Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Napoleon and the Rebel

Napoleon and Lucien Bonaparte

It was not easy to be a member of the Bonaparte clan.  Napoleon was the second child out of 8 siblings born to Charles Bonaparte and his wife Letizia in Ajaccio on the island of Corsica.

When Napoleon made his meteoric rise from corporal to Emperor, his family members were pulled up as well.  Napoleon's oldest brother Joseph became King of Naples and later Spain.  His brother Louis was made King of Holland.  His sister Elisa was a made Grand Duchess of Tuscany.  The beautiful Pauline, sculpted by Canova, was Duchess of Guastalla.  His sister Caroline became Grand Duchess of Berg.  Even Napoleon's youngest brother Jerome became King of Westpahalia.

Being related to Napoleon may have been good for one's social and economic mobility, but it was often hell on interpersonal relationships.  Napoleon sought to arrange marriages for his siblings as if they were mere pieces on the chessboard for his conquest and domination of Europe.  Consider the case of Jerome, Napoleon's youngest brother:

Jerome Bonaparte, 1784 - 1860

"The youngest of the Bonaparte siblings had married without Napoleon's consent, at the end of 1803.  The bride was an attractive, well-born American woman from Philadelphia, Elizabeth Patterson, whom Jerome had met in Maryland.  Napoleon refused Jerome's request to recognize the marriage.  But unlike Lucien, Jerome would give in to the political and emotional pressure.  Napoleon barred Elizabeth's ship from docking at a European coasts, and Jerome divorced her while she was pregnant with their son (who was born in London in 1805, before Elizabeth returned to Baltimore with he baby).  Eventually, in 1807 he married the German Princess Napoleon had chosen for him, Catharina von Wurtemberg, and became prince of Westphalia."  Napoleon and the Rebel: A Story of Brotherhood, Passion and Power, Simonetta and Arikha, 2011,

The Sleep of Venus Lucien Bonaparte and Alexandrine de Bleschamp by Guillaume Guillon Lethiere
Napoleon and the Rebel, co-written by Marcello Simonetta and Noga Arikha, ( is a remarkable book that tells in detail the story of Napoleon's turbulent relationship with his rebellious younger brother Lucien Bonaparte, 1775 - 1840. (  Lucien believed sincerely in the Republican values of the French Revolution -- Liberté, égalité, fraternité.

Lucien is best known to history for the political role that he played on November 10, 1799 (18 of Brumaire) when his intervention as President of the Council of the Five Hundred may have saved his brother's life and certainly did preserve Napoleon's political reputation.   Napoleon had impulsively decided to burst in upon the deliberations of the Council with a small armed guard of four Grenadiers.  Many members of the council were convinced that Napoleon would be a tyrant who would undo the work of the revolution.  There were angry shouts of "Down with the tyrant!  Down with the dictator!"  some men approached Napoleon with their knives drawn.  Punches were thrown.  At this point Lucien intervened on behalf of this brother.  He declared famously, "I swear that I will stab my own brother to the heart if he ever attempts anything against the liberty of Frenchmen."

French Grenadier, Wallace Collection, London
Simonetta and Arikha write, "Upon hearing this rousing promise from Lucien, the soldiers marched into the Orangerie and chased away all the protesters, some of whom escaped by jumping out of the windows.  By nightfall, Lucien had passed all the necessary resolutions, and Napoleon Bonaparte became first consul of the French Republic."  Napoleon and the Rebel, Simonetta and Arikha, 2011,

Lucien was rewarded by Napoleon with the position of Minister of the Interior.  He was deeply involved with cultural affairs and amassed a huge and valuable art collection.  He later became the French Ambassador to Spain where he helped to negotiate the transfer of the Louisiana territory from Spain to France (later sold as the Louisiana Purchase to the United States).
General Bonaparte Reviewing Troops, Wallace Collection, London

Lucien's first wife Christine, by whom he had two daughters, died at age twenty-eight.

Napoleon's gratitude towards his younger brother was evanescent.  In the spring of 1802 Lucien the widower met and fell in love with a beautiful 24 year-old Parisian woman named Alexandrine de Bleschamp.  She was married to a Banker and had one child, but he was away on Napoleon's ill-fated expedition to Santo Domingo and would soon die leaving Alexandrine a widow (see Toussaint L'Ouverture Champion of Freedom and...Conservative?, 4/27/12).  Napoleon wanted Lucien to marry Princess Maria Louisa Bourbon, the daughter of the King of Spain, who would help him consolidate power in his empire.  Napoleon beseeched his brother to marry not realizing that Lucien had already married his love Alexandrine.

Lucien Bonaparte - Tea party member?
Napoleon later used threats as well as bribes in a vain attempt to coerce Lucien into divorcing Alexandrine.  Lucien refused, thereby ending a promising political career.  Lucien fled with his wife to Italy where they soon had nine children.    They lived for a time in Florence where he lived a s private citizen.  Simonetta and Arikha write, "Lucien's good manners and generosity made him popular with the Florentines.  the Italian states under Napoleonic control had been ravaged by war and welcomed a peace-loving, enlightened patron of commerce and the arts such as Lucien, who was opposed to the heavy taxation imposed by local administrators (italics added by Commander Kelly)."  Napoleon and the Rebel, Simonetta and Arikha, 2011,  Could Lucien perhaps have been an early member of the tea party?

While in Florence, Lucien tried to buy and restore Michelangelo's house.

Frustrated by his Emperor brother, Lucien decided in 1810 to attempt to flee to America.  He made it to Malta where he was captured by the British who sent him with Alexandrine and their family to exile in England.  Lucien bought a castle in Thorngrove near Worcester where he and his family were comfortable prisoners of the English government.

Lucien was only able to return to the continent after the fall and exile of Napoleon to Elba in 1814.  After Napoleon's final defeat at Waterloo, Lucien lived in Italy near Tusculum where he contributed considerably to the archaeological excavations which were first uncovered in 1828 (

I must note one small error in the book.  The authors suggest that Napoleon-Louis Bonaparte (, the son of Louis Bonaparte and Hortense, was "killed" as a result of  the bloody repression of a plot against the pope.  In fact, he died of natural causes while suffering from measles.

Excepting Napoleon himself, the untitled Lucien was the most gifted Bonaparte sibling.  Lucien Bonaparte was a poet, an astronomer, a statesman, a diplomat, a patron of the arts; he was also a husband and the father of 11 children.

Napoleon's final verdict on Lucien was, "Of all my siblings, he is indisputably the most gifted one, but he has hurt me the most.  His marriage has been a terrible thing.  Marrying a bourgeoisie, a beautiful Parisian woman, right at the moment when I wanted to found a dynasty!  I did everything in my power to prevent him, but unfortunately he had always had a soft spot for women."  Napoleon and the Rebel, Simonetta and Arikha, 2011,

Commander Kelly says, "For a fascinating examination of the eternal conflicts between public and private life, between duty and love, between love of family and romantic love check out Napoleon and the Rebel."

Special Thanks to the Wallace Collection ( in London where you will find a wonderful selection of Napoleonic themed art works and also Velázquez Lady with a Fan which once belonged to Lucien Bonaparte.

Lady with a Fan, Velázquez, Wallace Collection, London

You can now purchase Commander Kelly's 
first book, America Invades or on

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