Letizia Ramolino

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Letizia Ramolino
Mother of His Imperial Majesty The Emperor
Robert Lefèvre 001.jpg
Letizia Ramolino by Robert Lefèvre, 1813
Born24 August 1750
Ajaccio, Corsica, Republic of Genoa
Died2 February 1836(1836-02-02) (aged 85)
Rome, Papal States
Imperial Chapel, Ajaccio, France
Carlo Buonaparte
(m. 1764; died 1785)
IssueJoseph, King of Spain
Napoleon I, Emperor of the French
Lucien, 1st Prince of Canino and Musignano
Elisa, Grand Duchess of Tuscany
Louis I, King of Holland
Pauline, Princess and Duchess of Guastalla
Caroline, Queen of Naples
Jérôme, King of Westphalia
Full name
Maria Letizia Buonaparte née Ramolino
FatherGiovanni Geronimo Ramolino
MotherAngela Maria Pietrasanta
ReligionRoman Catholicism

Nob. Maria Letizia Buonaparte née Ramolino[1] (Marie-Lætitia Ramolino, Madame Mère de l'Empereur) (24 August 1750 – 2 February 1836) was an Italian noblewoman, mother of Napoleon I of France.


She was born in Ajaccio, Corsica, Republic of Genoa, the daughter of Nobile Giovanni Geronimo Ramolino (13 April 1723 – 1755), Captain of Corsican Regiments of Chivalry and Infantry in the Army of the Republic of Genoa, and his wife Nobile Angela Maria Pietrasanta (circa 1725–1790). The distant cousins of the Ramolinos were a low rank of nobility in the Republic of Genoa.

Like most such girls in the 18th century, Letizia was educated at home. After the death of her father, her mother remarried the Swiss-born naval officer Franz Fesch, a captain in the service of the Republic of Genoa stationed on Corsica, and gave birth to two children, among them her half-brother Joseph Fesch.


On 2/7 June 1764, when she was thirteen, Letizia married the trainee attorney Carlo Buonaparte, himself only seventeen, at Ajaccio. First pregnant a few months later, she went on to give birth to thirteen children, eight of whom survived infancy,[2] and most of whom were created monarchs by Napoleon.

Deathbed portrait of Maria Letizia Bonaparte.

Letizia and her husband Carlo befriended the island's governor, Charles Louis de Marbeuf and the intendant, Bertrand de Boucheporn whose wife was the godmother of their son Louis (1778), the future king of Holland. These friendships might have helped to have Napoleon admitted to the Brienne cadet school (1779). [3]

She was described as a harsh mother, and had a very down-to-earth view of most things. When most European mothers bathed children perhaps once a month, she had her children bathed every other day. Letizia spoke Italian and Corsican, and never learned French.

In 1785, when she was 35, her husband died of cancer. In 1793, she left Corsica and resettled with her children in Marseilles in France, where her son Napoleon had a successful military career and eventually took power.

Described as frugal and with simple tastes, she did not approve of her son's marriage to the extravagant Josephine de Beauharnais in 1796.

Reign of Napoleon[edit]

In 1804, her son Napoleon declared himself Emperor. Despite being depicted in the famous painting of the coronation of Napoleon by David, she did not attend her son's coronation. By decree, she was decreed "Madam, the Mother of His Imperial Majesty The Emperor" (Madame Mère de l'Empereur), Imperial Highness, on 18 May 1804 or 23 March 1805. Napoleon paid her 25,000 francs a month.[4]

She did not attend the Imperial court and normally lived at the Chateau de Pont-sur-Seine, residing at the Hotel de Brienne on the rare occasions when she did visit Paris.

In 1814, she shared Napoleon's exile in Elba, where he treated her fondly.[5]

Later life[edit]

After 1815 she moved to Rome, in Palazzo D'Aste-Bonaparte in piazza Venezia, where she lived out her days with her younger brother Joseph Fesch. During her years in Rome, she rarely saw any other family members than her brother, who rarely left her.[6] For a time the painter Anna Barbara Bansi served as her companion.[7]

She died of old age in 1836, aged 85, three weeks before the 51st anniversary of her husband's death. By then she was nearly blind and had outlived her most famous son Napoleon by 15 years.



Coat of arms Maria Letizia Buonaparte.svg
Coat of arms of Maria Letizia Buonaparte

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Bourrienne's biography of Napoleon misspells the surname as Ramolini
  2. ^ Maria Letizia Ramolino 1750-1836 in: geneagraphie.com [retrieved 10 November 2014].
  3. ^ Frédéric Masson - Napoleon dans se jeunesse - Société d'Éditions Littéraires et Artistiques - Paris, 1907 - page 42
  4. ^ Philip Dwyer, Citizen Emperor: Napoleon in Power (2013) p 135
  5. ^ Dwyer, Citizen Emperor: Napoleon in Power (2013) pp 510-11
  6. ^ Michel Lévy, Dictionnaire de la conversation et de la lecture, Vol. 3, p. 409, 1852
  7. ^ Mapping the 'I': Research on Self-Narratives in Germany and Switzerland. BRILL. 14 November 2014. pp. 61–. ISBN 978-90-04-28397-8.

External links[edit]