Saturday, 18 January 2020

December 1940: Return of L'Aiglon Part I

Napoleon François Joseph Charles Bonaparte (1811-1832), Napoleon's only legitimate son

Napoleon's son, titled first King of Rome, then briefly Napoleon II and finally Duke of Reichstadt became known as L'Aiglon because of the play of the same name by Edmond Rostand which, with Sarah Bernhadt in the title role, captured the imagination of audiences in Paris and London in 1900.

In 1814, after Napoleon's first abdication, Marie Louise, who initially had every intention of staying loyal to Napoleon, duped by the machinations of Metternich and her father the Emperor Francis, returned with the infant prince to her home in Austria. To the disapproval of her grandmother Maria Carolina, Marie Louise never joined Napoleon on Elba, and Napoleon never again saw his son.

Renamed Franz, and retitled the Duke of Reichstadt, the young prince remained for the rest of his life a virtual prisoner in the Hapsburg Court, and because of political sensitivities his mother was not allowed to take him to Parma where she was installed as Duchess for life. (1)

Alienated from his mother whom he came to see as very weak and compared unfavourably with the Empress Josephine, he was much loved by his grandfather but prevented from any direct communication with the Bonaparte family with whom he increasingly identified.

He died of tuberculosis at the age of 21, and was buried in the Crypt of the Capuchins in Vienna, where his body remained until December 1940, the centenary of the return of Napoleon I's ashes from St. Helena.

Tomb of Napoleon II, Les Invalides.

Part II of this post will explore the strange story of the return of these ashes. For anyone who wishes to know anything more about Napoleon II's life and death, the excellent, elegant blog by Shannon Selin is highly recommended.
1. After 1815 there was in the UK much probably erroneous speculation that Austria would use his presence to leverage influence on France, and maybe to reinstate him, under a Regency on the French throne. Lord Holland speculated in the House of Lords that at some time in the future he might be placed on the French throne, supported by Austria. (The Examiner, 14 April 1816) The Leicester Chronicle 2nd Nov 1816 printed a report that Austria ultimately wanted to reinstate Napoleon or put his son on the throne. In December 1816 there were reports of a plot to put Napoleon II on the throne with Marie Louise as Regent. Cobbett Weekly Political Register 28 Dec 1816. In 1820 there were reports in a number of papers, e.g. Dublin Weekly Register, 15 April 1820 that the Austrian Government had asked for indulgence towards Napoleon and that the young Napoleon "had not been discouraged from entertaining the utmost hatred of the English."

Thursday, 2 January 2020

Churchill and Napoleon: The Desk at Chartwell

Winston Churchill's Desk at Chartwell with a bust of Napoleon in centre

I first started posting on Churchill and Napoleon in 2009, and it should be of no surprise to anyone who has read any of these posts to find a Sevres bust of Napoleon in pride of place on Winston Churchill's desk at Chartwell. Beside Napoleon is a small bust of Nelson, almost completely hidden, and to the right a statuette of Jan Smuts.

Since I wrote my first post a number of pieces have appeared elsewhere. The Director of the Churchill Archives at Churchill College, Cambridge, wrote an article in 2012 which placed Churchill's admiration of Napoleon firmly in the Whig tradition, and also attached some weight to Churchill's lifelong francophilia.(1)

More recently Andrew Roberts, a biographer of Napoleon, and more recently of Churchill also, gave a comprehensive presentation on Churchill and Napoleon to a conference on Winston Churchill at which Boris Johnson, then Mayor of London, was the unfortunate choice of keynote speaker. To the delight of his audience, Roberts alluded to this at the beginning of his talk :

We have had a series of substantial scholars telling you genuine quotations and true facts about Winston Churchill and we have also had Boris Johnson.(2)

Johnson of course had just written a biography of Churchill on whom he appears to model his own career. He has since become Prime Minister. I am tempted to conclude with one of Karl Marx's oft repeated quotes, from The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Napoleon,

Hegel remarks somewhere that all great world-historic facts and personages appear, so to speak, twice. He forgot to add: the first time as tragedy, the second time as farce.

1. Allen Packwood: France and the French, A Tale of Two Statesmen, Churchill and Napoleon"
2. Andrew Roberts, address to the 32nd Annual Churchill Conference, Oxfordshire England, May 2015. The section on Johnson concluded: "I think Boris's attitude towards facts is very much what one would call a la carte. His speech reminded me very much of a friend of mine on Radio Four who said the trouble with Winston Churchill is he thinks he's Boris Johnson."