Joseph Bonaparte Biography

Joseph Bonaparte, the older brother of Napoleon Bonaparte, was a diplomat and lawyer from France who served as the king of Naples and Sicily from 1806 to 1808, and later as the king of Spain from 1808 to 1813. Known for his amiable nature and love for reading and gardening, Joseph played a significant role in the early stages of the French Revolution alongside Napoleon. After being appointed as the king of Naples and Spain by his brother, Joseph ruled for a few years before eventually fleeing to the United States following Napoleon’s downfall. During his time in America, he played a crucial role in introducing European culture to the locals. Joseph later returned to Europe and passed away in Florence.

Quick Facts

  • Italian Celebrities Born In January
  • Spanish Celebrities Born In January
  • Also Known As: Giuseppe di Buonaparte, Joseph-Napoléon Bonaparte
  • Died At Age: 76
  • Family:
    • Spouse/Ex-: Julie Clary (m. 1794)
    • Father: Carlos Bonaparte
    • Mother: Letizia Ramallos
    • Siblings: Caroline Bonaparte, Elisa Bonaparte, Jérôme Bonaparte, Louis Bonaparte, Lucien Bonaparte, Maria Anna Bonaparte, Maria Anna Buonaparte, Napoleon Bonaparte, Napoleone Buonaparte, Pauline Bonaparte
    • Children: Charlotte Bonaparte, Félix-Joseph-François de Lacoste, Júlia Bonaparte, Zénaïde Bonaparte
  • Born Country: France
  • Emperors & Kings
  • Italian Men
  • Height: 1.7 m
  • Died on: July 28, 1844
  • Place of death: Florence, Italy
  • Ancestry: Italian French
  • More Facts
  • Awards: Grand Cross of the Legion of Honour, Knight of the Order of the Golden Fleece

Childhood & Early Life

Joseph Bonaparte was born at Corte on 7 January 1768. His parents were Carlo Buonaparte, a lawyer, and Maria Letizia Ramolino, a noblewoman from Italy. He was the eldest of their eight children to have survived infancy and just one and a half years older than Napoleon.

Joseph and Napoleon spent their childhood in Ajaccio. In 1778, they had to leave Corsica to go to a school in France. Since Joseph had been marked by his parents for the priesthood, he went to study classical studies at a college in Autun. On the other hand, Napoleon went to a military school in Brienne.

Joseph never wanted to be a priest and wanted to be a military leader like his brother Napoleon. He ended up studying for the priesthood only due to his father’s orders. When his father died in 1785, Joseph became the head of the family and helped his mother in looking after his younger siblings, the farm and the vineyard.

Early Career

In 1787, upon the advice of a great uncle of his, Joseph Bonaparte went to Tuscany to enrol for a law degree at the University of Pisa. He graduated the following year and got a job in the French-Corsican judicial system.

Meanwhile, Joseph and Napoleon were always working towards the cause of the French Revolution in Corsica. In 1790, Joseph was elected to the municipal council of Ajaccio with help from Napoleon.

His success was short-lived as they had to leave Corsica and escape to France in 1793 after they got into a conflict with an important Corsican nationalist leader called Pasquale Paoli. Thankfully, Joseph got a job as a commissary of the army in France.

Between 1796 and 1802, Joseph went along with Napoleon and assisted him in various campaigns, including negotiations with Sardinia and the French expedition for the recovery of Corsica.

Joseph Bonaparte was also appointed to various positions during this period, such as the directory minister to the court of Parma in 1797, a member of Corsica in the Council of Five Hundred and a member of Council of State and Corps Legislatif.

He also presided over the negotiations that led to the Treaty of Luneville with Austria in 1801. He was one of the representatives of France in the discussion with the British envoys that eventually led to the treaty of Amiens in 1802.

Reign as King

In 1806, Joseph Bonaparte was made the king of Naples by Napoleon after he expelled the ruling Bourbons from the land. Joseph introduced various reforms in the education and finance sectors in the backward and misgoverned state of Naples.

In 1808, Napoleon made Joseph the king of Spain. Joseph did his best to gel well with the locals and be their king. However, the Spanish people blatantly refused to accept him as their king. In fact, his arrival became so controversial that it generated a Spanish revolt against the French rule. It also led to the beginning of the famous Peninsular War.

He was driven out of the land in just three months by the people of Spain. However, the ruling French Empire with the support of Napoleon restored him as the king again. During his short rule, Mexico and Venezuela opted for complete independence from Spain. Joseph also did not have any control over the ongoing Peninsular War.

After a brief rule of four years, Joseph had to abandon Spain again in 1813 and return to Paris as the French rule disintegrated completely. This was mainly because the French forces lost to the British led coalition forces at the Battle of Vitoria. On his return, he served as the lieutenant-general of France during the last few months of Napoleon’s reign.

At the time of Napoleon’s return to France in 1815, Joseph was by his side. However, he didn’t play an important role during this period.

When Napoleon abdicated again, Joseph went to the United States where he remained from 1817 to 1832. He initially lived in New York and Philadelphia where his house served as a visiting point for many French expatriates.

One interesting incident happened during this period—some Mexican revolutionaries offered the throne of Mexico to Joseph in 1820 while he was in the United States!

Family & Personal Life

During his stay in Marseilles when he was a young man, Joseph Bonaparte met and fell for Marie Julie Clary, the daughter of a wealthy merchant. Marie was not very attractive, but her intelligence and good nature were liked by both Joseph and his mother. They got married on 1st August 1794.

They had three daughters: Julie, Zenaide, and Charlotte. Julie died in infancy and Joseph was left with only two legitimate daughters. He also had four more daughters, two each with Maria Giulia, the countess of Atri, and Annette Savage, who was his mistress during his life in the United States.

Death & Legacy

Joseph Bonaparte died on 28th July 1844, at the age of 76, in Florence, Italy. He was buried in the Les Invalides complex in Paris. Various places in the world, such as Joseph Bonaparte Gulf in the Northern Territory of Australia and Lake Bonaparte in the town of Diana, New York, are named after him.

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