Napoleon II

Napoleon II Biography

Duke (1811–1832)
The son of Napoleon Bonaparte, who named him as his successor, Napoleon II never actually ruled France, but was considered the titular Emperor.


Francois Joseph Charles Bonaparte, also known as Napoleon II, was born on March 20, 1811, amidst the collapse of the French empire and raised in exile in Austria. Having a passion for the military at an early age, he trained hard but was denied the opportunity by his family and the forces of European politics. Poor health eventually led him to contract tuberculosis and he died on July 22, 1832, in Vienna, Austria.

Early Life

The story of Napoleon Francois Joseph Charles Bonaparte is as tragic as it is brief. The only son of Napoleon Bonaparte, raised in a foreign country, he studied hard to be soldier, but was prevented from ever serving and died young.

Born on March 20, 1811, to a salvo of cannon fire announcing the long-awaited birth of the French heir, young Francois was a challenging birth for his mother, Archduchess Marie Louise of Austria, weighing in at 9 pounds and 20 inches tall. The optimism of his birth would be short-lived by his parents and the nation of France.

On April 14, 1814, three years after Francois's birth, the first French empire collapsed as Paris was captured by the coalition forces of Austria, Sweden, Great Britain and Spain. Napoleon Bonaparte abdicated the throne to his son (who briefly ruled in name only), but then withdrew all claim to power for his decedents. The Fontainebleau Treaty, which ended Napoleon's rule and exiled him to Elba Island, granted Francois the title prince de Parme ("prince of Parma").

Life in Austria

Maria Louise took Francois to Austria placed in the care of his grandfather, Emperor Francis I. After his father's defeat at Waterloo in 1815, Francois served as emperor of France in abstention for 20 days between June 22 and July 7, 1815. During his early life, Francois was never told much about his father.

In 1818, Napoleon II was named duke of Reichstadt—a Bohemian territorial title—and treated as an Austrian prince. He was educated by a staff of military tutors and developed a passion for soldiering, dressing in a miniature uniform like his father's and performing maneuvers in the palace. At the age of 8, it was apparent to his tutors that he had chosen his career.

By 1820, Napoleon II had completed his elementary studies and begun his military training, learning German, Italian and math as well as receiving advanced physical training. His official army career began at age 12, in 1823, when he was made a cadet in the Austrian Army. Accounts from his tutors describe Napoleon II as intelligent, serious and focused. Additionally, he was a very tall young man: He had grown to nearly 6 feet by the time he was 17.

Unfilled Ambition

His budding military career gave some concern and fascination to the monarchies of Europe and French leaders over his possible return to France. However, he was allowed to play no political role and instead was used by Austrian Chancellor Klemens von Metternich in bargaining with France to gain advantage for Austria. Fearful of anyone in the Bonaparte family regaining political power, Metternich even rejected a request for Francois to move to warmer climate in Italy. Napoleon II received another rejection when his grandfather refused to allow him to be part of the army traveling to Italy to put down a rebellion.

Sickness and Death

In 1831, Napoleon II was given command of an Austrian battalion, but he never got the chance to serve in any meaningful capacity. In 1832, he caught pneumonia and was bedridden for several months. His poor health eventually overtook him and on July 22, 1832, Napoleon II died of tuberculosis at Schonbrunn Palace in Vienna, Austria. In 1940, as a gift to France from Adolf Hitler, Napoleon II's remains were transferred from Vienna to the dome of Les Invalides in Paris, France, where he now rests beside his father.

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