10 Napoleon Quotes About Family

Napoleon Bonaparte came from a large family, many of whom appear in Napoleon in America. Napoleon was generous towards his family, rewarding them with wealth and high positions. Although he tended to forgive them for their failings, he was highly critical of them when they didn’t do what he wanted them to. This happened frequently, as Napoleon was a busybody, commonly giving family members instructions on how to conduct themselves. Napoleon’s family was instrumental in his rise to power. Family also played a role in his downfall. Here are some Napoleon quotes about family.

Napoleon and his family

The Espousal of Jérôme Bonaparte and Catharina of Württemberg, by Jean-Baptiste Regnault, 1807. This painting depicts Napoleon and most of his family (Lucien is absent).

Our family is provided for

In 1796, Napoleon, who was then a general, and pulling strings for his relatives, wrote to his older brother, Joseph:

Lucien [another brother] starts tomorrow for the army of the North. He is made a Commissariat officer. Ramolino [a relative of Napoleon’s mother] is here, in the Commissariat. Ornano [another relative] is Lieutenant in the Legion of Police. Our family is provided for. I have sent to them everything that they can want. Fesch [Napoleon’s uncle] will be well placed here. … You will soon be a consul. Nothing can exceed my anxiety to make you happy in all respects. (1)

I can have no relations in obscurity

A decade later, Napoleon – who had become Emperor of the French – decided to make Joseph the King of Naples. He instructed Count Miot de Mélito to relay the news.

Impress upon [Joseph] that the least hesitation, the slightest wavering, will ruin him entirely. I have another person in mind who will replace him should he refuse…. At present all feelings of affection yield to state reasons. I recognize only those who serve me as relations. My fortune is not attached to the name of Bonaparte, but to that of Napoleon. … I can have no relations in obscurity. Those who do not rise with me shall no longer form part of my family. (2)

My family is a political family

Napoleon habitually invited members of the Imperial family to dine with him and his wife Josephine at the Tuileries Palace in Paris on Sundays. In the spring of 1807, when Napoleon was away on the Prussian campaign, he expected his family to continue to dine with Josephine. Napoleon’s mother, Letizia, who did not like Josephine and thought that the Bonapartes should instead gather at her residence, protested. Napoleon wrote in reply:

[S]o long as you remain in Paris, it is essential that you should dine every Sunday in the Empress’s apartments, where the family dinner is held. My family is a political family. When I am absent, the Empress is always the head of it; besides, it is an honour that I am conferring upon the members of my family. That does not prevent me, when I happen to be in Paris, and my occupations permit it, from dining with you. (3)

No man is more unfortunate in his family

In 1810, after a series of disappointments involving his siblings, Napoleon reportedly said:

I do not believe that any man in the world is more unfortunate in his family than I am. (4)

You will be useless to…our family

In December 1813, when Napoleon was losing the war in Spain, he wrote to Joseph, who had abdicated the Spanish throne:

France is invaded, all Europe is in arms against France, and above all against me. You are no longer King of Spain. … What will you do? Will you, as a French Prince, come to the support of my throne? … In this case you must act as I have done – announce the part you are about to play, write to me in simple terms a letter which I can print, receive the authorities, and show yourself zealous for me and for the King of Rome, and friendly to the regency of the Empress. Are you unable to do this? Have you not good sense enough for it? Then retire to the obscurity of some country-house 40 leagues from Paris. You will live there quietly if I live; you will be killed or arrested if I die. You will be useless to me, to our family, to your daughters, and to France; but you will do me no harm, and will not be in my way. Choose quickly the line which you will take. (5)

I only occupy myself with my family

When Napoleon was in exile on Elba in the fall of 1814, he told Colonel Neil Campbell, the British commissioner on the island:

I think of nothing outside my little island. I could have sustained the war for twenty years if I wanted to. I no longer exist for the world. I am a dead man. I only occupy myself with my family and my retreat, my house, my cows and my mules. (6)

The only members of the Bonaparte family who joined Napoleon on Elba were his mother and his sister Pauline. This was not enough to keep him busy. The following February, Napoleon escaped from Elba and returned to France.

I have derived little assistance from my own family

After Napoleon’s 1815 defeat at the Battle of Waterloo, he was exiled to the remote South Atlantic island of St. Helena. There he reflected more fully on his family, not in an appreciative way.

It is certain…that I have derived little assistance from my own family, and that they have greatly injured me and the great cause for which I fought. The energy of my disposition has often been extolled, but I have been a mere milksop, particularly with my family; this they knew; after the first moment of anger was over, they always carried their point by perseverance and obstinacy. I became tired of the contest, and they did with me just as they pleased. … They have all really been kings, thanks to my labours; all have enjoyed the advantages of royalty; I alone have known its cares. (7)

Where could I more naturally look for support than amongst my own relations?

On St. Helena, Napoleon also answered the question of why he put his family members on the thrones of Europe.

Why…did I indulge in the vanity of placing every member of my family on a throne? (For the generality of people must have thought me actuated by vanity alone) why did I not rather fix my choice upon some private individuals possessing greater abilities? To this I reply that it is not with thrones as with the functions of a prefect; talents and abilities are so common in the present age, among the multitude, that one must be cautious to avoid awakening the idea of competition. In the agitation of our situation, and with our modern institutions, it was proper to think rather of consolidating and concentrating the hereditary right of succession, in order to avoid innumerable feuds, factions, and misfortunes.

The principal defect in my person and my elevation…was that I had risen at once from the multitude. I felt that I stood insulated and alone, and I cast anchors around me on all sides. Where could I more naturally look for support than amongst my own relations? Could I expect more from strangers? And it must be admitted, that if the members of my family have had the folly to break through these sacred ties, the morality of the people, superior to their blind infatuation, fulfilled in part my object. With them their subjects thought themselves more quiet, more united as in one family. (8)

I could listen to the intelligence of the death…of all my family

Napoleon said on St. Helena:

I…could listen to the intelligence of the death of my wife, of my son, or of all my family, without change of features. Not the slightest sign of emotion, or alteration of countenance would be visible. Everything would appear indifferent and calm. But when alone in my chamber, then I suffer. Then the feelings of the man burst forth. (9)

I never received any cooperation from my family

Towards the end of his life, Napoleon told his companions on St Helena:

I never received any cooperation from my family. If I had not tried to obtain it, I would have been successful much more easily. (10)

You might also enjoy:

10 Napoleon Bonaparte Quotes in Context

10 Interesting Facts About Napoleon’s Family

Napoleon’s Family Tree (includes links to posts about each member of Napoleon’s family)

Living Descendants of Napoleon and the Bonapartes

What did Napoleon’s wives think of each other?

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

  1. The Confidential Correspondence of Napoleon Bonaparte with His Brother Joseph, Sometime King of Spain, Vol. I (London, 1855), p. 27.
  2. A. Bingham, ed., A Selection from the Letters and Dispatches of the First Napoleon, Vol. II (London, 1884), p. 207.
  3. Noel Williams, The Women Bonapartes, Vol. II, (New York, 1909), p. 76.
  4. F. Delderfield, The Golden Millstones: Napoleon’s Brothers and Sisters (New York, 1964), p. 151.
  5. The Confidential Correspondence of Napoleon Bonaparte with His Brother Joseph, Sometime King of Spain, Vol. II (London, 1855), pp. 255-256.
  6. Neil Campbell, Napoleon at Fontainebleau and Elba (London, 1869), p. 299.
  7. Emmanuel-Auguste-Dieudonné Las Cases, Memorial de Sainte Hélène, Vol. III (London, 1823), pp. 220-222.
  8. Ibid., pp. 222-223.
  9. Barry O’Meara, Napoleon in Exile; or A Voice from St. Helena, Vol. II (London, 1822), p. 286.
  10. Henri-Gratien Bertrand, Napoleon at St. Helena: The Journals of General Bertrand from January to May of 1821, deciphered and annotated by Paul Fleuriot de Langle, translated by Frances Hume (Garden City, NY, 1952), p. 41.

14 commments on “10 Napoleon Quotes About Family”

  • Addison Jump says:

    He loved not wisely but too well. Greatest folly was making Joseph King of Spain. 2nd greatest was appointing Jerome to an important military command in the invasion of Russia. Only his stepson Eugene was both loyal and competent. Thank you for some interesting bits of information.

  • JOHN ADAN says:

    Family is the basic unit of society. Discipline, focus, patience get results. No tobacco, drugs, alcohol or gluttony.

  • Irene Hartlmayr says:

    Family is usually a “mixed blessing”. Napoleon’s solicitude and affection for his family were very prominent and were, besides, an expression of the Corsican sense of family clan-feeling. However, the domineering aspects of his personality are also quite prominent in this matter. His brothers had quite reasonable (and more liberal) views on many things of a political nature but were not allowed to give expression to them in their regencies. It is only in recent decades that historians have extemporised on that. The family members were quite unreasonably mean-minded towards Josephine and her two children of a previous marriage (Hortense and Eugene): jealousy or avarice….? It is always interesting to look behind the scenes when passing judgement on personalities of history. I always found it very revealing to look at the human qualities of this historical personality in particular, who is still considered by some to have been a tyrant. There is a lot of good-natured benevolence to be found there, plus a “soft” side that one would not suspect at first sight. Of course, he would have seen that as a sign of weakness although it lends a very human dimension to his life and career.

  • John F. MacMichael says:

    Another interesting post. Napoleon’s comments about his family reminded me of a story by Stephen Vincent Benet (best remembered now for “The Devil and Daniel Webster”). The title is “The Curfew Tolls” (1935) and it is about a Napoleon born too soon.

    There is a scene in it where the narrator meets the family of the Napoleon figure. He is amused by their shabby gentile pretensions and their jealousies and quarrels. He describes Joseph as “The sheep-like brother is at least respectable, I gathered–a provincial lawyer in small way of business whose great pride is that he has actually appeared before the Court of Appeals at Marseilles.”

    The story is a classic example of “What might have been”. You can find it, if you are interested, in a collection of Benet’s stories entitled “By The Waters of Babylon and Other Fantasies and Prophecies” (which is available for Kindle).

  • Irene HARTLMAYR says:

    There is a revealing incident mentioned by Hortense in her memoirs,concerning Napoleon’s troubles with his family: when Napoleon finally -after years of hesitation- brought himself to divorce Josephine for reasons of state policy, Hortense went to see him, letting him know that she and her brother had
    decided to leave the Court as well, out of solidarity with their mother. Whereupon Napoleon broke down in tears, begging them to stay and not to abandon him, with the argument “YOU have been my family, not my own”. Very human!

  • Irene HARTLMAYR says:

    Joseph was, after 1815, very loyal to his younger brother: reading and editing correspondence, letters, etc. and looking after the hereditary rights of Napoleon’s son, who should have been Napoleon II. There have been interesting publications on Joseph: in the USA by Owen Connelly “Joseph-the gentle Bonaparte”, by Gabriel Girod de l’Ain in the fifties and sixties and, more recently, by Vincent Haegele in France, who has written two books on Joseph; one, a biography and two, a study on the relationship between Joseph and Napoleon, according to and based on their correspondence.

    • Shannon Selin says:

      Thanks for these recommendations, Irene. Thierry Lentz has also written a biography of Joseph Bonaparte in French, and Patricia Tyson Stroud has written a good book about Joseph’s time in America (The Man Who Had Been King).

  • Irene HARTLMAYR says:

    Thanks for the literature information,particularly the one by Stroud.
    Thierry Lentz is indefatigable in Napoleonic publishing. I wonder when he gets to sleep……!?
    By the way,the bi-monthly newsletter sent out by the Fondation Napoleon, in French and English, always names the newest publications.

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I have been a mere milksop, particularly with my family; this they knew; after the first moment of anger was over, they always carried their point by perseverance and obstinacy.

Napoleon Bonaparte