Carolina Bonaparte: from the Kingdom of Naples to Countess of Lipona

by Maria Carmela Cato

Maria Annunziata Carolina Bonaparte was born in Ajaccio on 25 March 1782 and was the last daughter of Carlo Bonaparte and Maria Letizia Ramolino. Her father died when she was just four years old. Her mother was her main point of reference, while her elder brother Napoleon, who was thirteen years older, was also a father to her.

Carolina Bonaparte always maintained a strong bond with Italian culture, mainly due to being born in a Tuscan-Corsican cultural context. His family, in fact, was originally from Tuscany.

Carolina was physically thin and fragile, her education in the first years of her life was very simple, she attended a convent of nuns and learned to sew and embroider.

Carolina and Murat, a love against prohibitions

In June 1797, on the occasion of the wedding of the two older sisters, Elisa and Paolina, Maria Carolina met her future husband, Joachim Murat, who was 30 at the time, was a comrade in arms and a friend of Napoleon who fell madly in love with the young Carolina Bonaparte.

Carolina Bonaparte, regina di Napoli e sorella di Napoleone
Carolina Bonaparte, queen of Naples and sister of Napoleon

The reason of state was more important, however, and Napoleon did not consent to the marriage, as he would have preferred to marry Carolina to other friends of his like Moreau, Lannes or Augereau.

Unfortunately, however, Carolina Bonaparte's education in her first years of life had been very neglected, so in order to contract an advantageous marriage, Carolina had to recover what she had not studied previously.

His education was then entrusted to Madame Campan, who in the past had also been the maid of the Queen of France Marie Antoinette and who had managed to escape from the grip of the Tuileries palace. Carolina's new governess knew how to compose poetry and could speak in English and Italian.

Carolina, however, did not want to know about getting engaged to other generals and against the orders of her brother, she secretly got engaged to Gioacchino Murat. Their engagement became public in November 1799, when Murat announced to Carolina that Napoleon had dismissed the Directory.

Mundane life

The civil marriage was celebrated on January 20, 1800 in the estate of Giuseppe Bonaparte in Mortefontaine and the newlyweds went to live in theHotel de Brionne in Paris.

Thus began the worldly life of Carolina, who became a regular frequenter of parties and aristocratic salons.

Carolina was often at her husband's side and accompanied him to Italy when he was appointed commander of the French troops in our peninsula.

Meanwhile, Carolina gave birth to her first child, Achilles, January 21, 1801. Little was left of the fragile teenager Carolina, who from this time on began to use her beauty to gain more and more power. One of her lovers was François Cacault, a diplomat at the Papal States and a skilled seducer.

Gioacchino Murat, re di Napoli e marito di Carolina Bonaparte
Gioacchino Murat, king of Naples and husband of Carolina Bonaparte

For Carolina and Gioacchino the wedding in church also came, celebrated January 4, 1802. Other children arrived for the couple, Letizia and Napoleone Luciano Carlo.

Carolina's power grew more and more and she became the mistress of the Elysée, as well as the prince's mistress and diplomat Metternich, the military governor of Paris Junot and the Minister of War and the Navy Daure. Napoleon, who was particularly fond of his sister, only punished lovers.

When Napoleon was crowned emperor, he decided that only his brothers would be granted the title of imperial prince. Carolina, however, was stubborn and in the end Napoleon had to give up, the sisters then obtained the title of imperial height and their husbands became princes.

Meanwhile, two kingdoms were left without kings. The Kingdom of Portugal and the Kingdom of Naples, as Napoleon's elder brother, Giuseppe Bonaparte, had been appointed king of Spain by Napoleon after the Napoleonic army had conquered Spain.

Carolina and Joachim therefore found themselves having to choose the kingdom over which to govern, and they chose the Kingdom of Naples.

Queen of Naples

With the Statute of Bajona, in the event of her husband's death, the new sovereign would become Carolina.

Murat entered Naples on September 6, while Carolina followed him a few days later. The new queen was warmly welcomed by the people.

The first months of government were not easy for Carolina, who had been forced to abandon the sumptuous parties she attended in Paris. A foreigner in a state where she didn't know anyone, she skilfully managed to make new friends and figure out who she could trust.

A great friend of his was the archbishop of Taranto, Giuseppe Capecealtro, who proved to be wise and cultured.

Carolina was also able to dedicate herself to the rebirth of the economy of the Kingdom, after the disastrous one of her brother Giuseppe, also spending a lot of money for the decorations of the various royal palaces that belonged to the Bourbons.

He encouraged new campaigns of excavations in Pompeii and he brought ancient art into his residences through Pompeian-style frescoes. Furthermore, in the Royal Palace of Naples gave orders to set up a private museum of ancient works of art.

In San Leucio, Carolina focused heavily on the entry of private entrepreneurs into production and pushed on the renewal of production.

In Portici he subsidized the tape factory, favoring the modernization of the looms and giving the opportunity to French entrepreneurs to enter production. Here, moreover, he had the “Bagno della Regina” built, a seaside architectural complex that still exists today.

She adapted the programs of the various Royal Conservatories and founded the Real Casa Carolina Women's College.

When Napoleon, for political reasons, decided to marry Maria Luisa of Habsburg Lorraine, grandson of Ferdinand IV and Maria Carolina, Carolina Bonaparte welcomed the new empress and helped her to get to know the Parisian environment.

In these years Carolina returned to live the glories of the worldly and luxurious life she had lived in the first years of marriage. As Napoleon's desire was to keep her in Paris in order to force her to leave her husband, he proposed the post of superintendent of the empress's house, but she refused.

Napoleon did not trust Murat, and his brother-in-law knew it.

In 1810 Murat tried to conquer Sicily and left the regency of the kingdom to Carolina.

Carolina refused to abolish feudalism, an order that came directly from Napoleon and that had already been postponed for some time.  

The expedition to Sicily, however, was a failure and Murat was angry with Carolina because Napoleon had not respected the commitment to send troops to his support and because Carolina refused to eliminate the feudal obligations.

Carolina was therefore forced not to leave her apartments.

In 1812, on the occasion of her husband's departure for the Russian campaign, Carolina Bonaparte returned to being regent. During this period, Carolina acted more politically and devoted herself to art, calling upon the French painters Ingres and Granet to court.

The betrayal of the brother-in-law and the sister

In early 1813, Murat abandoned the Russian campaign and began negotiating with the Habsburg Empire, keeping his wife in the dark. Its purpose was to maintain the Kingdom of Naples. But it was Carolina who reached an agreement with Metternich: if the Kingdom of Naples had entered the coalition against France, they would have kept their throne. Murat accepted and Murat guaranteed an army of 30,000 while Carolina cut off communications and trade with France.

When Napoleon abdicated, Carolina and Murat did not help him during his exile on Elba, but, when Napoleon escaped from the island, Murat, allied himself with him again to try to become king of Italy, the words of Carolina to try to stop him. Metternich, in fact, asked Carolina to return the Kingdom of Naples.

Carolina's refusal was useless, and she was forced to embark with her children, mother, uncle and brother Girolamo. Before embarking, she greeted her husband for the last time, who had returned to Naples in disguise. It would be their last meeting.

She also greeted the army, thanking them for protecting her during her reign.

She was allowed to bring along linens, crockery, artwork, and documents relating to her and her husband.

Arriving in Trieste, she lived in the Roman Palace but then, at the behest of the Austrians, she was forced to move to the castle of Haimborg, near Vienna, and assumed the title of Countess of Lipona, which is the anagram of Naples.

The Restoration years were not easy for Carolina. In 1815, she received the news of the shooting of her husband, who had been captured in Calabria by the Bourbon army while the king of Naples and in France they controlled his every move and to give a better future to his children, he sent them to the United States, while the daughters married two members of the Emilian nobility.

In 1831 the grand duke Peter Leopold II he gave her permission to move to Florence, where her sister-in-law Julie Clary, wife of her brother Giuseppe, also lived.

Carolina lived the last years of her life in Casa d'Annalena, a palace that had been bought and enlarged by the Minister of War of King Murat, Francesco Mac Donald.

After having repaid all her debts, Carolina Bonaparte lived the last years of her life continuing to attend parties and salons.

Carolina died in Florence a 57 years old, May 18, 1839 and rests in the Church of S. Salvatore in Ognissanti in Florence.


Verdile, N., Queens: child brides, heroines and saints from Europe at the court of Naples, Maria Pacini Fazzi Publisher, Lucca, 2018

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