Joseph Bonaparte Facts
The French statesman Joseph Bonaparte (1768-1844), older brother of Napoleon I, was king of Naples from 1806 to 1808 and king of Spain from 1808 to 1813.
Joseph Bonaparte was born on Jan. 7, 1768, in Corte, Corsica. He was the third child of Carlo Buonaparte and Letizia Ramolino but the first to survive infancy. He was educated in Corsica and France and studied law at Pisa. In the Corsican civil war, which marked the early years of the French Revolution, he sided with the French, as did his brother Napoleon. When the anti-French forces were victorious, he and the entire Bonaparte family fled to the Continent.
Settling in Marseilles, he married Julie Clary, the daughter of a local merchant. During the first years of the Directory (1795-1799), Joseph served as a foreign diplomat. In 1796 he helped to negotiate the armistice with Sardinia; in 1797 he was minister to Parma and later Rome. He then sat in the Council of Five Hundred as a representative from Corsica.
Joseph played an insignificant role in the coup d'etat of Brumaire, which placed Napoleon at the head of the French government. In the years of the Consulate (1799-1804), he negotiated the treaties of Lunéville with Austria (1801) and Amiens with England (1802).
After the Bourbons were expelled from the kingdom of Naples in 1806, Napoleon named Joseph king of that poor, backward, and misgoverned state. Joseph introduced educational, judicial, and financial reforms, but his work was cut short in 1808, when Napoleon made him king of Spain. Although Joseph did all within his power to win over the Spanish people—he tried to learn the language, attended bullfights, professed devotion to the Catholic religion, and attempted to discipline the French army—they refused to accept a Bonaparte, as they had refused a Bourbon a hundred years earlier. Driven out of the capital in August 1808, after only 3 months on the throne, Joseph was restored to power by French troops, upon whom he depended during his brief reign.
As the French Empire disintegrated after 1812, Joseph was forced to abandon Spain in 1813 and return to Paris. He served as lieutenant general of France during the last months of his brother's reign. When Napoleon returned to France in March 1815, Joseph was once again at his side, but he played no important role during the Hundred Days. Following Napoleon's second abdication, Joseph went to the United States, where he remained for 17 years. In his declining years he lived first in Genoa and finally in Florence, where he died on July 28, 1844.
Further Reading on Joseph Bonaparte
John S. C. Abbott, History of Joseph Bonaparte, King of Naples and of Italy (1869), is sympathetic toward Joseph Bonaparte; it remains the best work in English. The anonymous The Confidential Correspondence of Napoleon Bonaparte with His Brother Joseph Bonaparte (2 vols., 1855) is a translated selection of the correspondence of the two brothers. R. F. Delderfield, The Golden Millstones: Napoleon's Brothers and Sisters (1964), is the best of three good works which deal with the Bonaparte family. The other two are A. Hilliard Atteridge, Napoleon's Brothers (1909), and Walter Geer, Napoleon and His Family: The Story of a Corsican Clan (3 vols., 1927-1929). See also Alain Decaux, Napoleon's Mother (1959; trans. 1962).