In my last post, I mentioned that I had written previously about Napoleon’s niece visiting New Jersey. This turned out to be incorrect. I had researched it (based on a story I’d been told about her making a sketch of Lebanon, NJ) but never actually got around to writing a post. Situation rectified.
Charlotte Bonaparte (known to her family as Lolotte) was the daughter of Napoleon’s brother, Joseph. After the Emperor’s fall from grace, Joseph, who at the height of his brother’s power had been crowned King of Naples and Spain, fled to America and settled for a time in, of all places, Bordentown, New Jersey.
After a while, his young daughter joined him there. Below, is an eyewitness account of the Princess’ arrival in Philadelphia.
The path to the carriage that awaited the princess was covered with a carpet. The dock was full of people anxious to see a princess in the flesh. She was very young, vivacious and, I believe, feeling free from the strict surveillance of her governess and of her devoted physician, Dr. Stokoe, exalted at the sight of the crowd. She took off the fur hat that she had worn during the crossing, to respond to the many greetings, and it fell out of her hands into the Delaware. She immediately took the captain’s from the bulwark and waved it. Then she put it on her head, where she kept it until arriving at the hotel.
The next day she returned to the ship…with a new hat for the captain, which she attempted herself to place on his head, telling him she would keep his as a souvenir of the cordial reception that the inhabitants of Philadelphia had given her, and of the incident that had deprived her of her own.
Life on her father’s New Jersey estate must have seemed a little dull to a girl who had visited some of Europe’s grandest cities but Charlotte was a gifted artist who travelled about the state with her easel, painting and drawing whatever caught her eye.
And one of the subjects that did catch the Princesses eye was the tiny village of Lebanon in Hunterdon County (which is where our family were living until our recent move to High Bridge).
Charlotte’s idle in the green pastures of New Jersey would be short-lived, however. After three years she returned to Brussels to be married.
Perversely, the instructions in Napoleon’s will stated his nieces and nephews should marry amongst themselves to “conserve the Bonaparte wealth”. Therefore, Charlotte’s sister Zénaïde married her cousin Charles and on July 24, 1826, Charlotte married their cousin Napoleon-Louis.
This marriage too was to be a short-lived affair. On the 17th March 1831, after just five years together, Napoleon-Louis died while fighting with the insurgents who were trying to drive the Austrians out of Italy.
Later Charlotte would fall pregnant to a married Polish Count, with whom she was having an affair. In February 1839 Charlotte set out by ship from Rome for Genoa with her physician, intending to have the baby away from the shameful scrutiny of her own society (her chief concern seems to have been keeping the pregnancy a secret from her mother).
However, a storm at sea forced them to travel overland and the rough roads caused Charlotte to begin to haemorrhage. She gave birth to her child in Sarzana via caesarean section but the baby did not survive. On March 2, 1839, Charlotte herself died from loss of blood; just 36 years old.
And so that is the story (somewhat truncated) of how members of what was once the most powerful family in Europe came to bide a while in Jersey.
Words but not images are my own.