Pauline Bonaparte

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Pauline Bonaparte
Duchess of Guastalla
Princess consort of Sulmona and of Rossano
Princess of France
brown-haired lady sits on a red first empire style sofa wearing a golden empire silhouette.
Pauline Bonaparte, Princess Borghese, by Marie Guilhelmine Benoist, 1808
Duchess of Guastalla
Tenure 24 March 1806 - 14 August 1806[1]
Predecessor Ferdinand
Successor state annexed to the Kingdom of Italy
Husband Charles Leclerc (m. 1797)
Camillo Borghese, 6th Prince of Sulmona (m. 1803)
Dermide Leclerc
Full name
Maria Paola Bonaparte
Imperial House of Bonaparte
Father Carlo Buonaparte
Mother Letizia Ramolino
Born (1780-10-20)20 October 1780
Maison Bonaparte, Ajaccio, Corsica
Died 9 June 1825(1825-06-09) (aged 44)
Florence, Tuscany
Burial Saint Mary Major Basilica, Rome
Religion Roman Catholic

Pauline Bonaparte (20 October 1780 – 9 June 1825) was the first sovereign Duchess of Guastalla, an imperial French Princess and the Princess consort of Sulmona and Rossano. She was the sixth child of Letizia Ramolino and Carlo Buonaparte, Corsica's representative to the court of King Louis XVI of France. Her elder brother, Napoleon, was the first Emperor of the French. She married Charles Leclerc, a French general, a union ended by his death in 1802. Later, she married Camillo Borghese, 6th Prince of Sulmona. Her only child, Dermide Leclerc, born from her first marriage, died in infancy. She was the only Bonaparte sibling to visit Napoleon on his principality, Elba.

Early life[edit]

French Monarchy -
Bonaparte Dynasty
Grandes Armes Impériales (1804-1815)2.svg

Napoleon I
   Napoleon II
   Joseph, King of Spain
   Lucien, Prince of Canino
   Elisa, Grand Duchess of Tuscany
   Louis, King of Holland
   Pauline, Princess of Guastalla
   Caroline, Queen of Naples
   Jérôme, King of Westphalia
Nephews and nieces
   Princess Zénaïde
   Princess Charlotte
   Prince Charles Lucien
   Prince Louis Lucien
   Prince Pierre Napoléon
   Prince Napoléon Charles
   Prince Napoléon Louis
   Napoleon III
   Prince Jérôme Napoléon
   Prince Jérôme Napoléon Charles
   Prince Napoléon
   Princess Mathilde
Grandnephews and -nieces
   Prince Joseph
   Prince Lucien Cardinal Bonaparte
   Prince Roland
   Princess Jeanne
   Prince Jerome
   Prince Charles
   Napoléon (V) Victor
   Maria Letizia, Duchess of Aosta
Great Grandnephews and -nieces
   Princess Marie
   Princess Marie Clotilde
   Napoléon (VI) Louis
Great Great Grandnephews and -nieces
   Napoléon (VII) Charles
   Princess Catherine
   Princess Laure
   Prince Jérôme
Great Great Great Grandnephews and -nieces
   Princess Caroline
   Jean Christophe, Prince Napoléon
Napoleon II
Napoleon III
   Napoléon (IV), Prince Imperial

Maria Paola Buonaparte, the sixth child of Letizia Ramolino and Carlo Buonaparte, Corsica's representative to the court of King Louis XVI of France, was born on 20 October 1780 in Ajaccio, Corsica.[2] She was popularly known as "Paoletta", and her family soon took a French spelling of their surname, Bonaparte. Little is known about her childhood, bar the fact that she received no formal education.[3] Following Carlo's death in 1785, the family were plunged into poverty.[3]

Her brother Lucien Bonaparte made seditious comments at the local Jacobin chapter in the summer of 1793, forcing the family to flee to the mainland for their lives. It was there on the mainland that she became known as "Paulette". The earnings the Bonapartes heretofore extracted from their vineyards and other holdings on Corsica were interrupted by the English occupation.[4] Their existence became so dire that, according to hyperbole, the Bonaparte women resorted to washing clothes for payment.[5] Regardless, they received, like other Corsican refugees following the English invasion, a stipend from the government. From their landing place, Toulon, they moved to Marseille, where General Napoleon Bonaparte, her elder brother, introduced her to Louis-Marie Stanislas Fréron, the proconsul of Marseille.[6] He intended them to marry, but Letizia objected;[4] in his stead, Napoleon, despite that fact that she loved Stanislas, married Pauline to General Charles Leclerc in French-occupied Milan on 14 June 1797.[7] Napoleon returned to Paris and delegated the office of commander-in-chief of the French army in Italy to his brother-in-law.[8] Pauline was soon with child. She gave birth to a boy, Dermide Louis Napoleon, on 20 April 1798.[9] In celebration, General Leclerc acquired a property outside Novellara worth 160,000 French francs.[10] Ill-health forced Leclerc to resign from his military post in October of the same year; he was transferred to Paris. Leclerc was again relocated upon arrival, this time to Brittany. Pauline stayed behind in Paris with Dermide.[11] Laure de Permond—the future Duchesse d'Abrantès—and her mother welcomed Pauline into their salon at the rue Saint-Croix.[12] Napoleon seized power in Coup of Brumaire in November 1799, deposing the Directory, he pronounced himself First Consul.[13]


Saint-Domingue had been a French colony since 1697, and, as of late, had revolted against France. Napoleon willed to restore French authority there, and so organised an expedition. At its head, he put General Leclerc; appointing him Governor-General of the island.[14] Leclerc, Dermide, and Pauline embarked for the colony from Brest on 14 December 1801.[15] Leclerc's fleet totalled 74 ships.[15] The gubernatorial family occupied the flagship, l'Océan.[15] After a forty-five day journey, the fleet arrived in Le Cap harbour.[16] The Governor-General ordered the renegade, local General Christophe, who had at command a force of 5,000 soldiers, to resign Le Cap to French authority.[17] Leclerc, after all attempts at conciliation failed, attacked the town under cover of darkness. Christophe responded by razing Le Cap to the ground.[18] Pauline, meanwhile, was left aboard the flagship with their son. According to Leclerc, in a letter dated 5 March to Napoleon, "The disastrous events in the midst of which she [Pauline] found herself wore her down to the point of making her ill." [19] Leclerc succeeded in requisitioning the capitulation of the rebel leader, Toussaint L'ouverture, in May.[16]

However, celebrations were dampened by the advent of Yellow fever season. 25 generals and 25,000 soldiers were slain.[20] Leclerc had initially guaranteed that slavery, abolished by the Jacobin republic in 1794, would stay proscribed, however, the inhabitants caught wind of its re-establishment in another French-conlony, neighbouring Guadeloupe, in July.[21] The French government had in fact wiped slavery off the roster in May. As a result, the indigenous folk planned an insurrection for 16 September.[22] Black troops in Leclerc's army defected to their old commanders, and the Governor-General had a mere 2,000 men at hand against the rebels' 10,000.[23] Leclerc, dreading for Pauline's safety, gave express orders to Jacques de Norvin, a seargant, to bundle Pauline out of Saint-Domingue at a moment's notice.[24] Fortunately for the gubernatorial couple, these measures proved unfounded when Leclerc triumphed over the insurgents.

The climate was taking its toll on Pauline's health. She could no longer walk and was compelled to a "reclining position" for several hours a day.[25] Both she and Dermide suffered from spells of Yellow fever.[26] She did, however, find time to take numerous lovers, including several of her husband's soldiers, and developing a reputation for "Bacchanalian promiscuity."[1]

Leclerc attempted to coerce Pauline to Paris in August.[27] She consented, however, on one condition, "He [Leclerc] must give me 100,000 francs." When the Governor-General wasn't forthcoming with the sum, she elected to stay; commenting that unlike in Paris, "Here, I reign like Josephine [Napoleon's wife]; I hold first place."[28]

To occupy herself, she compiled a collection of local flora, and established a menagerie, inhabited by native animals.[28]

On 22 October 1802, Leclerc fell ill with yellow fever. Nevertheless, a doctor from the military hospital in Le Cap pronounced otherwise, a fever, "caused by the bodily and mental hardships that the general [Leclerc] had suffered." In fact, biographer Flora Fraser concludes that his symptoms were consistent with those of yellow fever.[29] On 1 November, he expired. Seven days later, Pauline, Dermide, and Leclerc's remains were hastily ferried back to mainland France.

Princess Borghese[edit]

Portrait by Kinson, 1808

Pauline reached the Bay of Toulon on 1 January 1803. The same day she expressed her despair, in the form of a dossier, to Napoleon, "I have brought with me the remains of my poor Leclerc. Pity poor Pauline, who is truly unhappy."[30]

On February 11, she arrived in the capital, where Napoleon made arrangements for her to lodge with their brother Joseph.[31] Firstly, the widow had to deal with Leclerc's perilous estate. Parisian rumour had it that she extracted gold and jewels from the indigenous peoples in Saint-Domingue and brought the treasure back in Leclerc's sarcophagus, but this was not the case.[32] She inherited 700,000 francs in both liquid capital and assets from Leclerc.[33] By no means was this considered a sizeable sum.[32]

Tiring of life with Joseph, Pauline went about acquiring Hôtel Charost from the eponymous duchess. She confided in Laure de Permont—Pauline and Laure had met at the latter's mother's salon in Paris—that she "was bored" with the code of mourning outlined in the First Consul's civil code, compelling her to withdraw from the yoke of Parisian society, which, before her jaunt to Saint-Domingue, had had her at its centre.[34] Napoleon did not wish her to remain without a husband for an extended period of time; he tried—but failed—to recruit the incumbent Duke of Lodi and Vice-President of the Napoleonic Republic of Italy, Francesco Melzi d'Eril, for this purpose.[34] It took Pope Pius VII's envoy, Giovanni Battista Caprara, to highlight her eventual husband, Camillo Borghese, 6th Prince of Sulmona, a Roman noble.[35] The First Consul believed the union would consolidate ties with French-occupied Italy, where animosity toward the aggressor was rife.[36] That, combined with her brothers Joseph and Lucien's concurring sentiments, induced her to marry him. The marriage contract brought Camillo a dowry of 500,000 francs; and Pauline, 300,000 francs worth of jewelry and the use of the Borghese family diamonds.[37] On 28 August 1803, they were married by Capara—without the knowledge of Napoleon, who willed a November wedding for mourning protocol's sake. Upon discovering Pauline's deceit, he rebuked her with, "Please understand, Madame, that there is no princess [a snub to Pauline's newly assumed princely status through her August marriage] where I am." Another ceremony, this time civil, in November confirmed that of August. The marriage, however, did nothing to dampen Pauline's sexual adventures, including an affair with the violinist Niccolò Paganini.[2]

Camillo, Pauline, and Dermide arrived in Rome on 14 November. Pauline, anxious to learn how to behave in Roman society, received tutorship in deportment and dancing.[38] Biographer William Carlton expounds that Pauline—a commoner from Corsica—would never have made such an advantageous match if it weren't for Napoleon's political eminence.[39] Pauline's initial amity towards Camillo soon morphed into dislike.[40] Her son Dermide, always a delicate child, died on 14 August 1804 in the Aldobrandini villa in Frascati, after a violent fever and convulsions. Three years later, in 1807, his remains were moved next to his father in the park grounds of the Château de Montgobert.[41]

After Napoleon's fall[edit]

In 1806, Napoleon made his sister sovereign Princess and Duchess of Guastalla; however, she soon sold the duchy to Parma for six million francs, and keeping only the title of Princess of Guastalla. Pauline fell into temporary disfavour with her brother because of her hostility to his second wife, Empress Marie Louise, but when Napoleon's fortune failed, Pauline showed herself more loyal than any of his other sisters and brothers.

Upon Napoleon's fall, Pauline liquidated all of her assets and moved to Elba, using that money to better Napoleon's condition. She was the only Bonaparte sibling to visit her brother during his exile on Elba.

After Waterloo Pauline moved to Rome, where she enjoyed the protection of Pope Pius VII (who once was her brother's prisoner), as did her mother, Letizia, (then at a palace on the Piazza Venezia) and other members of the Bonaparte family. Pauline lived in a villa near the Porta Pia that was called Villa Paolina after her and decorated in the Egyptomania style she favoured. Her husband, Camillo, moved to Florence to distance himself from her and had a ten-year relationship with a mistress, but even so Pauline persuaded the Pope to convince the prince to return to her only three months before her death from pulmonary tuberculosis in the couple's Palazzo Borghese.[42][43]


See also[edit]


  1. ^ Carlton, p 151
  2. ^ Fraser, Flora: Venus of Empire: The Life of Pauline Bonaparte, John Murray, London, 2009, ISBN 978-0-7195-6110-8, p 4
  3. ^ a b Fraser, p 5
  4. ^ a b Fraser, p 9
  5. ^ Fraser, p 10
  6. ^ Fraser, p 7
  7. ^ Fraser, p 25
  8. ^ Fraser, p 27
  9. ^ Fraser, p 28
  10. ^ Fraser, p 29
  11. ^ Fraser, p 30
  12. ^ Fraser, p 34
  13. ^ Fraser, p 41
  14. ^ Carlton, W.N.C.: Pauline: Favourite Sister of Napoleon, Thornton Butterworth, 1931, London (pre-dates use of ISBN), p 66
  15. ^ a b c Carlton, p 71
  16. ^ a b Carlton, p 73
  17. ^ Fraser, p 61
  18. ^ Fraser, p 62
  19. ^ Fraser, p 63
  20. ^ Carlton, pp. 73 - 74
  21. ^ Carlton, p 74
  22. ^ Fraser, p 79
  23. ^ Fraser, pp. 79 - 80
  24. ^ Carlton, p 77
  25. ^ Carlton, p 84
  26. ^ Fraser, p 75
  27. ^ Fraser, pp. 77 - 78
  28. ^ a b Carlton, p 76
  29. ^ Fraser, p 83
  30. ^ Carlton, p 83
  31. ^ Carlton, pp. 83 - 84
  32. ^ a b Carlton, p 86
  33. ^ Fraser, p 90
  34. ^ a b Fraser, p 91
  35. ^ Carlton, 99
  36. ^ Carlton, p 100
  37. ^ Fraser, pp. 96 - 97
  38. ^ Carlton, p 113
  39. ^ Carlton, p 106
  40. ^ Fraser, p 102
  41. ^ Napoleon, Prisonnier - Les militaires: Leclerc (in French) [retrieved 10 July 2013].
  42. ^ Majanlahti, Anthony (2005). The Families Who Made Rome. London: Chatto & Windus. ISBN 0-7011-7687-3. , page 180-1
  43. ^


  • Fraser, Flora: Venus of Empire: The Life of Pauline Bonaparte, John Murray, 2009, London, ISBN 978-0-7195-6110-8,
  • Carlton, W.N.C.: Pauline: Favourite Sister of Napoleon, Thornton Butterworth, 1931, London (pre-dates use of ISBN)

Titles and succession[edit]

Pauline Bonaparte
Born: 13 June 1673 Died: 15 October 1741
Regnal titles
Preceded by
Duchess of Guastalla
Succeeded by
sold to the Kingdom of Italy

title next borne by Marie Louise of Austria (1814)

French nobility
Preceded by
title created
Princess of Guastalla
1806 - 1825
Succeeded by
Italian royalty
Preceded by
Anna Maria Salviati
Princess of Sulmona and Rossano
1803 - 1825
Succeeded by
Adèle, Countess of La Rochefoucauld

External links[edit]