Emperor of the French

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Emperor of the French
Empereur des Français
Last to Reign
Napoleon III

2 December 1852 – 4 September 1870
StyleHis Imperial Majesty
First monarchNapoleon I
Last monarchNapoleon III
Formation18 May 1804
2 December 1852
Abolition22 June 1815
4 September 1870
ResidenceTuileries Palace, Elysée-Napoléon, Paris
Pretender(s)Jean-Christophe Napoléon

Emperor of the French (French: Empereur des Français) was the title of the monarch and supreme ruler of the First and the Second French Empires.


"The Four Napoleons", 1858 propaganda image depicting Napoleon I, Napoleon II, Napoleon III, and Louis-Napoléon

A title and office[clarification needed] used by the House of Bonaparte starting when Napoleon Bonaparte was proclaimed Emperor on 18 May 1804 by the Senate and was crowned Emperor of the French on 2 December 1804 at the cathedral of Notre-Dame de Paris, in Paris, with the Crown of Napoleon.[1]

The title emphasised that the emperor ruled over "the French people" (the nation) and not over France (the state). The old formula of "King of France" indicated that the king owned France as a personal possession. The new term indicated a constitutional monarchy.[2] The title was purposely created to preserve the appearance of the French Republic and to show that after the French Revolution, the feudal system was abandoned and a nation state was created, with equal citizens as the subjects of their emperor. (After 1 January 1809, the state was officially referred to as the French Empire.[3])

The title of "Emperor of the French" was supposed to demonstrate that Napoleon's coronation was not a restoration of the monarchy, but an introduction of a new political system: the French Empire. Napoleon's reign lasted until 22 June 1815, when he was defeated at the Battle of Waterloo, exiled, and imprisoned on the island of Saint Helena, where he died on 5 May 1821. His reign was interrupted by the Bourbon Restoration of 1814 and his exile to Elba, from where he escaped less than a year later to reclaim the throne, reigning as Emperor for another 111 days before his final defeat and exile.

Taking the title "emperor" also emphasised that the will of the citizens of France was equal in sovereignty to anyone's, and especially to what had been until this time the highest sovereignty in the western world: the (Holy) Roman Emperor derived from the ancient Roman Emperors, and whose sovereignty stemmed from God, as indicated by his coronation by the Pope.

Less than a year after the 1851 French coup d'état by Napoleon's nephew Louis-Napoléon Bonaparte, which ended in the successful dissolution of the French National Assembly, the French Second Republic was transformed into the Second French Empire, established by a referendum on 7 November 1852. President Bonaparte, elected by the French people, officially became Napoleon III, Emperor of the French, from the symbolic and historic date of 2 December 1852. His rule would de facto end on July 28, 1870 - the power of the head of state was transferred to his wife Eugenie de Montijo who would rule as empress regent of France while Napoleon III left with his army. His reign would nominally continue until 4 September 1870, as he was officially deposed after his defeat and capture at the Battle of Sedan during the Franco-Prussian War. In March of 1871 he would be released from Prussian custody and exiled to the United Kingdom, where he died on 9 January 1873.

Since the death of Napoleon III's only son, Louis-Napoléon in 1879, the House of Bonaparte has had a number of claimants to the French throne. The current claimant is Charles, Prince Napoléon, who became head of the House of Bonaparte on 3 May 1997. His position is challenged by his son, Jean-Christophe, Prince Napoléon, who was named as heir in his late grandfather's testament.


Among the honours Napoleon I instituted or received were:

List of emperors[edit]

First French Empire[edit]

NameLifespanReign startReign endNotesFamilyImage
Napoleon I
  • the Great
(1769-08-15)15 August 1769 – 5 May 1821(1821-05-05) (aged 51)18 May 180411 April 1814BonaparteNapoleon I of France

Hundred Days[edit]

Regarded as a continuation of the First French Empire despite the brief exile of the Emperor Napoleon I

NameLifespanReign startReign endNotesFamilyImage
Napoleon I
  • the Great
(1769-08-15)15 August 1769 – 5 May 1821(1821-05-05) (aged 51)20 March 181522 June 1815BonaparteNapoleon I of France
Napoleon II
  • the Eaglet
(1811-03-20)20 March 1811 – 22 July 1832(1832-07-22) (aged 21)22 June 18157 July 1815Son of Napoleon IBonaparteNapoleon II of France

Second French Empire[edit]

NameLifespanReign startReign endNotesFamilyImage
Napoleon III(1808-04-20)20 April 1808 – 9 January 1873(1873-01-09) (aged 64)2 December 18524 September 1870Nephew of Napoleon I
Cousin of Napoleon II
BonaparteNapoleon III of France

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Thierry, Lentz. "The Proclamation of Empire by the Sénat Conservateur". napoleon.org. Fondation Napoléon. Retrieved 15 August 2014.
  2. ^ Philip Dwyer, Citizen Emperor: Napoleon in Power (2013) p 129
  3. ^ "Decree upon the Term, French Republic". napoleon-series.org.
  4. ^ "A Szent István Rend tagjai" Archived 22 December 2010 at the Wayback Machine
  5. ^ Hof- und Staatshandbuch des Königreichs Bayern: 1812. Landesamt. 1812. p. 27.
  6. ^ J ..... -H ..... -Fr ..... Berlien (1846). Der Elephanten-Orden und seine Ritter. Berling. pp. 122–124.
  7. ^ Bragança, Jose Vicente de (2011). "A Evolução da Banda das Três Ordens Militares (1789–1826)" [The Evolution of the Band of the Three Military Orders (1789–1826)]. Lusíada História (in Portuguese). 2 (8): 272. ISSN 0873-1330.
  8. ^ Liste der Ritter des Königlich Preußischen Hohen Ordens vom Schwarzen Adler (1851), "Von Seiner Majestät dem Könige Friedrich Wilhelm III. ernannte Ritter" p. 15
  9. ^ Sergey Semenovich Levin (2003). "Lists of Knights and Ladies". Order of the Holy Apostle Andrew the First-called (1699–1917). Order of the Holy Great Martyr Catherine (1714–1917). Moscow.{{cite book}}: CS1 maint: location missing publisher (link)
  10. ^ "Caballeros Existentes en la Insignie Orden del Toyson de Oro", Calendario manual y guía de forasteros en Madrid (in Spanish): 41, 1806, retrieved 17 March 2020
  11. ^ Per Nordenvall (1998). "Kungl. Maj:ts Orden". Kungliga Serafimerorden: 1748–1998 (in Swedish). Stockholm. ISBN 91-630-6744-7.{{cite book}}: CS1 maint: location missing publisher (link)
  12. ^ From 22 June to 7 July 1815, Bonapartists considered Napoleon II as the legitimate heir to the throne, his father having abdicated in his favor. However, the young child's reign was entirely fictional, as he was residing in Austria with his mother. Louis XVIII was reinstalled as king on 7 July.