Blog category: French History
Virginie Ghesquière: A Female Napoleonic Soldier
March 24, 2023
Virginie Ghesquière was a French woman who disguised herself as a man and fought as a soldier in Napoleon’s army. She first came to public attention in an article in the October 31, 1812 edition of the Journal de l’Empire. Readers were told: “There is much talk of the courage and devotion of a young lady who replaced her brother, a conscript of 1806, and returned from the army covered with honorable wounds.” Her story formed the basis of many popular tales, but how much of it was true?
The Palace of Saint-Cloud
November 4, 2022
The Palace of Saint-Cloud, also known as the Château de Saint-Cloud, was a French royal residence overlooking the Seine River approximately 5 kilometres (3 miles) west of Paris. It was an important site of Napoleonic history, used by both Napoleon I and his nephew, Napoleon III. The Palace of Saint-Cloud was also the summer residence of the 19th-century Bourbon kings and their successor, King Louis-Philippe. In Napoleon in America, Louis XVIII lurches across the palace’s terrace in his wheelchair while his great-niece, Louise d’Artois, twirls on the grass.
The Palais-Royal: Social Centre of 19th-Century Paris
February 18, 2022
The Palais-Royal, a former royal palace in Paris, was a spectacular shopping, entertainment and dining complex for the first half of the 19th century. It attracted all of Parisian society, from the high to the low. In Napoleon in America, when General Jean-Pierre Piat is trying to confuse the policeman who is following him, he heads for the galleries of the Palais-Royal, “aiming to lose himself among the philosophers and rogues, the idle and the profligate, the pickpockets and ladies of fair virtue.”
Was Napoleon religious?
November 26, 2021
Napoleon Bonaparte was religious in that he believed in God. However, he was not devoted to any particular religious doctrines or practices. Napoleon respected the power of religious belief and used religion to further his political goals.
François d’Orléans, Prince of Joinville: Artist & Sailor
October 15, 2021
François d’Orléans, Prince of Joinville, is perhaps best known to Napoleon fans as the commander of La Belle Poule, the ship that returned Napoleon’s remains to France in 1840. The Prince of Joinville – the son of a French king – had a storied naval career, was a notable painter of watercolours, and wrote some delightful memoirs. You might remember him from my post about vintage photos of French royalty, in which he stood out as one of the princes who served in the American Civil War. Here’s a closer look at his life and his art.
Marshal Grouchy in America
October 1, 2021
Marshal Emmanuel de Grouchy was a skilled cavalry officer who had a long career of service in the French army. This record has been overshadowed by accusations – originating with Napoleon and his followers on Saint Helena – that Marshal Grouchy was in large part responsible for Napoleon’s defeat at the Battle of Waterloo in 1815. After Waterloo, Grouchy went into exile in the United States, where he began the frustrating process of defending himself against allegations of incompetence, cowardice and treachery.
Symbols of Napoleon: The Eagle
September 17, 2021
What is it with Napoleon and eagles? Napoleon’s troops carried an eagle standard into battle; his son was nicknamed the eaglet; Napoleon’s return to France in 1815 was called the flight of the eagle. Here’s a look at how the eagle became a symbol of Napoleonic France, and what those Napoleon eagle standards were all about.
Currency, Exchange Rates & Costs in the 19th Century
June 11, 2021
What currency was used in France, the United States, and Britain in the early 19th century? What were the historical exchange rates? How much did things cost? Since Napoleon in America occasionally mentions financial transactions, these were questions I had to look into when writing the novel. Here’s what I found out.
The Tuileries Palace under Napoleon I and Louis XVIII
April 30, 2021
One thing that Napoleon I and Louis XVIII had in common was a fondness for the Tuileries Palace, a magnificent building in Paris that no longer exists. The Tuileries Palace stood on the right (north) bank of the River Seine, at the eastern end of the Tuileries Garden, next to the Louvre Palace, to which it was joined. It was home to the rulers of France for almost 300 years.
François-Joseph Talma, Napoleon’s Favourite Actor
February 5, 2021
Napoleon’s favourite actor was François-Joseph Talma, the leading French tragedian of the period. They became friends before Napoleon became Emperor. Napoleon maintained a close relationship with Talma during his years in power and Talma remained a loyal friend.
When an Englishman Met a Napoleonic Captain in Restoration France
September 18, 2020
France and England were at war for most of the period between 1793 and 1814. This made tourism between the two countries extremely difficult. After Napoleon was defeated and exiled to Elba in April 1814, English visitors flocked across the English Channel, eager to see Paris now that France was under the rule of England’s ally, King Louis XVIII. One of those making the trip was British journalist John Scott, who left the following account of one of his countrymen.
Gaëtan-Octavien d’Alvimart: Soldier, Adventurer, Artist
January 24, 2020
When writing Napoleon in America, I considered making French officer Gaëtan-Octavien d’Alvimart one of the characters. Like Generals Lallemand and Humbert, d’Alvimart was a spirited adventurer who tried to make his way into Mexico when it was still a possession of Spain. D’Alvimart claimed to be acting on the direct orders of Napoleon, whom he had known since his youth. But was he really Napoleon’s emissary? Here is the curious tale of a self-styled general, who was also an artist and a poet.
Symbols of Napoleon: The Violet
January 10, 2020
In Napoleon in America, as General Piat leaves his house to command an uprising in favour of Napoleon, his mother twists a violet around her son’s button. How did the violet become a symbol of Napoleon?
Napoleon’s Looted Art
April 19, 2019
Napoleon Bonaparte wasn’t the first or the last leader to steal art from conquered territories, and he wasn’t the largest wartime looter, but he and his troops pillaged art on a vast scale. What did they take and what happened to Napoleon’s looted art?
The Restaurateur: Dining in Paris in the Early 19th Century
February 22, 2019
A restaurateur is a person who owns or runs a restaurant. Dining options in France increased dramatically after the French Revolution, when unemployed cooks from aristocratic and royal households became restaurateurs.
New Year Wishes from the 19th Century
December 28, 2018
New’s Year’s Day is traditionally a time for reflecting on events of the previous year and expressing hopes for the year to come. On January 1, 1823, the editors of Galignani’s Messenger, an English-language newspaper published in Paris, conveyed their New Year wishes as follows. They undoubtedly hoped that the government of King Louis XVIII was paying attention.
Napoleon’s Funeral in Paris in 1840
December 14, 2018
Napoleon Bonaparte died on May 5, 1821 as a British prisoner on the remote South Atlantic island of St. Helena. In 1840, his remains were dug up and transported to France on the ship La Belle Poule. On December 15, 1840, they were conveyed through Paris in a grand funeral procession, culminating in a mass at the Dôme des Invalides. In the words of a British observer, Napoleon’s funeral was “the strangest mixture of sorrow and triumph that human ingenuity could have derived.”
Photos of 19th-Century French Royalty
November 30, 2018
The reign of Napoleon I ended in 1815, more than a decade before the world’s oldest surviving photograph was taken in France in 1826-27. The restored Bourbons were pushed off the throne in 1830, eight years before Louis Daguerre took the oldest surviving photograph that shows people. Yet photographs of members of the royal family from both the First Empire and the Second Restoration exist, as do photographs of King Louis-Philippe, who was forced to abdicate in 1848. There are numerous photos of Napoleon III and his family, who reigned from 1852 to 1870. Enjoy these vintage photos of 19th-century French royalty.
Etiquette in Napoleon’s Court
February 9, 2018
When Napoleon Bonaparte became the leader of France, he was an upstart general from Corsica. Unlike other European rulers of the time, he did not come from a royal or a noble background. He seized power through a coup d’état. How could Napoleon give his regime the appearance of legitimacy? By creating a court with rules of etiquette drawn from the monarchy that the French Revolution had done away with.
Sunday in Paris in the 1830s
February 2, 2018
In describing Jean-Pierre Piat’s excursion through the streets of Paris in Napoleon in America, I tried to give an impression of what it was like to walk through the French capital in the early 1820s, during the reign of Louis XVIII. For a description of a stroll through Paris a decade later, it’s hard to beat the following extract from a 19th-century travel book. The anonymous British author provides a lively sense of a Sunday in Paris in the 1830s, during the reign of King Louis Philippe.
New Year’s Day in Paris in the 1800s
December 29, 2017
New Year’s Day was a bigger celebration than Christmas in 19th-century France. New Year’s Day in Paris was “the most remarkable day in the whole year.”
The Girl with Napoleon in her Eyes
October 6, 2017
In the years after Napoleon Bonaparte’s 1815 defeat at the Battle of Waterloo, London hosted numerous exhibits related to the fallen French Emperor. Napoleon’s carriage was displayed, his battles formed the subjects of panoramas, the events of his life were depicted, and his portrait and various effects appeared on show. The oddest exhibit was a girl with Napoleon in her eyes.
When the King of France Lived in England
September 22, 2017
When Louis XVIII, King of France, returned to his country to ascend the throne after Napoleon’s 1814 abdication, he sailed from England, his home for the preceding seven years. The King’s younger brother, the Count of Artois (future King Charles X of France), had lived in England for even longer. In fact, the entire French royal family lived in England throughout much of the Napoleonic Wars, generously subsidized by the British government.
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.
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. Through his Corsican father, Aimard may have been distantly related to Napoleon himself.
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.
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.
Was Madame de Genlis Napoleon’s spy?
January 13, 2017
Madame de Genlis, a popular French writer, became a regular correspondent of Napoleon, leading to suspicions that she was his spy.
Watching French Royals Eat: The Grand Couvert
December 9, 2016
The grand couvert was a ceremony in which French kings and queens ate their dinner in front of members of the public. When Napoleon became Emperor of the French, he re-introduced the custom.
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.
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?
Claude Victor Perrin, Duke of Belluno, Marshal of France
May 20, 2016
Claude Victor Perrin, the Duke of Belluno, was one of Napoleon’s marshals and one of the few senior Napoleonic officers who continued to serve in a high position under the Bourbons, as Louis XVIII’s Minister of War.
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.
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.
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.
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.
The Marriage of Napoleon and Marie Louise
April 1, 2016
Fancy a royal wedding? Napoleon Bonaparte and his second wife Marie Louise 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.
Napoleon and the Veronese Easter
March 25, 2016
On April 17, 1797, the inhabitants of Verona revolted against the French forces stationed there. The Veronese Easter gave Napoleon the excuse he had been looking for “to efface the Venetian name from the face of the globe.”
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 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.
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?
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 other famous historical figures, including Louis XVIII, John Quincy Adams, the Duke of Wellington, and the Marquis de Lafayette.
What did Napoleon’s wives think of each other?
January 29, 2016
Napoleon Bonaparte had two wives: Josephine (Rose de Beauharnais) and Archduchess Marie Louise of Austria. What did they think of each other?
Napoleon’s First New Year’s Day on St. Helena
January 1, 2016
Napoleon revived France’s New Year’s Day celebrations, which had been banned in the French Revolution. His first New Year in exile on St. Helena in 1816 was less festive.
Arnaud Texier de la Pommeraye: French Soldier, American Teacher
October 30, 2015
Lieutenant Colonel Arnaud Texier de la Pommeraye was a Bonapartist who, after 30 years in the French army, wound up scraping a living in the United States after 1815. He taught languages and wrote grammar texts in Philadelphia.
The 1823 French Invasion of Spain
September 11, 2015
In 1823, France invaded Spain to restore absolutist King Ferdinand VII to the throne. It was a huge deal at the time, both in Europe and the Americas.
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.”
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, many of them innocent of wrongdoing.
General Jean Joseph Amable Humbert: Soldier, Lothario, Filibuster
July 17, 2015
Jean Joseph Amable Humbert was a French Revolutionary general who led a failed invasion of Ireland, romanced Napoleon’s sister, fought in the Battle of New Orleans, and tried to invade Mexico.
Louis-Joseph Oudart, a Downright Scoundrel
July 10, 2015
Louis-Joseph Oudart (Houdard) was a Napoleonic soldier who disgraced himself during the Bourbon Restoration. He then joined the Champ d’Asile, a Bonapartist invasion of Texas.
Why didn’t Napoleon escape to the United States?
June 26, 2015
After his 1815 abdication from the French throne, Napoleon Bonaparte wanted to start a new life in the United States. Why didn’t he?
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.
Coiffure à la Titus
May 22, 2015
In an earlier post I looked at Napoleon in America character Barthélemy Bacheville, who was described in an 1816 police report 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?
Barthélemy Bacheville: Napoleonic Soldier, Outlaw & Perfumer
May 15, 2015
A great admirer of Napoleon, Captain Barthélemy 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.
Demi-soldes, the Half-Pay Napoleonic War Veterans
May 8, 2015
What happened to Napoleon’s officers after the Battle of Waterloo? 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. They became demi-soldes, France’s half-pay veterans of the Napoleonic Wars.
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.
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.
Napoleon and the Easter Insurrection in Corsica
April 3, 2015
On Easter Sunday in Corsica in 1792, a quarrel between children erupted into a gunfight that pitted Napoleon against the residents of his hometown.
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. Lafayette became a continuing thorn in Napoleon’s side.
René Savary, the Duke of Rovigo: Napoleon’s Henchman
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. 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.
Napoleon’s Banker, Jacques Laffitte
January 30, 2015
Jacques Laffitte is a banker and politician who rose from poverty to become one of France’s richest men. Napoleon entrusted his fortune to Laffitte when he went into exile on St. Helena.
Charlotte Bonaparte, Napoleon’s Artistic Niece
January 16, 2015
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. She herself died in sad circumstances at a relatively young age.
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. 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.
Louise Marie Thérèse d’Artois: Mademoiselle of France
November 14, 2014
Louise Marie Thérèse d’Artois, granddaughter of Charles X of France, lived a life marked by murder, revolution and exile.
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. He lost his royal privilege when his grandfather, Charles X, was compelled to abdicate. When Henri did have the opportunity to reclaim his throne, he didn’t take it.
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.
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. 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.
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.
Achille & Joseph Archambault: Napoleon’s Grooms on St. Helena
August 8, 2014
Achille and Joseph Archambault joined the imperial household around 1805 and remained with Napoleon when he went into exile. 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.
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.
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.
Joseph Bonaparte: From King of Spain to New Jersey
July 4, 2014
Joseph Bonaparte was in many respects the opposite of his younger brother Napoleon. Amiable and obliging, Joseph was fond of literature, gardening and entertaining. He was 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.
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).
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.
General Charles Lallemand: Invader of Texas
May 16, 2014
Charles Lallemand was a soldier, adventurer and conman who 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.
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.
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.
Cardinal Joseph Fesch, Napoleon’s Art-Collecting Uncle
March 28, 2014
Napoleon’s uncle, Cardinal Joseph Fesch, was a good-natured luxury-lover who used his takings from Napoleon’s stint in power to amass a huge amount of paintings. Fesch got caught in the struggle between Napoleon and the Pope, and tried to soften Napoleon’s policy towards the church.
How Pauline Bonaparte Lived for Pleasure
March 14, 2014
A commoner from Corsica who counted a famous French actor 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 older brother Napoleon. Known for her beauty, impulsiveness and questionable moral sense, Pauline loved Napoleon and was the least demanding of his siblings.
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.
Napoleon II: Napoleon’s Son, the King of Rome
February 21, 2014
Napoleon had 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.
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.
The Count of Artois: Charles X of France
January 31, 2014
Charles Philippe, the Count of Artois – later Charles X of France – was a wastrel and a reactionary whose behaviour helped to discredit French royalty. Known as the “Don Juan” of Versailles, he became a royal pain in the side of his brother, King Louis XVIII.
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 flee his country as his brother and sister-in-law were guillotined in the French Revolution. He then spent years shuffling around Europe while Napoleon ran France.
Louis-Joseph Marchand: Napoleon’s Valet and Friend
January 3, 2014
Louis-Joseph-Narcisse Marchand devoted himself to Napoleon’s service from 1811 until the latter’s death in 1821. As Napoleon’s first valet, Marchand did everything he could to maintain Napoleon’s comfort and illusion of power when the latter was diminished to the status of an English prisoner on St. Helena.
Louis Étienne Saint-Denis: Napoleon’s French Mameluke
December 27, 2013
Napoleon called Louis Étienne Saint-Denis (his French-born servant) Mameluke Ali and required him to dress in the style of the mamelukes, the slave horsemen of the Ottoman Empire. Saint-Denis went to Russia with Napoleon, joined Napoleon on Elba, returned to France for the “Hundred Days,” and accompanied Napoleon into exile on St. Helena, where he served as second valet and as Napoleon’s librarian.
Charles de Montholon: Napoleon’s Murderer or Devoted Bonapartist?
December 20, 2013
General Charles-Jean-François-Tristan de Montholon spent years serving Napoleon and his nephew, Napoleon III. His reputation has suffered over the years, mainly due to the theory that Napoleon died of arsenic poisoning and that Montholon was the most likely poisoner.
Napoleon and Arthur Bertrand
December 13, 2013
Napoleon was fond of all the children in his entourage on St. Helena, but Arthur Bertrand became his favourite. Glimpses of the two of them in various memoirs provide an amusing contrast to the often formidable portrait of Napoleon as Emperor.
We must confess that fate, which sports with man, makes merry work with the affairs of this world.