Tag Archives: Joseph Bonaparte

Miscellany The Man

Finding Napoleon Bonaparte in Madrid – Part 1

Goya's El dos de mayo de 1808 in the Prado Museum, Madrid

When you’re visiting Madrid, it’s painful to be an admirer of Napoleon Bonaparte.

It’s similar to how I felt on my visit to Vietnam when I heard the Vietnam War called “the War of American Aggression.” In Madrid, what I know as “the Peninsula War” became “the War for Spanish Independence.” History’s a matter of perspective, isn’t it? You can find heroes and villains on all sides, and enough conflicting justification to make your head spin. In this case, the evidence seems clear: the British and the French used the Iberian Peninsula as a convenient place to stage a war.

My January 2015 post, “Finding Napoleon in Richmond and Spain,”Goya's Portrait of Spain's Ferdinand VII in the Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum, Madrid provides a historical snapshot of this conflict. Here’s a bit more backstory:

By 1808, the corrupt reign of Spain’s Carlos IV had been cut short through a coup by his equally corrupt son, Ferdinand VII (seen here in a painting by Francisco Goya). Carlos IV fled to France, seeking Napoleon’s support. Wily Napoleon lured Ferdinand into negotiations on French soil where he strong-armed the feuding family into ceding their throne to him. Napoleon then turned Spain over to his brother Joseph. There are, of course, more twists to this story, but that’s the short edition.

Commemorative plaque in Puerta del Sol plaza in MadridJoseph Bonaparte, although reluctant, thought he might do some good as Spain’s monarch. He barged in with ideas for a modern constitution and decreed an end to the Inquisition. But before he’d even set foot in his new realm, the Spanish populace was in revolt.

On the 2nd of May, 1808, Spanish patriots fired on French troops in the heart of Madrid. This plaque in the Puerta del Sol plaza commemorates the first shots. Goya’s painting (above) of “The Charge of the Malmalukes,” shows Spaniards attacking Napoleon’s soldiers on that date. Perhaps this French regiment, in its fancy Arab dress and comprised of Muslims and Christians alike, incensed the devoutly Catholic Spaniards. The melee cost hundreds of lives on both sides.

Monumento Dos de Mayo, MadridGoya captured the next day’s events in his most famous painting, “The Third of May.” On that day, Napoleon’s forces took revenge with hundreds of executions. Today, the “The Charge of the Malmalukes” and “The Third of May” hang side by side in the Prado Museum.

So began the first “guerrilla warfare,” the Spanish people’s asymmetrical fight against the well-equipped Napoleonic army. After atrocities on both sides, it took the British under Arthur Wellesley, the future Duke of Wellington and Napoleon’s nemesis at Waterloo, to clear the French from Spain.

Just as we Americans remember the Minutemen of Lexington and Concord, the Spanish haven’t forgotten the patriots who started their War for Independence. One block from the Prado, in Madrid’s Plaza de la Lealtad (the Plaza of Loyalty), they buried their bodies and burn an Eternal Flame.



Miscellany The Man

Finding Napoleon in Richmond, Virginia (and Spain)

Jean-Claude Bonnefond, Virginia Museum of Fine Arts

Napoleon Bonaparte was a brilliant military and political leader, but that doesn’t mean that he didn’t make disastrous mistakes. In that regard, the Russian Campaign of 1812 deserves top billing. His misadventures in Spain, poignantly illustrated in this painting from the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts in Richmond, come in a close second.

I won’t presume to explain the Spanish debacle in detail, but for those who don’t know much about it, here’s a brief primer. When Napoleon came to power, Spain and France were allies, particularly in their opposition to England. In 1805, Napoleon’s French navy joined with the Spanish fleet to challenge Britain’s great naval hero, Admiral Lord Nelson, in the Battle of Trafalgar. Although Nelson died in the conflict, the Spanish and French were so thoroughly trounced that neither mounted a substantial navy again for years. Worse, the British established a continental foothold in Portugal.

Joseph Bonaparte, Napoleon's older brotherThe Spanish-French alliance never recovered. First, Napoleon moved French troops onto Spanish territory, using a proposed joint invasion of Portugal as a pretext. Then, in 1808, Spain’s King Charles IV lost a feud with his eldest son and fled to France, expecting Napoleon to support him. Instead, Napoleon used the opportunity to depose both Charles and his son, the newly crowned Ferdinand VII. Installing his brother Joseph Bonaparte as king in their place, Napoleon made Spain a client state of the French Empire.

Joseph, usually a man of good intentions, tried to be an enlightened ruler. Unfortunately, only a small number of educated city dwellers, the so-called afrancesados, wanted modern reforms. Understandably, the Spanish population resented foreign intervention in their cultural traditions. The Spanish Catholic church, forced to end the Inquisition, called upon the peasants to save their souls from the invaders’ influence. 

goya.shootings-3-5-1808Who can say who committed the first atrocity against the other side? Asymmetrical warfare ensued, as Spanish guerrilla fighters picked off, tortured and killed unwary French soldiers. The French responded with overwhelming force, sometimes against civilians. Francisco de Goya, initially the favored painter for Joseph Bonaparte’s court, depicted the French atrocities with a series of horrific images.


The painting at the top of this blog is by a Frenchman, Jean-Claude Bonnefond (1796-1860). The information card at Virginia Museum of Fine Arts reads in part:

At a well in a courtyard of a monastery, two soldiers have just discovered a comrade’s epaulet and shako, or hat, and traces of a bloody struggle. A monk furtively retreats in the background. Although not a specific incident in the Peninsular War, this scene directly alludes to the tensions that flared between Napoleon and the Catholic church. 

In 1813, the British led by Arthur Wellesley, the future Duke of Wellington, defeated the French troops in Spain. Joseph Bonaparte beat a hasty retreat across the Pyrenees and home to France.


The Man

Finding Napoleon in London

Bert & Margaret kayaking on the Thames Sept 2014 

Part 1: Napoleon Bonaparte at Wellington’s House

When I traveled to London earlier this month, it wasn’t difficult to find traces of Napoleon Bonaparte. After all, he was arguably the British Empire’s greatest foe until the World Wars of the twentieth century. What I found is that, at least in some quarters, Napoleon was admired during his lifetime and continues to be of interest today. 

Apsley House, LondonBefore leaving on this trip, I queried my colleagues at the Napoleonic Historical Society for recommendations with a Napoleonic twist. I’ve been to London several times, yet a historic site I’d never visited topped their list: Apsley House museum, the Duke of Wellington’s home. Located at Hyde Park Corner, its address is nicknamed “No. 1 London” due to its prominent location. Arthur Wellesley, who defeated Napoleon’s forces in Spain and handed him his ultimate defeat at Waterloo, bought the house in 1817 from his older brother. He then enlarged it to befit his status as the Duke of Wellington, England’s greatest hero.

Arthur Wellesley, the Duke of Wellington by Francisco de GoyaNapoleon and the Bonapartes can be found throughout the museum. Wellington’s extensive art collection includes portraits of Napoleon and of Josephine, and a huge panorama of Waterloo with Napoleon in the foreground. The Sèvres dessert service that Napoleon gave Josephine on their divorce (and which she refused to accept) and a sword of Napoleon’s are displayed in a room off the entrance foyer. Upstairs, one grand salon features priceless Spanish paintings recovered from Joseph Bonaparte’s lost baggage carts as he fled his throne in Spain with Wellington’s troops hot on his heels. Amusingly, there is a portrait of Napoleon’s scandal-prone sister Pauline in a salon that is designated the “Military Valhalla” or “Hall of Heroes,” because the paintings in there (except hers) are all of generals. I think she would have liked that.

But most striking is the 12-foot-tall nude statue of Napoleon as Mars.

Napoleon as Mars by Antonio Canova, at Apsley House, LondonIn 1806, Antonio Canova, then considered one of the greatest living artists, sculpted it from a single block of marble (except the raised arm). The head is magnificent, but I think most of us today have the same reaction to it that Napoleon Bonaparte himself had. He deemed it “too athletic” and banished it to a hidden corner of the Louvre where the public would never see it. After Waterloo, the British government bought it from the French and presented it to Wellington.

It’s difficult for me to imagine a modern victor surrounding himself with portraits of his vanquished foe.  Yet, in his time, Napoleon’s genius was widely admired by military men on all sides of the conflicts.  On hearing of Napoleon’s death in St Helena, the Duke of Wellington reportedly said, “Now I can safely say I am the most successful general alive.”

No photography is allowed in the Apsley House so some of the photos in this blog were sourced on the Internet. But not, of course, the one of my husband and me kayaking on the Thames. That one is here to show that I don’t spend all my time looking for Napoleon.

Miscellany Saint Helena The Man

Dove Named After Napoleon Bonaparte’s Niece

Zenaide Doves cuddling up on my back deck, named after Napoleon's niece

As mentioned in my previous post, Napoleon’s nephew, Charles Lucien Bonaparte was a prominent ornithologist. He was also married to his cousin, Zénaïde, who was Joseph Bonaparte’s daughter. The first to scientifically identify the American mourning or turtle dove, Charles named the affectionate bird the Zenaida macroura

Joseph Bonaparte's daughters (Napoleon's nieces), painted by Jacques Louis DavidIn this lovely painting, Jacques Louis David depicts Zénaïde Bonaparte with her younger sister, Charlotte. After Napoleon’s final abdication in 1815, the girls and their mother fled to Belgium. Here the young ladies are shown reading a letter from their father, Joseph, who had escaped to America. Their mother was too afraid to cross the ocean, but in 1821, nineteen-year-old Charlotte travelled alone to her father’s estate outside of Philadelphia.  Amazingly, Dr John Stockoë, a former British Navy surgeon who had treated Napoleon on St Helena, was on the same ship.

A year later, after Zénaïde married her cousin Charles, she and her new spouse joined her father and sister in the United States. Charlotte stayed in Pennsylvania for about three years; Zénaïde for almost six.

Their father, Joseph, lived in the United States for almost twenty years, always hoping—some say scheming—for the restoration of the Napoleonic empire. But, after fleeing in 1815, he never set foot in France again.

Miscellany The Man

Finding Napoleon in Alaska? Yes!

Bonaparte's Gull

As my friend and noted Napoleonic scholar, J. David Markham, likes to say, “Napoleon Bonaparte is everywhere.” You are so right, David! Sure enough, while I was vacationing in Alaska, I came across this species of seagull, commonly called “Bonaparte’s Gull.” 

It’s not, however, named after Napoleon.  It’s named after his nephew, Charles.

Charles Lucien Bonaparte (1803 – 1857) was the son of Napoleon’s political firebrand and frequently estranged younger brother, Lucien. In 1822, seven years after Waterloo and a year after the Emperor’s death, Charles married his cousin Zénaïde. The couple then moved to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, to live with Zénaïde’s father, Joseph Bonaparte.

Charles Lucien Bonaparte 1803-1857 (Wiki Commons)Charles Bonaparte is an excellent example of the self-taught citizen scientists of his day. An avid naturalist, he focused his studies on ornithology. During his time in the US, he joined the scientific societies of Philadelphia where he presented his findings and became friends with John James Audubon.  Between 1825 and 1833, he updated The Natural History of Birds Inhabiting the United States to include more than 100 new species he had discovered.  Among those was a kind of pigeon he called the Zenaide, after his wife.

Bonaparte’s Gull, however, was discovered by George Ord, another leading ornithologist of the time. Ord named the bird after Charles in recognition of his contributions to natural science—one more example of how the Bonaparte family changed the world.

Miscellany Paris Sources The Man

Jacques-Louis David’s Painting of the Coronation of Napoleon toured the United States in 1826

Joseph Bonaparte, Napoleon's older brotherI’ve been doing research into Napoleon’s older brother, Joseph Bonaparte―the ex-king of Naples and Spain―and his twenty-year stay in the United States. Along the way, I learned to my surprise that Jacques-Louis David’s grand painting of Napoleon’s coronation (see my recent blog) had visited the United States in 1826. That set me off investigating.

I knew that after Napoleon’s defeat at Waterloo and the Bourbon king’s restoration the painting belonged to the French state. Understandably, Napoleon’s regal competitors didn’t wish to display the glory of the “Upstart Emperor.” It wasn’t until 1838 that the Louvre once again exhibited Napoleon’s coronation painting.

So how was it that the great work traveled to the U.S. in 1826 five years after Napoleon’s death? Who would have risked its loss in such a perilous journey?

Le Sacre de Napoleon book by Sylvain LaveilliereThanks to the purchase of a book devoted to the painting (photo on the right), I found out. Its painter Jacques-Louis David, self-exiled in Brussels after Napoleon’s fall, had crafted a copy! Upset that “the original no longer exists as far as the public is concerned,” he sent his son Eugène to London and beyond to exhibit the copy of his great work. From 1826 to 1827, it traveled to New York, Philadelphia and Boston. 

Did Joseph Bonaparte, who at the time lived in Bordentown, NJ and owned a residence in Philadelphia, view the work in which he and his then-deceased brother played such a glorious role? What memories that painting would have evoked in Joseph’s homesick mind! Indeed, during the momentous coronation, Napoleon had turned to his brother, saying, “If only our father could see us now.”

Yet, I haven’t found any mention that Joseph attended the Philadelphia exhibit. But I will keep looking (and imagining).

The copy of Le Sacre, as the French call David’s Coronation painting, now hangs in Versailles, where you may be sure I will visit it on my next trip to France.

Copyright © 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015 Margaret Rodenberg