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Napoléon III of France

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Napoleon III
Emperor of the French
In office
2 December 1852 – 4 September 1870
Preceded by de facto, himself, as President of the Second Republic
Louis-Eugène Cavaignac as de facto Head of State before him.
de jure, Louis-Philippe I as previous monarch.
Succeeded by Monarchy abolished
de factoin pretence, Napoleon IV
1st President of the French Republic
In office
20 December 1848 – 2 December 1852
Prime Minister Odilon Barrot, Alphonse Henri, comte d'Hautpoul, Léon Faucher
Preceded by Louis-Eugène Cavaignac
Prime Minister and de facto Head of State
Succeeded by Second French Empire
with Louis-Napoléon Bonaparte as emperor. Next President was Adolphe Thiers starting 1871 as President of the Third Republic
Personal details
Born 20 April 1808
Paris, France
Died 9 January 1873(1873-01-09) (aged 64)
Chislehurst, London, United Kingdom
Nationality French
Political party Independent, Parti de l'Ordre, Bonapartist
Spouse(s) Eugénie de Montijo
Issue Louis Napoléon, Prince Imperial
Full name Charles Louis Napoléon Bonaparte
Father Louis Bonaparte
Mother Hortense de Beauharnais

Napoléon III, also known as Louis-Napoléon Bonaparte (1808–1873) was the first President of the French Republic and the last monarch of France. Made president by popular vote in 1848, Napoleon III ascended to the throne on 2 December 1852, the forty-eighth anniversary of his uncle, Napoleon I's, coronation. He ruled as Emperor of the French until September 1870, when he was captured in the Franco-Prussian War.

Early Life

Napoleon III, generally known as "Louis Napoléon" before he became emperor, was the son of Louis Bonaparte. He married Hortense de Beauharnais, the daughter by the first marriage of Napoleon's wife Josephine de Beauharnais. Louis-Napoléon was a second son and a replacement child.[1] His older brother, Napoléon Charles Bonaparte, died at age four.[2] During Napoleon I's reign, Louis-Napoléon's parents had been made king and queen of a French puppet state, the Kingdom of Holland. After Napoleon I's military defeats and deposition in 1815 and the restoration of the Bourbon monarchy in France, all members of the Bonaparte dynasty were forced into exile. He was quietly exiled to the United States of America, and spent four years in New York. He also sailed to Central America. Then he secretly returned to France and attempted yet another coup in August 1840, sailing with some hired soldiers into Boulogne. In 1844, his uncle Joseph died, making him the direct heir apparent to the Bonaparte claim. Two years later, his father Louis died, making Louis-Napoléon the clear Bonapartist candidate to rule France.

Louis-Napoléon lived within the borders of the United Kingdom until the revolution of February 1848 in France deposed Louis-Philippe and established a Republic. He was now free to return to France, which he immediately did.

Ruler of France

In 1848, he was elected President of France in a land slide victory. He won the election because of his popular name and French people hoped that he would return his uncle's glory. He used his rank as stepping stone to greater power. Finally in 1852, he crowned himself as Emperor Napoleon III and the Second French Empire was born.In 1856, Eugenie gave birth to a legitimate son and heir, Louis Napoléon, the Prince Impérial.

On 28 April 1855 Napoleon survived an attempted assassination. On 14 January 1858 Napoleon and his wife escaped another assassination attempt, plotted by Felice Orsini. Until about 1861, Napoleon's regime exhibited decidedly authoritarian characteristics, using press censorship to prevent the spread of opposition, manipulating elections, and depriving the Parliament of the right to free debate or any real power.

A far more dangerous threat to Napoleon, however, was looming. France saw its dominance on the continent of Europe eroded by Prussia's crushing victory over Austria in the Austro-Prussian War in June–August 1866. The Prussian forces under Chancellor Otto von Bismarck then began the Franco-Prussian War This war proved disastrous for France, and was instrumental in giving birth to the German Empire, which would take France's place as the major land power on the continent of Europe. In battle against Prussia in 1870 the Emperor was captured at the Battle of Sedan and was deposed by the forces of the Third Republic in Paris two days later.


Napoleon spent the last few years of his life in exile in England, with Eugenie and their only son. The family lived at Camden Place Chislehurst (then in Kent), where he died on 9 January 1873. He was haunted to the end by bitter regrets and by painful memories of the battle at which he lost everything.

Napoleon was originally buried at St. Mary's, the Catholic Church in Chislehurst. However, after his son died in 1879 fighting in the British Army against the Zulus in South Africa, the bereaved Eugenie decided to build a monastery. The building would house monks driven out of France by the anti-religious laws of the Third Republic, and would provide a suitable resting place for her husband and son.


An important legacy of Napoleon III's reign was the rebuilding of Paris. Part of the design decisions were taken in order to reduce the ability of future revolutionaries to challenge the government by capitalizing on the small, medieval streets of Paris to form barricades. However, this should not overshadow the fact that the main reason for the complete transformation of Paris was Napoleon III's desire to modernize Paris based on what he had seen of the modernizations of London during his exile there in the 1840s.

Titles and styles

  • 20 April 1808 – 9 July 1810: His Imperial and Royal Highness Louis Napoléon Bonaparte, Prince of Holland
  • 20 April 1808 – 25 July 1846: His Imperial Highness Louis Napoléon Bonaparte, Prince Imperial of France
  • 20 December 1848 – 2 December 1852: His Excellency Louis Napoléon Bonaparte, President of the French Republic ("fr: Le Prince-President")
  • 2 December 1852 – 4 September 1870: His Imperial Majesty the Emperor of the French
  • 4 September 1870 – 9 January 1873: His Imperial Majesty the former Emperor of the French


  1. Edges of Experience: Memory and Emergence : Proceedings of the 16th International Congress for Analytical Psychology, ed. Lyn Cowan (Einsiedeln Switzerland: Daimon, 2006), p. 786
  2. Henry Walter De Puy, Louis Napoleon and the Bonaparte Family: Comprising a Memoir of Their (New York: C.M. Saxton, 1859), p. 60

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