Napoleon III of France

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Napoleon III, the nephew of Napoleon I, grew up in exile — the year 1815 marked the end of Napoleon I's reign. However, Napoleon III was determined to regain the French throne. He began his quest in 1832, writing various political and military tracts in an effort to make himself and his ideas known. After a failed coup attempt in 1836, he was exiled again. After the Revolution of 1848, in 1850, Napoleon III was elected president of the Second Republic. He served in that position until 1852, when he was made emperor—a position he held until 1870, when the disastrous Franco-German War led to his capture. He was deposed and sent to England, where he died in 1873.

Charles-Louis-Napoléon Bonaparte or Napoleon III (b. 20 April 1808 in Paris, France; d. 9 January 1873 in Chislehurst, England), also known as Louis-Napoléon, was a nephew of Napoleon I, President of the French Second Republic (1850–52), and then Emperor of the French (1852–71), until their defeat in the Franco-German War (1870–71).


Major-General Otto von Bismarck (right) and Napoleon III after the latter's capture in front of the meeting house at Sedan (a weaver's cottage in Donchery) during the Franco-Prussian War, depending on the source on 1 or 2 September 1870.

Born in 1808 on April 20 the son of Louis Bonaparte whose brother was Emperor Napoleon I, and his mother, Hortense Eugénie Cécile Bonaparte. During Napoleon III's reign, France was involved in the Crimean War as an ally of both the Ottoman Empire and Great Britain]], and fought against the Austrian Empire at the Battle of Solferino (referred to in Italy as the Battle of Solferino and San Martino) on 24 June 1859 which resulted in a victory for the allied French Army under Napoleon III and a Piedmont-Sardinian Army under Victor Emmanuel II (known as the Franco-Sardinian Alliance), with superior numbers, against the Austrian Army under Emperor Franz Joseph I. It was the last major battle in world history where all the armies were under the personal command of their monarchs. France also fought along side the British in the Second Opium War against China (1856-1860), and occupied Mexico (1861-1866) following her debt defaults. During the American Civil War, Napoleon was in favour of the government of the Confederate States of America and France was one of the first European powers to recognise the CSA. However, the victory of the forces of Northern Aggression (the Federal Union) over the Confederacy in 1865 meant the subsequent enforcement of the USA's Monroe Doctrine and the USA now supported militarily the rebels in Mexico. French troops as well as the Imperial Mexican Army were now attacked on all fronts with the weaponry supplied to them by America, making the situation untenable for France (and also for the Emperor Maximilian I of Mexico), and the French withdrew.

The Failed Coups

After the death in 1832 of his cousin, the Duke of Reichstadt (Napoleon I's only son), Louis-Napoleon considered himself, following the law of succession established by Napoleon I when he was emperor, as next in line for the French throne, and he completed his military training and studied economic and social issues in preparation. In 1832, he published the first of his own writings on political and military subjects, asserting in his tract Rêveries politiques that only an emperor could give France the glory and liberty it deserved. This political pamphlet was the start of Louis-Napoleon's effort to get his name widely known, spread his ideas and recruit followers. Louis-Napoleon returned to France in October 1836 with an attempt to imitate Napoleon I's Hundred Days, in which Napoleon I escaped his brief exile in Elba recovered France from King Louis XVIII, who was obliged to leave the country. For Louis-Napoleon's effort, he initiated a Bonapartist coup at Strassburg, calling on the local garrison to help him restore the Napoleonic Empire. Instead of joining him, the local troops arrested him. King Louis-Philippe exiled Louis Napoleon to the United States, but he was recalled to Switzerland in early 1837 due to his mother's final illness. Expelled from Switzerland the following year, he settled in England.
In 1839, Louis-Napoleon published the booklet Des idées napoléoniennes, in which he tried to transform Bonapartism, to this point essentially an object of reminiscence or romantic legend, into a political ideology. In his booklet, the Napoleonic ideal was put forth as a "social and industrial one, humanitarian and encouraging trade" that would "reconcile order and freedom, the rights of the people and the principles of authority." Louis-Napoleon saw it as his mission to return France to its earlier, Napoleonic, state with his ideals as its new backbone. With this in mind, Louis-Napoleon again (secretly) returned to France in August 1840, sailing with 50 hired soldiers to Boulogne-sur-Mer, and attempted yet another coup. The town's garrison, yet again, did not join Louis Napoleon's efforts, and he was arrested. This time, however, Louis Napoleon was not exiled, but was brought to trial and sentenced to "permanent confinement in a fortress". Confined in the town of Ham (in a castle), he again embarked on studying to prepare himself for his eventual imperial role. He also corresponded with members of the brewing French opposition and published articles in opposition newspapers, writing several more brochures. In May 1846, Louis Napoleon finally escaped and fled to England, where he waited for another chance to seize power. Just two months later, in July 1846, his father died, officially making Louis Napoleon the clear heir to the Bonaparte legacy in France.

The Revolution of 1848

Louis Napoleon lived in the United Kingdom until the Revolution began, in February 1848, and a new republic was established. He was then free to return to France, which he did immediately, but was sent right back to England by the provisional government because he was seen by many as a distraction to the settlement of a new government. Some of Louis Napoleon's supporters, however, organized a small Bonapartist party and nominated him as their candidate for the Constituent Assembly, which was being brought together to draft a new constitution. Louis Napoleon won a seat and, in mid-1848, yet again returned to France, where he quickly began hatching a plan to run for the presidency. Because the Bonaparte name carried obvious weight in France, Louis Napoleon captivated the voters as he evoked Napoleonic memories of national glory, promising to bring back those days with his administration. He also managed to succeed in promoting himself to literally every group of the population by promising to ensure the advancement of their particular interests, depicting himself as "all things to all men".[1]


After a turbulent youth and several attempts to seize power during the July Monarchy, he was elected President of the French Second Republic in 1848. He turned his presidency into an imperial title thanks to a Coup on 2 December 1851, proclaiming himself Napoleon III, Emperor of the French. The new regime was Napoleonic through and through and renewed bygone military glory and ostentation in France, and was also a period of great economic prosperity. On 29 January 1853, Napoleon III married a young Spanish aristocrat who had long been a Paris resident, Eugenia María, known as Eugénie, Palafox, Countess of Teba and daughter of the Count of Montijo. The Empress was the hostess of a brilliant Court in the Tuileries Palace and bore the Emperor a son, Louis-Napoleon who was given the title Prince Imperial. The French Second Empire was overthrown during the Franco-Prussian War on 4 September 1870.[2]

On 29 January 1871 the French Provisional Government capitulated and signed an Armistice with the Germans; eleven days before, King Wilhelm of Prussia had been proclaimed German Emperor at Versailles. Napoleon issued a statement saying the Provisional Government was illegal and did not derive its authority from universal suffrage. On March 1st the Assembly met at Bordeaux and a resolution was moved for the deposition of Napoleon III, who was declared "to be responsible for all our misfortunes and the ruin, the invasion and the dismemberment of France". The deposition of Napoleon III was carried with only six deputies voting against the motion. Napoleon left France for exile in England on the morning of March 19th from Ostend and reached Dover the following early afternoon.[3]


During the Franco-Prussian War, Louis Napoleon's "superior troops" (Army of the Rhine and Army of Chalons) were completely defeated by the Germans, and he was captured and brought before Otto von Bismarck. Louis Napoleon spent the last few years of his life in exile in England.


He died in 1873 in Chislehurst in Kent, England, of kidney failure and was buried in St Michael's Abbey, Farnborough, Hampshire, in a crypt behind the High Altar.

External links


Further reading

  • August Mackensen: Das Leibhussaren-Regiment Nr. 2 im Kriege gegen Frankreich, 1877
  • Moltke, Field Marshall Count Helmuth von, The Franco-German War of 1870-71, London, 1893.
  • Cheetham, F. H., Louis Napoleon and the Genesis of the Second Empire, John Lane: The Bodley Head, London, 1909.
  • D'Hauterive, Ernest, The Second Empire and its Downfall, New York, 1925; reprinted 1970.
  • Allinson, A.R., The War Diary of the Emperor Frederick III 1870-1871, London, 1927.
  • Ridley, Jasper (1920-2004), Napoleon III and Eugénie, Constable & Co., London, 1979, ISBN: 0-09-461380-X


  1. Napoleon III
  2. Napoleon III
  3. Ridley, 1979, p.580-1.