By Brian McCabe


What’s that you say – Napoleon never visited Ireland. Well, certainly Napoleon l (Bonaparte) never did, despite his involvement with Irish republican leaders and his dispatching of two military expeditions to Ireland in the 1790s. However, his nephew, Louis Napoleon, known as Napoleon lll, certainly did, on at least two occasions.

Charles-Louis Napoleon Bonaparte, later known as Louis Napoleon, and then as Napoleon lll, was born in Paris on 20th April, 1808. His father was Louis Bonaparte, the younger brother of Napoleon Bonaparte. His mother was Hortense de Beauharnais, the only daughter of Napoleon’s wife Joséphine, by her first marriage.

Ever since the death of the original Napoleon, a ‘Bonapartist’ movement had existed in France, disillusioned with the reigning royal family, and hoping to return a Bonaparte to the throne. According to the law of succession established by Napoleon I, the claim passed first to his own son, who had been declared ‘King of Rome’ at birth, by his father.

This heir, known by Bonapartists as Napoleon ll, had been living in virtual imprisonment at the Austrian court, and when he died in 1832, Charles-Louis Napoleon became the de facto heir of the dynasty and the leader of the Bonapartist cause.

With his military background (obtained in the Swiss army when in exile with his mother) and with the support of the Bonapartist activists, he tried twice to seize power in France by force. The first time (in Strasbourg on 30th October, 1836) he failed and was taken prisoner and jailed. In December 1840, when the remains of his famous uncle were brought back to France to be buried in Paris, he tried again, but this attempt also failed.

In 1848 however, a revolution in the country overthrew King Louis-Philippe and the ‘Second French Republic’ was established – to be headed by a President elected by universal male suffrage. Backed by the ‘Party of Order’, Louis-Napoleon presented himself as a candidate, and on 10 December, 1848, he won the election with 74 per cent of votes.

Continue reading in this week’s Ireland’s Own