Napoleon III of france

"Louis Napoleon" redirects here. For other uses, see Louis Napoleon (disambiguation).
Napoleon III
1st President of France
Reign 20 December 1848 –
2 December 1852
Predecessor Louis-Eugène Cavaignac
as Head of the State and of the Government
Successor Second French Empire
Himself as Emperor of the French
Emperor of the French
Reign 2 December 1852 –
4 September 1870
Predecessor Second French Republic
Himself as President of the French Republic
Louis Philippe III, Duke of Orléans was previous monarch as King of the French
Successor Monarchy abolished
Third French Republic
Louis Jules Trochu as Chairman of the Government of National Defense
Spouse Eugénie de Montijo
Louis Napoléon, Prince Imperial
Full name
Charles Louis Napoléon Bonaparte
House House of Bonaparte
Father Louis I of Holland
Mother Hortense de Beauharnais
Born (1808-04-20)20 April 1808
Paris, French Empire
Died 9 January 1873(1873-01-09) (aged 64)
Chislehurst, Kent, England
Burial St Michael's Abbey, Farnborough, Hampshire, England
Religion Roman Catholic

Louis-Napoléon Bonaparte (20 April 1808 – 9 January 1873) was the first President of the French Republic and, as Napoleon III, the ruler of the Second French Empire. He was the nephew and heir of Napoleon I. Elected President in France's first ever popular vote in 1848, he initiated a coup d'état in 1851, before ascending the throne as Napoleon III on 2 December 1852, the forty-eighth anniversary of Napoleon I's coronation. He ruled as Emperor of the French until 4 September 1870. He holds the distinction of being both the first titular president and the last monarch of France.

Napoleon III is primarily remembered for an energetic foreign policy which aimed to jettison the limitations imposed on France since 1815 by the Concert of Europe and reassert French influence in Europe and the French colonial empire. Napoleon stood opposed to the reactionary policies imposed at Vienna in 1815 and instead was an exponent of popular sovereignty, and a supporter of nationalism.[1]

In the Near East, Napoleon III spearheaded allied action against Russia in the Crimean War and restored French presence in the Levant, claiming for France the role of protector of the Maronite Christians. A French garrison in Rome likewise secured the Papal States against annexation by Italy, defeating the Italians at Mentana and winning the support of French Catholics for Napoleon's regime. In the Far East, Napoleon III established French rule in Cochinchina and New Caledonia. French interests in China were upheld in the Second Opium War and the Taiping Rebellion; an abortive campaign against Korea was launched in 1866 while a military mission to Japan failed to prevent the restoration of Imperial rule. French intervention in Mexico was also unsuccessful, and was terminated in 1867 due to mounting Mexican resistance and American diplomatic pressure. Eventually, the French Empire was overthrown three days after Napoleon's disastrous surrender at the Battle of Sedan, part of the Franco-Prussian War, in 1870, which resulted in the proclamation of the French Third Republic and his exile in England, where he died in 1873.

Domestically, Napoleon's reign coincided with an era of prosperity and industrialization. He launched a major reconstruction of Paris, conducted by Baron Haussmann, his prefect of the Seine, building new aqueducts, rebuilding the sewers, creating new boulevards and avenues, and constructing parks, including the Bois de Boulogne, Bois de Vincennes, Parc Montsouris and the Parc des Buttes-Chaumont.

Early life

Napoleon III, known as "Louis-Napoleon" prior to becoming Emperor, was the nephew of Napoleon I by his brother Louis Bonaparte, who married Hortense de Beauharnais, the daughter by the first marriage of Napoleon's wife Joséphine de Beauharnais. As empress, Joséphine proposed the marriage as a way to produce an heir for the Emperor, who agreed, as Joséphine was by then infertile.[2] Louis-Napoléon's paternity has been brought into question (see Ancestry). Louis-Napoleon also harboured a lifelong suspicion about his legitimacy, although most historians have concluded that he was conceived by Louis Bonaparte and Hortense.[3]

During Napoleon I's reign, Louis-Napoléon's parents had been made king and queen of a French puppet state, the Kingdom of Holland. After Napoleon I's military defeats and deposition in 1815 and the restoration of the Bourbon monarchy in France, all members of the Bonaparte dynasty were forced into exile. Louis-Napoléon was brought up in Switzerland, living with his mother in Arenenberg Castle in the canton of Thurgau, and in Germany, receiving his education at the gymnasium school at Augsburg, Bavaria. As a result, for the rest of his life his French had a slight, but noticeable, German accent.

As a young man, he settled in Italy, where he and his elder brother Napoléon Louis espoused liberal politics and became involved with the Carbonari, an organization fighting Austria's domination of northern Italy. On 17 March 1831, while fleeing Italy due to a crackdown on revolutionary activity by Papal and Austrian troops, Louis-Napoleon's brother, suffering from measles, died in his arms.[4] His experiences in Italy later had a profound effect on his foreign policy. Louis-Napoléon travelled on to France where he was quickly arrested and quietly sent to England.

Meanwhile, France had again become a monarchy, both under the Bourbon Restoration and the July Monarchy. Under the latter emerged a Bonapartist movement that wanted to restore a Bonaparte to the throne. According to the law of succession established by Napoleon I when he was Emperor, the claim passed first to his son, who, at birth, had been given the title "King of Rome" by his father. Known by Bonapartists as Napoleon II, he was living under virtual imprisonment at the court of Vienna under the name Duke of Reichstadt. Next in line was Napoleon I's eldest brother Joseph Bonaparte, followed by Louis Bonaparte and his sons. Since Joseph had no male children, and because Louis-Napoléon's own elder brother had died in 1831, the death of the Duke of Reichstadt in 1832 made Louis-Napoléon the Bonaparte heir in the next generation. His uncle and his father, relatively old men by then, left to him the active leadership of the Bonapartist cause.

Coup attempts

Louis-Philippe had established the July Monarchy in 1830, and was confronted with opposition from the Legitimists, the Independents, and the Bonapartists (he had especially angered the Bonapartists by confiscating all the remaining family assets in France).[5] Louis-Napoléon returned to France in October 1836, trying to emulate the start of the Hundred Days by initiating a Bonapartist coup at Strasbourg, calling on the local garrison to join him in restoring the Empire. The local troops instead arrested him and Louis-Napoléon returned to exile in Switzerland. When Louis-Philippe demanded his extradition, the Swiss refused to hand over a man who was a citizen and a member of their armed forces. In order to avoid a war, Louis-Napoléon left Switzerland of his own accord.

Between 1838 and 1839, Louis-Napoléon stayed at No. 6 Clarendon Square, Royal Leamington Spa. He secretly returned to France and attempted yet another coup in August 1840, sailing with fifty hired soldiers to Boulogne-sur-Mer, taking the train to Lille and repeating the failure of the Strasbourg coup. This time, he was not exiled but sentenced to life imprisonment, albeit in relative comfort, in the fortress of the town of Ham in the Somme département.

While in the Ham fortress, his eyesight reportedly became poor. During his years of imprisonment, he wrote essays and pamphlets that combined his claim to be emperor with progressive, mildly socialist economic proposals, published as L'extinction du paupérisme, which he came to define as Bonapartism. In 1844, his uncle Joseph died, making him the heir apparent to the Bonaparte claim. He finally escaped in May 1846 by exchanging clothes with a mason working at the fortress. His enemies would later derisively nickname him "Badinguet", the name of the mason whose identity he assumed. He eventually made it to Southport, England. A month later, his father Louis died, making Louis-Napoléon the clear heir to the Bonaparte legacy in France.

Return to France

Louis-Napoléon lived in Great Britain until the revolution of February 1848 in France deposed Louis-Philippe and established a republic. He was now free to return to France, which he immediately did. The provisional government, however, judged him an unnecessary distraction and requested his departure.[6] Back in England, he volunteered to be a special constable in the event of Chartist rioting.[7][8] In the same month, April, he ran for, and won a seat in the Constituent Assembly elected to draft a new constitution for France. He did not make a great contribution and, as a mediocre public orator, failed to impress his fellow members. Some even thought that, having lived outside of France almost all his life, he spoke French with a slight German accent.[9] His temporary exile in 1848 proved to be a blessing in disguise for the December presidential election, as it meant he played no part in the June Days, and was able to enhance his image as "all things to all men" against his main opponent, Louis-Eugène Cavaignac, who had led the repression against the working class of Paris.[10]

President of the French Republic

When the constitution of the Second Republic was finally promulgated and direct elections for the presidency were held on 10 December 1848, Louis-Napoléon won a surprising landslide victory, with 5.4 million votes (74% of the votes, and 55 percent of those eligible to vote) to 1.4 million for his closest rival, Cavaignac.[11] His platform was based on the restoration of order, strong government, social consolidation, and national greatness. The monarchist right (supporters of either the Bourbon or Orléanist royal households) and much of the aristocracy supported him as the "least bad" candidate, as a man who would restore order, end the instability in France which had continued since the overthrow of the monarchy in February and prevent a proto-communist revolution. A good portion of the industrial class, on the other hand, were won over by Louis-Napoléon's vague indications of progressive economic views. Despite this support among sectors of the upper classes, his overwhelming victory was above all due to the support of the biggest class in France: the peasants. To these non-politicized rural masses, the name of Bonaparte meant something, as opposed to the other little-known contenders. He appealed with all the credit of his name, that of France's national hero: Napoleon I, who in popular memory was credited with raising the nation to its pinnacle of military greatness and establishing social stability after the turmoil of the French Revolution. During his term as President, Louis-Napoléon Bonaparte styled himself the Prince-President (Le Prince-Président).

Despite his landslide victory, Louis-Napoléon was faced with a Parliament dominated by monarchists, who saw his government only as a temporary bridge to a restoration of either the House of Bourbon or of Orléans. Louis-Napoléon governed cautiously, choosing his ministers from among the more "centre-right" Orleanist Parti de l'Ordre monarchists, and generally avoiding conflict with the conservative assembly. He courted Catholic support by assisting in the restoration of the Pope's temporal rule in Rome. He tried to please secularist conservative opinion at the same time by combining this with peremptory demands that the Pope introduce liberal changes to the government of the Papal States, including appointing a liberal government and establishing the Code Napoleon there, which angered the Catholic majority in the assembly. He soon made another attempt to gain Catholic support, however, by approving the Loi Falloux in 1851, which restored a greater role for the Catholic Church in the French educational system.[12]

In May 1849 new elections were held for the National Assembly. This time a coalition of more extreme monarchist and conservatives, which included Catholics and Orleanists, called "the party of order," secured 500 of the 700 seats. The candidates of the far left, the "Red republicans", also did well, winning 180 seats, but shortly afterwards they staged an badly-planned and unsuccessful uprising to seize the government. The Red Republican deputies were arrested or fled into exile. The National Assembly, now without the red Republicans and determined to keep them out forever, proposed a new election law that placed restrictions on universal male suffrage, imposing a three-year residency requirement. This new law excluded 3.5 out of 9 million French voters, the voters that the leader of the Party of Order, Adolphe Thiers scornfully called "the vile multitude." [13] This new election law was passed in May 1850 by a majority of 433 to 241, putting the National Assembly on a direct collision course with the Prince-President,[14] Louis-Napoléon took the opportunity to break with the Assembly and the conservative ministers opposing his projects in favour of the dispossessed. He secured the support of the army, toured the country making populist speeches condemning the assembly, and presented himself as the protector of universal male suffrage. He demanded that the law be changed, but his proposal was defeated in the Assembly by a vote of 355 to 348.[15]

According to the constitution of 1848, he had to step down at the end of his term, so he sought a constitutional amendment to allow him to succeed himself, arguing that four years were not enough to fully implement his political and economic program. He toured the country and gained support from many of regional governments, and the support of many within the Assembly. The vote in July 1851 was 446 to 278 in favor of changing the law and allowing him to run again, but this was just short of the two-thirds majority needed to amend the constitution.[16]

The Coup d'etat

Louis-Napoleon believed that he was supported by the people, and he decided to retain power by other means. His half-brother Morny and a few close advisors began to quietly organize a coup d'état, with the help of the army. The date set for the coup was December 2, the anniversary of the Battle of Austerlitz, and the anniversary of the coronation of Louis-Napoleon's uncle Napoleon I. On the night of December 1–2, soldiers quietly occupied the national printing office, the Palais Bourbon, newspaper offices, and the strategic points in the city. In the morning, Parisians found posters around the city announcing the dissolution of the National Assembly, the restoration of universal suffrage, new elections, and a state of siege in Paris and the surrounding departments. Sixteen members of the National Assembly were arrested in their homes. When about two-hundred twenty deputies of the moderate right gathered at the city hall of the tenth arrondissement, they were also arrested.[17] On December 3, Victor Hugo and a few other republicans tried to organize an opposition to the coup, and s few barricades appeared, with about one to thousand insurgents, but the army moved in force with 30,000 troops and the uprisings were swiftly crushed, with the killing of an estimated three to four hundred opponents of the coup.[18] There were also small uprising in the more militant red republican towns in the south and center of France, but these were all put down by December 10. Victor Huge, Adolphe Thiers, and other opponents of the coup fled into exile.[19]

Repression and a referendum

The coup was followed by a period of repression of the opponents of Louis-Napoleon, mostly red republicans. About four thousand persons were arrested in Paris, and twenty-six thousand in all of France. The two-hundred thirty nine who were judged most severely were sent to the penal colony in Cayenne.[20] 9,530 folllowers were sent to Algeria, fifteen hundred were expelled from France, and another three thousand were given forced residence away from heir homes.[21] Soon afterwards, a commission of revision freed 3,500 of those sentenced. In 1859 the remaining 1800 prisoners and exiles were amnestied, with the exception of the republican leader Ledru-Rollin.[22]

Louis-Napoleon wished to demonstrate that his new government had a broad popular mandate, so on December 20–21 a national plebiscite was held asking if voters agreed to the coup d'État. Mayors in many regions threatened the publish the names of any electors who refused to vote. When asked if they agreed to the coup d'État. 7,439,216 voters said yes, 641,737 voted no, and 1.7 million voters abstained.[23] The fairness and legality of the referendum was immediately questioned by Louis-Napoleon's critics.,[24] but he felt that he had been given a strong public mandate. Victor Hugo, who had originally supported Louis-Napoléon Bonaparte, and had sought to become one of his ministers, went into exile after the coup, and became one of the harshest critics of Napoleon III, rejecting the amnesty he was offered and refusing to return to France.[25]

Emperor of the French

French Monarchy -
Bonaparte Dynasty

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

End of the republic

A new constitution was passed which maintained an elected Parliament and re-established universal male suffrage. However, it also dramatically expanded the president's powers and extended his term to 10 years. The new constitution was approved in a referendum held on 20–21 December, officially with 92 percent of the votes. Parliament soon became irrelevant, as real power was completely concentrated in the hands of Louis-Napoléon and his bureaucracy.

Authoritarian empire

The ink had barely dried on this new, authoritarian constitution when Napoleon set about making himself emperor. In response to officially inspired requests for the return of the empire, the Senate scheduled another referendum for 21–22 November 1852 on whether to make Napoleon emperor. After an implausible 97 percent voted in favour, on 2 December 1852—exactly one year after the coup—the Second Republic was ended and the Empire restored, ushering in the Second French Empire. President Louis-Napoléon Bonaparte became Emperor Napoleon III. His regnal name treats Napoleon II, who never actually ruled, as a true Emperor (he had been briefly recognized as emperor from 22 June to 7 July 1815). The 1851 constitution was retained, with the word "president" replaced by the word "emperor". That year, Napoleon III began shipping political prisoners and criminals to penal colonies such as Devil's Island or (in milder cases) New Caledonia.

The Emperor, hitherto a bachelor, began quickly to look for a wife to produce a legitimate heir-apparent. Most of the royal families of Europe were unwilling to marry into the parvenu Bonaparte family, and after rebuffs from Princess Carola of Sweden and from Queen Victoria's German niece Princess Adelheid of Hohenlohe-Langenburg, Napoleon decided to lower his sights somewhat and "marry for love", choosing the Countess of Teba, Eugénie de Montijo, a Spanish noblewoman of partial Scottish ancestry who had been brought up in Paris. In 1856, Eugénie gave birth to a legitimate son and heir-apparent, Louis Napoléon, the Prince Impérial.

Two assassination attempts were orchestrated against Napoleon III, one in April 1855 and the other in January 1858.

Until about 1861, Napoleon's regime exhibited decidedly authoritarian characteristics, using press censorship to prevent the spread of opposition, manipulating elections, and depriving the Parliament of the right to free debate or any real power.

Liberal empire

Extension of the powers of the legislature

In 1860–61, Napoleon III made more concessions to placate his liberal opponents. He allowed free debates in Parliament to be held and published, relaxed press censorship, and appointed the liberal Émile Ollivier as Prime Minister in 1869. This later period is described by historians as the "Liberal Empire". Napoleon acted because his popularity had declined in the face of the Italian war and a commercial treaty with Britain. He hoped to revive parliamentary life, foster the creation of political parties, and exercise his power indirectly, by working through the parliament. Both major parties seized upon Napoleon's concessions as an opportunity to demand wider powers, and the revival of parliamentary institutions. Napoleon's large-scale program of public works, and his extravagantly expensive foreign policy, had created rapidly mounting government debts; the annual deficit was about fr.100 million, and the cumulative debt had reached nearly fr.1 billion. The Emperor had full control of the budget, but was managing it poorly. He needed to restore the confidence of the business world, and to involve the legislature and sharing responsibility. Therefore, he renounced his right to borrow money when the legislature was not in session, and agreed the budget should be voted on item by item. Nevertheless, he retained the right to change the budget estimates section by section, thereby defeating parliamentary control and angering the parliamentarians. The opposition formed an increasingly powerful coalition, ranging from Catholics outraged by the Papal policies to Legitimists, Orleanists, protectionists and even some republicans. Napoleon's position was further undermined during the 1860s by his failures in foreign policy.[26]

Economic and social policy

The French economy was rapidly modernized under Napoleon III, who desired a legacy as a reform-minded social engineer. The industrialization of France during this period, in general, appealed to members of both the business and working classes. The centre of Paris was renovated by clearing out slums, widening streets, and constructing parks according to Baron Haussmann's plan. Working-class neighbourhoods were moved to the outskirts of Paris, where factories utilized their labour. Some of his main backers were Saint-Simonians, and these supporters described Napoleon III as the "socialist emperor". Saint-Simonians at this time founded a new type of banking institution, the Crédit Mobilier, which sold stock to the public and then used the money raised to invest in industrial enterprises in France. This sparked a period of rapid economic development.

Napoleon's Empire has been said to be the first regime in France to give "distinct priority to economic objectives". Napoleon sought to advance his belief in free trade, cheap credit, and the need to develop infrastructure as ways of ensuring progress and prosperity through government policy. Napoleon, like Haussmann and the Duke of Persigny, believed that the budget deficits that the state incurred due to its high contributions would be offset by subsequent high profits.[27] His regime has also been cited as one of the few in French history to make a concerted effort towards breaking down trade barriers.

As it turned out, this time period was favourable for industrial expansion. The gold rushes in both California and Australia increased the European money supply. In the early years of the Empire, the economy also benefited from the coming of age of those born during the baby boom of the Restoration period.[28] The steady rise of prices caused by the increase of the money supply encouraged company promotion and investment of capital. Rail trackage in France increased from 3,000 to 16,000 km during the 1850s, and this growth allowed mines and factories to operate at higher production rates. The fifty-five small rail lines of France were merged into six major lines, while new iron steamships replaced wooden ships. Between 1859 and 1869, under the direction of Ferdinand de Lesseps, the Suez Canal Company (Compagnie universelle du canal maritime de Suez), a French company, built the Suez Canal, opening a new chapter in global transportation and trade.


Algeria had been under French rule since 1830. Compared to previous administrations, Napoleon III was far more sympathetic to the native Algerians.[29] He halted European migration inland, restricting them to the coastal zone; moreover, he freed the Algerian rebel leader Abd al Qadir (who had been promised freedom on surrender but was imprisoned by the previous administration) and gave him a stipend of 150,000 francs. He also allowed Muslims to serve in the military and civil service on theoretically equal terms and allowed them to migrate to France. In addition, he gave the option of citizenship; however, for Muslims to take this option they had to accept all of the French civil code, including parts governing inheritance and marriage which might conflict with the Muslim tradition, and they had to reject the competence of religious Sharia courts. This was interpreted by some Muslims as requiring them to give up parts of their religion to obtain citizenship and was resented.

One of the most influential decisions Louis Napoleon made in Algeria was to change its system of land tenure. While ostensibly well-intentioned, in effect this move destroyed the traditional system of land management and deprived many Algerians of land. While Napoleon did renounce state claims to tribal lands, he also began a process of dismantling tribal land ownership in favour of individual land ownership over the course of three generations, though this process was accelerated by later administrations. This process was corrupted by French officials sympathetic to the French in Algeria who took much of the land they surveyed into public domain. In addition, many tribal leaders, chosen for loyalty to the French rather than influence in their tribe, immediately sold communal land for cash.[30]

The rebuilding of Paris

Napoleon III began his regime with an enormous public works project: a program to improve the sanitation, water supply and traffic circulation of Paris. Because of the rapidly-growing population, and because of the neglect of the government, the neighborhoods in the center of Paris were notoriously overcrowded, dark, dangerous and unhealthy. The sewers of Paris, vividly portrayed in Victor Hugo's novel Les Miserables,, poured directly into the Seine, which, along with Ourq canal, was the city's main water supply. The city had been struck by a cholera epidemic in March and April 1832 which killed 6260 men, 5704 women, and 693 children. Another epidemic in 1849 killed fully five percent of the population of the poorest neighborhoods.[31]

The narrow and winding streets in the medieval quarters of the city were choked with wagons, carriages, horses and people. It took hours to travel from one part of the city to the other. There were gaslights in the city's theaters, but very few on the streets. Those living in the outer parts of the city had no parks or green spacees. Napoleon, who had lived very little of his life in Paris, saw all this and was determined to change it. He brought in the efficient and capable Georges Eugene Haussmann, then the prefect of Bordeaux, to accomplish the task of bringing light, air, water and space to the city.[32]

For the nearly two decades of Napoleon III's reign, and for a decade afterwards, most of Paris was an enormous construction site. His hydraulic engineer, Eugène Belgrand, began a program which built six hundred kilometers between 1865 and 1890. He built a new aqueduct to bring clean water from the Vanne River in Champagne, and a new huge reservoir near the future Parc Montsouris. These two works increased the water supply of Paris from 87,000 to 400,000 cubic meters of water a day.[33]

Under the streets, Belgrand placed hundred of kilometers of pipes to distribute drinking water to the neighborhoods and built new fountains to distribute the water in the neighborhoods. He built a second network, using the less-clean water from the Ourq and the Seine, to wash the streets and water the new park and gardens. He also completely rebuilt the Paris sewers, constructing 340 kilometers of sewers which took the waste far away from the city. Workers under the streets also installed miles of pipes to distribute gas for thousands of new streetlights along the Paris streets.

Meanwhile, on the surface, workers tore down hundreds of old buildings and cut eighty kilometers of new avenues, connecting the central points of the city. Beginning in 1854, a great north-south axis, composed of Boulevard Sebastopol and Boulevard San-Michel, was cut. It was crossed by a new and broader Rue de Rivoli, prolonged from Chatelet to Rue Saint Antoine. Wide new avenues, including Boulevard Haussmann, Boulevard Voltaire, and Boulevard Saint-Germain, Avenue Daumesnil were built to connect all the major points of the city. Where the boulevards intersected, Napoleon III created large squares: Etoile, Nation, Saint-Augustin, L'Alma, Place de la Republique, Bastille and Opera. At Etoile, twelve new streets were cut, radiating out into the neighborhoods around it, Buildings along these avenues were required to be the same height and in a similar style, and to be faced with cream-colored stone, creating the signature look of Paris boulevards.

To connect the city with the rest of France, Napoleon III built two new railroad stations: the Gare de Lyon (1855) and the Gare du Nord (1865). To connect those stations with the other stations, he built the Rue de Rennes and other new streets, as well as a railroad line around the city. .

The new chief gardener of the city, Jean-Pierre Barillet-Deschamps, was also busy. By 1868 his men had planted 102,154 trees, using special wagons designed for that purpose, to decorate the main avenues and the banks of the Seine, along with 8,248 benches for strollers to rest. Barlillet-Deschamps constructed two complexes of enormous greenhouses simply to provide flowers and trees for the city's new parks and gardens.[34]


Napoleon III instructed Haussmann to "aerate, unify and embellish" Paris ( "d'aerer, unifier et embellir la ville"),.[35] The embellishment was done by Napoleon's city architect, Gabriel Davioud, who built new city halls for each of the city's twenty new arrondissements. He also built two new theaters across from each other on the new Place du Chatelet, which was created by the construction of the boulevards, and he built monumental new fountains, including the Fontaine Saint-Michel, to decorate the new boulevards.

Other civic architecture built by Napoleon III included Les Halles, the great iron in glass produce market in the center of the city. Many of the crumbling medieval buildings on the Ile de la Cite were torn down, and replaced by a large municipal hospital, the Hotel Dieu; and the building which later became the Prefecture of Police. He also oversaw the building of four large new churches, including the Eglise Saint Augustin. But the signature architectural landmark was the Paris Opera, the largest theater in the world, designed by Charles Garnier, crowning the center of Napoleon III's new Paris. When the Empress Eugenie saw the model of the opera house, and asked the architect what the style was, Garnier said simply, "Napoleon the Third." [36]

Parks and gardens

Napoleon III was determined to build new parks and gardens for the recreation and relaxation of the Parisians. When he became Emperor, there were only four large public parks in the city; the Jardin des Tuileries, Jardin du Luxembourg, the gardens of the Palais-Royale, and the Jardin des Plantes, all located in the center. There were no parks or green spaces in the new neighborhoods of the expanding city. Working with Baron Haussmann, he created the first Service of Promenades and Plantations to build new parks for the growing population.[37]

His new parks were largely inspired by his memories of the parks in London, especially Hyde Park, where he had strolled and promenaded in a carriage while in exile; but he wanted to build on a much larger scale. Working with Haussmann and Jean-Charles Alphand, the engineer who headed the new Service of Promenades and Plantations, he laid out a plan for four major parks at the cardinal points of the compass around the city. Between 1852 and 1858, on the western edge of the city, he took a scrubby royal forest where the Russian army had once camped during their occupation of Paris, and donated it to the City. The engineers and gardeners of Alphand dug lakes, built cascades, planted lawns, flowerbeds and thousands of trees, constructed chalets, and grottoes, and created an entire landscape, in the style of an English landscape garden. Within the park he built a race course, cafes, riding trails, roads for carriages, paths for strolling, and lakes for boating. The Bois de Boulogne instantly became a popular success with Parisians of all social classes.

To the east of Paris, between 1860 and 1865, he built a similar and even larger park, the Bois de Vincennes, around the grounds of a military training ground. To the north, on the site of bare hills and a disused quarry, he built the Parc des Buttes-Chaumont (1865-1867); and to the south, also on the land of disused quarry, he built Parc Montsouris (1865-1878).[37]

In addition to building the four large parks, Napoleon had the city's older parks, including Parc Monceau, formerly owned by the Orleans family, and the Jardin du Luxembourg, refurbished and replanted. He also created some twenty small parks and gardens in the neighborhoods, as miniature versions of his large parks. Alphand termed this small parks "Green and flowering salons." The intention of Napoleon's plan was to have one park in each of the eighty neighborhoods of Paris, so that no one was more than a ten minute's walk from such a park.[38]


 During and after his regime,  Napoleon III's reconstruction of Paris was criticized;  he was accused of displacing the poor from their homes, and of destroying the charms of the old medieval Paris.  He was also accused of building the new avenues primarily to make it harder for insurgents to build barricades, and to allow the army to move soldiers more easily through the streets to put down uprisings.

His policies certainly displaced thousands of people; an estimated 350,000 people were displaced, mostly from the overcrowded buildings on the Ile de la Cite and the old medieval quarters. He tore down more than twenty thousand buildings, and built forty three thousand new ones farther from the center. The new streets, aqueducts, sewers and parks measurably improved the health of the population, but did not solve the city's social problems.[39]

Facilitating military movements was one consideration in Haussmann's plan, but it was not the major reason the new streets and squares were built. During the fighting that crushed the Paris Commune in May 1871, he wider streets and squares did make it easier for the army to move in some parts of the city, but they also provided clear lines of fire for the artillery and rifles of the Communards, making it harder to attack them. The Communards themselves demolished many buildings to widen their lines of fire. The army was able to go around barricades in the narrow streets by tunnelling through buildings. The Commune failed not because of Napoleon's III's new boulevards, but because the Communards were outnumbered, isolated, and did not receive military assistance from the rest of France.[40]

Though Napoleon III was the instigator and driving force of the reconstruction of Paris, and Baron Haussmann was, as he modestly described himself years later, just the stage director, ("Metteur-en-scene"), the attacks on Napoleon III and his reputation were so intense that even today there are many books about and references to "Haussmann's Paris" but almost none to "the Paris of Napoleon III." There is a statue and a boulevard named for Haussmann, and statues of Haussmann's assistants, Alphand and of Belgrand, but no monument in Paris to Napoleon III.[41]

The foreign policy of Napoleon III

In a speech at Bordeaux in 1852, Napoleon III famously proclaimed that "The Empire means peace" ("L'Empire, c'est la paix"), reassuring foreign governments that the new Emperor Napoleon would not attack other European powers in order to extend the French Empire. He was, however, thoroughly determined to follow a strong foreign policy to extend France's power and glory, and warned that he would not stand by and allow another European power to threaten its neighbour. He was also a partisan of a "policy of nationalities" (principe des nationalités) re-casting the map of Europe, sweeping away small principalities to create unified nation-states, even when this seemed to have little relevance to France's material interests. In this he remained influenced by the themes of his uncle's policy, as related in the Mémorial de Sainte-Hélène, such as Italian unification and a united Europe. These two factors led Napoleon to a certain adventurism in foreign policy, in the opinion of some contemporaries, although this was tempered by pragmatism.[42]

Relations with Britain

Relations with Britain were not close under Napoleon III. Lord Palmerston, the British foreign secretary from 1846 to 1851 and prime minister from 1855 to 1865, sought to maintain the balance of power in Europe; this rarely involved an alignment with France. In 1859 there were fears that France might try to invade the UK.[43] Palmerston did not support Napoleon's aggressive efforts to intervene in the American Civil War (1861–65).[44]

The Crimean War

Main article: Crimean War

Napoleon's challenge to Russia's efforts to influence in the Ottoman Empire led to France's successful participation in the Crimean War (1854–1856).[45] During this war, Napoleon established a French alliance with Britain, which continued after the war's close. The defeat of Russia and the alliance with Britain gave France increased authority in Europe. This was the first war between European powers since the close of the Napoleonic Wars and the Congress of Vienna, marking a breakdown of the alliance system that had maintained peace for nearly half a century. The war also effectively ended the Concert of Europe and the Quadruple Alliance, or "Waterloo Coalition" that the other four powers had established. The Paris Peace Conference of 1856 represented a high-water mark for the regime in foreign affairs, when Napoleon had followed through with his ideas set out in Des idées napoléoniennes.[46] A lasting result was the encouragement of Napoleon et al. to discuss (and his enemies to fear) the redrawing of the map of Europe in an ambitious and revolutionary manner along nationalist lines.[47]


In 1857, Napoleon III provided his assistance in negotiations to end the Anglo-Persian War, leading to the March 1857 Treaty of Paris.[48]

In East Asia, Napoleon took the first steps to establishing a French colonial influence in Indochina. He approved the launching of a naval expedition under Charles Rigault de Genouilly in 1858 to punish the Vietnamese for their mistreatment of French Catholic missionaries and force the court to accept a French presence in the country. An important factor in his decision was the belief that France risked becoming a second-rate power by not expanding its influence in East Asia. Deeper down was the sense that France owed the world a civilizing mission.[49]

This eventually led to a full-out invasion in 1861. By 1862, the war was over and Vietnam conceded three provinces in the south, called by the French Cochin-China, opened three ports to French trade, allowed free passage of French warships to Cambodia (which led to a French protectorate over Cambodia in 1863), allowed freedom of action for French missionaries and gave France a large indemnity for the cost of the war. France did not intervene, however, in the Christian-supported Vietnamese rebellion in Bac Bo, despite the urging of missionaries, or in the subsequent slaughter of thousands of Christians after the rebellion.

In China, France took part in the Second Opium War along with Britain, and in 1860 French troops entered Peking. China was forced to concede more trading rights, allow freedom of navigation of the Yangtze, give full civil rights and freedom of religion to Christians, and give France and Britain a huge indemnity. This combined with the intervention in Vietnam set the stage for further French influence in China leading up to a sphere of influence over parts of southern China.[50]

In 1866, French naval troops attacked Korea in response to the execution of French missionaries there. Though the campaign against Korea was primarily the work of the ranking French diplomat in China and not formally authorized by the French government, its failure nevertheless resulted in the decline of French influence in the region. In 1867, a military mission to Japan played a key role in modernizing the troops of the Shogun Tokugawa Yoshinobu, and even participated on his side against Imperial troops during the Boshin war.[51]


As President of the Republic, Louis-Napoléon sent French troops to help restore Pope Pius IX as ruler of the Papal States in 1849 after his rule had been overthrown by the revolutionaries led by Giuseppe Mazzini and Giuseppe Garibaldi who had proclaimed the Roman Republic (although as a Carbonaro he had been involved in plotting a similar revolt in the Papal States during his youth in Italy). This won him support of Catholics in France. However, the Constituent Assembly saw the unilateral intervention by Bonaparte in Italy as a violation of Section V of the Constitution and on 11 June 1849, Alexandre Ledru-Rollin introduced a bill of impeachment against President Bonaparte and his ministers.[52] Although many Catholics supported the Italian intervention, they nonetheless remained supporters of the Bourbon monarchy at heart and tended to support anything that would weaken Bonaparte's polictial position. Still Bonaparte's growing popularity in France meant that the bill of impeachment was defeated on 12 June 1849.[53]

Despite the incursion of troops into Italy on behalf of the reactionary forces, Louis Bonaparte remained attached to the ideal of Italian nationalism which he had embraced in his youth. Accordingly, he sent an emissary to negotiate with the revolutionary Italian nationalist Mazzini. The Catholic Encyclopedia observes: "In this way the difficulties of the future emperor reveal themselves from the beginning; he wished to spare the religious susceptibilities of French Catholics" and yet to support "the national susceptibilities of the Italian revolutionists—a double aim which explains many an inconsistency" in his policy.[54] Pragmatically, Louis Bonaparte supported Italian nationalist aspirations because he wished particularly to end Austrian rule in Lombardy and Venice: he always nursed a dislike for Austria as the incarnation of reactionary, legitimist monarchy, and as the great barrier to the reconstruction of Europe on nationalist lines. As Emperor, Napoleon dreamed of doing this, and thus satisfying his own inclinations and winning over liberal and left-wing opinion in France (which was passionately in favour of Italian unification) while at the same time supporting the Pope in Rome and thus maintaining conservative and Catholic support in France. These contradictory desires were evident in his policy in Italy.

In April–July 1859 Napoleon made a secret deal with Cavour, Prime Minister of Piedmont, for France to assist in expelling Austria from the Italian peninsula and bringing about a united Italy, or at least a united northern Italy, in exchange for Piedmont ceding to France Savoy and the Nice region (which was destined to become the so-called French Riviera). He went to war with Austria in 1859 and won victories at Magenta and Solferino, which resulted in the ceding of Lombardy to Piedmont by Austria (and in return received Savoy and Nice from Piedmont as promised in 1860). After this had been done, however, Napoleon decided to end French involvement in the war. This early withdrawal, however, failed to prevent central Italy, including most of the Papal states, being incorporated into the new Italian state.[55] This led Catholics in France to turn against Napoleon. Napoleon tried to redress the damage by maintaining French troops in the city of Rome itself, which prevented the new Italian government seizing it from the Pope. However, Napoleon on the whole failed to win back Catholic support at home (and made moves to appeal instead to the anti-Catholic left in his domestic policy in the 1860s, most notably by appointing the anti-clerical Victor Duruy Minister for Education, who further secularized the schooling system).[56] French troops remained in Rome to protect the Pope until the outbreak of the Franco-Prussian War in 1870.

Grand Scheme for the Americas

Napoleon III envisioned a "Grand Scheme for the Americas", which would consist of three general points. The first involved recognition of the Confederate States of America and a military alliance with them. The second involved reintroducing monarchical rule to Latin America, and increasing French trade throughout the region. The third point involved control over Mexico with the creation of a buffer state, in the form of the Second Mexican Empire, under Maximilian I.[57] Napoleon hoped Mexico would act as a buffer state between the Confederacy and Latin America.


Another example of Napoleon's adventurism in foreign policy was the French intervention in Mexico (January 1862 – March 1867). Napoleon, using as a pretext the Mexican Republic's refusal to pay its foreign debts, planned to establish a French sphere of influence in North America by creating a French-backed monarchy in Mexico, a project that was supported by Mexican conservatives who resented the Mexican Republic's laicism. The United States was unable to prevent this contravention of the Monroe Doctrine because of the American Civil War; Napoleon hoped that the Confederates would be victorious in that conflict, believing they would accept the new regime in Mexico.

But his imperial dreams would not be so easy to achieve. In Mexico, the French army suffered its first military defeat in 46 years,[58][59] on the Fifth of May, 1862 in Puebla when the Mexican army under the leadership of General Ignacio Zaragoza defeated a much better-equipped French army. The defeat not only surprised the world, but served to revitalize the national spirit of Mexicans, helping to sustain a guerrilla warfare that lasted 5 years. In the end, it remained the Second Mexican Empire.

With the support of Mexican conservatives and French troops, in 1863 Napoleon installed Maximilian I of Mexico, a Habsburg prince, as emperor. Ruling President Benito Juárez and his Republican forces retreated to the countryside and fought against the French troops and the Mexican monarchists.

The combined Mexican monarchist and French forces won victories up until 1865, but then the tide began to turn against them, in part because the American Civil War had ended. The U.S. government was now able to give practical support to the Republicans, supplying them with arms and establishing a naval blockade to prevent French reinforcements arriving from Europe. Due to continued losses inflicted by the Mexican guerrillas loyal to the Republic and the threat of an American military intervention, Napoleon withdrew French troops from Mexico in 1866, which left Maximilian and the Mexican monarchists doomed to defeat in 1867. Despite Napoleon's pleas that he abdicate and leave Mexico, Maximilian refused to abandon the Mexican conservatives who had supported him, and remained alongside them until the bitter end, when he was captured by the Republicans and then shot on 19 June 1867. The complete failure of the Mexican intervention was a humiliation for Napoleon, and he was widely blamed across Europe for Maximilian's death. However, letters have since shown that Napoleon III and Leopold of Belgium both warned Maximilian not to depend on European support. Empress Eugénie has also been largely blamed for the fiasco, the implication being that she tried to meddle in affairs of state in order to get over her husband's affairs of the heart.[60]

Empress Carlota of Mexico visited Napoleon III and Empress Eugénie at Les Tuileries to request financial and military aid to rescue the agonizing empire, but her petitions were rejected. Carlota in turn insulted the Emperor and his wife by mocking their humble origins. She subsequently declined into mental illness.

United States

In the beginning of the 1860s, the objectives of the Emperor in foreign policy had been met: France scored several military victories in Europe and abroad, the defeat at Waterloo had been exorcised, and France was once again a significant continental military power.

During 1861 to 1862, at the beginning of the American Civil War, Napoleon III considered recognizing the Confederacy. The United States repeatedly warned that this meant war but the emperor kept this option open, especially after the crash of France's cotton textile industry and his successes in Mexico. Through 1862, Napoleon III met unofficially with Confederate diplomats, raising their hopes that he would unilaterally recognize the Confederacy.[61][62] The emperor, however, could do little without the support of Britain, which refused to recognize the Confederacy. In 1863 the Confederacy realized there was no longer any chance of intervention, and expelled the French and British consuls, who were advising their citizens not to enlist in the Confederate Army.[63]


A far more dangerous threat to Napoleon III, however, was looming. France saw its dominance on the continent of Europe eroded by Prussia's crushing victory over Austria in the Austro-Prussian War in June–August 1866. Due in part to his Carbonaro past, Napoleon was unable to ally himself with Austria, despite the obvious threat that a victorious Prussia would pose to France. Napoleon felt secure in the presumption that the war with Austria would be drawn out, or would result in Austrian victory, when he agreed not to intervene in 1864.[65] Yet, having decided not to prevent the Prussian rise to power by allying against her, Napoleon also failed to take the opportunity to demand Prussian consent to French territorial expansion in return for France's neutrality. Napoleon only requested that Prussia agree to French annexation of Belgium and Luxembourg after Prussia had already defeated Austria, by which time France's neutrality was no longer needed by Prussia. This extraordinary foreign policy failure saw France gain nothing while allowing Prussia's strength to increase greatly. Some historians suggest Napoleon's health was so bad at this point that he was unfit to make decisions.[66]

Napoleon's later attempt in 1867 to re-balance the scales by purchasing Luxembourg from its ruler, William III of the Netherlands, was thwarted by a Prussian threat of war. The Luxembourg Crisis ended with France renouncing any claim to Luxembourg in the Treaty of London (1867).

Franco-Prussian War and final defeat

Napoleon III eventually paid the price for his failure to help defend Austria from Prussia. In 1870, Prince Leopold of Hohenzollern-Sigmaringen, a cousin of King William I of Prussia, offered his candidacy for the vacant throne of Spain. Napoleon was not about to see France surrounded on both sides by the House of Hohenzollern, and pressured Leopold to withdraw his candidacy. Not content with this, Napoleon demanded that King William, as head of the House of Hohenzollern, promise that no member of his family would seek the Spanish throne again. William dismissed the demands of the French ambassador, Count Vincent Benedetti, in a friendly enough way. However, Bismarck edited the official dispatch of the meeting in a way that made it sound as if both sides behaved in a hostile manner. The Ems Telegram outraged French public opinion, and France declared the Franco-Prussian War.

Napoleon and most French leaders were confident of an outright victory. However, the country was isolated and regarded internationally as the aggressor. In a key strategic misjudgement, Napoleon took personal command of the army, which was poorly organized. He had no skills at this level of military action, and was psychologically despondent most of the time. He ignored sound military advice, and his forces scored only a few local successes, as the better-armed and better-trained German army marched into France. Napoleon refused to return to Paris or turn command over to a more competent general. As a result, he was trapped and captured on 2 September 1870, following the Battle of Sedan. When news of Napoleon's capture reached Paris two days later, the empire was swiftly overthrown and replaced by the Third Republic.[67]

The war proved disastrous for France, but led to the consolidation of the German Empire, which would supplant France's place as the major land power in continental Western Europe until the end of World War I.

Exile and death

After six months as a prisoner in Germany, Napoleon spent the last few years of his life in exile in England, with Eugénie and their only son. The family lived at Camden Place, Chislehurst, where he died on January 9, 1873 during surgery for a bladder stone; an autopsy showed he also had a fatal kidney disease. He was haunted to the end by bitter regrets and by painful memories of the battle at which he lost everything; Napoleon's last words, addressed to Dr. Henri Conneau standing by his deathbed, reportedly were, "Were you at Sedan?" ("Etiez-vous à Sedan?")[68]

Napoleon was originally buried at St Mary's, the Catholic Church in Chislehurst. However, after his son died in 1879 fighting in the British Army against the Zulus in South Africa, the bereaved Eugénie decided to build a monastery. The building would house monks driven out of France by the anti-clerical laws of the Third Republic, and would provide a suitable resting place for her husband and son. Thus, in 1888, the body of Napoleon III and that of his son were moved to the Imperial Crypt at St Michael's Abbey, Farnborough, Hampshire, England. Eugénie, who died many years later, in 1920, rests in the same abbey. The caskets can be viewed by visitors to the Abbey during public tours. It was reported in 2007 that the French Government was seeking the return of his remains to be buried in France, but this is opposed by the monks of the abbey.[69] A Royal Society of Arts blue plaque was unveiled in 1875 to commemorate Napoleon at 1c King Street in London's St James's district.[70]

Personal life

Louis Napoleon has a historical reputation as a womanizer, yet he referred to his behaviour in the following manner: "It is usually the man who attacks. As for me, I defend myself, and I often capitulate."[71] He had many mistresses. During his reign, it was the task of Count Felix Bacciochi, his social secretary, to arrange for trysts and to procure women for the emperor's favours. His affairs were not trivial sideshows: they distracted him from governing, affected his relationship with the empress, and diminished him in the views of the other European courts.[72] Among his numerous love affairs and mistresses were:[73]

  • Mathilde Bonaparte, his cousin and fiancee
  • Maria Anna Schiess (1812–1880), of Allensbach (Lake Constance, Germany), mother of his son Bonaventur Karrer (1839–1921)[74]
  • Alexandrine Éléonore Vergeot, laundress at the prison at Ham, mother of his sons Alexandre Louis Eugène and Louis Ernest Alexandre[75]
  • Elisa Rachel Felix, the "most famous actress in Europe"
  • Harriet Howard (1823–1865) wealthy and a major financial backer
  • Virginia Oldoini, Countess di Castiglione (22 March 1837 – 28 November 1899) Spy, artist and famous beauty, sent by Camillo Cavour to influence the Emperor's politics
  • Marie-Anne Waleska, a possible mistress, who was the wife of Count Alexandre Joseph Count Colonna-Walewski, his relative and foreign minister
  • Justine Marie Le Boeuf, also known as Marguerite Bellanger, actress and acrobatic dancer. Bellanger was falsely rumoured to be the illegitimate daughter of a hangman, and was the most universally loathed of the mistresses, though perhaps his favorite[76]
  • Countess Louise de Mercy-Argenteau (1837–1890), likely a platonic relationship, author of The Last Love of an Emperor, her reminiscences of her association with the emperor.

His wife, Eugénie, resisted his advances prior to marriage. She was coached by her mother and her friend, Prosper Mérimée. "What is the road to your heart?" Napoleon demanded to know. "Through the chapel, Sire", she purportedly answered.[71] Yet, after marriage, it took not long for him to stray as Eugenie found sex with him "disgusting".[71] It is doubtful that she allowed further approaches by her husband once she had given him an heir.[72]

By his late forties, Napoleon started to suffer from numerous medical ailments, including kidney disease, bladder stones, chronic bladder and prostate infections, arthritis, gout, obesity, and the effects of chronic smoking. In 1856, Dr. Robert Ferguson, a consultant called from London, diagnosed a "nervous exhaustion" that had a "debilitating impact upon sexual ... performance"[73] and reported this also to the British government.[72]

With Prosper Mérimée, Napoleon III continued to seek the preservation of numerous mediaeval buildings in France, which had been left disregarded since the French revolution (a project Mérimée had begun during the July Monarchy). With Viollet-le-Duc acting as chief architect, many buildings were saved, including some of the most famous in France: Notre Dame Cathedral, Mont Saint-Michel, Carcassonne, Vézelay Abbey, Pierrefonds, and Roquetaillade castle.

Napoleon III also directed the building of the French railway network, which greatly contributed to the development of the coal mining and steel industry in France, thereby radically changing the nature of the French economy, which entered the modern age of large-scale capitalism.[77] The French economy, the second largest in the world at the time (behind the British economy), experienced a very strong growth during the reign of Napoleon III. Names such as steel tycoon Eugène Schneider or banking mogul James de Rothschild are symbols of the period. Two of France's largest banks, Société Générale and Crédit Lyonnais, still in existence today, were founded during that period. The French stock market also expanded prodigiously, with many coal mining and steel companies issuing stocks.

Although largely forgotten by later Republican generations, which only remembered the non-democratic nature of the regime, the economic successes of the Second Empire are today recognized as impressive by historians. The emperor himself, who had spent several years in exile in Victorian Lancashire, was largely influenced by the ideas of the Industrial Revolution in England, and he took particular care of the economic development of the country. He is recognized as the first ruler of France to have taken great care of the economy; previous rulers considered it secondary.

His military adventurism is sometimes considered a fatal blow to the Concert of Europe, which based itself on stability and balance of powers, whereas Napoleon III attempted to rearrange the world map to France's favour even when it involved radical and potentially revolutionary changes in politics. A 12-pound cannon designed by France is commonly referred to as a Napoleon cannon or 12-pounder Napoleon in his honour.

The historical reputation of Napoleon III is far below that of his uncle. Victor Hugo portrayed him as "Napoleon the Small" (Napoléon le Petit), a mere mediocrity, in contrast with Napoleon I "The Great", presented as a military and administrative genius. In France, such arch-opposition from the age's central literary figure, whose attacks on Napoleon III were obsessive and powerful, made it impossible for a very long time to assess his reign objectively. Karl Marx, in The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Napoleon, famously mocked Napoleon III by saying "Hegel remarks somewhere that all great world-historical facts and personages appear, so to speak, twice. He forgot to add: the first time as tragedy, the second time as farce." Napoleon III has often been seen as an authoritarian but ineffectual leader who brought France into dubious, and ultimately disastrous, foreign military adventures.[78]

Historians have also emphasized his attention to the fate of the working classes and poor people. His book Extinction du paupérisme ("Extinction of pauperism"), which he wrote while imprisoned at the Fort of Ham in 1844, contributed greatly to his popularity among the working classes and thus his election in 1848. Throughout his reign the emperor worked to alleviate the sufferings of the poor, on occasion breaching the 19th-century economic orthodoxy of complete laissez-faire and using state resources or interfering in the market. Among other things, the Emperor granted the right to strike to French workers in 1864, despite intense opposition from corporate lobbies. Marxist sociologist Göran Therborn has characterized the reign of Napoleon III as the "first modern bourgeois regime", one which combined a movement of mass support with bourgeois rule, albeit through authoritarian statist means.[79] According to Therborn, such a form of rule, ossified upon the point of crisis, proves fatal to such regimes once major external crises emerge.[80]

Napoleon III in films

Titles, styles, honours and arms

Royal styles of
Napoleon III of France
Reference style His Imperial Majesty
Spoken style Your Imperial Majesty
Alternative style My Lord

Titles and styles

  • 20 April 1808 – 9 July 1810: His Imperial and Royal Highness Louis-Napoléon Bonaparte, Prince of Holland
  • 20 April 1808 – 25 July 1846: His Imperial Highness Louis-Napoléon Bonaparte, Prince Imperial of France
  • 10 December 1848 – 2 December 1852: His Excellency Louis-Napoléon Bonaparte, President of the French Republic ("Le Prince-President")
  • 2 December 1852 – 4 September 1870: His Imperial Majesty the Emperor of the French
  • 4 September 1870 – 9 January 1873: His Imperial Majesty the former Emperor of the French

Full title as Emperor

His Imperial Majesty Napoleon the Third, By the Grace of God and the will of the Nation, Emperor of the French.[81]


Speculation about his paternity was a favorite topic of his detractors,[72] as his parents were estranged and his mother Hortense was known to have multiple lovers; however, the parents met briefly between 23 June and 6 July 1807, nine and a half months prior to his birth, and there is no reason to assume that Louis was not his father. Additionally, Article 312 of the Napoleonic Code stated (and still states) that the father of any child born within wedlock is the mother's husband. The meeting prior to his birth meant that there was no "impossibility" of conception, and that the Article 312 designated Louis as the father of the future Napoleon III.[82]


Writings by Napoleon III

  • Les Idees Napoleoniennes – an outline of Napoleon III's opinion of the optimal course for France, written before he became Emperor.
  • History of Julius Caesar, a historical work he wrote during his reign. He drew an analogy between the politics of Julius Caesar and his own, as well as those of his uncle.
  • Napoleon III wrote a number of articles on military matters (artillery), scientific issues (electromagnetism, pro and con of beet versus cane sugar), historical topics (The Stuart kings of Scotland), and on the feasibility of the Nicaragua canal. His pamphlet On the Extinction of Pauperism helped his political advancement.

See also



Sources and bibliography

  • McMillan, J. Napoleon III (Longman, 1991)
  • Thompson, J.M. Louis Napoleon and the Second Empire. Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1965.

Further reading

  • Baguley, David. Napoleon III and His Regime: An Extravaganza (2000)
  • Corley; T. A. B. Democratic Despot: A Life of Napoleon III (1961)
  • Cunningham; Michele. Mexico and the Foreign Policy of Napoleon III (Palgrave, 2001)
  • Duff, David. Eugenie and Napoleon III (Collins, 1978)
  • Gooch, Brison D., ed. Napoleon III – Man of Destiny: Enlightened Statesman or Proto-Fascist?, (1966) excerpt
  • Gooch, Brison D., ed. The Reign of Napoleon III, (1969)
  • Pinkney, David H. "Napoleon III's Transformation of Paris: The Origins and Development of the Idea," Journal of Modern History (1955) 27#2 pp 125–134 in JSTOR
  • Pinkney, David H. Napoleon III and the Rebuilding of Paris (Princeton University Press, 1958) ISBN 0-691-00768-3.
  • Price, Roger. "Napoleon III: 'hero' or 'grotesque mediocrity'?" History Review (2003) pp 14+
  • Price, Roger. Napoleon III and the Second Empire (Routledge, 1997)
  • Price, Roger. The French Second Empire: an anatomy of political power (Cambridge University Press, 2001)
  • Wawro, Geoffrey. The Franco-Prussian War: The German Conquest of France in 1870–1871(2005)
  • Wetzel, David A Duel of Giants: Bismarck, Napoleon III, and the Origins of the Franco-Prussian War (University of Wisconsin Press, 2001)
  • Wetzel, David. A Duel of Nations: Germany, France, and the Diplomacy of the War of 1870–1871 (University of Wisconsin Press; 2012) 310 pages
  • Zeldin, Theodore. The Political System of Napoleon III (Oxford University Press, 1958).


  • Campbell, Stuart L. The Second Empire Revisited: A Study in French Historiography (1978)
  • Spitzer, Alan B. "The Good Napoleon III," French Historical Studies (1962) 2#3 pp. 308–329 in JSTOR; praises his domestic policies

Primary sources

  • T. W. Evans, Memoirs of the Second French Empire, (New York, 1905)
  • Marie-Clotilde-Elisabeth Louise de Riquet, comtesse de Mercy-Argenteau, The Last Love of an Emperor: reminiscences of the Comtesse Louise de Mercy-Argenteau, née Princesse de Caraman-Chimay, describing her association with the Emperor Napoleon III and the social and political part she played at the close of the Second Empire (Garden City, N.Y., Doubleday, Page & Co., 1926).

External links

  • at
  • vol. 1 at MOA
  • vol. 2 at MOA
  • in French at
  • Editorial cartoons of the Second Empire
  • Place de la Revolution, Béziers & Napoleon 111
Napoleon III
Born: 20 April 1808 Died: 9 January 1873
Political offices
Preceded by
Louis-Eugène Cavaignac
President of the French Second Republic
20 December 1848 – 2 December 1852
became Emperor
Head of State of France
20 December 1848 – 4 September 1870
Succeeded by
Louis Jules Trochu
Regnal titles
Preceded by
Louis-Philippe of France
as King of the French
Emperor of the French
2 December 1852 – 4 September 1870
Empire dissolved
Preceded by
Co-Prince of Andorra
20 December 1848 – 4 September 1870
Succeeded by
Adolphe Thiers
Titles in pretence
Preceded by
Louis Bonaparte
Emperor of the French
25 July 1846 – 2 December 1852
Reason for succession failure:
Bourbon Restoration
became Emperor
Loss of title
Emperor of the French
4 September 1870 – 9 January 1873
Succeeded by
Napoleon IV

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