1823 French invasion of Spain

    September 11, 2015

    Napoleon in America takes place, in part, against the backdrop of a French invasion of Spain. This invasion was not invented for the novel. It actually happened, in 1823, to restore a Spanish Bourbon king to the throne. It was a huge deal at the time, both in Europe and the Americas. Newspapers, diplomatic reports, memoirs and letters of the period are full of commentary on the events leading up to the invasion, the resulting war, and its aftermath. Here is a very abbreviated account of what transpired.

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  • Joseph de Villèle, the least unreasonable ultra-royalist

    Joseph de Villèle, the least unreasonable ultra-royalist

    August 28, 2015

    Joseph de Villèle served as prime minister of France from 1822 to 1828 under Kings Louis XVIII and Charles X. Often vilified as an ultra-royalist, Villèle tried to steer a prudent course between the far right and the political centre, and was the architect of a sound economic policy. Although Villèle was a capable politician, it is said that “outside of business, [he] was incapable of sustaining a conversation.”

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  • Restoration policeman & spymaster Guy Delavau

    Restoration policeman & spymaster Guy Delavau

    August 21, 2015

    Guy Delavau, the police chief who interrogates Pierre Viriot in Napoleon in America, presided over an elaborate and inefficient network to spy on suspected enemies of Bourbon rule during the Second Restoration. Those targeted range from the exalted, such as the Marquis de Lafayette, to the lowly (see my post on demi-soldes for examples), many of them innocent of wrongdoing. Delavau’s agents violated privacy, and jumped to conclusions based on appearance rather than fact.

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  • Soldier, lothario, filibuster: General Jean Joseph Amable Humbert

    Soldier, lothario, filibuster: General Jean Joseph Amable Humbert

    July 17, 2015

    General Jean Joseph Amable Humbert is one of those larger than life characters thrown up by the French Revolution. A passionate republican who led a failed invasion of Ireland, a ladies’ man who romanced Napoleon’s sister, an aide to Andrew Jackson at the Battle of New Orleans, a would-be invader of Mexico, and an associate of the pirates Laffite – there are so many tales about Humbert that it’s hard to separate fact from fiction. This, as best I can determine, is his story.

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  • Louis-Joseph Oudart, a downright scoundrel

    Louis-Joseph Oudart, a downright scoundrel

    July 10, 2015

    Louis-Joseph Oudart (Houdard) was born on November 22, 1788 in Versailles, to Joseph Oudart and Marie Joseph Flahaut. He served as an infantry corporal in Napoleon’s Grande Armée. Oudart became a chevalier of the Legion of Honour on October 3, 1814, during the First Restoration. It’s not clear what he did during the Hundred Days, but he remained loyal enough to the king to obtain the commission of sub-lieutenant during the Second Restoration. Unfortunately, Oudart used his new position to steal tableware from the officers’ mess, as well as items from his corps’s master tailor.

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  • Why didn’t Napoleon escape to the United States?

    Why didn’t Napoleon escape to the United States?

    June 26, 2015

    Why didn’t Napoleon follow through on his plan to start a new life in the United States in 1815? After losing the Battle of Waterloo on June 18, Napoleon returned to Paris with the aim of shoring up his domestic support before continuing the war. When he arrived on June 21, the Chamber of Deputies and the Chamber of Peers called for his abdication. On June 22, Napoleon relinquished the throne in favour of his son, Napoleon II, whom the provisional government soon deposed.

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  • What if Napoleon won the Battle of Waterloo?

    What if Napoleon won the Battle of Waterloo?

    June 19, 2015

    Napoleon winning the Battle of Waterloo is one of the ten most popular scenarios in English-language alternate history, and the most popular one in French. The Waterloo “what if?” pops up repeatedly in alternate history forums and has been the subject of numerous books, stories and articles. Broadly speaking, exploring what might have happened if Napoleon had won at Waterloo involves pursuing one or more of the following questions.

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  • What did Napoleon say about the Battle of Waterloo?

    What did Napoleon say about the Battle of Waterloo?

    June 5, 2015

    On June 18, 1815, Napoleon was defeated at the Battle of Waterloo by a coalition of British, German, Dutch-Belgian and Prussian forces led by the Duke of Wellington and Prussian Field Marshal Gebhard von Blücher. As a result of this defeat, Napoleon was removed from the throne of France and spent the rest of his life in exile on the remote South Atlantic island of St. Helena. There he had plenty of time to reflect on the last battle he ever fought. What did he say about it?

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  • The tragedy of Colonel Pierre Viriot

    The tragedy of Colonel Pierre Viriot

    May 29, 2015

    Pierre Viriot was a promising French soldier who wound up on the bad side of both the Napoleonic and the Bourbon regimes. His career was undone by his honourable involvement in the trial of the presumed kidnappers of French Senator Clément de Ris. Viriot’s sad tale shows the power of Napoleon’s police to ruin a man’s life.

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  • Coiffure à la Titus

    Coiffure à la Titus

    May 22, 2015

    Last week I looked at Napoleon in America character Barthélemy Bacheville, who a police report of 1816 described as being “coiffed à la Titus.” This got me wondering: what does a Roman Emperor have to do with hairstyles in early 19th century France? Titus ruled the Roman Empire from 79 to 81 A.D. He is best known for completing the Roman Colosseum and for being the emperor during the eruption of Mount Vesuvius in 79 A.D., which destroyed Pompeii. He is also a character in the play Brutus by the French Enlightenment writer Voltaire.

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  • Barthélemy Bacheville: Napoleonic soldier, outlaw & perfumer

    Barthélemy Bacheville: Napoleonic soldier, outlaw & perfumer

    May 15, 2015

    Last week I looked at the demi-soldes, France’s half-pay veterans of the Napoleonic Wars, many of whom appear as characters in Napoleon in America. Captain Barthélemy Bacheville is a particularly interesting example of the species. A great admirer of Napoleon, Bacheville fought in most of the Emperor’s campaigns and followed him into exile on Elba. This meant he returned to France with Napoleon when the latter escaped from Elba. Bacheville thus started off on a bad footing with the Bourbons after Napoleon’s 1815 defeat. Things got worse from there.

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  • Demi-soldes, the half-pay Napoleonic War veterans

    Demi-soldes, the half-pay Napoleonic War veterans

    May 8, 2015

    What happened to Napoleon’s officers after the Battle of Waterloo? As we saw in an earlier post, General Jean-Pierre Piat was put on inactive service during the Bourbon Restoration. He was far from being the only one. In 1815-16, some 20,000 officers who had served under Napoleon were removed from active service, given reduced salaries and placed under tight restrictions. This week, I take a closer look at the demi-soldes, France’s half-pay veterans of the Napoleonic Wars, including several who make an appearance in Napoleon in America.

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  • General Jean-Pierre Piat, staunch Bonapartist

    General Jean-Pierre Piat, staunch Bonapartist

    April 24, 2015

    Jean-Pierre Piat features in Napoleon in America because of his involvement in a Bonapartist plot against the government of Louis XVIII of France. In real life Piat was a courageous French soldier and devoted Bonapartist who was viewed with suspicion by the Bourbon regime. Late in his life Piat helped Napoleon’s nephew, Louis-Napoleon, rise to power after the 1848 French Revolution.

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  • The moral courage of General Foy

    The moral courage of General Foy

    April 10, 2015

    General Maximilien Sébastien Foy was a model of military and civic virtue. A courageous soldier during the French Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars, he refused to kowtow to Napoleon. Following Napoleon’s defeat, General Foy became an eloquent defender of liberty in the Chamber of Deputies. Foy was modest, hardworking and a man of integrity. He was greatly respected in France, as shown by the tributes paid to him and his family upon his death.

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  • Napoleon and the Easter Insurrection in Corsica

    Napoleon and the Easter Insurrection in Corsica

    April 3, 2015

    With Easter approaching, I’m going to take a break from blogging about the characters in Napoleon in America, and instead look at how Napoleon spent Easter in Corsica in 1792. That Sunday, a quarrel between children erupted into a gunfight that pitted Napoleon and his battalion against the residents of Napoleon’s hometown of Ajaccio. In an act of treason, Napoleon took advantage of the disturbance to attempt to neutralize his adversaries and capture the Ajaccio citadel from the French garrison.

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  • Napoleon and the Marquis de Lafayette

    Napoleon and the Marquis de Lafayette

    March 27, 2015

    Major General Gilbert du Motier, the Marquis de Lafayette, was a hero of both the American and French revolutions. Though Lafayette initially hoped that Napoleon would serve the cause of liberty, he was soon disillusioned. His low-key opposition and refusal to accept office under the Consulate and Empire made the Marquis de Lafayette a continuing thorn in Napoleon’s side.

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  • Napoleon’s henchman René Savary, the Duke of Rovigo

    Napoleon’s henchman René Savary, the Duke of Rovigo

    March 6, 2015

    French soldier, diplomat and police minister René Savary, the Duke of Rovigo, has the reputation of being one of Napoleon’s most bloodthirsty aides. Though Napoleon could, and did, count on Savary to carry out any number of dark deeds, Savary was not by nature an evil person. He seems to have been motivated by a desire for wealth and by a genuine devotion to Napoleon. Savary’s involvement in the death of the Duke of Enghien meant that he was not trusted by the Bourbons after Napoleon’s defeat. He was later rehabilitated for a brutal stint as commander of the French forces in Algeria.

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  • Napoleon’s banker, Jacques Laffitte

    Napoleon’s banker, Jacques Laffitte

    January 30, 2015

    A financier and politician who rose from poverty to become one of France’s richest citizens, Jacques Laffitte is considered one of the creators of modern public credit in France. He also opened the road for French international investment banking. Napoleon trusted Laffitte’s ability with money, as well as his integrity, though Laffitte’s leanings were more republican than imperial. A supporter of the 1830 July Revolution, Laffitte ran into trouble when Louis-Philippe ascended the throne.

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  • Charlotte Bonaparte, Napoleon’s artistic niece

    Charlotte Bonaparte, Napoleon’s artistic niece

    January 16, 2015

    Though not considered beautiful, Charlotte Bonaparte – the daughter of Napoleon’s brother Joseph – was intelligent and cultivated, with a romantic temperament. Known for her talent as an artist, Charlotte lived with her father in the United States for three years, where she drew and painted a number of landscapes. In Europe, she studied with Jacques-Louis David and with Louis-Léopold Robert, who killed himself when his passion for her was not requited. Constrained by Napoleon’s will to marry her cousin, Charlotte made the best of the situation, though her short marriage ended in sorrow. She herself died in sad circumstances at a relatively young age.

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  • Napoleon’s policeman, Pierre-François Réal

    Napoleon’s policeman, Pierre-François Réal

    December 26, 2014

    Pierre-François Réal was an ardent French Revolutionist who helped Napoleon seize power and then served in key police positions throughout Napoleon’s reign. His supporters called him a champion of liberty who defended the rights of the falsely accused. His detractors regarded him as a hypocritical monster, responsible for many deaths. After Napoleon’s fall, Réal found exile in the United States. He built a “cup and saucer” house in Cape Vincent, New York, and may have sought to rescue Napoleon from St. Helena.

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  • Louise Marie Thérèse d’Artois: Mademoiselle of France

    Louise Marie Thérèse d’Artois: Mademoiselle of France

    November 14, 2014

    Like others in her family, Louise Marie Thérèse d’Artois lived a life marked by murder, revolution and exile. Born a French princess of the Bourbon line, Louise spent the majority of her years separated from France. When she finally obtained, through marriage, a kingdom in the form of the Duchy of Parma, it was torn from her by war. One hopes she at least took comfort in her children.

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  • Henri d’Artois, unready to be king

    Henri d’Artois, unready to be king

    November 7, 2014

    Henri d’Artois, Duke of Bordeaux and Count of Chambord, was the last representative of the senior branch of the French Bourbon kings. Born to great fanfare as a presumed heir of the French throne, he lost his royal privilege when his grandfather, King Charles X, was compelled to abdicate in 1830. Henri lived the rest of his life in exile. When he did have the opportunity to reclaim his throne, he didn’t take it.

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  • 10 Interesting Facts about Napoleon Bonaparte

    10 Interesting Facts about Napoleon Bonaparte

    October 24, 2014

    There’s no shortage of Napoleon Bonaparte facts. Here are 10 you may not be aware of. They struck me as interesting when I was researching Napoleon in America. For example: 1) Napoleon couldn’t carry a tune. 2) He loved licorice. 3) He cheated at cards.

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  • Simon Bernard, Napoleon’s general in the US Army

    Simon Bernard, Napoleon’s general in the US Army

    October 17, 2014

    In an illustration of Napoleon’s “career open to all talents,” Simon Bernard rose from modest origins to become an engineering general in the Grande Armée. He attracted Napoleon’s personal attention when, as a young officer, he had the nerve to give the Emperor unsolicited advice about campaign plans. After Napoleon’s 1815 defeat, Bernard spent 15 years as a military engineer in the United States Army, where he had a huge impact on America’s coastal defences and roads and canals. Later in his career, Bernard served as France’s Minister of War.

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  • Napoleonic General Henri Lallemand: Improving the US artillery

    Napoleonic General Henri Lallemand: Improving the US artillery

    October 10, 2014

    Though overshadowed by his hotheaded older brother Charles, Henri Lallemand was a skilled Napoleonic officer whose influence on artillery practice was felt in the United States, which is where he sought exile after Napoleon’s 1815 defeat. Henri did not accompany Charles to the Champ d’Asile in Texas, but was keenly involved in planning and equipping the ill-fated expedition. His much younger wife Henriette was the niece of America’s richest man, Stephen Girard.

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  • Achille & Joseph Archambault: Napoleon’s grooms on St. Helena

    Achille & Joseph Archambault: Napoleon’s grooms on St. Helena

    August 8, 2014

    Achille and Joseph Archambault are two more names to add to the category of Napoleon’s faithful servants. They joined the imperial household around 1805 and stuck with Napoleon when he went into exile on Elba and on St. Helena. Achille was known for his fast and furious driving. Joseph wound up in the United States, where he ran a hotel in Pennsylvania and became a cavalry major during the American Civil War.

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  • Joseph Bonaparte’s Secretary, Louis Mailliard

    Joseph Bonaparte’s Secretary, Louis Mailliard

    August 1, 2014

    When Napoleon’s brother, 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.

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  • Jean-Guillaume Hyde de Neuville, a 19th century knight-errant

    Jean-Guillaume Hyde de Neuville, a 19th century knight-errant

    July 25, 2014

    Jean-Guillaume Hyde de Neuville, France’s ambassador to the United States from 1816 to 1822, was a staunch royalist with a heart of gold. A counter-revolutionary who was exiled by Napoleon, he became a doctor, a farmer, a diplomat and a politician who was generous to his opponents. His wife was a noted watercolourist who left many sketches of early 19th century America.

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  • Joseph Bonaparte: From King of Spain to New Jersey

    Joseph Bonaparte: From King of Spain to New Jersey

    July 4, 2014

    Amiable and obliging, Joseph Bonaparte was in many respects the opposite of his younger brother Napoleon. Joseph was fond of literature, gardening and entertaining, and Joseph perfectly happy to spend his days pottering about his estate. Napoleon, however, had grander plans for his brother, most notably the Spanish throne. After Napoleon’s defeat in 1815, Joseph fled to the United States, where he is credited with bringing European culture to the locals.

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  • Narcisse & Antonia Rigaud: Survivors of the Champ d’Asile

    Narcisse & Antonia Rigaud: Survivors of the Champ d’Asile

    June 27, 2014

    Narcisse-Périclès Rigaud and his sister Antonia were the children of General Antoine Rigaud, one of Napoleon’s officers. They joined their father in the 1818 Bonapartist attempt to form an armed colony in Texas called the Champ d’Asile (Field of Asylum). Narcisse’s distaste for Charles Lallemand in Napoleon in America stems from his experience at the colony.

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  • General Charles Lefebvre-Desnouettes: Unhappy in Alabama

    General Charles Lefebvre-Desnouettes: Unhappy in Alabama

    June 20, 2014

    Charles Lefebvre-Desnouettes was a loyal and gifted Napoleonic cavalry commander. Sentenced to death after Napoleon’s 1815 abdication, Lefebvre-Desnouettes fled to the United States where he settled on the Vine and Olive colony in Alabama. Despite his wealth, he was miserable and longed to return to France. He finally received permission to do so, only to meet a tragic end on the journey home.

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  • General Charles Lallemand: Invader of Texas

    General Charles Lallemand: Invader of Texas

    May 16, 2014

    Soldier, adventurer and conman, Charles Lallemand had a distinguished career as a Napoleonic officer. He was a member of Napoleon’s inner circle in the days following the Emperor’s 1815 abdication. Under a French death sentence and unwilling to settle for a quiet life, Lallemand turned to Texas filibustering, Spanish insurgency and a Greek ship-building fiasco before eventually becoming governor of Corsica.

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  • François Guillemin: Spying and scandal in 19th century New Orleans

    François Guillemin: Spying and scandal in 19th century New Orleans

    May 2, 2014

    François Guillemin was the French consul in New Orleans during the time in which Napoleon in America is set. As part of his job consisted of spying on Napoleon’s followers, Guillemin has his hands full in the book when Napoleon himself arrives in the city. In real life, much of what we know about Guillemin is thanks to his encounters with two other well-known figures: Alexis de Tocqueville and Micaela Almonester, Baroness de Pontalba.

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  • What happened to the Bonapartists in America? The story of Louis Lauret

    What happened to the Bonapartists in America? The story of Louis Lauret

    April 11, 2014

    One of hundreds of Bonapartists who went to the United States after Napoleon’s final defeat, Captain Louis Lauret ended up defrauded, disillusioned and probably wistful for the days of glory with his Emperor, with whom he is reunited fictionally in Napoleon in America.

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  • Napoleon’s art-collecting uncle, Cardinal Fesch

    Napoleon’s art-collecting uncle, Cardinal Fesch

    March 28, 2014

    One of France’s finest collections of old masters can be found in Ajaccio, Corsica, in the Palais Fesch. The museum is named after its benefactor, Napoleon’s uncle Joseph Fesch, a good-natured luxury-lover who used his takings from Napoleon’s stint in power to amass a huge amount of paintings. A Catholic cardinal, Fesch got caught in the struggle between Napoleon and the Pope, and tried to soften Napoleon’s policy towards the church.

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  • How Pauline Bonaparte lived for pleasure

    How Pauline Bonaparte lived for pleasure

    March 14, 2014

    A commoner from Corsica who counted the composer Niccolò Paganini, the actor François-Joseph Talma and the writer Alexandre Dumas senior among her lovers, bathed in milk baths to which she was carried by a Negro servant, and married a wealthy Italian prince could be said to have led a rather fortunate life. Pauline Bonaparte’s journey from rags to riches would not have been possible without her brother. Known for her beauty, her impulsiveness and her questionable moral sense, Pauline loved Napoleon and was the least demanding of all his siblings.

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  • Louis Bonaparte, Napoleon’s defiant puppet

    Louis Bonaparte, Napoleon’s defiant puppet

    March 7, 2014

    Napoleon’s younger brother Louis Bonaparte failed to become the great soldier Napoleon had trained him up to be, or even the pliable puppet Napoleon would have settled for. Instead, he became an irritable hypochondriac and literary dilettante who fathered another emperor.

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  • Napoleon II: Napoleon’s son, the King of Rome

    Napoleon II: Napoleon’s son, the King of Rome

    February 21, 2014

    Napoleon had at least two illegitimate children and two stepchildren, but only one legitimate child: Napoleon François Charles Joseph Bonaparte, also known as the King of Rome, Napoleon II, the Prince of Parma and the Duke of Reichstadt. He did not hold all those titles at the same time, and you can tell whether someone was a supporter of Napoleon based on how they referred to the boy after 1815. His nickname was l’Aiglon, or the Eaglet.

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  • Who was the man in the Duke and Duchess of Angoulême?

    Who was the man in the Duke and Duchess of Angoulême?

    February 7, 2014

    Married cousins Louis Antoine and Marie-Thérèse of France, children of the Bourbon kings Louis XVI and Charles X, led lives of disappointment, exile and sorrow. This ultimately strengthened the bond between them, which included, as one contemporary observed, “absolute leniency towards each other’s failings.” Napoleon admired Marie-Thérèse. She thought less highly of him.

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  • The Count of Artois: Charles X of France

    The Count of Artois: Charles X of France

    January 31, 2014

    A wastrel and a reactionary whose behaviour helped to discredit French royalty, Charles Philippe, the Count of Artois – later King Charles X of France – did not have much to recommend him. Known as the “Don Juan” of Versailles, he became a royal pain in the side of his brother, King Louis XVIII.

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  • Louis XVIII of France: Oyster Louis

    Louis XVIII of France: Oyster Louis

    January 24, 2014

    Louis XVIII le Desiré (the Desired), King of France. was born in the wrong place and time. He had to run from his country as his brother and sister-in-law were guillotined in the French Revolution. He then spent years shunting around Europe while Napoleon ran France. He barely had time to warm the throne before he again had to flee Paris, after the humiliation of watching his army desert him for Napoleon.

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  • Louis-Joseph Marchand: Napoleon’s Valet and Friend

    Louis-Joseph Marchand: Napoleon’s Valet and Friend

    January 3, 2014

    When Napoleon disappears from his St. Helena residence of Longwood in Napoleon in America, there is one other person missing: Napoleon’s valet, Louis-Joseph-Narcisse Marchand. Marchand devoted himself to the Emperor’s service from 1811 until Napoleon’s death in 1821. He idolized the Emperor – not an easy man to serve – and did everything he could to maintain Napoleon’s comfort and illusion of power when diminished to the status of an English prisoner. His memoirs provide an inside look at Napoleon.

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  • Louis Étienne Saint-Denis: Napoleon’s French Mameluke

    Louis Étienne Saint-Denis: Napoleon’s French Mameluke

    December 27, 2013

    Louis Étienne Saint-Denis was born September 22, 1788 at Versailles, where his father served King Louis XVI as an overseer of the royal stables. According to family lore, Saint-Denis’ maternal grandfather once made a bird cage out of nougat, containing a real bird. The concoction was placed on the table at a court fête. When the nougat was broken, the bird flew out and perched on Marie Antoinette’s head.

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  • Charles de Montholon: Napoleon’s murderer or devoted Bonapartist?

    Charles de Montholon: Napoleon’s murderer or devoted Bonapartist?

    December 20, 2013

    In Napoleon in America, when Sir Hudson Lowe confronts the residents of Longwood with questions about Napoleon’s disappearance, among those denying any knowledge of the Emperor’s escape is Count Charles-Jean-François-Tristan de Montholon. Like Lowe, Montholon has a bad reputation. While Lowe’s star has risen over the years, Montholon’s has sunk, mainly due to the theory that Napoleon died of arsenic poisoning and that Montholon was the most likely poisoner.

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  • Napoleon and Arthur Bertrand

    Napoleon and Arthur Bertrand

    December 13, 2013

    In the opening chapter of Napoleon in America, Napoleon gives a gift to Arthur Bertrand. Arthur was the son of General Henri-Gatien Bertrand and his wife Fanny. Napoleon was fond of all the children in the Longwood entourage, but Arthur became his favourite. Glimpses of the two of them in the various St. Helena memoirs provide an amusing contrast to the often formidable portrait of Napoleon as Emperor.

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  • Could Napoleon have escaped from St. Helena?

    Could Napoleon have escaped from St. Helena?

    November 22, 2013

    The premise of Napoleon in America is that Napoleon has escaped from St. Helena. That was the island to which he was banished after being forced off the French throne in 1815 following his defeat at Waterloo. A volcanic speck in the South Atlantic Ocean – 1,200 miles (1,900 km) west of Africa and 2,000 miles (3,200 km) east of Brazil – seemed an ideal place to stash a public menace, especially one who had earlier in the year managed to escape from the considerably less remote island of Elba.

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We must confess that fate, which sports with man, makes merry work with the affairs of this world.

Napoleon Bonaparte