Napoleon III.

Napoleon III. led France as French President for 4 years until in 1851 he introduced an authoritarian empire with a coup d'état and appointed himself Emperor of the 2nd French Empire. Only in the Franco-Prussian War and its capture ended his rule and thus the monarchy in France.




Origin and teenage years:

Napoleon was born on April 20, 1808 in Paris, the son of Louis Bonaparte, the brother of Napoleon I, and Hortense de Beauharnais under the name of Charles Louis Napoléon Bonaparte.

Napoleon grew up alternately in Constance on Lake Constance and in Augsburg. In 1816, his mother acquired a property in Constance, where Napoleon also perfectly learned the German language. In response to political pressure, however, the family had to leave their place of residence in 1818 and moved to Arenenberg Castle, on the Swiss side of Lake Constance. The first years of school Napoleon was taught by private tutors, only from 1821 to 1823 he attended high school at St. Anna. After school, he moved in 1829 to the artillery school of Thun and began his military career there. He then served in the Swiss Army as an artillery officer and thus acquired in 1832 the Swiss citizenship, but could also keep his French.




The first coup attempts:

After the outbreak of the Russo-Turkish war in 1829 Napoleon tried to participate in this. His request was banned by his father, but Napoleon now joined the Italian secret society of the Carbonari, which sought the unification of Italy. In this covenant, he was involved with his brother in the siege of the fortress Civita Castellana. However, the uprising was quickly suppressed, Napoleon's brother was killed and he himself had to flee with his mother to France under the protection of Louis Philip I.

His first coup attempt was planned together with the regimental commander Colonel Vaudrey of the 4th artillery regiment in Strasbourg on October 29, 1836. Napoleon wanted to bring France back to glory and honor with the achievement of power and establish it again as a great power in Europe. When he applied to the 46th Infantry Regiment, also based in Strasbourg, his request was denied and the soldiers arrested Napoleon, who was subsequently taken to Paris. Napoleon was offered a pardon under the demand to go to exile in America. He accepted this offer and traveled to New York on November 21, 1836.

When news reached him in 1837 that his mother was dying, Napoleon traveled back to Switzerland. France demanded then the expulsion, which was rejected by Switzerland due to the citizenship of Napoleon. So that no military conflict arose, Napoleon sat down to England.

In England, Napoleon planned a new attempted coup, which he tried to enforce on 6 August 1840 in Boulogne -sur -Mer. This attempt failed, Napoleon was arrested again and sentenced to life imprisonment in Ham. There he began an affair with Eleanor Vergeot sprang out of the 2 children, Napoleon should later rise to a count. On May 25, 1846, he managed to escape from the fort back to England. There he met Harriet Howard, with whom he entered into a relationship and who supported him financially in his presidential election.


Harriet Howard

Harriet Howard




Napoleon's political path in France:

After the February Revolution of 1848 Napoleon returned from exile and got ready for the presidential election. Thanks to the great financial support of Harriet Howard he succeeded in deciding the election in December 1848.

One of his first acts was to send soldiers to Italy to fight the Roman Republic and restore the Pope's reign in the Papal States, which his troops succeeded on 2 July 1849.

He also replaced the members of the government until almost exclusively loyal members were represented.

When the end of his reign approached, Napoleon proclaimed a coup d'etat on December 2, 1851. All over France, there were then rebellions, which he had knocked down. On December 21, Napoleon made a plebiscite, which should equip him with significantly more power. Intimidated by the previous violence, an overwhelming majority of the population voted for a new constitution. On 2 December 1852, Napoleon was now proclaimed Emperor of the 2nd French Empire.

The beginning of his reign as Emperor was characterized by oppression and absolutism. Only later did his policy become more liberal.


Napoleon III.

Napoleon III.




The war with Russia:

Russia has been in constant conflict with the Ottoman Empire for decades. Further, the country saw itself as a protective power of Orthodox Catholics in the country, which was undermined by the intervention of France. were as a French priest officially recognized by the Ottoman Sultan as protector and brought into the country, protested Russia and France declared the country to war, especially as France was concerned that Russia would pounce on the weakened Ottoman Empire to its territory to increase.

An alliance of French and British troops landed in Varna in May 1854 and in Crimea in September. The goal should be the conquest of the naval fort of Sevastopol in order to force the Russian navy out of the area. Due to the poor supply and the bitter resistance of the Russian troops, the fortress could be conquered only after a year in September 1855. Although Napoleon then pushed even after a campaign on the Russian mainland, this plan was rejected by his generals, since the losses would be too great and the popular support dwindled by war. Napoleon called in and peace negotiations were begun in Paris. In these, the political fate of Napoleon, who saw himself as a mediator in the negotiations and in the other European powers also could isolate Austria politically in addition to the recognition of the monarchy in France showed.

In 1858, with the consent of Napoleon, a French expedition to Vietnam was attempted to urge the local government to recognize French rule, effectively turning Vietnam into a French colony.




Napoleon's work at the Italian unification:

On January 14, 1858, the Italian revolutionary Felice Orsini made an assassination attempt on Napoleon. This failed and at the subsequent trial it turned out that Orsini was a member of the Carbonari, which aims at the unification of Italy and in which Napoleon was also a member. He was impressed by Orsini and then sought on 20 July 1858 a conversation with the Prime Minister of the Kingdom of Sardinia-Piedmont Camillo Benso of Cavour to offer French support for the Italian settlement.

Cavour and Napoleon concluded after the conversation a secret pact, which provided for the military support of France in case of an attack of Austria.

Through provocative speeches by Napoleon and the later Italian King Victor Emanuel, Austria armed an army for a campaign, which in return gave France the opportunity to mobilize. When an Austrian ultimatum passed on 19 April 1859, the Italian unification war began from May to July 1859, which ended with the unification of northern Italy. For his support, France were subsequently awarded Savoy and the County of Nice.


Napoleon III. in der Schlacht von Solferino

Napoleon III. in the battle of Solferino




Foreign and domestic defeats:

From 1860 Napoleon changed his style of leadership in France. Initially dictatorial, it gave Parliament more rights, increased freedom of the press, and created unions.


Napoleon III., Gemälde von Alexandre Cabanel, um 1865

Napoleon III, painting by Alexandre Cabanel, c. 1865


His first foreign policy failure Napoleon learned with Mexico. In July 1861, the country decided not to settle its debts abroad, after which Spain, England and France sent troops to Mexico to collect the debts. However, as it became clear during the invasion that Napoleon not only wanted to collect his debts but wanted to occupy Mexico, England and Spain withdrew from the conflict. The French troops were subsequently defeated and the Emperor of Mexico Emperor of Mexico appointed by France from 1864 Maximilian I was executed in March 1867. This defeat led to further destabilization of the internal order in France.

Another defeat, albeit not militarily, Napoleon had to take in the Prussian-Austrian war. Napoleon negotiated a secret agreement with Austria, which was to establish areas of support in the Prussian Rhineland for independent, but under French control. Austria, however, lost the war against Prussia and thus France had to abandon these plans.

The plans for the annexation of Luxembourg for a French neutrality in case of war, which were presented before the Prussian-Austrian war Prussia, remained without result, as the public received the message and protest was loud. In 1867 France had to confirm the neutrality and independence of Luxembourg in the second London Treaty.

These political and military defeats in France led to a revival of the republican forces that wanted to depose Napoleon and reintroduce the republic.




The Franco-German War:

By a clever provocation by Otto von Bismarck, the so-called Ems Depesche, France declared war on Prussia in July 1870. Napoleon hoped for the neutrality of the southern German states and the support of the other major European powers. However, when the southern German states fulfilled their obligations with Prussia and moved against France on the Prussian side and the other European countries acted neutrally, Napoleon faced the Prussians alone.

The Prussian troops were from the beginning of great victories, so Napoleon joined in August 1870 without function of the newly formed army under the leadership of Marshal MacMahons, the direction of Metz marched to free the trapped French troops there. However, since the road was blocked by Prussian troops, the army had to swing. On September 1, 1870, the two armies clashed at Sedan, where Napoleon surrendered and capitulated his army.


Napoleon III. und Bismarck nach der Schlacht bei Sedan

Napoleon III. and Bismarck after the battle at Sedan




The end of life of Napoleon:

After his capitulation at Sedan Napoleon was sent as a prisoner of war to Kassel in the castle Wilhelmshöhe, where he stood until March 19, 1871 under arrest.

In France, he was deposed on 4 September by revolutionary forces, which then proclaimed the third French Republic.

After his release from captivity, Napoleon traveled to England in the present-day borough of London Borough of Bromley. There he planned in the spirit of his uncle Napoleon I, his return to France. But during the planning phase Napoleon had to be operated twice to remove bladder stones. On January 9, 1873, a third operation was to take place, but through the use of chloroform during the first operations, Napoleon suffered heart failure and he died on 9 January before his operation.

Napoleon was buried in the imperial crypt of St Michael's Abbey in Farnborough, Hampshire, England alongside his wife and son, Napoleon Eugène Louis Bonaparte.


Napoleon III. nach seinem Tod, Illustration aus der Illustrated London News vom 25. Januar 1873

Napoleon III. after his death, illustration from the Illustrated London News of January 25, 1873



St. Michael's Abbey






You can find the right literature here:


The Shadow Emperor: A Biography of Napoleon III

The Shadow Emperor: A Biography of Napoleon III Hardcover – May 29, 2018

A breakout biography of Louis-Napoleon III, whose controversial achievements have polarized historians.

Considered one of the pre-eminent Napoleon Bonaparte experts, Pulitzer Prize-nominated historian Alan Strauss-Schom has turned his sights on another in that dynasty, Napoleon III (Louis-Napoleon) overshadowed for too long by his more romanticized forebear.

In the first full biography of Napoleon III by an American historian, Strauss-Schom uses his years of primary source research to explore the major cultural, sociological, economical, financial, international, and militaristic long-lasting effects of France's most polarizing emperor. Louis-Napoleon’s achievements have been mixed and confusing, even to historians. He completely revolutionized the infrastructure of the state and the economy, but at the price of financial scandals of imperial proportions. In an age when “colonialism” was expanding, Louis-Napoleon’s colonial designs were both praised by the emperor’s party and the French military and resisted by the socialists.

He expanded the nation’s railways to match those of England; created major new transoceanic steamship lines and a new modern navy; introduced a whole new banking sector supported by seemingly unlimited venture capital, while also empowering powerful new state and private banks; and completely rebuilt the heart of Paris, street by street.

Napoleon III wanted to surpass the legacy of his famous uncle, Napoleon I. In The Shadow Emperor, Alan Strauss-Schom sets the record straight on Napoleon III's legacy.

Click here!



A Duel of Giants: Bismarck, Napoleon III, and the Origins of the Franco-Prussian War

A Duel of Giants: Bismarck, Napoleon III, and the Origins of the Franco-Prussian War Paperback – September 15, 2003

Combining impeccable scholarship and literary elegance, David Wetzel depicts the drama of machinations and passions that exploded in a war that forever changed the face of European history.

Click here!



Napoleon III: A Life

Napoleon III: A Life Hardcover – December 1, 1999

A biography of the French president turned emperor discusses his empire-building, his role in creating the Italian nation, his many public works projects, and his eventual defeat by the Prussians

Click here!






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