History Files

European Kingdoms

Western Europe


Heirs of Napoleon Bonaparte
AD 1815 - Present Day

Napoleon Bonaparte was the right man in the right place at the right time. He grasped every opportunity that was presented to him (and created a few that were not) to ensure his dramatic rise in a dramatic time in French history.

Having been given command of the French army of Italy in 1797, Napoleon began campaigning against Austria in northern Italy. He won virtually every encounter between the two sides and his reputation for success was secured. Even his failed expedition to Egypt was painted as a success, or at least as an insignificant sideshow. In 1799 he became first consul. In 1804 he was proclaimed emperor of the French. Despite radically reorganising France's legal and administrative system (which reforms are largely still in place today), Europe's crowned heads saw him as an upstart, a symbol of the menace of republicanism, and a direct threat to their sovereign authority. They waged war after war against him until he was finally beaten in 1815, having already abdicated the throne in 1814. He hoped that his infant son, Napoleon II, prince of Rome, would be allowed to succeed him in Italy but that was never a realistic proposition for his enemies.

Despite the loss of power, not only over France but also over several other European states and principalities, Napoleon's successors as head of the House of Bonaparte retained the title of imperial highness. Napoleon's own son died young, so his brother succeeded as the family head and it is his descendants who feature in the list of names below. Today there are no remaining descendants in the male line from any of Napoleon's brothers other than the youngest, Jérôme. There are, however, numerous descendants of Napoleon's illegitimate, but recognised son, Walewski, from his union with Marie, Countess Walewski of Poland. The American Bonapartes were senior in descent from King Jérôme, but the last male of that line died in 1945, although this branch was never considered to be dynastic anyway.

(Information by Peter Kessler, with additional information from The Campaigns of Napoleon, David Chandler (Weidenfeld & Nicolson Ltd, London, 1996), from Napoleon 1812, Nigel Nicolson (Weidenfeld & Nicolson, London, 1985), from Battle Tactics of Napoleon and his Enemies, Brent Nosworthy (Constable, London, 1995), from Journal of the Waterloo Campaign, General Cavalié Mercer (Da Capro Press, New York, 1995), from The Years of the Sword: Wellington, Elizabeth Longford (Weidenfeld & Nicolson Ltd, 1969), from The Diary of a Napoleonic Foot Soldier, Jakob Walter (Marc Raeff, Ed, Doubleday, 1991), from Waterloo, The Hundred Days, David Chandler (Osprey Publishing Ltd, 1980), from Warfare in the Age of Bonaparte, Michael Glover (Cassell History of Warfare series, Guild Publishing, 1980), and from External Links: Battle rages for the Napoleonic succession (The Independent), and Eleven Days in August: The Liberation of Paris in 1944 (Reviews in History).)

1799 - 1815

Napoleon I

Son of Corsican nobles. Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte. Exiled.

1798 - 1799

Following Napoleon's failed expedition to Egypt, the French Republic's Directory is swept away by a coup on '18 Brumaire', 9 November. Although several members of the failing Directory support the coup, one of its main instigators is Napoleon himself. He becomes the head of the new government as 'First Consul'. The Second Coalition is formed by Austria and Russia in order to regain HRE and Italian territories.

Napoleon at the Battle of Rivoli
Napoleon commands at the Battle of Rivoli, 14-15 January 1797, the first French campaign in Italy against Austria, and the start of Bonaparte's highly successful command of the French forces in Italy

1804 - 1805

On 18 March 1804 Napoleon Bonaparte is proclaimed emperor of the French (First Empire). In May 1805 he is crowned king of Italy in Milan. His enemies form the Third Coalition against him but he defeats their armies in turn. As a result he commands much of mainland Europe for the next eight years. However, at sea, the Battle of Trafalgar proves once and for all Britain's naval supremacy, pounding the French and their Spanish allies in a crushing defeat.


Napoleon is defeated and abdicates the thrones of France and Italy. The Bourbon monarchy is restored under Louis XVIII, and northern Italy is regained either by its previous owners or it is drawn into the Austrian kingdom of Lombardy-Venetia. The czar of Russia, less antagonistic towards the former emperor than other European monarchs, helps in the choice of the Mediterranean island of Elba as a small kingdom to which Napoleon can retire.


FeatureNapoleon returns from exile for the Hundred Days rule, and Louis XVIII flees to Belgium. Europe mobilises against France and the duke of Wellington's Anglo-Dutch-German army defeats Napoleon at the Battle of Waterloo on 18 June in conjunction with the Prussian army, ending twenty-five years of war in Europe (see feature link). Some weeks afterwards, Napoleon abdicates in favour of his son, Napoleon II, and ultimately accepts exile to the Atlantic island of St Helena. He dies there in 1821.

The return of Napoleon's ashes in 1840
The return of Napoleon's ashes in 1840 in a painting by Jacques Guiaud, with the funeral cortege entering the Place de la Concorde

1815 - 1832

Napoleon II 'the Eaglet'

Son. 'King of Rome'. Died of illness in virtual captivity aged 21.

1832 - 1873

Louis / Napoleon III

Son of Louis Bonaparte. Emperor of the French (1852-1871).

1852 - 1871

Prince Louis Napoleon Bonaparte, who has been president of France since December 1848, now declares himself emperor, and the republic is replaced by the French Second Empire. Sadly Louis badly miscalculates the European political situation in 1870, with the result that France is humiliated by Prussia in the Franco-Prussian War. The empire collapses and Louis Napoleon goes into exile in England where he later dies and is buried. His family relocate to England to be with him, including his son Eugène who later joins the British army.

1873 - 1879

Eugène / Napoleon IV

Son. Died fighting the Zulus in British South Africa on 1 June.

1879 - 1926

Victor / Napoleon V

Grandson of Jérôme Bonaparte by his second marriage.


On 9 December France passes a landmark law relating to the 'Separation of the Churches and State'. The law has been drawn up to ensure the neutrality of the state, the freedom of religious practice, and public powers that are related to the church. It is on the basis of this law that later acts are also drawn up which strive to ensure the secularism of the state.

1926 - 1997

Louis / Napoleon VI

Son. Born 1914.

1944 - 1946

A provisional government is established in France following the liberation of Paris on 25 August 1944. Marshal Henri Philippe Pétain, hero of Verdun in the First World War, is condemned to death for his part in appeasing the Nazi Germans, but his sentence is commuted to life imprisonment.

Paris in 1944
During the Liberation of Paris between 19-25 August 1944, the city was subject to sniper attacks like the one photographed here, although it was never in danger of being destroyed by the departing Nazis, despite the claims of General von Choltitz


Upon the death of Louis, Prince Napoleon, in Prangins, Switzerland, the succession officially passes to his eleven year-old grandson, Jean-Christophe, bypassing his son and Jean-Christophe's father, Charles. This is despite Charles being officially recognised as the heir apparent during his own lifetime, and it does not prevent some Bonapartists from continuing to view Charles as the rightful head of the House of Napoleon Bonaparte, while others accept Jean-Christophe as the current successor to Napoleon I.

The solicitor to both Louis and Jean-Christophe states in an interview to Le Figaro in 1997 that Charles' exclusion has been due to his espousal of 'republican and democratic opinions'. In subsequent interviews Charles generally agrees with that claim, preferring the Napoleon I of the French Republic to the version who had led the First Empire.

1997 - Present

Charles / Napoleon VII

Son. Born 1950. Bypassed by his father.

1997 - Present

Jean-Christophe / Napoleon VIII

Son. Born 1986. Official heir and current head of the house.

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