Napoleon had five children. He adopted two, then he had two kids with his mistresses and, finally, one with his wife.
Find out which of Napoleon’s children had their act together -and which did not:
1. Eugene de Beauharnais: reliability
Eugene was originally Napoleon’s stepson.
Napoleon married a widow, Josephine, in 1796.
She had two children with her first husband, the Viscount of Beauharnais: 15-year-old Eugene and Hortense.
Fortunately, Napoleon loved children and was family-oriented. So he was warm and welcoming to his stepchildren. Both kids later said so.
And in a speech, Eugene once said: “To us, he has been a true father. In us, he will find devoted children at all times…”
Napoleon showered his stepchildren with gifts and titles.
He made teenage Eugene his aide-de-camp, a coveted military position; then, a general, a prince of France (1804), and even viceroy of Italy (1805).
Now, Napoleon advanced all his relatives. But that usually backfired disastrously. Not with Eugene. He was up to the challenge.
Eugene was successful in battle. And he was an efficient and popular viceroy.
In the last years of his life, Napoleon said: “Eugene has never caused me a moment’s sorrow.”
After becoming emperor, Napoleon wanted to make alliances with other royal families. Problem was, he did not have children.
So in 1806, he adopted Eugene and married him to Princess Augusta of Bavaria.
The couple had a happy marriage. And their children married into the royal families of Sweden, Norway, Portugal, Brazil, and Russia. Napoleon’s dream come true.
Eugene died in 1824, three years after Napoleon. He is buried in Munich.
Fun fact: Napoleon was only 12 years older than Eugene.
2. Stephanie de Beauharnais: lively
She was the niece of Josephine’s first husband.
So Napoleon and Josephine took her in and treated her like family.
And when Napoleon was confronted with a tactical problem, he thought of Stephanie.
He wanted to marry his stepson Eugene to Princess Augusta of Bavaria.
But her father was refusing. He said the princess was already betrothed to the Prince of Baden.
Betrothed, you say? No, problem. Napoleon broke the engagement.
Since there was now a sulky prince without a bride, Napoleon offered him the hand of Stephanie.
Neither side of the broken engagement was very happy.
They had expected to marry old blue-bloods. And they were being offered some minor players.
Napoleon stepped up his game. He adopted Eugene and Stephanie in 1806 so they became the children of an emperor.
Prince Carl of Baden was still not exactly pleased, but he budged.
Stephanie, meanwhile, thought that now that she was an emperor’s daughter, she should marry a king, not a prince.
Everyone told her that it was she who was marrying up, but the vain 17-year-old girl did not believe it.
She did not treat her groom very respectfully.
Alas, the marriage was not happy. The couple lived in separate homes.
But Napoleon had his wish: he now had family alliances with two old houses of Europe: Bavaria and Baden.
The descendants of Stephanie include Prince Albert of Monaco and the King Philippe of Belgium.
3. Leon: the train wreck
Did you say party animal? Yes, that was Leon.
After a few years of marriage, Napoleon found out his wife was cheating on him. The nerve. So he began cheating too.
Enter Eleonor Denuelle.
She was young and pretty.
Eleonore and Napoleon had a shortish affair, and she fell pregnant. Now that was a surprise.
Napoleon had been married for several years and had no children -while his wife had-, so he thought he was infertile. He was thrilled to finally be a father.
He attended his son’s birth on December 13, 1806. And he even allowed Eleonore to name the baby after him, sort of: Leon, for Napo-leon.
Leon was raised by nurses and tutors in a large estate near his father’s palace in Paris. And Napoleon set a huge 30,000 francs a year allowance for him.
Napoleon’s valet Constant wrote: “the Emperor loved the son tenderly; and I brought him to him often, on which occasions he caressed the child, gave him a great many delicacies, and was much amused by his vivacity and repartees…”
Once Napoleon remarried, he saw less of his son. But he did not forget him, the boy even lived with Napoleon’s mother for a while.
When Leon was 8, his dad was exiled.
And 7 years later, Napoleon died, still in exile. He mentioned Leon in his will.
Leon grew up to be quite a character.
Leon loved telling everyone he was the son of great Napoleon.
Others thought he was not so much ‘popular’ as “the prey of parasites and gamblers,” who took his money.
Leon was a drunk and a gambler.
He went to debtor’s prison twice. He was evicted from his home.
Leon was involved in two duels. In one of them, he killed a man and was charged with manslaughter. Fortunately for him, a jury decided to acquit Napoleon’s son.
He was constantly in trouble with the police, so they kept an eye on him.
According to a police report, when Leon was 34, he was the lover of a fortune-teller of “vicious life.” She lived with a clerk. And Leon took the money of both the fortune teller and the clerk.
In one of his money-grabbing schemes, Leon set up a ‘charity’ for the poor. He then asked the French government to fund it with one million francs. The government turned him down.
That was Leon. Or as he liked to be called, Count Leon.
Leon, obviously, squandered it. He was in his forties and fifties at the time.
At 52, he married the daughter of his former gardener and had many children.
And at 74, he died in absolute poverty.
4. Alexandre: the successful one
Alexandre Walewski was Napoleon’s second love child.
He was, arguably, Napoleon’s most accomplished child.
Yet she had a years-long affair with Napoleon in Poland and Austria. Their son Alexandre was born on May 4, 1810 in Poland. Napoleon was away.
And Maria’s -much older- husband chose to recognize the child as his own.
Soon, though, Maria and her son followed Napoleon to Paris. And he set them up in a large estate with a vast allowance.
According to Napoleon’s valet Constant, Maria “gave birth to a son, who bore a striking resemblance to the Emperor, to whom this event was a source of great joy; and he hastened to her as soon as it was possible to escape from the chateau, and taking the child in his arms, and caressing him, as he had just caressed the mother, said to him, ‘I make you a count.'”
When Alexandre was four, his father was exiled to Elba. And Maria took the boy to visit him there.
Exiled Napoleon was ecstatic. According to witnesses, he played hide and seek with his son and rolled on the grass with him.
Napoleon told Maria that the boy had wit and would be a social success.
The proud father was right. Adult Alexandre was a social success, both in London and in Paris. People described him as “wonderfully handsome and agreeable.”
Sadly, Alexandre’s parents died when he was a boy. So he was raised by his maternal uncle in Poland.
Everything was going well until his uncle wanted Alexandre to join the army. The 14-year-old bolted. He fled to London and Paris.
He returned to Poland when he was twenty, but his fellow Poles soon sent him as their diplomat to London.
This was the beginning of Alexandre’s successful diplomatic and political career.
Later on, Alexandre chose to become a French citizen, like his father.
The rest of his career was in service to France; he went on diplomatic missions to Egypt, Argentina, Italy, and England.
When his cousin Napoleon III came to power, Alexandre’s career received a further boost.
He became France’s Minister of Foreign Affairs, then Minister of State, president of the Legislative Body, and a senator.
And in 1866, he became a Duke of the Empire.
He married two noblewomen. First an English one, and after she died, an Italian one. And he had seven children.
5. Napoleon II: the awaited heir
Napoleon had waited 41 years for an heir, so when Napoleon II was born, he was delighted. On the left, the emperor strolls around Paris with his empress wife and child. On the right, Napoleon II as a teenager.
Napoleon had waited 41 years for an heir. So when Napoleon II was born, he shed tears of joy.
By now, Napoleon had divorced Josephine and married Arch-duchess Marie-Louise of Austria.
Their son came into the world with all the pomp expected of the French heir. He was born at the Palace of the Tuileries in Paris. And bells and 101 cannon shots announced his birth, which made all of Paris erupt in cheers.
All witnesses said the same: Napoleon was an ultra-doting father. He enjoyed playing with his son and spent as much time as possible with him.
Napoleon’s valet wrote: “The Emperor was passionately devoted to his son; took him in his arms every time he saw him, and jumped him up and down most merrily, and was delighted with the joy he manifested. He teased him by carrying him in front of the mirror and making grimaces, at which the child laughed till he cried. While at breakfast, he took him on his knee, dipped his finger in the sauce… and smeared his face with it… the Emperor laughed still more heartily, and the child, who enjoyed the sport, begged his father to repeat it.”
The duo ate breakfast together every day. And the boy freely entered his father’s studio at any time.
Everyone in the palace tried to please him. The prince had a golden childhood.
But then disaster happened. His father was forced to go into exile in 1814.
Napoleon Francois was three the last time he saw his father.
Exiled Napoleon constantly talked about his son. And many times, with tears in his eyes, he said it was cruel that he was not allowed to see him.
Across the world, young Napoleon also missed his dad. But he was not allowed to communicate with him.
Napoleon Francois was in a complicated position. His mother had dropped him in her natal Austria. So he was raised by his granddad, Emperor Francis I… who had defeated and exiled Napoleon.
Talk about complicated family dynamics.
But Napoleon’s granddad did love him.
They lived in gorgeous Schonbrunn Palace. And the concerned granddad tried to steer him into an Austrian life, away from French politics. He called him Franz instead of Napoleon, gave him Austrian nobiliary titles, and dismissed his French entourage.
He also protected Franz-Napoleon from assassination attempts by those who feared Franz would claim the French throne.
The prince did not hear many good things about his dad growing up but still loved him. When Franz was ten, he found out his father had died and burst out crying.
Franz was popular in Austria because he was charming, enthusiastic, intelligent, and level-headed.
He chose a military career, which he took seriously. But he died of tuberculosis when he was just 21 years old.
Franz summarized his story pretty well on his death bed: “Must I end so young a life that is useless…? My birth and my death -that is my whole story.”
Napoleon had an unofficial sixth child: Hortense. She was Napoleon’s beloved stepdaughter.
Some believe Napoleon also fathered children in Egypt and St. Helena.
The Egyptian charge is unlikely. If he had had a child in Egypt with his French mistress, he would have known much sooner that he was fertile.
But perhaps he did have children in St. Helena.
If he did, though, he did not recognize them.
And according to his friends, Napoleon only had two love children: Leon and Alexandre.
More on Napoleon: