Court Memoirs of France Series— Complete

Author: Various

Letter XX.

PARIS, October, 1805.

MY LORD:—The insatiable avarice of all the members of the Bonaparte family has already and frequently been mentioned; some of our philosophers, however, pretend that ambition and vanity exclude from the mind of Napoleon Bonaparte the passion of covetousness; that he pillages only to get money to pay his military plunderers, and hoards treasures only to purchase slaves, or to recompense the associates and instruments of his authority.

Whether their assertions be just or not, I will not take upon myself to decide; but to judge from the great number of Imperial and royal palaces, from the great augmentation of the Imperial and royal domains; from the immense and valuable quantity of diamonds, jewels, pictures, statues, libraries, museums, etc., disinterestedness and self-denial are certainly not among Napoleon’s virtues.

In France, he not only disposes of all the former palaces and extensive demesnes of our King, but has greatly increased them, by national. property and by lands and estates bought by the Imperial Treasury, or confiscated by Imperial decrees. In Italy, he has, by an official act, declared to be the property of his crown, first, the royal palace at Milan, and a royal villa, which he now calls Villa Bonaparte; second, the palace of Monza and its dependencies; third, the palace of Mantua, the palace of The, and the ci-devant ducal palace of Modena; fourth, a palace situated in the vicinity of Brescia, and another palace in the vicinity of Bologna; fifth, the ci-devant ducal palaces of Parma and Placenza; sixth, the beautiful forest of Tesin. Ten millions were, besides, ordered to be drawn out of the Royal Treasury at Milan to purchase lands for the formation of a park, pleasure-grounds, etc.

To these are added all the royal palaces and domains of the former Kings of Sardinia, of the Dukes of Brabant, of the Counts of Flanders, of the German Electors, Princes, Dukes, Counts, Barons, etc., who, before the last war, were Sovereigns on the right bank of the Rhine. I have seen a list, according to which the number of palaces and chateaux appertaining to Napoleon as Emperor and King, are stated to be seventy-nine; so that he may change his habitations six times in the month, without occupying during the same year the same palace, and, nevertheless, always sleep at home.

In this number are not included the private chateaux and estates of the Empress, or those of the Princes and Princesses Bonaparte. Madame Napoleon has purchased, since her husband’s consulate, in her own name, or in the name of her children, nine estates with their chateaux, four national forests, and six hotels at Paris. Joseph Bonaparte possesses four estates and chateaux in France, three hotels at Paris and at Brussels, three chateaux and estates in Italy,, and one hotel at Milan, and another at Turin. Lucien Bonaparte has now remaining only one hotel at Paris, another at Bonne, and a third at Chambery. He has one estate in Burgundy, two in Languedoc, and one in the vicinity of this capital. At Bologna, Ferrara, Florence, and Rome, he has his own hotels, and in the Papal States he has obtained, in exchange for property in France, three chateaux with their dependencies. Louis Bonaparte has three hotels at Paris, one at Cologne, one at Strasburg, and one at Lyons. He has two estates in Flanders, three in Burgundy, one in Franche-Comte, and another in Alsace. He has also a chateau four leagues from this city. At Genoa he has a beautiful hotel, and upon the Genoese territory a large estate. He has bought three plantations at Martinico, and two at Guadeloupe. To Jerome Bonaparte has hitherto been presented only an estate in Brabant, and a hotel in this capital. Some of the former domains of the House of Orange, in the Batavian Republic, have been purchased by the agents of our Government, and are said to be intended for him.

But, while Napoleon Bonaparte has thus heaped wealth on his wife and his brothers, his mother and sisters have not been neglected or left unprovided for. Madame Bonaparte, his mother, has one hotel at Paris, one at Turin, one at Milan, and one at Rome. Her estates in France are four, and in Italy two. Madame Bacciochi, Princess of Piombino and Lucca, possesses two hotels in this capital, and one palace at Piombino and another at Lucca. Of her estates in France, she has only retained two, but she has three in the Kingdom of Italy, and four in her husband’s and her own dominions. The Princess Santa Cruce possesses one hotel at Rome and four chateaux in the papal territory. At Milan she has, as well as at Turin and at Paris, hotels given her by her Imperial brother, together with two estates in France, one in Piedmont, and two in Lombardy. The Princesse Murat is mistress of two hotels here, one at Brussels, one at Tours, and one at Bordeaux, together with three estates on this, and five on the other side of the Alps. The Princesse Borghese has purchased three plantations at Guadeloupe, and two at Martinico, with a part of the treasures left her by her first husband, Leclerc. With her present husband she received two palaces at Rome, and three estates on the Roman territory; and her Imperial brother has presented her with one hotel at Paris, one at Cologne, one at Turin, and one at Genoa, together with three estates in France and five in Italy. For his mother, and for each of his sisters, Napoleon has also purchased estates, or lands to form estates, in their native island of Corsica.

The other near or distant relatives of the Emperor and King have also experienced his bounty. Cardinal Fesch has his hotels at Paris, Milan, Lyons, Turin, and Rome; with estates both in France and Italy. Seventeen, either first, second, or third cousins, by his father’s or mother’s side, have all obtained estates either in the French Empire, or in the Kingdom of Italy, as well as all brothers, sisters, or cousins of his own wife, and the wives of his brothers, or of the husbands of his sisters. Their exact number cannot well be known, but a gentleman who has long been collecting materials for some future history of the House of Bonaparte, and of the French Empire, has already shown me sixty-six names of individuals of that description, and of both sexes, who all, thanks to the Imperial liberality, have suddenly and unexpectedly become people of property.

When you consider that all these immense riches have been seized and distributed within the short period of five years, it is not hazardous to say that, in the annals of Europe, another such revolution in property, as well as in power, is not to be found.

The wealth of the families of all other Sovereigns taken together does not amount to half the value of what the Bonapartes have acquired and possess.

Your country, more than any other upon earth, has to be alarmed at this revolution of property. Richer than any other nation, you have more to apprehend; besides, it threatens you more, both as our frequent enemies and as our national rivals; as a barrier against our plans of universal dominion, and as our superiors in pecuniary resources. May we never live to see the day when the mandates of Bonaparte or Talleyrand are honoured at London, as at Amsterdam, Madrid, Milan, and Rome. The misery of ages to come will then be certain, and posterity will regard as comparative happiness, the sufferings of their forefathers. It is not probable that those who have so successfully pillaged all surrounding States will rest contented until you are involved in the same ruin. Union among yourselves only can preserve you from perishing in the universal wreck; by this you will at least gain time, and may hope to profit by probable changes and unexpected accidents.


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Chicago: Various, "Letter XX.," Court Memoirs of France Series— Complete, ed. Braybrooke, Richard Griffin, Baron, 1783-1853 and trans. Holcroft, Thomas, 1745-1809 in Court Memoirs of France Series—Complete (New York: Doubleday, Page, 1909), Original Sources, accessed July 20, 2024,

MLA: Various. "Letter XX." Court Memoirs of France Series— Complete, edited by Braybrooke, Richard Griffin, Baron, 1783-1853, and translated by Holcroft, Thomas, 1745-1809, in Court Memoirs of France Series—Complete, Vol. 36, New York, Doubleday, Page, 1909, Original Sources. 20 Jul. 2024.

Harvard: Various, 'Letter XX.' in Court Memoirs of France Series— Complete, ed. and trans. . cited in 1909, Court Memoirs of France Series—Complete, Doubleday, Page, New York. Original Sources, retrieved 20 July 2024, from