The Objects

25th Apr 1815

Source: ©RMN-Grand Palais (Château de Fontainebleau/ Christian Jean)

Dressing the Eaglet: The Uniform of Napoleon’s Exiled Son

Contributed by: Elodie Duché

This embroidered white uniform was crafted in 1815 in Vienna for Napoleon’s four-year old son, François Joseph Charles Bonaparte, also known as l’Aiglon (The Eaglet), who emigrated to Austria with his mother, Empress Marie Louise, following his father’s first abdication. Delicately adorned with gold and silver cords, and accompanied by a silk sash and a presentation sword, this uniform encapsulates the conflicting titles the imperial child received in absentia during his father’s attempt to regain power in France between 1814 and 1815.

Whilst the Fontainebleau Treaty downgraded François’s title to that of Prince of Parma (instead of King of Rome), the child’s right to the throne was again revised upon his father’s return from Elba. In 22 April 1815, the acte additionnel aux constitutions de l’empire restored his status as imperial prince.

The uniform was certainly commissioned after his father’s defeat at Waterloo, when the child was declared Emperor of France in abstention for twenty days between 22 June and 7 July 1815. Whilst this brief regency enabled Louis-Napoléon Bonaparte to proclaim himself Emperor Napoleon III in 1851, the recognition of the child was a political mise-en-scène, based on an obsolete constitution and approved by a temporary Executive Commission whose primary intention was to end the imperial regime. In fact, the acts promulgating the child as Emperor did not mention his betrothal as Napoleon II. Placed under the care of his grandfather at Schönbrunn Palace in Vienna, the boy was not told much about his father owing to the political division between Austria and France.

Napoleon’s summons to Marie Louise during the 100 Days to join him in Paris and to treat the boy as a French prince went unheeded, and he never saw his son again. During Napoleon’s exile on Saint Helena, the child was educated into the Austrian nobility: François became Franz, and in 1818 he was named Duke of Reichstadt. Yet, the early bearing of uniforms did influence the boy’s identity, and led him to develop a fervent passion for soldiering at the age of six, which he later pursued in the Austrian Army.

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