Wednesday, March 14, 2018

The Buonaparte Famiglia

Even among monarchists, as well as polite society as a whole, there are two figures for whom I have more positive things to say than is generally considered acceptable; Benito Mussolini and Napoleon Bonaparte. Today, obviously, the topic of discussion is Napoleon. Given that he was the great bogey man of post-revolutionary Europe, I must make some disclaimers at the outset before any readers have to reach for the smelling salts. I fully agree that Napoleon was a usurper, if not technically so in the first instance of his seizure of power, certainly so after his escape from the island of Elba. I fully agree that he upset the peace of Europe and caused many and far-reaching problems for the “Old Order” that existed in the western world. I would say it is at least debatable whether he or the French Revolution itself was responsible for destroying the last vestiges of Christendom but he certainly swept up the pieces and tried to put it all back together according to his own designs and taking little to no consideration for legitimacy and hereditary, vested rights. I hope we are all clear on all of that.

All of those facts not being in dispute, I think it can also be regarded as beyond dispute that he was an extremely talented man. Certainly, in terms of his role as a military commander, he was a genius on such a level as has rarely been seen in the history of the world. One could argue over his talents as a statesman but he was certainly not inept in that regard. He did, I maintain, also do some good things, if not for Europe, at least for France. It was Napoleon who ended the horror that was the French Revolution, he did restore law, order and a functioning society to the country and it was Napoleon who finally restored Church-state relations in France with his concordat of 1801 with Pope Pius VII. It did not put everything back to the way it had been before the Revolution, but it did bring normalcy to Church-state relations, did away with the worst excesses of the revolutionaries and restored the Church to an official, recognized status in France. These were, to my mind, all very good things.

Napoleon, the former revolutionary, also became, with power, increasingly conservative and the new order he envisioned for Europe was not that of the First French Republic. Whereas the revolutionary armies had marched into neighboring lands erecting republics and planting those absurd “liberty” trees, Napoleon turned these into client-monarchies with monarchs chosen from among his top generals or, more often, the ranks of his own family. The sort of European system Napoleon endeavored to create, while not ideal, is not, at least to my mind, devoid of some promise. The ideal, for most traditional monarchists, would probably be the Europe of Christendom. Unfortunately, that high-minded ideal had never really been capable of producing the unity and concerted action that it might have done. This only seemed to come close to fruition during the Crusades and, even then, was certainly not devoid of division and trouble. The European order that Napoleon planned can be seen in how he tried to make the unity of Europe a largely family affair.

Napoleon was the second son of Carlo Maria di Buonaparte and Maria Letizia Ramolino of Corsica. The family had its roots in the nobility of Tuscany and carried on the traditional importance attached to the family common in that part of the world. Napoleon’s siblings were; Giuseppe, Luciano, Maria Anna Elisa (Elisa), Luigi, Maria Paula (Pauline), Maria Annunziata Carolina (Caroline) and Girolamo. Those were the names they were born with, like Napoleon, they would adopt the French versions of their names and later other versions based on what countries they were ‘farmed out’ to. The idea of Napoleon seemed to be to have a core of support in and around the French Empire based on blood ties with other allied countries brought into line by either being given a ruler of Napoleon’s choice or to be bound to the Bonaparte clan by marriage with those untouched being too few or too weak to oppose the rest.

Joseph Bonaparte
Giuseppe Buonaparte (later Joseph Bonaparte) was first made King of Naples and Sicily (though he did not actually control Sicily), which country he liked and where he was fairly popular. After only about two years, and much to his regret, Napoleon relieved him of the Neapolitan crown and transferred him to Spain where he ruled as King Jose I, though he was never accepted by the Spanish as a whole and never managed to be master of the entire country. To take his place in Naples, Napoleon made Marshal Joachim Murat the king instead. Aside from being a Marshal of France and one of Napoleon’s top subordinates, Murat was also married to Napoleon’s sister Caroline Bonaparte. Aside from Naples and the French Empire, the rest of the Italian peninsula consisted of the Kingdom of Italy which crown Napoleon held himself and second only in precedence to that of Imperial France. However, to act on his behalf in the Kingdom of Italy, operating out of Milan, Napoleon appointed his step-son Eugene de Beauharnais viceroy. Luciano or, later, Lucien Bonaparte, was the most difficult brother by virtue of being the most revolutionary of the bunch. Although given important government posts, he opposed his brother making himself Emperor of the French and refused any title or monarchical status.

Elisa Bonaparte
Napoleon’s sister Elisa Bonaparte was, after some other duties and political maneuverings, made Grand Duchess of Tuscany. The idea was to have at least France, Italy and Spain all under Bonaparte monarchs with others in countries close at hand. Brother Luigi Buonaparte (later Louis Bonaparte) was chosen in 1806 to be the monarch of the conquered Netherlands as King Lodewijk I of Holland. This replaced the Batavian Republic which the French revolutionaries had originally concocted and, to the surprise of some, Louis became a fairly popular monarch. In fact, Louis took his duties as King of Holland so seriously that he ultimately became more popular with the Dutch than with his own brother. When Dutch and French interests conflicted, Louis took the side of the Dutch whereas Napoleon expected him to bow to France. This, as one can imagine, was a state of affairs that could not endure and in 1810 Napoleon removed his brother from the throne and simply annexed Holland to the French Empire. Louis would ultimately spend most of the rest of his life in exile in the Austrian Empire but, in a way, he would have the last laugh over his ambitious brother as it was his family line which would carry on the name of Napoleon into the future with his third son ultimately becoming Emperor Napoleon III of the Second French Empire.

Maria Paola Buonaparte, better known as Pauline, had a very colorful life to say the least of it. In 1797, in Milan which had just been occupied by his French troops, Napoleon married Pauline to General Charles Leclerc who was later put in command of the expedition to restore French rule over Saint-Dominque (Haiti) which had been in rebellion since 1791. Despite frequent bouts with yellow fever, Pauline engaged in numerous affairs but refused all efforts by her husband to send her home. She much preferred being the mistress of Saint-Dominque than being a subordinate in Paris, famously saying that, “Here, I reign like Josephine”. In 1802 her husband died of fever and Pauline had to return to Europe and, with the papal envoy playing match-maker, was married to Prince Camillo Borghese of Sulmona. Napoleon later made her sovereign Princess and Duchess of Guastalla but she sold it for six million francs to the Duchy of Parma. After Napoleon’s downfall, she lived in a villa in Rome as the guest of Pope Pius VII.

Jerome Bonaparte
Caroline Bonaparte, as mentioned previously, was Queen of Naples after the appointment of her husband, Marshal Joachim Murat, and frequently held power there herself as regent during his absences. The youngest boy of the family, Girolamo Buonaparte, better known as Jerome, was also somewhat problematic. After service in the navy, Jerome ran off to the United States and married an American girl in 1803, much to the outrage of his brother. Napoleon annulled the marriage when the Pope would not and eventually had the couple divorced. From 1807 to 1813 Jerome served as monarch of the Kingdom of Westphalia, a new German state Napoleon had put together which essentially served as a buffer between the French Empire and the Kingdom of Prussia (or what was left of it anyway). In an effort to remake the country, revolutionary policies were implemented. Serfdom was abolished and a market economy was established, the guilds were out and the Jews were in. The country was soon depleted and officially bankrupt by 1812, hardly a ringing success by any measure.

On the continent, all of this meant that, for a longer period than most realize, Napoleon had a family network that brought about a sort of European unity. Brother Joseph was in Spain, brother Louis in Holland, step-son Eugene in northern Italy, sister Caroline and Marshal Murat in Naples, brother Jerome in Westphalia and Napoleon himself entered into a marriage alliance with the Austrian Empire by marrying Archduchess Marie Louise, daughter of Kaiser Franz II. Prussia was reduced and surrounded by Westphalia to the west, the French-allied kingdom of Bavaria to the south, the French-established Duchy of Warsaw to the east, ruled by Napoleon’s ally King Frederick Augustus I of Saxony, while to the north was the French-allied Kingdom of Denmark and Sweden where a Marshal of France was the new king. From 1807 to 1810 Czar Alexander I of Russia was an ally so that, for a time, the whole of Europe was more firmly united than it has probably ever been with the only major power holding aloof being Great Britain. Every continental power was either ruled by Napoleon himself, by one of his family, one of his allies or was so isolated as to be unable to do anything but go along other than the Ottoman Empire of Turkey which had a Serbian rebellion to deal with and which proved incapable of defeating the uprising by the fundamentalist Wahabi sect, making them no threat to the new Napoleonic order.

Napoleon I
Needless to say, with their origins being in the French Revolution, bad ideas spread throughout Europe with the French legions. However, there is nonetheless something to be said for it. By sheer brute force, Napoleon had done what no one else had done before; united the continent of Europe. He did end the Revolution, which was an obvious good, and was certainly preferable to the First Republic which had gone before him. I doubt any would call him pious, indeed, he seemed rather cynical about religion, but it was he who restored Church-state relations in France, had his coronation presided over by the Pope and, although it sounds odd given his character, it is nonetheless technically true that under Napoleon, the whole of European Christendom was united behind a Catholic emperor. Of course, he did it after making war on the Pope and basically taking him prisoner and, if you wanted to be really controversial, you might point out that this was pretty much how the coronation of Emperor Charles V came about but you really should not as that would be quite unfair to compare the two.

Ultimately, this episode of enforced European unity did not last, and perhaps could not have done so given the very ideas of the French Revolution that it enabled to spread. However, whether one takes it as good or bad, it was certainly remarkable and quite unprecedented. Had Napoleon not overreached, had this new order endured, can we imagine how history might have evolved? It is hard to imagine someone with such restless ambition as Napoleon retiring to a quiet life and with all of Europe, with the possible exception of Great Britain, pulling in the same direction, that seemingly impossible things might have been accomplished. It would be easy to picture Napoleon resuming his conquests with the a massive pan-European army that would liberate the Balkans, Constantinople and the Holy Land, which might then press on into Persia and India. Who knows how far they might have gone?

In closing, just to reassure all of my good, traditional, monarchist readers, yes, Napoleon was a usurper, yes, he upset the peace of Europe and yes he spread some pretty terrible ideas wherever he went. What is, I think, nonetheless important to point out was his drive and his audacity. Look at what he accomplished, think what more might have been accomplished and all because someone had the nerve to try. One, little, Corsican upstart did all of this and only because the impossible did not exist for him; he just did it. Great and seemingly impossible things can, actually, be accomplished but only by those who try. Napoleon dreamed of a Gallic-Roman empire with himself as the new Charlemagne, uniting Europe with his own family to lead in one common direction. For a time, and longer than I suspect most people realize, he did exactly that and in so doing, left behind a wealth of lessons on what to do, what not to do, and what can be possible. It is, I think, a subject worth pondering.

2 comments:

  1. I believe that if he left his sights to just stabilizing France and re-creating the monarchy, he would have left Europe in a far better standing than it was at the end at Waterloo. The horrible losses of people through these needless wars took decades from which to recover. The ancient Greeks had it right when they made Hubris the only sin against the Gods.

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  2. I have always felt that despite being primarily associated with France, Napoleon had a stronger claim to the title "King of Italy", as that title was more or less vacant and if I remember correctly he was crowned with the Iron Crown of Lombardy (and the last monarch to do so) so he at least fulfilled the traditional method of becoming King of Italy. His coronation as Emperor was sort of consistent with that of the coronation of Charlemagne and the Holy Roman Emperors back when they were still crowned by the Pope, but the circumstances do make the whole thing questionable, and France had a rightful king and the West a rightful emperor. He also was not crowned in Reims which is the same argument that has been made for the one English monarch who actually sort of became King of France was lacking legitimacy needed (on top of other factors of course, but most of these also apply to Napoleon anyway).

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