http://www.pasthorizonspr.com/index.php/archives/02/2013/slippers-of-napoleon-bonapartes-sister-uncovered-in-museumTasked with cleaning and sorting a collection at the University of Aberdeen Museum in northeast Scotland, Louise Wilkie, who joined the team last June was working on one of her first major assignments and stumbled upon a set of tiny slippers. Thanks to some detective work by the curatorial assistant it has now been verified that the embroidered shoes boast a connection to Napoleon Bonaparte’s sister, Princess Pauline Borghese.
The collection that Louise was sorting belonged to the Banff-born medical graduate and extensive traveller Robert Wilson(1787 – 1871).
The decorative shoes, which are equivalent to a UK child’s size two are incredibly narrow and measure just 40mm across the toes. Robert Wilson left his collection of objects from his extensive travels to the museum in Aberdeen in his will of 1871. As part of the list of the objects donated is the description of ‘A pair of slippers – Pauline, Rome Jan 20th 1824’. The same inscription is on the base of the slipper.
Louise began to look at other archival material held by the University and soon found that Wilson had a friendship with Princess Pauline Borghese.
A close friendship in a scandalised court
“Letters from him to Pauline show a close friendship and in his diary he describes how she spent a lot of time with him travelling in Italy and gave him many gifts, including a ring which is also held in the museum collections.” Louise recounted.
The delicate dimensions of the slippers also fit with descriptions of Princess Pauline, who was said to have been an exquisitely beautiful but very petite woman, who was often carried from room to room.
She was a colourful character – the youngest sister of Napoleon who became Princess Pauline when she married Prince Camillo Borghese in 1803. This marriage was not a happy one, due to Pauline’s infidelity and much of her life was riddled with scandal.
She met Wilson, who graduated in Medicine from Marischal College, Aberdeen and served as a ship’s surgeon with the East India Company, in the 1820s.
With wealth secured through profitable trading while in the Company’s service and a driving curiosity, Wilson had become a prolific traveller.
Louise added: “The relationship between Wilson and Princess Pauline can only be speculated upon, however records do indicate some form of attraction and attachment.
“In his diary he wrote ‘I passed a fortnight in the vicinity of Pisa with the Princess Borgese in a state of almost perfect seclusion and afterwards accompanied her to the Baths of Lucca.’
Princess Pauline’s slippers and the ring she gifted to Wilson are now on display for the first time in the University of Aberdeen’s King’s Museum as part of a display of ‘100 Curiosities’.
Neil Curtis, Head of Museums at the University of Aberdeen, said: “The University holds huge collections and many of the items given to us over the years do not have full descriptions.
This was a classic example of historical detective work that pieced together the fascinating history behind the slippers and the remarkable life of both Robert Wilson and the Princess Pauline, sister of Napoleon.”
Source: University of Aberdeen