The History Behind the Book

Character Biographies:

Pauline Bonaparte (1780-1825)

Born in Corsica, Pauline moved with her family to France in 1793 when French revolutionary politics made Corsica unsafe for the Bonaparte family. She was married to Napoleon’s friend and fellow officer Victor Emmanuel Leclerc at the age of 16 and bore him a son, Dermide, in 1798. She accompanied Leclerc when he was posted to the West Indies shortly afterwards; Leclerc suffered brutal military reverses and then fell ill with yellow fever and died in 1802. Pauline sailed back to France with his body. In the spring of 1803 she met Prince Camillo Borghese in Paris and they were married later that year. Pauline accompanied her new husband back to Rome, but after her son Dermide died of fever in 1804, Pauline returned to France. Camillo joined her there to be present at Napoleon’s coronation as emperor (December 1804) but he then received a commission in the French military which took him abroad for most of the next three years. When Camillo was made governor of the Transalpine provinces in 1808, Napoleon required Pauline to join her husband in Turin, the provincial capital. After a few months she pleaded illness and finally obtained permission to return to France. From that time on the couple rarely saw each other; Pauline lived in France (with a series of lovers) and Camillo in Italy. Pauline joined Napoleon on Elba in 1814, the only one of his siblings to share his exile. When he escaped in 1815, Pauline went to Italy, where she sued to regain her rights as Princess Borghese. Camillo, still living in Florence, attempted to divorce her but was blocked by the Pope and eventually ceded Pauline access to the Borghese properties in Rome. In 1824, after more than a decade of separation, Pauline begged Camillo to reconcile with her: she was dying. Camillo moved her to Florence and nursed her faithfully until she died in June of 1825. She is buried in the crypt beneath the Borghese family chapel in Santa Maria Maggiore in Rome.

Prince Camillo Filippo Ludovico Borghese (1775-1832)

Born in Rome, the son of Prince Marcantonio Borghese, and thus heir to a papal princedom with extensive properties in Rome and Italy and a notable art collection. After his father’s death in 1800, Camillo continued his pro-Bonaparte stance and visited Paris in 1803 to meet Napoleon in person. There he was introduced to Pauline and a marriage was arranged; shortly after the young couple arrived back in Rome Camillo commissioned a statue of Pauline from the great sculptor Canova, the now-famous portrait of Pauline as the goddess Venus. Camillo was granted a commission in Napoleon’s cavalry in 1805 and was promoted several times, serving with distinction in a number of battles. In 1808 Napoleon created a new province, the Departments beyond the Alps, and appointed Camillo governor. Camillo moved to his new capital, Turin, with Pauline, but she returned to France after a few months and they did not live together again as man and wife. When Napoleon abdicated in 1814, Camillo retired to Florence with his mistress, the Duchess Lante della Rovere. The Pope refused to allow him to divorce Pauline, but did grant a legal separation. Nevertheless, Camillo took Pauline in during her final illness and cared for her in Florence until she died (1825). He died eight years later, and is also buried in the Borghese crypt in Rome.

A brief sketch of what was happening in Europe during the years of 1780-1825

Between 1780 and 1825, France and Europe were in a continuous state of upheaval. The French Revolution in 1789 set off a series of wars, with most other countries opposing the new Republic. Austria was a particular threat; they controlled vast territories throughout Europe and had seen their own former princess, Marie Antoinette, beheaded by the revolutionaries. Napoleon started out as a young officer in the French revolutionary army and fought his way up the ranks with victories against the hated Austrians in Italy. By 1802 Napoleon had been named First Consul for life; by 1804 he had crowned himself emperor and was at war with the rest of Europe. As he consolidated his hold on various territories he installed his siblings as rulers in Spain, Italy, Holland, and Germany; even Austria’s emperor surrendered (1809) and Napoleon annulled his marriage to Josephine and married the Austrian princess Marie-Louise in 1810. By 1811 nearly every country in Europe was directly or indirectly controlled by Napoleon. But an ill-judged invasion of Russia crippled Napoleon’s army the following year, and after steady gains by Wellington (in Spain) and an international coalition (in eastern Europe), Napoleon abdicated in 1814. European leaders met in 1815 at the Congress of Vienna to re-divide Napoleon’s holdings (the project was briefly interrupted when Napoleon escaped from Elba, but continued after his defeat at Waterloo). Napoleon was exiled again, this time to the remote island of Saint Helena, and the Bourbons returned to the throne of France. In Pauline’s lifetime, then, France went from a monarchy, to a republic, to a consulship, to an empire–and back to a monarchy.

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