Carlo Buonaparte

Carlo Buonaparte; Posthumous Portrait
Carlo Buonaparte; Posthumous Portrait. Wikimedia Commons

A political opportunist, social climber and probable hedonist, Carlo Buonaparte's place in history was assured by one of his children: Napoleon Bonaparte, Emperor of France. Carlo made his reputation in Corsican politics, but it's not a particularly edifying one. Napoleon changed the family name to the French version to better advance in that nation.

Born: 29th March 1746 in Ajaccio, Corsica
Married: 2nd June 1764 in Ajaccio, Corsica
Died: 24th February 1785 in Montpellier, France

Youth and Marriage:

Born of Italian heritage in Ajaccio, Corsica, Carlo initially followed family tradition by studying to be a lawyer; however, he left his course at Pisa University part-way through to marry Marie-Letizia Romalino. Carlo was 18, Letizia 14, and both were members of the Ajaccio nobility, a position of relative unimportance. Romantic authors often suggest that this was a marriage of passion and elopement, lovers abandoning their futures for each other, but the facts suggest a sound marriage of economic convenience, especially as their fathers had already died and provisions had to be made for their long futures.

Work For Paoli:

Carlo worked as a solicitor for most of his life, but in the period after his marriage he worked as a secretary and assistant to Pasquale Paoli, the Corsican revolutionary leader. Paoli sent Carlo to negotiate with the Pope in 1766 - Paoli planned an invasion of Capria, a papal gift to Corsica's current rulers, Genoa - and Carlo appears to have enjoyed life in Rome - and life with other women - until being forced, for reasons unknown, back to Corsica in 1768.

Political upheaval followed as France gained ownership of Corsica, a new struggle which ended with the Paolista's heavy defeat at Ponte Novo on May 8th 1769. Many of Paoli's supporters had to flee, including Carlo Buonaparte and family; students of Napoleon may wish to note that Letizia was several months pregnant with the future emperor at this time, as he used his fetal presence at the battle as a point in his legend.

Life Under The French:

Carlo soon proved himself to be an opportunist - critics may prefer turncoat - by embracing the new French government as Paoli was forced abroad. Modest success followed: Carlo was made 'Assessor of the Royal Jurisdiction of Ajaccio' in 1771 - the same year as he obtained French confirmation of his 'noble' status - and later, deputy of the Estates-General of Corsica. Throughout the 1770's he attempted to better himself through legal means, making numerous claims on land and money, but his success was limited and the drain on his family's funds great. Indeed, his combination of official duties and legal appeals to French authorities frequently kept Carlo overseas, whether at Versailles or elsewhere. Regrettably for the Buonapartes, Carlo was free with his money at the best of times and trips to the ostentatious capital of France ate away at his finances; a fondness for gambling exacerbated matters. As he noted in an account book "In Paris I received 4,000 francs from the King and a fee of 1,000 crowns from the government, but I came back without a penny." (Napoleon, McLynn 1998, pg. 21) Carlo also kept trying to better the family by getting his sons good positions, and Napoleon was sent to the best military academy in France that could be achieved - essentially setting the future Napoleon on his course to French emperor.

His wife was also having an affair with his friend and France's military governor, the Comte de Marbeuf, which did the family fortunes no harm at all.


By 1782 Carlo had seven surviving children, but he was growing weak. Over the next few years - which proved less litigious than before - Carlo began to suffer constant pain and he traveled to Paris, Montpellier and other towns to find medical help. They could do nothing for what historians are sure was stomach cancer and Carlo Buonaparte died on February 24th, 1785. He left his family virtually penniless, and Napoleon began to feel responsible for keeping them afloat. Napoleon would follow his father's meddling in Corsican affairs, and would have no better luck, even being forced to flee with the rest of the family, before finding himself in France and securing a reputation as one of  history's greatest generals.

Napoleon would also die relatively young like his father, as would Pauline.

Notable Family:

Wife: Marie-Letizia Bonaparte, née Romalino and Buonaparte (1750 - 1835)
Children: Joseph Bonaparte, originally Giuseppe Buonaparte (1768 - 1844)
Napoleon Bonaparte, originally Napoleone Buonaparte (1769 - 1821)
Lucien Bonaparte, originally Luciano Buonaparte (1775 - 1840)
Elisa Bacciochi, née Maria Anna Buonaparte/Bonaparte (1777 - 1820)
Louis Bonaparte, originally Luigi Buonaparte (1778 - 1846)
Pauline Borghese, née Maria Paola/Paoletta Buonaparte/Bonaparte (1780 - 1825)
Caroline Murat, née Maria Annunziata Buonaparte/Bonaparte (1782 - 1839)
Jérôme Bonaparte, originally Girolamo Buonaparte (1784 - 1860)