Napoleon’s Brother: Lucien Bonaparte

Napoleon’s brother Lucien Bonaparte was the third son of Carlo Bonaparte and Letizia Ramolino. He was six years younger than Napoleon and born on 21 May 1775 in Ajaccio on the island of Corsica. Lucien, like Napoleon, was educated on France’s mainland. He was educated at the College of Auton (in eastern France), a military academy in Brienne (north-central France), and a seminary in Aix-en-Provence (southern France).

Napoleon's brother Lucien Bonaparte

Napoleon’s brother Lucien Bonaparte by François-Xavier Fabre (1800). Courtesy of Wikipedia.

A description of Lucien when was he was young was written by 15-year-old Napoleon to his uncle. Napoleon described Lucien thusly:

“He is 9 years old, and 3 feet, 4 inches, and 6 lines tall. He is in the sixth class for Latin, and is going to learn all the subjects in the curriculum. He shows plenty of good disposition and has good intentions. It is to be hoped he will turn out well. He is in good health, is a big upstanding boy, quick and impulsive, and he is making a good start. He knows French well, and has forgotten all his Italian.”[1]

Napoleon's brother Lucien Bonaparte - Carlo Bonaparte

Carlo Bonaparte. Author’s collection.

Lucien was destined for an ecclesiastical career, but when the French Revolution broke out, he returned to Corsica, not having finished his studies. Lucien was not particularly interested in pursuing an ecclesiastical career anyway and, in fact, may not have had the temperament for it. He demonstrated impulsivity and political ambition instead. In Corsica, he joined the Jacobin Club and served as an outspoken member. He also became an ally to the leader of the Jacobins, Maximilien Robespierre, and was briefly imprisoned in Aix-en Provence after the coup of 9 Thermidor (27 July 1794), which deposed Robespierre and led to his execution the next day.

On Corsica, a Corsican nationalist named Pasquale Paoli objected to France ruling the island. Lucien’s father had once been a loyal follower of Paoli and even Napoleon idolized Paoli for a time. However, the Bonaparte family was beginning to support France partly because the Bonaparte boys had been educated in France and partly because Napoleon joined the French Army.

As the Bonaparte’s began to align more with France and less with Paoli, clashes resulted between them. Paoli wanted independence for his little island and he found himself fighting a guerilla war against France. However, what caused the final break between the Bonaparte family and Paoli was when Lucien openly branded Paoli a traitor at a Jacobin meeting in Toulon.

Lucien’s accusation offended many Corsicans, and they vociferously defended Paoli. Napoleon learned what Lucien had alleged about Paoli when he was with Paoli at Corte. According to tradition, Lucien’s accusation also meant Napoleon was against Paoli, and thus, on 30 April 1793, Napoleon fled from Corte to Ajaccio.

Napoleon also knew Lucien’s accusations put his entire family at risk. The risk became more perilous on 31 May 1793 when Paoli sealed the fate of the Bonaparte family by declaring that the family was ‘born in the mud of despotism, nourished and raised high under the eye … to their perpetual infamy.’[2] This declaration was a death warrant for the Bonaparte family, and, to save their lives, the family had no choice but to flee.

After their flight from Corsica, around the end of August, Napoleon’s brother Lucien Bonaparte began administering military subsistence for the Convention in Saint Maximin. He also became more politically active and began to demonstrate his oratory skills. Revolutionaries in Saint Maximin and elsewhere were whipped up because Federalists (royalist forces and other anti-Convention forces) had invaded Toulon and were occupying the city. In fact, the British navy was sitting in the Toulon harbor to protect it against Convention forces.

In Saint Maximin, universal indignation against the Federalists erupted in the form of speeches, with many young people speaking out against the invaders. Lucien was among those opposed to the Federalists. When he spoke, crowds came to listen to him, and, although only nineteen, his speeches rallied the crowds and won him great applause. Surprisingly, after just a few speeches, Lucien was elected president of the Saint Maximin’s revolutionary committee.

To strengthen his position, Lucien then decided to give more speeches and appeared regularly at the Patriotic Club. He wrote:

“The women rich and poor, came regularly to the sittings, bringing with them their work, and all worked that they might not be accused of aristocracy, and joined in chorus with the men in applauding me, and in singing the patriotic hymns.”[3]

Lucien’s position in Saint Maximin also allowed him a certain degree of influence. For instance, while in there, it became fashionable to take “antique names.” Lucien chose the name “Brutus” and his friends on the revolutionary committee followed suit taking either a Greek or Roman name. The committee also decided to rename Saint Maximin, which they called Marathon.

Encouraging name changes was not the only way Napoleon’s brother Lucien Bonaparte demonstrated his influence. Supposedly, he once used his influence to save thirty souls accused of being royalists. It seems that one of Robespierre’s agents accused thirty people of being traitors and ordered them to be to be taken to the prisons of Orange, where the guillotine was busy day and night. Lucien intervened, released the accused, and Robespierre’s agent departed, probably very unsatisfied at the outcome.

While living in Saint Maximin, Lucien met his future wife, 22-year-old Christine Boyer. She was the daughter of an innkeeper and the sister to Lucien’s housekeeper. Though pitted with smallpox, she was described as tall, slender, dark complected, with “native grace.” Christine also had an angelic disposition, and everyone who met her remarked on her kindness, affection, and love for Lucien. Nineteen-year-old Lucien was smitten and deeply in love, and he married Christine on 4 May 1794 without permission.

In 1795, Napoleon used his influence to help Lucien get appointed commissary of war to the army of the Rhine under the talented General Jean Victor Marie Moreau. (Moreau proved helpful to Napoleon when he overthrew the Directory, but later Napoleon viewed Moreau as a rival, and he was banished to the United States.) Christine accompanied Lucien to his new headquarters. There Lucien’s performance was not the best. He was uninterested in a military career, frequently gave rousing speeches, and caused fights with anyone whose opinion differed from his. However, his behavior was overlooked because of his relationship with various generals.

In 1797, Napoleon’s brother Lucien Bonaparte turned twenty-two. The French writer Laure Junot described him at that time in the following manner.

“[Lucien] was tall, ill-shaped, having limbs like those of the field-spider, and a small head, which with his tall stature, would have made him unlike his brothers, had not his physiognomy attested their common parentage. Lucien was very near-sighted, which made him half-shut his eyes and stoop his head. This defect would therefore have given him an unpleasing air, if his smile, always in harmony with his look, had not imparted something agreeable to his countenance. Thus, though he was rather plain than otherwise, he pleased generally.”[4]

Napoleon's brother Lucien Bonaparte

Napoleon’s brother Lucien Bonaparte. Author’s collection.

Lucien left the army and eventually ended up back in Corsica. There he was elected to the Council of Five-Hundred and became a member in February of 1798. He took his seat in May and was warmly welcomed by those who supported Napoleon. The same year that Lucien became a deputy was also the same year Napoleon decided France’s naval power was not strong enough to confront the British Royal Navy. He therefore planned a military expedition to seize Egypt, defend French trade interests, and weaken British access to British India. Additionally, the campaign also established scientific enterprises in the region, which led to the discovery of the Rosetta Stone.

When Napoleon’s Egyptian campaign began, Napoleon invited Lucien to accompany him. Lucien was more interested in pursuing a legislative career, and so he declined and stayed behind. After a time, Lucien found himself allied with those who were plotting to obtain a new constitution. Napoleon was still in Egypt at the time, so, Lucien sent him letters complaining of the foibles and misgoverning by the Directory. Lucien also urged Napoleon to return to France.

Napoleon did return, and while Lucien was serving as President of the Council of Five Hundred, he assisted Napoleon in the coup d’état of 18 Brumaire (9 November 1799) that overthrew the Directory. In fact, Lucien’s oratorical skills are what saved the day and resulted in Napoleon being named First Consul. Napoleon was so pleased with Lucien’s assistance that he appointed him Minister of the Interior under the Consulate. However, a subversive pamphlet came to light that was attributed to Lucien, and that caused a breach between the two brothers.

Napoleon’s brother Lucien Bonaparte was also known to fall in love easily and at one point he fell in love with the married French socialite Juliette Recamier. She was considered to be one of the three merveilleuses (Josephine de Beauharnais and Thérésa Cabarrus, called Madame Tallien, were the other two). The les merveilleuses (marvellous) were counterparts to the male incroyables (incredible) and not only affected fashion but also politics and art. Lucien acted like a love-sick fool after he met Juliette. He wrote her sickly sweet romantic letters calling her his Juliette and himself Romeo.

Juliette Récamier 1801 by Jean-Baptiste Jacques Augustin. Courtesy of Wikipedia.

At the end of 1800, Lucien was sent as an ambassador to Spain with the intent of encouraging the King of Spain to war against England’s ally, Portugal. He was successful in ingratiating himself with Charles IV. Thus, when the French army entered Portugal, Lucien opened negotiations, and, in June 1801, signed a preliminary peace agreement at Badajos. Lucien’s share was reported to have been tens of millions of francs, so that when he returned to Paris, he began to live in great splendor.

Around this same time, Lucien began to oppose many of Napoleon’s ideas. Further controversy erupted when Napoleon hoped to maintain Spain as an ally against England, and to help in that endeavor, he planned for his brother to marry a Bourbon Spanish princess. Lucien refused. Instead, on 26 October 1803, Lucien clandestinely married Alexandrine de Bleschamp, known as Madame Jouberthon, who was the widowed wife of the banker Hippolyte Jouberthon.

Lucien also opposed Napoleon when he wanted to declare himself Emperor. Once Napoleon crowned himself Emperor on 2 December 1804 at Notre Dame in a ceremony presided over by Pope Pius VII, Lucien found he had a new problem with his brother. It happened after Napoleon learned of Lucien’s second marriage and became incensed. He told Lucien that his children (those with Christine and the nine children Lucien would have with Madame Jouberthon) would not be included in the line of succession.

It was too much for Napoleon’s brother Lucien Bonaparte. He spurned all imperial honors, renounced Napoleon, and moved to Rome. However, by 1807, Napoleon was hoping for a reconciliation with Lucien. He asked their mother Letizia to write to Lucien, and she encouraged Lucien to abandon Madame Jouberthon. Napoleon also promised that if he did so, his imperial rights would be restored and his children recognized in the line of succession. In addition, Napoleon promised Lucien that he would allow him to continue to live with Madame Jouberthon without objection. Once again Lucien refused to compromise.

Letizia Ramolino Bonaparte. Author’s collection.

Other suggestions and actions by Napoleon also proved not to Lucien’s liking. For instance, Napoleon suggested Lucien’s 12-year-old daughter marry the Crown Prince Ferdinand of Spain, but Lucien was not interested. Lucien was also friends with Pope Pius VII and unhappy when the Papal states were annexed, and the Pope imprisoned. On 11 March 1808, Napoleon wrote to his brother Joseph about Lucien stating:

“Lucien is misconducting himself at Rome, even going so far as to insult the Roman officers who take my side, and is far more Roman than the Pope himself. I desire you will write for him to leave Rome, and retire to Florence or Pisa. I do not choose him to remain at Rome, and if he refuses to take this course, I only await your answer to have him removed by force. His conduct has been scandalous; he is my open enemy, and that of France. If he persists in this opinion, America will be the only refuge left him.”[5]

Lucien must have thought going to America was a good idea, because in 1810, he decided to move his family to the United States. Unfortunately, he and his family never made it. The British captured them. Lucien and his family then settled at the market town of Shropshire in England, known as Ludlow, and later the family occupied a country home at Thorngrove in Worcestershire. It was there in Worcestershire that Lucien worked on a poem about the heroic Charlemagne when Napoleon branded him a traitor. Napoleon believed Lucien had betrayed him and deliberately relocated to Britain to spite him. Thus, he removed all references to Lucien from Imperial almanacs from 1811 until his abdication in 1814.

After Napoleon’s abdication in 1814 at Fontainebleau, Lucien returned to France. He then journeyed to Rome and was made Prince of Canino, Count of Apollino, and Lord of Nemori by Pope Pius VII on 18 August 1814. While Napoleon was living in exile on Elba, Lucien and Napoleon softened their opinions against one another, so that when Napoleon’s Hundred Days occurred, Lucien supported his brother and even briefly joined him in his return to power. Napoleon then made Lucien a French prince and included his children in the line of succession, although after Napoleon’s second abdication, they were not recognized.

Napoleo's brother Lucien Bonaparte - Napoleon's abdication

Napoleon’s abdication at Fontainebleau. Courtesy of Wikipedia.

When Napoleon was defeated at Waterloo, the Chamber of Deputies and the Chamber of Peers discussed Napoleon being deposed. Napoleon wanted to dissolve the Chambers and declare himself a dictator, believing that would save France. Lucien supported his brother’s ideas. Thus, Napoleon sent Lucien to address the Chambers hoping that his oratorical skills might save him, just as Lucien had saved him during the coup d’état of 18 Brumaire. Lucien’s speech was eloquent and many of those present had some sympathy for Napoleon.

Lucien tried to explain the “state of affairs” but found himself appealing to the feelings of those present. In the middle of his speech, before he had finished, the famous French hero of the American Revolution, the Marquis de Lafayette rose. He was not moved by what Lucien had to say, and he decided France had suffered enough. The Marquis then spoke directly to Lucien stating:

“The assertion which has just been uttered, is a calumny. Who shall dare to accuse the French nation of inconstancy to the Emperor Napoleon? That nation has followed his bloody footsteps through the sands of Egypt and through the wastes of Russia; over fifty fields of battle; in disaster as faithful as in victory; and it is for having thus devotedly followed him, that we now mourn the blood of three million … Frenchmen.”[6]

Lucien never finished his speech, and Napoleon’s brief reign ended when he abdicated on 22 June 1815 in favor of his son, Napoleon Francis Joseph Charles Bonaparte (Napoleon II). It was a formality because his 4-year-old son was living in exile in Austria at the time and was probably not even aware of his father’s abdication. Moreover, with Napoleon’s abdication, a provisional government was established with Joseph Fouché as acting president and Napoleon living the remainder of his life in British detention on the island of St. Helena. He died there on 5 May 1821 from stomach cancer.

Napoleon's brother Lucien Bonaparte

Napoleon’s brother Lucien Bonaparte. Courtesy of Bibliothèque nationale de France.

A year after Napoleon’s abdication, Lucien tried to obtain passports for he and his family to go to the United States. His request was rejected. Thus, like his mother, brother Louis, sister Pauline, and uncle Cardinal Feschi, he decided to stay in Italy where he owned substantial property. He then began to excavate in La Camella, which was on his estate of Canino and believed to be the site of an Etruscan city named Vetulonia. During the excavations, Lucien made some interesting finds, established an Etruscan antiquity collection, and maintained a museum and a gallery. He also published a description of his finds and collection titled “Musée Etrusque de Lucien Bonaparte, prince de Canino.”

When a Papal insurrection broke out in 1831, he and his family remained above the fray. It was around that same time that Napoleon’s brother Lucien Bonaparte visited England and published some of his works. He also met with his brother Joseph while in England. Joseph had strong desires to help Napoleon’s son, Napoleon II, gain the French throne, but, unfortunately, Napoleon II died before that could become a reality. In 1836, Lucien wrote his Mémoires, and four years later, in Viterbo, Italy, on 29 June 1840, Lucien died from stomach cancer, the same disease that killed his brother Napoleon, his sister Pauline, and his father.

Joseph Bonaparte. Author’s collection.


  • [1] J. M. Thompson, Letters of Napoleon (Read Books Limited, 2013), p. 1.
  • [2] M. Broers, Napoleon: Soldier of Destiny (New York: Pegasus Books LLC, 2014), p. 70.
  • [3] L. Bonaparte, Memoirs of Lucien Bonaparte, Prince of Canino (New York: Harper, 1836), p. 20.
  • [4] L. J. Abrantès, Memoirs of Napoleon, His Court and Family v. 1 (London: R. Bentley, 1836), p. 143–44.
  • [5] W. Whipple, The story-life of Napoleon: Hundreds of short stories from the greatest variety of sources reconciled and fitted together in a complete and continuous biography (New York: The Century Co., 1914), p. 408.
  • [6] The United States Literary Gazette v. 2 (Cummings, Hilliard, & Company, 1825), p. 13.

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