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Napoleon's son, the King of Rome (click for larger image)

Francois-Charles-Joseph Bonaparte, King of Rome, Napoleon II, Duke of Reichstadt, Prince of Parma (1811-1832)

Called LíAiglon (The Eaglet) by the Bonapartists and the Duke of Reichstadt by everybody else, Francois was the only legitimate son of Napoleon, born of his second wife and empress Marie Louise of Austria on March 20, 1811. Napoleon had long hoped for a son to inherit his empire and gave his newborn son the lofty title of King of Rome.

Francois very early on was as precocious, eager to please and gifted with the kind of solitary brilliance Napoleon himself had been known for in the days of Brienne. And when he began to understand his great legacy, rather late thanks to his paranoid Austrian hosts, he struggled hard to learn everything he could about the legendary father he no longer remembered.

'The aim of my life is to be not unworthy of my Father's glory' - Napoleon II

Francois was named Emperor Napoleon II in 1814 following the first abdication of his father in April of that year, but he never actually reigned since the Allies refused to acknowledge his succession and instead followed their game plan and placed Louis XVIII back on the old Bourbon throne. And after Napoleon was forced into second and final exile following the disaster at Waterloo in June of 1815, he abdicated the throne for both himself and his son.  And so, Francois became a captive Austrian prince, his absentee mother bestowing upon him the humble title of Duke of Reichstadt in 1818.

By then fully enamored with his fatherís glory and determined to be a great soldier in his own right, Francois eventually began training for a military career of his own in the Austrian army, the only one his naturally wary but loving grandfather, Emperor Francis I, would allow.  Well-remembered were the lessons Francis had learned contending with one Bonaparte at the head of French armies.  But once Francois was fully aware of just who he really was, those around him who remembered his father saw familiar signs of Bonaparte ambition.

A handsome lad like his father, Napoleon II was never physically strong although he did grow into a tall, slender youth popular with the ladies at court.  He was not fully informed of the scope of his father's greatness, nor his own significance to Frenchmen as the legitimate heir to a lost Empire, until well into his teens.

Privileges of Social Rank: The King of Rome's ornate, gilded crib

The Revolution of 1830 in France, which had yet again disenfranchised the ever-unpopular Bourbons under Charles X, had a tremendous impact on young Duke. 'The will of my father imposes on me a duty that must govern the actions of my life', wrote the inspired youngster. Now fully knowledgeable of his father's legacy, and imbued with a fervent interest in military matters, his imagination began to take hold in earnest: `I wish the Emperor would allow me to march with troops to the aid of Charles X'.

His imagination and desire for greatness was perhaps fired even more after his meeting Marshal Marmont in Vienna, at which the excited Duke said, 'Marshal, I cannot tell you what pleasure it gives me to see one of the most illustrious generals who fought under my father's orders. You particularly, who were his aid-de-camp in his first campaigns. You were with him in Italy, you followed him to Egypt and Germany. I have studied his history with deep attention, and have many questions to ask you concerning facts about which I wish to be enlightened.'

Perhaps seeing in the ecstatic young man's eyes the piercing gaze of his former master, and perhaps still feeling guilt for having betrayed Napoleon in 1814, Marmont happily spent no less than 3 full months in Vienna, in almost daily sessions, telling the eager young man everything he wanted to know. The young Duke himself was in absolute joy finally having been released from his intellectual isolation, with the approval of his once-intransigent grandfather.

The King of Rome in the garden of the Tuileries by Rouget

At Court and in private circles alike, the Duke of Reichstadt was a source of great interest. His wit, exuberance, ease at making conversation, graceful bearing, excellent manners and generally pleasant figure and disposition made him extremely popular in Austria...and fired the hopes and imagination of the Bonapartists in France, who looked upon the Revolution of 1830 and the fact that their dead Emperor's son was still very much alive and well as signs of perhaps better times ahead for them. Europe, meanwhile, kept its eyes most assuredly wide open.

In June of 1831, Reichstadt was appointed Lieutenant-Colonel of a Hungarian Infantry Regiment garrisoned in Vienna. From the outset he displayed characteristics of command and leadership which were all too familiar to the Habsburgs, though his politeness certainly was a refreshing new twist...his father being the proverbial bull in a china shop when it came to the social graces.

While his interest in military and political matters was progressing nicely throughout 1831, the youngster's health, unfortunately, was not. Several times the young Duke was found slumped in his barracks, overcome with fatigue...the tuberculosis which would soon claim his life had taken hold. As was the case with his father, young Napoleon was an inspiring young genius trapped in a failing body.

Here's a superb portrayal of the young Duke of Reichstadt by Joubert

Though his beguiled mother Marie Louise was by then spending much of her time being madly in love with Count Adam Neipperg, the man instructed years earlier to spirit her away from what had grown into a genuine, star-struck infatuation with Napoleon, she was present along with her father on the evening of 21 July 1831 when just after five o'clock the Duke died peacefully, 'mother' being the last word to leave his lips.

The Duke of Reichstadt was originally buried, as were most Habsburgs, in the Capuchin vault in Vienna. However, due to both his control over Austria via the 'Anschluss' of 1938 and his swift victory over France, Adolf Hitler...always eager to associate himself with people who actually did know how to run an army...transferred the Duke's remains to Paris, placing him not far from the great sarcophagus of his father, Napoleon I, in the Eglise du Dome at the Hotel des Invalides (Home for Disabled Soldiers) in Paris in 1940. The kind-hearted King of Rome and his larger-than-life father are still as popular with Frenchmen and tourists today as they were nearly two centuries ago.

Vive LíAilgon!