11 October 2017

Pierre-Napoleon Bonaparte – adventurer

Colourful life of Italian-born prince

Pierre-Napoleon Bonaparte, nephew of the Emperor
Pierre-Napoleon Bonaparte, nephew of the Emperor
Prince Pierre-Napoleon Bonaparte, a nephew of the Emperor Napoleon, was born on this day in 1815 in Rome.

He was to become notorious for shooting dead a journalist after his family was criticised in a newspaper article.

Bonaparte was the son of Napoleon’s brother, Lucien, and his second wife, Alexandrine de Bleschamp. He grew up with his nine siblings on the family estate at Canino, about 40 kilometres north of Rome.

The young Bonaparte helped to keep bandits at bay, spending a lot of time with the local shepherds who were armed and had dogs to protect them.

He set out on a career of adventure, joining bands of insurgents in the Romagna region as a teenager.

In 1831 he spent time in prison for a minor offence and was banished from the Papal States.

He went to the United States to join his uncle, Joseph Bonaparte, in New Jersey. He spent some time in New York before going to serve in the army of the President of Columbia. At the age of 17 he became the President’s aide and was given the rank of Commander.

Bonaparte returned to the family estate at Canino where he enjoyed hunting with his brothers. One day they caught a well-known bandit and one of his brothers wounded him.

They delivered the bandit to the police, who instead of being grateful tried to arrest them. Bonaparte lashed out with his hunting knife and killed a young officer.

The ruins of the Bonaparte mansion at Luzipeo in Corsica
The ruins of the Bonaparte mansion at Luzipeo in Corsica
He was condemned to death, but after serving nine months in prison, he was released after an intervention by the Pope, on the condition that he left Canino.

He travelled to the US, Britain and Corfu, from where he sailed to Albania with friends. He was set upon by bandits and managed to fight them off but was then asked to leave Corfu.

After the revolution of 1848 he returned to France and was elected to the National Assembly as deputy for Corsica, declaring himself a republican.

But after his cousin Louis became Napoleon III, he accepted the title of Prince, losing the support of the Republicans.

In 1853 he married Justine Eleonore Ruffin, the daughter of a Parisian workman. They had two children, Prince Roland Napoleon Bonaparte in 1858 and Princess Jeannne Bonaparte in 1861.

Napoleon III, now on the throne of France, did not approve of the marriage and so the family went to live in Calinzana in Corsica.

Bonaparte shot and killed a journalist but was acquitted of murder
Bonaparte shot and killed a journalist
but was acquitted of murder
They set up house at Grotta Niella near Calvi but then had a mansion built at Luzipeo. The ruins of it still stand on a hill overlooking the bay of Crovani. The last time it was occupied was during World War II by the Italian army.

In 1869 a dispute broke out between two Corsican newspapers, the radical La Revanche and the loyalist L’Avenir de la Corse.

After La Revanche criticised the Emperor Napoleon, L’Avenir published a letter by Prince Pierre Bonaparte calling the staff of La Revanche ‘cowards and traitors’.

Paschal Grousset, the editor of La Marsellaise, supported La Revanche and was offended by the Prince’s words.

The Prince wrote to the founder of the newspaper, Henri Rochefort, claiming he was upholding the good name of his family and giving him his address.

Grousset sent Victor Noir and Ulrich de Fonvielle as his seconds to fix the terms of a duel and present him with a letter.

The Prince said he would fight Rochefort, another nobleman, but not deal with his menials. According to Fonvielle, after Noir replied to him, the Prince slapped his face and shot him dead.

According to the Prince, Noir took umbrage at being called a menial and struck him first, whereupon he drew his revolver and shot the journalist. This version was accepted by the court.

Prince Pierre Bonaparte died in 1881 at Versailles and was interred in the Cimitière des Gonards there.

Canino sits on a hillside in the Province of Viterbo
Canino sits on a hillside in the Province of Viterbo
Travel tip:

Canino, where Prince Pierre-Napoleon Bonaparte grew up, is to the north of Rome in the province of Viterbo and dates back to Etruscan times. Lucien Bonaparte, Pierre’s father, was made Prince of Canino by Pope Pius VII and there is a Palazzo Bonaparte in the town.

A square in the centre of Calinzana
A square in the centre of Calinzana
Travel tip:

Corsica was part of the Republic of Genoa for centuries, until in 1768 it was ceded to the French. This was a year before the birth of Napoleon Bonaparte in the capital city of Ajaccio. Under French rule, the Corsican language, which is closely related to standard Italian, declined. But during the first half of the 19th century the people of Corsica still identified with Italian culture. Children were sent to Pisa to study, official acts were written in Italian and books were printed in Italian. Calinzana (known as Calenzana in French), where Prince Pierre Napoleon went to live, is on the northwest coast of the island. The ruins of his mansion can still be seen on a hill overlooking the coast. It is remembered that it was thanks to his generosity that the people of Calinzana could enjoy the benefits of freely available drinking water. There is a square named after him with a bust of the prince.

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