Line of succession to the French throne (Bonapartist)

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Coat of arms of the French Empire.

The line of succession to the throne of the French Empire was vested in the descendants and relations of Napoleon Bonaparte until the abolition of the Empire in 1870.

Origins of the French Empire[edit]

The French empire, commonly known as the French Empire or the Napoleonic Empire, consisted of two periods of French history, when the form of government was an empire and the head of state a monarch, i.c. an emperor.

The First French Empire, was the regime established by Napoleon I in France. This empire lasted from 1804 to 1814, from the Consulate of the First French Republic to the restoration of the Bourbon monarchy, and was briefly restored during the hundred days period in 1815.

The Second French Empire was the regime established in France by Napoleon III from 1852 to 1870, between the Second French Republic and the Third French Republic. Napoleon III was the third son of Louis Bonaparte, a younger brother of Napoleon I, and Hortense de Beauharnais, the daughter of Napoleon I's wife Josephine de Beauharnais by her first marriage. He was his nephew.

Bonapartism had its followers from 1815 forward among those who never accepted the defeat at Waterloo or the Congress of Vienna. Napoleon I's death in exile on Saint Helena in 1821 only transferred the allegiance of many of these persons to other members of the House of Bonaparte.

After the death of Napoleon I's son, known to Bonapartists as Napoleon II, there were several different members of the family in which the Bonapartist hopes rested.

The disturbances of 1848 gave this group hope. Bonapartists were essential in the election of Napoleon I's nephew Louis Napoleon Bonaparte as president of the Second French Republic, and gave him the political support necessary for his 1852 discarding of the constitution and proclaiming the Second French Empire, and himself, as Napoleon III, emperor.

In 1870, Napoleon III led France to a disastrous defeat at the hands of kingdom of Prussia in the Franco-Prussian War, and he subsequently abdicated.

Following the definite overthrow of the second Napoleonic empire, the third French republic was established. Bonapartism was slowly relegated to being the civic faith of a few romantics as more of a hobby than a practical political philosophy. The death knell for Bonapartism was probably sounded when Eugène Bonaparte, the only son of Napoleon III, was killed in action while serving as a British Army officer in Zululand in 1879. Thereafter Bonapartism ceased to be a political force.

Origins of the dynastical dispute[edit]

First Napoleonic law of succession[edit]

The law of succession Napoleon I established on becoming Emperor in 1804 provided that the legitimate heir to the imperial throne should pass firstly to Napoleon I's own legitimate male descendants through the male line.

The law of succession provided that if Napoleon I's own direct line died out, the claim passed first to his older brother Joseph Bonaparte and his legitimate male descendants through the male line, then to his younger brother Louis Bonaparte and his legitimate male descendants through the male line. His other brothers, Lucien Bonaparte and Jérôme Bonaparte, and their descendants, were omitted from the succession, even though Lucien was older than Louis, because they had either politically opposed the emperor or made marriages of which he disapproved.

Upon extinction of the legitimate natural and adopted males, agnatic descendants of Napoleon I, and those of two of his brothers, Joseph and Louis, the throne was to be awarded to a man selected by the non-dynastic princely and ducal dignitaries of the empire, as ratified by plebiscite.

At the time the law of succession was decreed Napoleon I had no legitimate sons, and it seemed unlikely he would have any due to the age of his wife, Josephine of Beauharnais. His eventual response was the unacceptable one, in the eyes of Catholic France, of engineering a dubious annulment, without papal approval, of his marriage to Josephine and undertaking a second marriage to the younger Mary Louise of Austria, with whom he had one son, Napoleon, King of Rome, also as Napoleon II and the Duke of Reichstadt. He was not married and had no children, thus leaving no further direct descendants of Napoleon I.

In the mean time, Napoleon I's older brother Joseph Bonaparte and first in line to succeed him, died on 28 July 1844 without ever having had a legitimate son, only daughters. The succession passed to Napoleon I's younger brother Louis Bonaparte. When the Empire was restored to power in France in 1852, the emperor was Napoleon III, Louis Bonaparte's only living legitimate son.

Second Napoleonic law of succession[edit]

In 1852, Napoleon III, having restored the Bonapartes to power in France, enacted a new decree on the succession. The claim first went to his own male legitimate descendants in the male line.

If his own direct line died out, the new decree allowed the claim to pass to Jérôme Bonaparte, Napoleon I's youngest brother who had previously been excluded, and his male descendants by Princess Catharina of Württemberg in the male line. His descendants by his original marriage to the American commoner Elizabeth Patterson, of which Napoleon I had greatly disapproved, were excluded.

The emperor, hitherto a bachelor, began quickly to look for a wife to produce a legitimate heir. Most of the royal families of Europe were unwilling to marry into the parvenu House of Bonaparte, and after several rebuffs, from Princess Carola of Sweden and from Princess Adelaide von Hohenlohe-Langenburg, Napoleon III decided to lower his sights somewhat and marry for love instead, choosing the young, beautiful countess of Teba, Eugénie de Montijo, a Spanish noblewoman with some Scottish ancestry who had been brought up in Paris.

In 1856, Eugénie gave birth to a legitimate son and heir, Napoleon Eugene Louis, the Prince Imperial, who succeeded his father as claimant in 1873. He died in 1879. Following the second law of succession, the Napoleopnic succession passed to the descendants of Jérôme Bonaparte and Catherina of Württemberg. All Bonapartist claimants since 1879 have been descendants of Jérôme Bonaparte in the male line.

Lines of succession[edit]

Prince Napoleon line of succession (from 1879 until today)[edit]

This branch of succession was established by Napoleon Joseph Charles Bonaparte, nicknamed Plon-plon. He was the only legitimate male descendant of Jérôme Bonaparte from his second marriage to Catherine of Wurttemberg. He died in 1891. His son, Victor, Prince Napoléon, the next claimant, died 1926.

He was succeeded by his son, Louis Jérôme Bonaparte, who died in 1997. He was succeeded by his son, Charles Mary Jerome Victor Napoleon Bonaparte. He married Beatrice of Bourbon-Two Sicilies in a civil ceremony not a religious one. His heir apparent is his son, Jean-Christophe Napoléon.

There are no remaining descendants in male line from any other of Napoleon's brothers, and no serious political movement that aims to restore any of these men to the imperial throne of France.

This branch of the House of Bonaparte has support from the majority of Bonapartists.

List of emperors and heirs[edit]

Princes of Canino line of succession (1846–1924)[edit]

The Princes of Canino was the senior line of the Bonaparte family following the death of Joseph Bonaparte in 1844, founded by one of Napoleon I's younger brothers, Lucien Bonaparte. It became extinct in the male line in 1924.

On 24 September 1806, Napoleon I's youngest brother, Jerome Bonaparte was made a French prince, along with the future issue of his second marriage to Catherine of Wurttemberg, and he and his heirs were added into the succession.

On 22 March 1815, during the hundred days restoration, Napoleon I also recognized his brother Lucien Bonaparte and his sons as imperial French princes. At no time, however, were Lucien and his issue recognized during the First Empire as eligible by law to inherit the French throne, or any other throne.

Lucien was given the noble title of Principe di Canino e Musignano (princes of Canino and Musignano). It was a papal title of nobility given to Lucien and his heirs male but was never legally recognized or incorporated in France.

Therefore, upon the death without issue in 1832 of Napoleon II, titular emperor, the claim to the Bonaparte crown of France devolved upon Joseph Napoleon. Following his death without sons in 1844, the imperial claim bypassed Lucien's sons and devolved upon Louis Napoleon, even though Louis had been younger than Lucien. His third son became Emperor Napoleon III in 1852.

The Second Empire's constitution recognized the dynasticity of all of Napoleon I's brothers and their issue, but allowed the emperor to choose the order in which they would inherit the throne in the event he died without male issue.

On 18 December 1852 the emperor appointed his only remaining uncle, Jerome Bonaparte, as heir presumptive, again bypassing the male line of Lucien.

Thus, despite being the senior Bonapartist line since 1844, at no time have the descendants of Lucien Bonaparte, Prince of Canino, or his issue been the heirs to the imperial throne of France under any law of either Empire.

The descendants in this senior-male line were:

At this point, the male line ended as there were no more male descendants.

This branch of the House of Bonaparte had support from the minority of Bonapartists.

See also[edit]

References[edit]