I am the future of France and its best chance to recover peace and glory. It is the destiny of the Bonapartes to rule!
— Louis-Napoléon Bonaparte
Table of Contents
Childhood in France
Charles Louis Napoléon Bonaparte (called Louis-Napoléon) was born on the 20 April 1808 in the Hôtel de la reine Hortense belonging to his mother. He is the third son of Hortense de Beauharnais, daughter of King Napoléon's first wife and Napoléon's adoptive daughter, and of King Louis Napoléon Bonaparte of Hollande (called Louis), King Napoléon's brother. This makes him both a prince of Holland and a prince of France.
Did you see the latest article in the newspaper? It has been two weeks already that the prince has been born and still no names! HM the Emperor has been away all this time and it appears that he has not yet deigned to communicate his choice... Waiting for the Archchancellor to take an initiative is obviously asking too much...
— A member of the Court in a letter to a friend
His eldest brother Napoléon-Charles Bonaparte died in 1807, leaving the middle brother Napoléon-Louis Bonaparte (called Louis) as King Napoléon's heir until the birth of Napoléon's son, Napoléon François Joseph Charles Bonaparte (called François), in 1811. The brothers were loved by their uncle/grandfather who often spent time with them when he could.
Louis Bonaparte lost the kingship of Holland when King Napoléon decided to annex it to France in 1810. When King Napoléon died in 1815 and the "legitimate" House of Bourbon came back to the throne, all of the Bonapartes were exiled from France. By then, Hortense was already separated from her husband, and she took her youngest son with her to Switzerland while his older brother when with his father to Rome.
— All those rabbles should go to the Guillotine that they love so much!
— All too true... Unfortunately, no matter how fallacious, the Ogre has been sacré. His person is inviolable now, killing him would be a regicide...
Growing up in the castle of Arenenberg, Louis-Napoléon's education was neglected for the first few years despite attending a Swiss Gymnasium, before his father intervened. From 1820 when he was 12 years old, he started being taught by a preceptor Jacobain, while a veteran from King Napoléon's army taught him the art of war and create in him the cult of the Napoléon and a certitude in the destiny of the Bonapartes.
Our family has obviously been chosen by God and fate, exalted to stand above everyone else and lead France towards a glorious future!
— Louis-Napoléon Bonaparte
From 1823, Louis-Napoléon moved to Rome and only came back to Switzerland in summer. There, Louis-Napoléon was first exposed to politics with the Italian unification movement. In 1830 aged 22 he joined the École militaire centrale fédérale de Thoune in Switzerland.
In 1830, the French revolution gave all Bonapartes high hope that their exile from France would be ended, even that François Bonaparte would be elected the new king, but neither of those happened. Louis-Napoléon and his brother Louis were both extremely angry. Still, they could not bring themselves to go to war against their home country by helping one of the coalition armies, and so instead they decided to focus on Italy.
That traitorous Esselin! How dare he corrupt our loyal partisans! Perverting them and seducing their support away from us with his poisonous promises! Ah! soon they will realise what grievous mistake they have done! That man is nothing but a mere second hand general, he is not worth a Bonaparte!
— Louis-Napoléon Bonaparte
They participated in Carbonari insurrections in the centre of Italy aiming to dispossess the pope of his lands so as to unify all of Italy together but this did not go well. During the conflicts, both caught measles. Louis died in 1831, leaving Louis-Napoléon as the second heir to Napoléon behind his cousin François. He managed to survive the epidemic, thanks to the help of some loyal Bonapartists veterans from Napoléon's army, always ready to perform a little human sacrifice for a good cause.
With the help of Hortense, the group managed to escape from Italy and to go back to Switzerland. His mother managed to keep Louis-Napoléon by her side long enough that he was still there in 1832 when his cousin François sent messages asking for help fighting his own deadly illness, tuberculosis.
Once the soldiers sent to his help had carried the necessary human sacrifices and exfiltrated the prince towards Switzerland, the whole family decided to gather all the loyalist Bonapartists they could and to head to Italy. There, under Prince François' command, they took control of the Duchy of Parma as his legal inheritance.
We are finally accomplishing our destiny! Spreading freedom through Europe and fighting to defend the oppressed!
— Louis-Napoléon Bonaparte
The operation was a success, and since them they have continued extending their territories little by little over the rest of Italy. However, Louis-Napoléon has become extremely annoyed at the slow pace his cousin is keeping. He is more than eager to go back to France and put their family back in power. Finally, completely fed up, Louis-Napoléon decided to take things into his own hands.
What worth is Italy when our homeland is calling for us, wailing in despair at the way it is being treated at the hand of those barbarians? If HM François is too busy with his administration to care, well he is hardly the only Bonaparte on this continent!
With the example of the Italian intrigues on which to base his plans, he started to develop his own network. The current war between France and the European coalition complicates travel, so he had to communicate with letters more often than not. He took contact with all French politicians in the opposition partis, write and publish an artillery manual for Swiss officers and several political manifests.
Let them all see who I am and what I stand for so that they can learn to love me! Like my uncle, I adhere to the legal and social principles of 1789. Like him, I believe that they should be complemented by a strong political power. Like him, I am a patriot and I believe that France is a bearer of values.
However, I also believe in progress, I think that the state has a duty to intervene to deal with the pauperism engendered by the industrial modernity. All French citizens can support my cause with a confident heart and the certainty that I will defend their interests.
Another trait Louis-Napoléon appears to have inherited from his uncle is his loves of women. He started his conquests young, at 13 years old, and has not stopped since then. It was even said that, in 1832 when he had to leave for Italy with his cousin François, all women in Constance waved their handkerchiefs and sobbed during his departure. By 1845, he is known to have already 3 natural children, although he has given no sign of wishing to marry and carrying on the Bonaparte name.
Despite the disdain and horror some strongly religious individuals can have about this matter, this feeling is not widely spread. French people are used to their kings showing off their strength and virility with their numerous and very public conquests. In Louis-Napoléon's case, this could even bring him some surprising support: several French politicians are even casting a favourable eye in his direction for this very reason.
He is nothing but a moron that we will lead. Give him money and women and using his popularity to our ends will be a child's game.
— Adolphe Thiers, French deputy
The fact that he speaks slowly, appears to search for his words and leaves long silence in the conversation does lead many to underestimate him. In reality, he is merely attempting to hide a strong Swiss-German accent. Others find him a charmer and a seducer with a secret and mysterious side—undoubtedly gained from all of his intrigues. He is often impassive in public, but patient and generous with friends. And of course, arrogant and convinced of the superiority of the Bonapartes.
One of Louis-Napoléon's lover by Wikimedia Commons
Glorious return to France
In 1840, he attempted his first coup d'État. It was a pitiful failure. Of course, choosing to attempt an uprising in a border city like Lyon when France is at war with the countries on the other side of the border is not such a great idea...
Whatever his naivety, Louis-Napoléon escaped capture. He is now back in Switzerland, licking his injured pride and causing a minor diplomatic crisis because the country is refusing to expel him on the pretext that he has obtained the Swiss nationality.
It has been 5 years now, and it would be too much to hope that he has seen reason in the interval and is not preparing another coup...