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The British Visit to Laffite: A Study of Events 200 Years Later

August 25, 2014 in American History, general history, History, Louisiana History, Nautical History

Jean Laffite, the privateer "bos" of Barataria

Jean Laffite, the privateer “bos” of Barataria

When Commander Nicholas Lockyer sailed in HMS Sophie from Pensacola towards Jean Laffite’s Grande Terre encampment on Sept. 1, 1814, he already knew that the Baratarian privateer base might soon be blown to bits, and that the Sophie would not be the instrument of that destruction, despite his written orders to that effect from his superiors. There was only a modest chance that Laffite would agree to their terms and assist the British by letting them use his light draft schooners that could navigate shallower water in the shoals. Success depended largely on how susceptible the man would be to betray his friends and clientele.

Lockyer was willing to do everything necessary to entice someone he regarded as a pirate, even though he must have felt a modicum of hesitation about approaching the buccaneers’ smuggling stronghold due to the way five Laffite-connected ships had soundly defeated British sailors of boats from HMS Herald near Cat Island and the mouth of Bayou Lafourche in June of 1813.

The Sophie by herself would be no match for the Baratarian ships. Although she carried 18 guns, her gun carriage timbers were rotten, and so shaky the carronades could not fire accurately no matter how skilled the gunners. Thus it was with more than a little trepidation on Lockyer’s part that the Sophie entered Barataria Pass that Saturday morning, Sept. 3, 1814, firing a warning shot at a privateer ship a little too close for comfort.

Jean Laffite saw a British brig in Barataria Pass, and couldn’t immediately discern the captain’s intentions as first the ship fired at one of his privateers, then the British vessel acted friendlier and non-attacking, anchoring at the opposite shore, then setting down a pinnance bearing both British colors and a white flag of truce, with some men onboard.

Laffite set off in his boat at once to find out who this was, and what was the meaning of this visit. As he neared the pinnance, the men’s uniforms made it clear at least two high-ranking British officers were on the boat heading to him, and so curious was he at this development that he accidentally let himself get too close to the ship, away from the safety of the shore. The British hailed him and asked to be taken to see Laffite to give him some official communications on paper. Since he was too close to the Sophie to risk being identified, Laffite told them they could find the person they wanted on shore. As soon as they were within the confines of his power, Laffite identified himself and led them to his home while close to 200 very agitated privateer crewmen milled around, voicing intentions to imprison the British and send them to New Orleans as spies. Captain Dominique You was all for seizing the British ship as retaliation for the skirmish between the Baratarians and British at Cat Island the year before, a mini-battle which the Baratarians had won, but not before the British nearly sank two of their fast schooners. Handling a visit from obvious British officers around such a group of mostly Napoleonic sympathizers was going to require finesse, but first Laffite needed to learn the precise purpose of the visit, and what the papers said.

Accompanying Capt. Lockyer was Capt. John M’Williams of the Royal Colonial Marines, most recently stationed at Pensacola. M’Williams was a special envoy from Lieutenant-Colonel Edward Nicolls, commanding officer of the Royal  Colonial Marines at Pensacola,. His duty was to present official British letters to Laffite requesting that he join the British, stop harassing Spanish shipping, release any Spanish property he currently had back to its owners, and allow the British the use of his light draft ships. In return at the conclusion of the war, Laffite would receive a captaincy, land in America controlled by the British, have his rights and property protected as a British citizen, and be recompensed for the use of his ships. According to Laffite’s later recollection of the visit, the bribe also included $30,000, payable at New Orleans or Pensacola, but this was not stated in any of the British letters

An interpreter was also with the officers, but his services were not needed as Jean was fluent in English. Lockyer seized the advantage of a common language to earnestly entice Laffite to join the British against the Americans. Apparently Lockyer added the bribe money only as a spoken extra inducement to get Laffite starry-eyed about impending wealth. If Lockyer did verbally commit to a monetary bribe, there could have been little truth to it, since no one else who had helped the British in the Gulf had been paid even a tiny fraction of that amount, plus Nicolls was on a strict budget for his part of the Gulf war campaign, and could not exceed even $1,000 at the time. The only way such a bribe could have been possible is if it was to be paid after the successful conclusion of the campaign, when goods, plantations, etc., had been seized by the British, especially at New Orleans. In that event, $30,000 would have been small reward for assisting accomplishment of  such a lucrative and important military goal. Regardless, the monetary bribe was worthless as it had never been commited to paper, and it was somewhat insulting for Lockyer to think Laffite was so naïve as to trust the word of even a British officer.

Lockyer pressed Laffite to join the British,  especially to lay at the disposal of his Britannic Majesty the armed vessels he had at Barataria, to aid in the immediate intended attack of the fort (Fort Bowyer) at Mobile. According to Laffite’s later account of Lockyer’s manipulative spiel, he insisted much on the great advantage that would result to Laffite and his crews, and urged him “not let slip this opportunity of acquiring fortune and consideration.” Laffite cautiously demurred, saying he would require a few days to reflect upon these proposals, to which Lockyer bluntly stated “no reflection could be necessary, respecting proposals that obviously precluded hesitation, as he (Laffite) was a Frenchman, and of course now a friend to Great Britain, proscribed by the American government, exposed to infamy, and had a brother (Pierre) at that very time loaded with irons in the jail of New Orleans.” (Obviously, British spies had informed Nicolls and/or Percy about Pierre’s incarceration to use as a leverage tool with Jean.)

Lockyer also added that everything was already prepared for carrying on the war against the American government in that quarter with unusual vigor; that they (the British) were nearly sure of success, expecting to find little or no opposition from the French and Spanish population of Louisiana.

At the end of his recruitment speech to Laffite, Lockyer made a colossal error by telling what the British intended to do to absolutely guarantee success: their chief plan and crushing blow would be to foment an insurrection of the slaves, to whom they would offer freedom. In other words, the British would stir up a slave revolt resulting in brutal murders of innocent civilians at the plantations and New Orleans, given that three-fourths of the population of the New Orleans area at the time was composed of slaves.

One can only imagine the disgust and horror that Laffite must have felt when he  heard Lockyer say the British were going to incite (and probably arm) a slave rebellion. They were wanting him to sell out his friends and other smuggling customers and allow them to be hacked to death like the French planters on Haiti years earlier, or those families that suffered on the German Coast near New Orleans in 1811. No wonder Laffite got up and said he had to leave for a bit, leaving the British group alone snd perplexed. Laffite said in his account he left the officers because he was afraid of his privateers rising up against him, but most likely as soon as he left the house, he told his Baratarian crewmen to imprison the officers and threaten them overnight, but not to physically harm them. Laffite thought more information may have been gained by their intimidated response to the threats,  that perhaps they would reveal who their spies were in the New Orleans area. He left the British alone all that night in their uncomfortable and guarded cell, even though they continually demanded to be released from custody.

Early the next morning, Laffite let the officers out of their cell, apologizing profusely for their treatment of the past night, about which he claimed he could do nothing due to the temperament of some of his men. He gave Lockyer a letter of apology in which he asked for a fortnight (15 days) to arrive at a decision about their offer, claiming the delay was necessary to send away “three persons who have alone occasioned all the disturbance” and to “put my affairs in order.”

When the British returned to the Sophie, Lockyer weighed anchor and left Barataria Pass as soon as possible around noon Sept. 4, according to the master’s logbook of the ship. They wanted nothing more to do with Laffite or the Baratarians.

Lockyer was at a loss as to how to save face re his failure to immediately enlist the Baratarians and their ships into British service. He knew Percy had ordered him “in case of refusal, to destroy to the utmost every vessel there as well as to carry destruction over the whole place,” but the Sophie by herself couldn’t do that, plus Laffite had said he couldn’t give a firm decision until a fortnight later. A fortnight later would be too late, Lockyer knew plans were already firm for an attack on Fort Bowyer before then.

The Sophie didn’t arrive back at Pensacola until Sept. 11, taking seven days, five more than necessary, to sail between Barataria Pass and Pensacola. This is odd, as Percy had requested Lockyer to return to him at Pensacola at utmost speed following the visit to Barataria. Something  hidden happened in those five extra days of travel. Lockyer may have stopped somewhere along the Louisiana coast and M’Williams may have disembarked on a spy mission, as M’Williams appears not to have been with Lockyer once he returned to Pensacola. M’Williams could have gone to New Orleans, or the rest of the bayou country to reconnoiter.There is no documentation for what happened to him. The Sophie ship logs only record what transpired onboard or with the ship and its crew.

The only British account of the visit to Grande Terre was a letter written by Lockyer to Percy upon his arrival back at Pensacola on Sept. 11. Unwilling to fully admit his failure to gain the schooners quickly, Lockyer said nothing about even meeting Laffite, perfunctorily glossing over that bit entirely. Instead,  in a unusually brief, terse note about the visit, he said he and the other British were immediately jailed, the British letters and order he brought to show Laffite were torn before his face plus he was insulted and had his life threatened. He wrote that the following day the Baratarians had a sudden change of mind and released them to return to the Sophie. He reported there were nine schooner privateers with six to sixteen guns each in Barataria Bay.

Lockyer’s letter was enclosed with a later report written Sept. 17 by Percy to his superior, Sir Alexander Cochrane, British commander in chief of the North America station, in which Percy says only of the letter that it acquainted him with the “ill success of his (Lockyer’s) mission (to Laffite).” Oddly, the whole Laffite issue and the matter of acquiring the light draft schooners of Barataria was dropped by Percy and became a non-issue, even though he could not have known that the Americans would destroy Barataria within a few days. Or did he know? Was there a double agent in New Orleans? What was Laffite’s reaction to the British offer?

Before Lockyer and the others had been freed from their Baratarian jail, Laffite wrote a letter Sept. 4 to his friend and Louisiana legislator Jean Blanque of New Orleans, requesting advice about what to do with the British, and enclosed all of the British papers in the packet. (All of the British papers and orders were intact, they had not been torn up like Lockyer claimed to Percy.)   A courier delivered the packet by late Sept. 6 to Blanque at his home on Royal Street.

Coincidentally, that same day, Sept. 6, Dominique You, who had threatened the British officers, arrived in New Orleans. Jean’s brother, Pierre Laffite, mysteriously broke out of the Cabildo jail along with three blacks that night. Pierre had been incarcerated since July 1814 on a grand jury indictment. Dominique had been away on a cruise when this occurred, and had only returned to Barataria on Sept. 1. No one knows how Pierre broke out of jail, but both Dominique and jailer J.H. Holland were Masons, so perhaps there was some fortuitous collusion, with Holland just happening to leave the keys temporarily unguarded. At any rate, both Pierre and Dominique were back at Grande Terre within a couple of days. It seems likely Dominique saw to it that neither the British nor Claiborne could use Pierre as a bargaining chip to gain Jean’s help.

Blanque presented the letters packet  the next day (Sept. 7) to Gov. Claiborne, who quickly called for an emergency meeting of his informal board of officers, consisting of Commodore Daniel T. Patterson, Col. George Ross, Customs Collector Pierre Dubourg and Jacques Villere, commander of the Louisiana militia. There was some discussion about whether or not the letters were genuine. Apparently no one thought to just hold the paper to the light to see the royal watermarks  found on all British naval writing paper of the time. Claiborne worried that the letters perhaps were authentic, plus he decided from Jean’s letter to Blanque that the privateer would take no part with the British. However, he abstained from voting on what to do about the letters. Only Villere, a friend of the Laffites, and a voting member of the group, thought the British documents were genuine. Still, Claiborne vacillated about what if Villere was right.

Patterson was absolutely livid when Claiborne said it might be a good idea to postpone his planned expedition against Barataria in light of the new situation. In August, in response to myriad complaints about Baratarian smuggling against Spanish ships, Patterson had received a direct order to break up the Grande Terre base from Secretary of the Navy William Jones, who had provided him with a schooner, the USS Carolina, to accomplish the mission.  A British blockade at the Balize had postponed the raid, but word had been received that British ships had moved off eastward, towards Mobile, and  Patterson’s little Navy was ready to pounce. Besides, Patterson told the group his orders to attack Barataria left him no alternative but to do so, and Ross agreed.  Claiborne couldn’t argue with an order from the Secretary of the Navy, even though circumstances had dramatically changed.

Ross cinched the vote by saying Laffite’s letter to Lockyer of Sept. 4 showed “Laffite’s acceptation” so for all they knew, the Baratarians were co-operating with the British.  (If this were the case, it made no sense to let Blanque or the state officials see the letters,  but then Patterson and Ross clearly had their minds made up before they even saw the contents of the packet or entered the governor’s chambers.) The meeting ended with Patterson and Ross announcing they would set off for Grande Terre as soon as possible. On Sept. 8, Claiborne sent copies of the packet of letters to Major General Andrew Jackson.

Meanwhile, Pierre Laffite was apprised  at Grande Terre of what had transpired with the British, whereupon he wrote a letter of entreaty to Claiborne, praising the way his brother Jean had handled the situation by sending the letters to the US authorities, and saying in somewhat dramatic fashion for emphasis that he was the “stray sheep wanting to return to the fold,” offering to be of service. Claiborne didn’t get the letter until Sept. 12, and by then it was too late to stop the raid expedition.

Due to the logistics of getting the men of the 44th US infantry together, along with enough sailors, the expedition wasn’t ready to weigh anchor and go until around 1 a.m.on Sept. 11.  They left in the middle of the night to ostensibly avoid spies for the Laffites, but by Sept. 13 or 14, the Laffites knew from spies that they were coming. They managed to get a portion of their goods moved to other warehouses away from the island, but a large lot remained, such as a great deal of German linen, glassware, cocoa and spices, silver plate, and some bullion specie.

The Patterson-Ross expedition took the long way to Grande Terre, down the Mississippi River to the Balize, spending nearly five days on the trip. Once at the mouth of the Mississippi, considering they had all of the American forces with them, including all of the gunboats, they could have gone to the aid of the 130 men at Fort Bowyer, but instead, they headed west, toward Grande Terre and the riches to be found there.

It is true that Patterson and Ross didn’t know Fort Bowyer was being attacked at the very moment their US expedition approaching the delta mouth of the Mississippi, but they did know from the British letters that such an attack was imminent. Luckily the men at Fort Bowyer managed to beat back a land and sea attack by the British, and were saved when the lead ship, Percy’s HMS Hermes, managed to get stuck on a sandbar. Percy was forced to set fire to his own ship and retreat. Nicolls had even worse fortune in the fray, getting ill and having to watch his Royal Colonial Marines from the supposed safety of one of the ships, only to lose the sight in one eye permanently after a stray splinter hit him.

Both Jean and Pierre Laffite managed to escape the Patterson-Ross raid that arrived the morning of Sept. 16, taking refuge at  a plantation along the German Coast above New Orleans. They would remain there until sometime in mid December, when a deal would be struck with Jackson and Claiborne to provide men and supplies to assist the American forces. Captured in the raid were Dominique You and about 80 other Baratarians, who would spend nearly three months in the Cabildo jail before getting amnesty to serve under Jackson. Per Laffite’s order, Dominique made sure that none of the Baratarians at Grande Terre fired a single shot at the Americans. The raid netted five of the fast privateer schooners the British had so desired, with Patterson ordering another one, the Cometa, burned as it wasn’t ready to sail yet. Those five ships would spend several months at dock in New Orleans, and were not used to fight against the British, so effectively they had been negated. It seems odd how this played into the British scheme for Barataria. It took the men of the 44th a week to thoroughly comb through the wreckage for all the prize goods.

If Jean Laffite had decided, like Lockyer and Percy wished, to hand over the privateer schooners to the British, the first Battle of Fort Bowyer might have been won by the British, who would have proceeded from there to Baton Rouge, and down to New Orleans by the river and land, according to their campaign strategy. If Patterson and Ross had not destroyed Barataria and confiscated those privateer ships, the Baratarians could have assisted the American gunboats to rout the British warships from even approaching Lake Borgne; they also could have woven around  and worried the heavy British ships from disembarking troops to attack Fort Bowyer.

The British visit to Laffite set in motion a chain of events, a domino effect, that resulted in the American victory at the Battle of New Orleans. The “what ifs’ of history are myriad: the results are what the true patriots create.

Today, almost exactly 200 years later, the area of Grande Terre where the British sat down with Laffite at his home is under the oily sludge-stained waters of an encroaching Barataria Bay. Soon, the island will be swept over into oblivion as hurricanes and time take their toll, but the memory of what happened there will live on.


Davis, William C.  The Pirates Laffite, the Treacherous World of the Corsairs of the Gulf. Harcourt, 2005.

Latour, Arsene Lacarriere. Historical Memoir of the War in West Florida and Louisiana in 1814-15. Expanded edition, The Historic New Orleans Collection and University Press of Florida, 1999.


Napoleon’s Son – Napoléon François Joseph Charles Bonaparte

August 14, 2014 in European History, History

Napoléon François Joseph Charles Bonaparte – Great Expectations

With the birth of most children, there are all kinds of exciting possibilities and great expectations of what kind of person this new life will grow up to be. Sometimes a child comes into this world only with expectations upon the part of his parents and immediate family.  While for others the expectations of the world might prove to be like the weight of the world in the hands of a babe. Such, was the birth of Napoléon François Joseph Charles Bonaparte, the only son of Napoleon Bonaparte.

He was expected to be the next ruler of France and for Napoléon II, no higher expectations were perhaps heaped upon one child than this little boy. Therein lies the problem — the trouble with great expectations are that they are merely expectations, and life has a way of turning expectations into figments of our imaginations, never-to-be in real life. I’m sure this was a lot like Napoleon Bonaparte’s own expectation that he’d conquer the world, something that proved to be beyond his grasp when it came down to the details.

Napoléon had promised his son, “It's All Yours."

Napoléon had promised his son, “It’s All Yours.”

Napoléon Francis Joseph Charles Bonaparte (aka Franz)

A little over two hundred years ago, Napoléon Francis Joseph Charles Bonaparte was born in the Palace of the Tuileries. It was assumed that he was destined to rule over a great empire. His mother was the Empress Marie Louise, a daughter of the Emperor of Austria. She was his father’s second wife, after he had divorced the Empress Joséphine.

The boy’s birth on March 20, 1811 was announced by the roaring salute of many guns. At the time, his birth was a great joy to the French nation, as well as his parents. So you would think that historically his life would be as well-known as that of his father.  However, this was not meant to be.

He was given the title of King of Rome, and his christening was a stately ceremony at the Cathedral of Notre Dame. It seemed as though he had a great future before him.  It is a recorded fact that his father adored him, often spent time playing and talking with him as an infant. A doting father is not generally something most of us would think of when it comes to the Napoléon we’ve known through the retelling of history.

Yet, in the end he grew up without a mother’s love or a father’s care. His short life was pitifully lonely. His early death was a relief to most of the people. The few who thought of his existence at all have all passed away, and his name is scarcely mentioned in the teaching of history.


Napoléon Bonaparte and his son, who was called “Franz.”

Napoléon Bonaparte’s son, who was called “Franz.”


The Education of Napoléon’s Son

When Napoléon François Joseph Charles Bonaparte was a toddler, his father, Napoléon, was at the height of his power. Everyone thought that the little King of Rome, as his baby son was officially called, was sure to succeed him on the throne of France.  When Franz was only two and a half years old, his education was begun. He was given lessons almost before his baby lips could repeat the words that were taught him. It’s been claimed that at the age of three, he was fluent in French as any grown up.  It was said that by the age of nine, rather than having a child s vocabulary, he was able to converse with ease on an adult level. He later learned German, Italian, Greek, and Latin.

His father was determined that he should be well prepared for the great place in history that he was to fill. But, before the prince was three years old, Napoléon had been defeated by the bitter cold of the Russian winter.  All the countries in Europe had combined and conspired against him. He had fought and lost the Great Battle of the Nations at Leipzig. Even then, he might have kept his throne, if he had promised to be content with the kingdom of France, but this he refused to do so, ended up having everything was taken from him.  The legacy of Franz’s father would prove to be his most difficult lesson of all.


The education of Napolean's son Franz was a serious undertaking.

The education of Napolean’s son Franz was a serious undertaking.


The Destiny of Franz — Napoleon II

As the armies of the allies who had defeated the Emperor neared Paris, Marie Louise fled from the city, taking the young King of Rome with her. When his mother first fled with him from Paris, they had to leave most of their possessions behind. Being a child, Franz thought that Louis XVIII had stolen his toys. The toys were later forwarded, but all Napoléonic symbols which were decorated on every toy, had been stripped from them on orders of his maternal grandfather.

Napoléon never again saw the son of whom he was so proud and whom he loved so dearly. Napoléon, of course, was sent into exile on the Island of Elba in the Mediterranean, from which he would later escape.  Marie Louise who did not care for her husband any longer, made no effort to go to him, despite his loving pleas and commands that she do so. She was quite content to obey her father’s command that she should give up on her marriage and come home. She agreed, too, to give up the title of empress, and was made Duchess of Parma and two other small Italian states.

The title of King of Rome was taken from her son, and it was agreed that he was to succeed his mother, as Duke of Parama. His mother’s family wanted him to forget his French blood and his father.  In time, however, he would rebel and later say:

“If France called me, I would come.”

All of this was in 1814, and the next year it seemed for a time, as if he might be emperor of the French after all. Napoléon escaped from Elba.  He gathered a great army as he went and marched through France to Paris and turned out Louis XVIIII, the Bourbon king whom the allies had placed on the throne.

The boy all of France chose to forget.

The boy all of France chose to forget.

Denied His Place in History

But, the Emperor’s second reign lasted such a short period of time that it is called “The Hundred Days.” Napoléon’s defeat at Waterloo put an end to it forever, and lost for his son even his small dukedom. For after Napoléon had been banished to St. Helena, the little boy was given the title of Duke of Reichstadt by his grandfather. It was decided that he should never rule.

Meanwhile, his father continued to dictate specific instructions to his young son Napoléon II. Even though he’d named his son as his successor when he abdicated, no one was willing to recognize him as legitimate to the throne of France. This was despite the fact that at the time most French peasant households had pictures of him on their walls.  By this time, Marie Louise had gone to live in her duchy of Parma, but she did not take the little duke with her. From this time onward, he became a pawn in the game of European politics.

These efforts only made the great powers of Europe the more determined that no son of Napoléon should ever rule. Sometimes the great Austrian minister Metternich put forward his claims, and the other malcontents in Italy and in France used his name to stir up trouble. In November 1816, Marie Louise was informed that her son could not succeed to the duchy of Para. As he was not to succeed her, it was thought better that he should be left in Vienna with his grandfather, who undertook his education. His mother would only see him one more time, on his deathbed.

The Rest of Franz’s Short Life

He was brought up as an Austrian subject, instead of a French prince, and so all his French attendants were sent away. Even his nurse was eventually sent away. He was placed in the care of an Austrian gentleman, named Count Moritz von Dietrischtein, who was called his governor.

He was still so young that it was hoped that once he was surrounded by Germans, that he would forget all he had been told about his father. However, he never did forget who his father was.  Perhaps, it was because he had some faint recollection of the man who played with him in the old days in France. He certainly remembered the stories his nurse had told him of his father’s greatness. It was reported that he grew up to love his memory and liked to think of him.

Later, his many tutors found him a difficult pupil, especially at first. He was about ten years old when his father died. He was very obstinate and he did not wish to speak German. There were many outbursts of temper to be subdued. Happily, however, he became much attached and fond of Count Dietrishstein, who was a very kind man. He treated him with great wisdom and affection.

Young Franz would grow to be a little over six feet tall at the age of seventeen. As much as others wished him to not be like his father, he shared many mannerisms. In anger, he shared a look that Napoléon was famous for, and was a constant reminder to the Austrians of his father. Additionally, he was known to have walked just like his father, often with his hands behind his back when thinking, walking in a circle, with his head down.  He admired his father so much that he was delighted when he learned that his grandfather wished him to become a soldier. It was later another great day for him when he got his first uniform, though he was only made a corporal, for his tutors thought it better that he should be advanced slowly.

Learning to be a soldier was Franz Bonaparte's strongest wish.

Learning to be a soldier was Franz Bonaparte’s strongest wish.


Franz Will Face His Own Waterloo


He was a clever boy, but lazy, and promotion was held out as a reward for diligence in his studies. No pains were spared to provide him with good teachers and to train him to be not only a good soldier, but also great man. His youth though wasn’t a pleasant one, as he was seldom allowed outside the palace grounds, and could never be alone. There were only a handful of theatre or battalion regiment practices that he was able to attend under supervision.

The year before he died, it’s speculated that this lonely boy did know love, or at least infatuation. He secretly met a ballerina at a theatre one night. She invited him to her dressing room after her performance. Her name was Franziska (Fanny) Elssler, and she was just one year older than him.

He was carefully taught his profession.  All the soldiers were said to have looked forward to the time when he would command them, and perhaps lead them to victory. But their hopes were not to be realized, for already his days were numbered. In the spring of 1832, he fell ill with tuberculosis, and by July 22nd of that year, he was dead. When news of his death was heard in France, it caused but little mention. He was only twenty-one years old.

While much has been written about his father, and even his mother — there are very few references and details about the boy who might have been King of France — had history played out a different hand. He has been referred to in history books as the “the lifelong captive (but very much loved) of Habsburg empire.” Finally facing his own personal Waterloo in death, there was no denying his fate — he could not escape being a mostly forgotten footnote in history.

It’s seems almost ironic that all the hopes that Napoléon Bonaparte and others had invested in his son, were not what was to be his legacy.  Rather what has remained instead is Napoléon Civil Code concepts, Napoléon’s sale of the Louisiana Territory, and his defeat at Waterloo. Seems sort of prophetic that Napoléon himself said:

“There is no immortality, but the memory that is left in the minds of men.”

Perhaps the most ironic part of the tale of the sad life of Napoléon François Joseph Charles Bonaparte, is another quote, that of his grandfather, who upon learning of his death was reported to have said:

“It was best for both of them that he was dead. Very sad life.”


Napoléon François Joseph Charles Bonaparte

Napoléon François Joseph Charles Bonaparte



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