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LeaderAdolphe Billault
Charles de Morny
Émile Ollivier
Adolphe Vuitry
Eugène Rouher
Napoléon-Jérôme Bonaparte
Georges-Eugène Haussmann
Founded1815; 204 years ago (1815)
Dissolved1889; 130 years ago (1889)
Political positionCenter-right
Colours     Blue (early)
     Green (later)

A Bonapartiste was a person who either actively participated in or advocated conservative, monarchist and imperial political faction in 19th century France.

The Bonapartistes desired an empire under the House of Bonaparte, the Corsican family of Napoleon Bonaparte (Napoleon I of France) and his nephew Louis (Napoleon III of France).[1]

The honey bee, revived as a prominent political symbol in the empire of Napoleon I to represent the virtues of the Bonapartist bureaucratic and political system, was also adopted by the Bonapartistes.


Eugène Rouher (1814–1884), French politician and President of the Senate during the Second French Empire, was the leader of the Bonapartiste faction after 1871

Bonapartism had its followers from 1815 forward among those who never accepted the defeat of Napoleon and France at Waterloo or the Congress of Vienna. With Napoleon I's death in exile on Saint Helena in 1821, many of these persons transferred their allegiance to other members of his family. After the death of Napoleon's son, the Duke of Reichstadt (known to Bonapartists as Napoleon II), Bonapartist hopes were distributed among several different members of the family.

The disturbances of 1848 encouraged this group. Bonapartists played an essential role in the election of Napoleon I's nephew Louis Napoleon Bonaparte as President of the Second Republic. They gave him the necessary political support when he discarded the constitution in 1852 and proclaimed the Second Empire. Louis Napoleon Bonaparte assumed the title Napoleon III, thereby acknowledging the brief reign of Napoleon's son Napoleon II in 1815 at the end of the Hundred Days.

In 1870, Napoleon III led France to a disastrous defeat by Prussia in the Franco-Prussian War and he subsequently abdicated. Afterwards, Bonapartists continued to agitate for another member of the family to be placed on the throne of France. However, from 1871 forward they competed with monarchist groups that favoured the restoration of the family of Louis-Philippe, King of the French (1830–1848) (the Orléanists) and also with those who favoured the restoration of the House of Bourbon, the traditional French royal family (Legitimists). The three monarchist factions combined were likely stronger than the Republicans of the era, but they could never unite on supporting one candidate as monarch. Monarchist fervor eventually waned and the French Republic became accepted as part of French life. Bonapartism gradually became a kind of civic faith of a few romantics rather than any sort of practical political philosophy. When Eugene Bonaparte, the only son of Napoleon III, was killed in action while serving as a British Army officer in Zululand in 1879, Bonapartism ceased to be a political force.

The current head of the family is Prince Napoleon (Charles Marie Jérôme Victor Napoléon Bonaparte, born 1950), great-great-grandson of Napoleon I's brother Jérôme Bonaparte by his second marriage. He has a son named Jean (born 1986) and a brother called Jérôme (born 1957). There are no remaining descendants in the male line from any other of Napoleon's brothers and no serious political movement exists with the goal of restoring any of these men to the imperial throne of France.

Bonapartist claimants[edit]

The Law of Succession that Napoleon I established on becoming Emperor in 1804 provided that the Bonapartist claim to the throne should pass firstly to Napoleon's own legitimate male descendants through the male line. At that time, he had no legitimate sons and it seemed unlikely he would have any due to the age of his wife Joséphine. To Catholic eyes, his eventual response was unacceptable since he engineered a dubious annulment without papal approval of his marriage to Josephine, undertaking a second marriage to the younger Marie Louise, with whom he had one son. The law of succession provided that if Napoleon's own direct line died out, the claim passed first to his older brother Joseph and his legitimate male descendants through the male line then to his younger brother Louis and his legitimate male descendants through the male line. His other brothers Lucien and Jérôme and their descendants were omitted from the succession (even though Lucien was older than Louis) because they had politically opposed the Emperor or because he disapproved of their marriages. Napoleon had one son with Marie Louise, in whose favour he abdicated after his final defeat in 1815. Although the Bonapartes were now deposed and the old Bourbon monarchy was restored, Bonapartists recognized this child as Napoleon II. However, he was sickly, virtually imprisoned in Austria and died young and unmarried, so there were no further direct descendants of Napoleon I. When the Bonaparte Empire was restored to power in France in 1852, the Emperor was Napoleon III, Louis Bonaparte's only living legitimate son (Joseph having died in 1844 without having had a legitimate son, only daughters).

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 (though at that time he had none, he would later have one legitimate son Eugene Bonaparte, who would be recognized by Bonapartists as Napoleon IV before dying young and unmarried). If his own line died out, the new decree allowed the claim to pass to Jérôme, Napoleon's youngest brother, who had previously been excluded and his male descendants by Princess Catharina of Württemberg in the male line, but not his descendants by his original marriage to the American commoner Elizabeth Patterson, of whom Napoleon I had greatly disapproved. The only remaining Bonapartist claimants since 1879 have been the descendants of Jérôme and Catherine of Württemberg in the male line.

List of Bonapartist claimants to the French throne since 1814[edit]

Those who ruled are indicated with an asterisk.

Claimant Portrait Birth Marriages Death
Napoleon I*
Jacques-Louis David - The Emperor Napoleon in His Study at the Tuileries - Google Art Project.jpg 15 August 1769, Ajaccio
Son of Carlo Buonaparte
and Letizia Ramolino
Joséphine de Beauharnais
9 March 1796
No children
Marie Louise, Duchess of Parma
11 March 1810
1 child
5 May 1821
Longwood, Saint Helena
Aged 51
Napoleon II*
80 Napoleon II.jpg 20 March 1811, Paris
Son of Napoleon I
and Marie Louise, Duchess of Parma
Never married 22 July 1832
Aged 21
Joseph Bonaparte
(Joseph I)
King Joseph I of Spain.jpg 7 January 1768, Corte
Son of Carlo Buonaparte
and Letizia Ramolino
Julie Clary
1 August 1794
2 children
28 July 1844
Aged 76
Louis Bonaparte
(Louis I)
LouisBonaparte Holland.jpg 2 September 1778, Ajaccio
Son of Carlo Buonaparte
and Letizia Ramolino
Hortense de Beauharnais
4 January 1802
3 children
25 July 1846
Aged 67
Napoleon III*
President of France (1848–1852)
Emperor of the French (1852–1870)
Alexandre Cabanel 002.jpg 20 April 1808, Paris
Son of Louis Bonaparte
and Hortense de Beauharnais
Eugénie de Montijo
30 January 1853
1 child
9 January 1873
Aged 64
Napoléon, Prince Imperial
(Napoléon IV)
Prince Impérial, 1878, Londres, BNF Gallica.jpg 16 March 1856, Paris
Son of Napoleon III
and Eugénie de Montijo
Never married 1 June 1879
Zulu Kingdom
Aged 23
Victor, Prince Napoléon
(Napoléon V)
Victor Napoleon.jpg 18 July 1862, Palais-Royal
Son of Prince Napoléon Bonaparte
and Princess Maria Clotilde of Savoy
Princess Clémentine of Belgium
10/14 November 1910
2 children
3 May 1926
Aged 63
Louis, Prince Napoléon
(Napoléon VI)
Napoleon vi.jpg 23 January 1914, Brussels
Son of Victor, Prince Napoléon
and Princess Clémentine of Belgium
Alix, Princess Napoléon
16 August 1949
4 children
3 May 1997
Aged 83
Charles, Prince Napoléon
(Napoléon VII)
19 October 1950, Boulogne-Billancourt
Son of Louis, Prince Napoléon
and Alix, Princess Napoléon
Princess Béatrice of Bourbon-Two Sicilies
19 December 1978
2 children
Jeanne-Françoise Valliccioni
28 September 1996
1 child (adopted)
Jean-Christophe, Prince Napoléon
(Napoléon VIII)
Prince Napoléon.JPG 11 July 1986, Saint-Raphaël, Var
Son of Charles, Prince Napoléon
and Princess Béatrice of Bourbon-Two Sicilies

The following are the list of Bonapartist claimants to the imperial throne.

  • Napoleon I of France ruled from 1804 to 1815, abdicated in 1815 and died 1821.
  • Napoleon, Duke of Reichstadt, son of Napoleon I, styled Napoleon II by Bonapartists. Briefly reigned as Emperor in France for a fortnight in June–July 1815 after his father's abdication following the defeat at Waterloo. After the deposition and exile of the Bonaparte family in July 1815, or at least from Napoleon I's death in 1821, he was Bonapartist claimant to the throne until 1832. He died in 1832 unmarried and with no children.
  • Joseph Bonaparte, Napoleon I's oldest brother, former King of Spain and claimant from 1832 to 1844. He died in 1844 with two daughters, but no legitimate male children.
  • Louis Bonaparte, Napoleon I's second youngest brother, former King of Holland and claimant from 1844 to 1846. He died in 1846.
  • Louis Napoleon Bonaparte, the only living legitimate child of Louis Bonaparte (though some have questioned whether he was Louis' biological son—his mother Hortense was notorious for her infidelity). He was President of France from 1849 to 1852 and under the name Napoleon III ruled as Emperor from 1852 to 1870. He was claimant from 1846 to 1873. when he died,
  • Napoléon Eugène, Prince Imperial, the only legitimate child of Napoleon III. He was claimant from 1873 to 1879. Styled Napoleon IV by his supporters, he died in 1879 unmarried and with no children.
  • Napoléon Joseph Charles Paul Bonaparte, nicknamed Plon-plon, the only male child of Jérôme Bonaparte, Napoleon I's youngest brother, with Catharina of Württemberg (though Jerome had had another son earlier with Elizabeth Patterson). He was claimant from 1879 to 1891, but Eugene Bonaparte's will excluded him from the succession in favour of his son Napoleron Victor, leading to fierce disputes among the increasingly irrelevant Bonapartist circle. He died in 1891.
  • Napoléon Victor Jérôme Frédéric Bonaparte, eldest son of Plon-plon and claimant from 1879 to 1926 (though many Bonapartists preferred his younger brother Louis). Until his father's death in 1891, he and his father both claimed the throne. He died in 1926.
  • Louis Jerome Victor Emmanuel Leopold Marie Bonaparte, son of Napoleon Victor and claimant from 1926 to 1997. He died in 1997.
  • Charles Marie Jérôme Victor Napoléon Bonaparte, the son of Napoleon Louis and claimant since 1997.

Electoral results[edit]

Election year No. of
overall votes
% of
overall vote
No. of
overall seats won
+/– Leader
Chamber of Representatives
May 1815 Unknown (2nd) Unknown
80 / 630
Chamber of Deputies
18151849 Did not participate Did not participate
0 / 400
Decrease 80
1852 5,218,602 (1st) 86.5
253 / 263
Increase 253
Adolphe Billault
1857 5,471,000 (1st) 89.1
276 / 283
Increase 23
Charles de Morny
1863 5,355,000 (1st) 74.2
251 / 283
Decrease 25
Charles de Morny
1869 4,455,000 (1st) 55.0
212 / 283
Decrease 39
Émile Ollivier/Adolphe Vuitry
National Assembly
1871 Unknown (5th) 3.1
20 / 630
Decrease 192
1876 1,056,517 (3rd) 14.3
76 / 533
Increase 76
Napoléon-Jérôme Bonaparte
Chamber of Deputies
1877 1,617,464 (2nd) 20.0
104 / 521
Increase 28
Georges-Eugène Haussmann
1881 610,422 (3rd) 8.7
46 / 545
Decrease 58
Georges-Eugène Haussmann
1885 888,104 (4th) 11.2
65 / 584
Increase 19
1889 715,804 (5th) 9.0
52 / 578
Decrease 13

Bonapartist as a Marxist epithet[edit]

Karl Marx was a student of Jacobinism and the French Revolution as well as a contemporary critic of the Second Republic and Second Empire. He used the term Bonapartism to refer to a situation in which counterrevolutionary military officers seize power from revolutionaries and then use selective reformism to co-opt the radicalism of the popular classes. In the process, Marx argued, Bonapartists preserve and mask the power of a narrow ruling class. He saw Napoleon I and Napoleon III as having both corrupted revolutions in France in this way. Marx offered this definition of and analysis of Bonapartism in The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Napoleon, written in 1852. In this document, he drew attention to what he called the phenomenon's repetitive history with one of his most quoted lines: "Hegel remarks somewhere that all facts and personages of great importance in world history occur, as it were, twice. He forgot to add: the first time as tragedy, the second as farce".[2]

For Marx, a Bonapartist regime appears to have great power, but only because there is no class with enough confidence or power to firmly establish its authority in its own name, so a leader who appears to stand above the struggle can take the mantle of power. It is an inherently unstable situation, where the apparently all-powerful leader is swept aside once the struggle is resolved one way or the other.

The term was used by Leon Trotsky to refer to Joseph Stalin's regime, which Trotsky believed was balanced between the proletariat, victorious, but shattered by war; and the bourgeoisie, broken by the Russian Revolution, but struggling to re-emerge. However, the failure of Stalin's regime to disintegrate under the shock of World War II and indeed its expansion into Eastern Europe, challenged this analysis. Many Trotskyists thus rejected the idea that Stalin's regime was Bonapartist and some went further—notably Tony Cliff, who described such regimes as state capitalist and not workers' states at all.

Some modern-day Trotskyists and others on the left use the phrase left Bonapartist more loosely to describe those like Stalin and Mao Zedong who control left-wing or populist authoritarian regimes.

Bonapartism and the French right[edit]

According to historian René Rémond's 1954 book Les Droites en France, Bonapartism constitutes one of the three French right-wing families or political groupings. It is the latest one and developed after Legitimism and Orléanist. According to him, both Boulangisme and Gaullism are considered to be forms of Bonapartism. However, this has been consistently disputed by Bonapartists and by many other historians. Notable examples of the latter include Vincent Cronin, who referred to Napoleonic government as "middle-of-the-road",[3] André Castelot in his Bonaparte, for whom being above and outside of party struggles was the founding principle of Bonapartism[4] and Louis Madelin, who describes Napoleon's role in French history as being the great reconciler after the divides and wounds of the French Revolution (conclusion to Histoire du Consulat et de l'Empire).

In their own time, both Napoleon I and Napoleon III refused to be classed as either leftist or rightist, arguing that to claim to govern a country in the name of a faction meant acting against the national interest and one day succumbing to its influence. In Des Idées Napoléoniennes (On Napoleonic Ideas), published in 1839, the future Napoleon III quoted his uncle's words to the Council of State on this subject, ending with the following explanation:

"You see, this is why I have composed my Council of State of constituants who were called Moderates or Feuillants, like Defermon, Roederer, Regnier, Regnault; of royalists like Devaines and Dufresnes ; lastly of jacobins like Brune, Réal and Berlier. I like honest people of all parties". Prompt to reward recent services, as to shed luster all the great memories, Napoleon has placed in the Hôtel des Invalides, next to the statues of Hoche, of Joubert, of Marceau, of Dugommier, of Dampierre, the statue of Condé, the ashes of Turenne, and the heart of Vauban. He revives, in Orleans, the memory of Joan of Arc, in Beauvais that of Jeanne Hachette [...] Always faithful to principles of conciliation, the Emperor, during the course of his reign, gives a pension to the sister of Robespierre, as he does to the mother of the Duke of Orleans.

— Chapter III, p. 31

Today, an official Mouvement Bonapartiste based in France exists, headed by Paul-Napoléon Calland with an unknown number of members around the world. Its official mission statement is as follows:

[T]o defend, make known and to spread the principles and values of Bonapartism. [The movement] is based on popular support for a policy of recovery combining the efforts of individuals, associations and State services. The movement defends the Bonapartist principles on which it is founded, and which govern its internal organisation. It also defends the memory of Napoleon the Great, as well as those of Napoleon III and their sons, Napoleon II and Napoleon IV. It recognises Napoleon IV as having reigned without governing, by virtue of the plebiscite of May 1870. The movement recognises no emperor after 1879, because of the absence of a plebiscite. Republican, it gives priority to the happiness, interest and glory of peoples, and envisages the restoration of the Empire only if the foundations of the regime are republican and approved by referendum.

Other Bonapartists[edit]

In 1976, when the dictator Jean-Bédel Bokassa, a great admirer of Napoleon, made himself Emperor Bokassa I of Central Africa, he declared that the ideology of his regime was Bonapartism and added golden bees to his imperial standard.

Raymond Hinnebusch has characterized Hafez al-Assad's regime in Syria as Bonapartist.


  1. ^ Hanotaux, Gabriel (1907). Contemporary France. Books for Libraries Press. p. 460.
  2. ^ Marx, Karl (1963). The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte. New York: International Publishers. p. 15. ISBN 0-7178-0056-3.
  3. ^ Croin, Vincent (1994 ed.). Napoleon. HarperCollins. ch. 15. p. 229.
  4. ^ Castelot, André (ed. 1967). Perrin. ch. VIII. p. 240.

Bluche, Frédéric (1980). Le bonapartisme: aux origines de la droite autoritaire (1800-1850). Nouvelles Editions Latines. ISBN 978-2-7233-0104-6.