Famous Family History Napoleon Bonaparte Parents Part 2

About the family of French Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte, biography and history of his mother and father.


NAPOLEON BONAPARTE (1769-1821), French emperor

The young revolutionary settled down to practicing law. He became assessor of Ajaccio's Court of Justice, served on the Council of Twelve Nobles, and was selected deputy to represent the Corsican interests at Versailles. He was always charming, if a bit spoiled. His increased importance called, in his opinion, for an expanded wardrobe of embroidered waistcoats and silk stockings that he could not afford, and for enlarging both his house and his library, which, at over 1,000 volumes, was already impressive by Corsican standards. Around Ajaccio he was known as "Buonaparte the Magnificent." He was determined that his children be well educated; otherwise he left their upbringing to their mother. It was Letizia who cared for them, put them on horseback almost before they could walk, insisted that they clean their teeth and bathe daily when to do so regularly was virtually unknown, nursed them when they were ill, disciplined them, and still found time to entertain them with tales from Corsican history with particular emphasis on the part that she and their father had personally experienced.

One by one the older children went off to the Continent to school. Then at age 38, with Letizia carrying their 12th child, Carlo developed stomach cancer and died. Letizia, only 34, was no less beautiful for all the childbearing; she received several proposals but never married again. Her biographers describe her as a one-man woman, but she may just have been tired of always being pregnant. Her famiglia was everything to her, and that was large enough already. She early realized that Napoleon was the son on whom she could depend, and in 1793 she moved the whole family to France to be nearer to him.

Letizia, of course, participated in her son's good fortune. She had her own house in Paris, the Hotel de Brienne in the Rue St. Dominique, and an allowance of a million francs a year. Later Napoleon also bought her the 17th-century castle of Pont on the Seine outside Paris. She had her own coat of arms and crown and her own ladies-in-waiting, chamberlain, master of horse, equerry, and chaplain. Her full title was Son Altesse Imperiale, Madame la Mere de l'Empereur, but she was popularly known as "Madame Mere." In spite of such apparent grandeur, she led a quiet life of reading, walks, needlework, cards, and of course chapel. A good part of her allowance she secretly stashed away against the rainy day that, with her typically Corsican sense of the turn of fortune's wheel, she was sure would come.

Madame Mere's fate was predictably affected when Napoleon was exiled to St. Helena. She could not stay in France now that the Bourbons were again in power, and her son would not allow her to accompany him to St. Helena. She was exiled to Rome, where she lived out the rest of her long life hoping for a reversal in the fortunes of her family. Several of her children--including, of course, Napoleon--died before her, to her great grief. Her youngest son, Jerome, described her in her last years as "thin, with black eyes full of fire, the pure type of Corsican still found in the mountains of the island in families who have never intermarried with other races. She always wore a severe black merino dress and an Empire-style turban. . . . Everything in her palace revealed that one was in the presence of great sorrow, of august memories slowly being transformed into mute and proud resignation."

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