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Napoleon’s Family: The Notorious Bonapartes and Their Ascent to the Thrones of Europe

By Desmond Seward

Napoleon was born in 1769, the son of a Corsican squire, at a time when the French regarded Corsica as a savage outpost. By the time Napoleon fell from power, he and his seven brothers and sisters had ruled over half of Europe.

In the wake of the French Revolution, Napoleon’s military genius won him fabulous victories and, with typical Corsican tribal loyalty, he spread his new-found power throughout his family. He placed Bonapartes on the thrones of Spain, Naples, Tuscany, Rome, Holland and Westphalia. At the end of his life, while in exile on St Helena, he tried to give the impression that his family was worthy of the honours he had heaped on it – but privately, he felt differently. 

One quiet evening in the Tuileries, during the days of glory, he told them: ‘I don’t think that anyone has ever been more unfortunate in his relations. If we sum up, Lucien is an ingrate, Joseph a Sardanapalus, Louis a paralytic and Jérôme a rake. And you, ladies, you know perfectly well what you are.’ And indeed, their wild love of pleasure and ridiculous, sometimes comic, pretensions contributed to the fall of the Empire.

In this colourful account of the rise and fall of the Bonaparte family, Desmond Seward uses his considerable storytelling skill and wide historical knowledge to paint a vivid picture of what can only be described as a quite extraordinary family saga.

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