Since I started this blog I have been calling him "big head." Shame on me.
To be fair, I blame this title on the numerous ridiculous paintings of him, all portraying him with a head way to large for his body.
So, feeling guilty about the fact I know so little about him, I began to dig around various antique book stores to see if there were any biographies about him. Ebay to the rescue, two fantastic books arrived in the last week.
I am reading the Aubry book first, and I have to say, I have shed more than one tear in the last few days.
Napoleon Jr. was clearly loved by his father. He was doted on and during the three years he lived with Napoleon in Paris before the whole Russia debacle, he was a regular visitor to Napoleon's study. These visits are all well documented. (see painting to the right)
Also well documented is the fact that his mother spent absolutely no time with him, so he was raised by loving nannies who supervised every aspect of his upbringing.
Before the abdication, Napoleon II was a beloved son, heir to the French Empire and given the honorary title of "King of Rome." He was a lovely little boy, smart, funny, well behaved and beautiful.
But that was before the first abdication.
When Maria Louise left Paris to return to her father in Austria, she made little Napoleon a virtual prisoner of Austria. I had no idea.
They slowly but methodically took away his French nannies, his tutors, his French toys, his books, his name and ultimately his language. They wanted him to be Austrian. He was to become Franz, the Duke of Reichstadt. His mother left him with her father while she went off with her lover to rule Parma, which was her gift for leaving France. But lets not talk about her.
Right now I am at the point in the biography where he is four years old. The last French diplomat has been asked to leave Austria because Napoleon has returned from Elba, so Austria is using this as an excuse to kick all the french out of the Palace. The diplomat Meneval has received permission to say good bye to the little boy.
Meneval took his hand and asked him if he had anything to say to his papa, for he was going soon to see him.
The child looked at him sadly without answering. Then, he gently withdrew his hand and went away, still silent, towards the embrasure of a distant window.
(Meneval bade goodbye to the women in the room who were now appointed to care for Napoleon II)
As he was leaving, he stepped over to the little boy who stood watching him from the window. He bent low to bid him goodbye.
And at that moment he felt a tug at his coat, and heard a trembling little voice say:
"Monsieur Meva, you will tell him that I still love him dearly."
He was only four years old and for fourteen months he had not seen his father. When he reached the antichamber, Meneval burst into tears…..and so did I at this point in the book.
Another strange bit of trivia I learned this week:
In 1940 Adolf Hitler gave France a gift.
He transfered Napoleon II remains from Vienna to Paris. He is now resting beside Napoleon in the Invalides in Paris.
In the end, he finally got out of Austria.