“Permit me to be the Rudolph of my own dynasty.” That was reportedly Napoleon’s defiant response to the Austrian Emperor Francis’s attempt to embellish Napoleon’s ancestry in preparation for the French Emperor’s marriage to Francis’s daughter Marie-Louise. Although Napoleon was from a somewhat prominent Corsican family and had some ancestral connections to Italian nobility, he based his power on military dominance not genealogy. By referring to the 13th-century-Swabian count Rudolph von Habsburg, Napoleon sought to remind the Austrian emperor that every great ruling dynasty must have its founder.
When Corsicans Ruled the World
Napoleon and the members of his family provide the most vivid examples of foreign imported monarchs. Of course Napoleon (f.k.a. Napoleone di Buonaparte) himself was practically a foreigner to the France he ruled (Corsica only became part of France a year before Napoleon was born) . Napoleon established his siblings as monarchs throughout Europe. His brother Joseph (f.k.a. Giuseppe) was king of Naples and then Spain, Louis (f.k.a. Luigi) was king of Holland, Jerome (f.k.a. Girolamo) reigned as king of Westphalia and the Bonaparte sisters held various titles by virtue of marriage.
None of these monarchies, however, including Napoleon’s, endured. Instead, the only new monarchy of the Napoleonic era to endure was perhaps the most improbable: the Bernadotte dynasty in Sweden. (Napoleon’s brother in-law Joachim Murat, who ruled in Naples, withstood Napoleon’s first defeat in 1814, but he too was deposed after Waterloo and was executed by a Calabrese firing squad. The immortal last words of the vain Murat were “Aim for the heart, but spare the face!”)
Joseph Bonaparte. After the downfall of his brother, Joseph lived in the United States for 15 years (mostly in New Jersey) before finally settling in Italy. His wife, Julie Clary, was the sister of Bernadotte’s wife Désirée (a.k.a. Queen Desideria of Sweden and Norway)
Jean Bernadotte was one of the many figures who took advantage of the power vacuum and the emergence of meritocracy following the French Revolution. However, Bernadotte distinguished himself from other upstarts of the Revolutionary era by being astute enough enough to abandon the sinking ship of Napoleon’s empire before it was too late. To this day, Bernadotte’s family reigns in Sweden.
How did the dark-featured Catholic Bernadotte from the southwestern French city of Pau find himself on the Swedish throne, ruling over a country of Scandinavian, blond Lutherans?
Like many if not most key figures of the Napoleonic era he rose to prominence through the army. Bernadotte began his military career under Louis XVI and rapidly rose in rank after the Revolution. During the 1790s he made a name for himself in battles along the Rhine and in Italy. Once Napoleon came to power, Bernadotte was made one of Napoleon’s marshals, or top generals.
Jean Bernadotte as Marshal of France (1805)
Although Bernadotte was one of Napoleon’s most capable generals they had a rather uneasy relationship. A dispute over who deserved credit for the French victory at Wagram (1809) led Napoleon to strip Bernadotte of his command on the battle field.
After this dispute with Napoleon, Bernadotte returned to Paris where he unexpectedly learned that the Swedish had elected him crown prince and successor to the Swedish throne. The Swedes, who urgently needed a king with military prowess, a had been impressed by Bernadotte’s kind treatment of Swedish prisoners during an earlier conflict. Although Napoleon did not support Bernadotte’s ascent to the Swedish throne, he did not oppose it either. Presumably Napoleon thought that Sweden under Bernadotte could be a reliable ally.
Charles XIII died in 1818 and Bernadotte (who had converted to Lutheranism) acceded to the throne as Charles XIV John of Sweden and Charles III John of Norway. Although his reign had turbulent moments, he ruled Sweden until his death in 1841 at the age of 81. Unlike Napoleon, Bernadotte established a dynasty that lasts until this day with the reign ofCarl XVI Gustaf. Indeed it is not hard to see the family resemblance between the current Swedish Prince Carl Philip, and his French ancestor.
Although Bernadotte was the only upstart from the Napoleonic Era to establish an enduring dynasty, he is not the only example of an imported monarch.
The British imported foreign monarchs twice. To prevent against the reign of English Catholic monarchs (who the Protestants branded as practically foreigners), the British brought in the actually foreign (but Protestant) monarchs William of Orange in 1688 and George of Hanover 1714.
William of Orange, the Dutch King of England (1689-1702). William was married to the Catholic King James II’s Protestant daughter Mary. In response to the invitation of English Protestants, William and his Dutch army successfully invaded England. The English often forget this episode when claiming no foreign army has successfully invaded England since 1066.
The phenomenon of monarch-importation was common in the 19th century. For example, the first king of independent Greece was not a leader of theirindependence movement, but rather a youthful prince from Bavaria. The Greeks eventually overthrew the Bavarian and tried to elect a British prince. When the other European countries vetoed this choice, the Greeks settled on a Danish prince whose dynasty reigned until the middle of the 20th century.
After deposing their queen Isabella II in 1870, the Spaniards gave the Italian Prince Amadeo a trial-run as king. But after only three years, Amadeodeclared the Spaniards ungovernable ungovernable and abdicated.
With the rise of nationalism and democracy it is unlikely that there will ever be another imported monarchy. But who knows? Maybe the Germans will be appeal to David Hasselhoff, or the French and Italians will fight over who will get King George I of the House Clooney?