Napoleon quotes about his great disappointments with his family… His family made success harder…


[This is quite sad. He made many of them kings. I think, like Hitler, he had problems with loyalty. I think that is why Napoleon used his family for the sake of loyalty. That is my thinking. But for the most part, they were more problems than anything else. Jan]

Napoleon Bonaparte came from a large family, many of whom appear in Napoleon in America. Napoleon was generous towards his family, rewarding them with wealth and high positions. Although he tended to forgive them for their failings, he was highly critical of them when they didn’t do what he wanted them to. This happened frequently, as Napoleon was a busybody, commonly giving family members instructions on how to conduct themselves. Napoleon’s family was instrumental in his rise to power. Family also played a role in his downfall. Here are some Napoleon quotes about family.

Napoleon and his family

The Espousal of Jérôme Bonaparte and Catharina of Württemberg, by Jean-Baptiste Regnault, 1807. This painting depicts Napoleon and most of his family (Lucien is absent).

Our family is provided for

In 1796, Napoleon, who was then a general, and pulling strings for his relatives, wrote to his older brother, Joseph:

Lucien [another brother] starts tomorrow for the army of the North. He is made a Commissariat officer. Ramolino [a relative of Napoleon’s mother] is here, in the Commissariat. Ornano [another relative] is Lieutenant in the Legion of Police. Our family is provided for. I have sent to them everything that they can want. Fesch [Napoleon’s uncle] will be well placed here. … You will soon be a consul. Nothing can exceed my anxiety to make you happy in all respects. (1)

I can have no relations in obscurity

A decade later, Napoleon – who had become Emperor of the French – decided to make Joseph the King of Naples. He instructed Count Miot de Mélito to relay the news.

Impress upon [Joseph] that the least hesitation, the slightest wavering, will ruin him entirely. I have another person in mind who will replace him should he refuse…. At present all feelings of affection yield to state reasons. I recognize only those who serve me as relations. My fortune is not attached to the name of Bonaparte, but to that of Napoleon. … I can have no relations in obscurity. Those who do not rise with me shall no longer form part of my family. (2)

My family is a political family

Napoleon habitually invited members of the Imperial family to dine with him and his wife Josephine at the Tuileries Palace in Paris on Sundays. In the spring of 1807, when Napoleon was away on the Prussian campaign, he expected his family to continue to dine with Josephine. Napoleon’s mother, Letizia, who did not like Josephine and thought that the Bonapartes should instead gather at her residence, protested. Napoleon wrote in reply:

[S]o long as you remain in Paris, it is essential that you should dine every Sunday in the Empress’s apartments, where the family dinner is held. My family is a political family. When I am absent, the Empress is always the head of it; besides, it is an honour that I am conferring upon the members of my family. That does not prevent me, when I happen to be in Paris, and my occupations permit it, from dining with you. (3)

No man is more unfortunate in his family

In 1810, after a series of disappointments involving his siblings, Napoleon reportedly said:

I do not believe that any man in the world is more unfortunate in his family than I am. (4)

You will be useless to…our family

In December 1813, when Napoleon was losing the war in Spain, he wrote to Joseph, who had abdicated the Spanish throne:

France is invaded, all Europe is in arms against France, and above all against me. You are no longer King of Spain. … What will you do? Will you, as a French Prince, come to the support of my throne? … In this case you must act as I have done – announce the part you are about to play, write to me in simple terms a letter which I can print, receive the authorities, and show yourself zealous for me and for the King of Rome, and friendly to the regency of the Empress. Are you unable to do this? Have you not good sense enough for it? Then retire to the obscurity of some country-house 40 leagues from Paris. You will live there quietly if I live; you will be killed or arrested if I die. You will be useless to me, to our family, to your daughters, and to France; but you will do me no harm, and will not be in my way. Choose quickly the line which you will take. (5)

I only occupy myself with my family

When Napoleon was in exile on Elba in the fall of 1814, he told Colonel Neil Campbell, the British commissioner on the island:

I think of nothing outside my little island. I could have sustained the war for twenty years if I wanted to. I no longer exist for the world. I am a dead man. I only occupy myself with my family and my retreat, my house, my cows and my mules. (6)

The only members of the Bonaparte family who joined Napoleon on Elba were his mother and his sister Pauline. This was not enough to keep him busy. The following February, Napoleon escaped from Elba and returned to France.

I have derived little assistance from my own family

After Napoleon’s 1815 defeat at the Battle of Waterloo, he was exiled to the remote South Atlantic island of St. Helena. There he reflected more fully on his family, not in an appreciative way.

It is certain…that I have derived little assistance from my own family, and that they have greatly injured me and the great cause for which I fought. The energy of my disposition has often been extolled, but I have been a mere milksop, particularly with my family; this they knew; after the first moment of anger was over, they always carried their point by perseverance and obstinacy. I became tired of the contest, and they did with me just as they pleased. … They have all really been kings, thanks to my labours; all have enjoyed the advantages of royalty; I alone have known its cares. (7)

Where could I more naturally look for support than amongst my own relations?

On St. Helena, Napoleon also answered the question of why he put his family members on the thrones of Europe.

Why…did I indulge in the vanity of placing every member of my family on a throne? (For the generality of people must have thought me actuated by vanity alone) why did I not rather fix my choice upon some private individuals possessing greater abilities? To this I reply that it is not with thrones as with the functions of a prefect; talents and abilities are so common in the present age, among the multitude, that one must be cautious to avoid awakening the idea of competition. In the agitation of our situation, and with our modern institutions, it was proper to think rather of consolidating and concentrating the hereditary right of succession, in order to avoid innumerable feuds, factions, and misfortunes.

The principal defect in my person and my elevation…was that I had risen at once from the multitude. I felt that I stood insulated and alone, and I cast anchors around me on all sides. Where could I more naturally look for support than amongst my own relations? Could I expect more from strangers? And it must be admitted, that if the members of my family have had the folly to break through these sacred ties, the morality of the people, superior to their blind infatuation, fulfilled in part my object. With them their subjects thought themselves more quiet, more united as in one family. (8)

I could listen to the intelligence of the death…of all my family

Napoleon said on St. Helena:

I…could listen to the intelligence of the death of my wife, of my son, or of all my family, without change of features. Not the slightest sign of emotion, or alteration of countenance would be visible. Everything would appear indifferent and calm. But when alone in my chamber, then I suffer. Then the feelings of the man burst forth. (9)

I never received any cooperation from my family

Towards the end of his life, Napoleon told his companions on St Helena:

I never received any cooperation from my family. If I had not tried to obtain it, I would have been successful much more easily. (10)


10 Napoleon Quotes About Family

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