For him there was a glorious future awaiting, thanks to the many paternal victories. He should have become emperor succeeding his prince father Napoleon and mother Marie Louise of Parma, but he died at the age of 21.
Below: Napoléon François Joseph in the garden of Tuileries in Paris. Painting by Georges Rouget
On the 1° of April 1810 in the Castle of Saint Cloud, the emperor Napoleon Bonaparte and the daughter of the Emperor of Austria Marie Louise got married. Less than a year afterwards, on the 21st of March 1811 the 19 years old empress gave birth to a beautiful child with golden curls.
the Aiglon, the little eagle of the empire
The people of France were cheerful: 101 cannon shots celebrated the birth of the King of Rome, the Angel of the peace as Victor Hugo and Chateaubriand called him.
Napoléon François Joseph Charles Bonaparte was the heir of the oldest monarchy of Europe from his mother side (the Hapsburg) and the biggest empire ever conquered by father side, the Napoleon Empire. The father himself said about his son
I have been Philip, he will be Alexander
Below: Napoleon Bonaparte painted by Jacques-Louis David
The war approached and the unexpected betrayal too: Francis I, defeated years behind and who gave his daughter to him, wanted to take back what he pretended he gave to them. Napoleon decided to do what the historians believe to be his worst mistake: in 1812 he said goodbye to his wife and son and left for the invasion of Russia. He never saw them anymore.
Below: Marie Louise of Parma painted by François Gérard
During the disastrous campaign of Russia, as Tolstoj said in his “War and Peace”, Napoleon showed with pride the painting of his son, that the writer described as “curly haired and very beautiful, with the glance similar to the Christ of the Sistine Madonna”. That angel though, did not prevent the utter defeat of the Grand Armeé from happening.
At the news that the Russian soldiers were approaching Paris, Marie Louise left the French capital and found refuge in Vienna. She still didn’t know this yet, but the paternal court would have become for the little one the only golden prison he ever knew and where he eventually died.
Below: Napoléon François Joseph Charles Bonaparte painted by Thomas Lawrence
After the defeat in Leipzig in 1813 and his exile in Elba, Napoleon escaped the island and this fuelled his supporters to hope for him coming back. Napoleon came back to Paris looking for his wife and son, remembered as the “100 days”. During both the exile and his 100 days the man pleaded his wife to come back with their son, but Francis I was keeping her imprisoned while threatening her. The woman who once was Empress of France and Queen of Italy now had no more power whatsoever.
Below: painting by Leopold Bucher of the young Napoleon
Waterloo concluded completely the European Aegis of Napoleon. The man was defeated and sent in exile in Saint Helena, this time in the Atlantic. He abdicated in the name of his son who then for an extremely short time was emperor of France with the name of Napoleon II. However the Hapsburgs, although the child was from mother side their own son too, denied him anything. From now on the Bourbon came back on the European scene and on the French throne too.
Below: Napoleon II as an infant, painting by François Gérard
Marie Luise obtained the Duchy of Parma, Piacenza and Guastalla, which she ruled while solving their poverty and bringing them back to the old splendor, as well as improving them even further than the previous Farnese family did. The deal for going back to Italy is heavy though
She had to leave her son in Vienna
The Ducky was entrusted to her through a deal for which at her death the son would have not succeeded her. As son of Napoleon, the young man was excluded by any position, detail that his grandfather the Emperor of Austria was fully aware of.
Below: the duke of Reichstadt, Napoleon II. Bust made by Pietro Tenerani
Napoleon II became Francis, like his grandfather, with whom he grew up. He became a beautiful young man, who was shaking girls and move the Bonaparte supporters. The poet Auguste Barthélemy met the young man to the theater and wrote of him:
“nephew of a Caesar and son of an entrepreneur/ Heir of the world born King of Rome/ you are nothing today but the son of the Man”. The Austrian censorship forbid the distribution of the book, “The Son of the Man”.
In 1821 Napoleon died in Saint Helene and Austria denied the legacy he left to his son. So, between the rare visits of his mother, that in the meantime had become an adult woman and that she had built up a new family, the young Francis grew up, but did not live much longer.
In 1831 he discovered that in Parma the uprising of the Carbonari was destroying the city where his mother was based. He knew very well that according to a previous treaty he was Prince of Parma and King of Rome, hence of the whole Italian land. So, with the passion of his 20 years old he decided to take off to those places that belong to him
Metternich, the harsh chancellor under Francis I denied him to leave the gates of Vienna
One year later, at the age of 21, Frensis was bedridden, dying. Marie Louise ran to his bedside, crying, incredulous as maybe the weak conditions of her son had been kept secret from her for all that time. There were some rumours implying of a poisoning by the Austrian forces. The son of the Empire, the Eagle of Peace was gone.
He died in the Schornbrunn Palace on the 22nd of july 1832
Below: illustration of the duke of Reichstadt on his deathbed made by Franz Xaver Stöber
Buried in the tomb of the Capuchins, he was then reached by his mother who died at 56 years old, 15 years after him. In 1940 Hitler took his remains from Vienna and moved him next to his father, in the Pantheon of Paris.
Below: Napoleon II’s tomb. Les Invalides, Paris. Picture by Didier Grau shared via Wikipedia – licence CC BY-SA 3.0
In 1900 the book of Edmond Rostand had been published posthumous: the work was dedicated to the young man prematurely gone, who was destined to everything and deprived of it all. The “Aiglon”, splendid tragedy in 6 acts which was worth to its creator the Legion of Honour.
Below: news of the death of the King of Rome on the Gazzetta di Parma newspaper on 28th of July 1832
Of the Aiglon what is left is the memory of the beautiful young man that was the very first King of Italy by right. If only he had survived, history might have unfolded differently.