Research Grants 1998


Laurence CHATEL DE BRANCION: Cambacérès
Doctoral thesis in modern and contemporary history
Supervisor: M. Jean Tulard
University: Paris IV-Sorbonne

Jean Jacques Régis Cambacérès was a barrister, a sollicitor, a councillor at the Cour des Aydes of Languedoc, dépiuté at the Convention, president of the Comité du Salut Public, the president deputising for the Emperor during the Emperor’s absences, President of the Conseil des Ministres, the Conseil d’Etat, the Senate, the Conseil Privé, President of the Conseil du Sceau des Titres, member of the Institut, Grand Aigle of the Légion d’Honneur, grand dignitary of most of the European orders, Prince of France, Duke of Parma, Prior of the Confrérie des Pénitents Blancs de Montpellier, Deputy Grand Master of of the Grand Orient of France, Sovereign Commander of the Supreme Council of the ancient and accepted Scottish Rite, Grand Master of the Scottish Philosophical Rite… Corner stone of the Code Civil, and the various codes chich came after, and promoter of legal organisation in France…A remarkable list when compared to the traditional view of Cambacérès, which has it that he was a conceited, pusilanimous, lazy lush, selling himself to the highest bidder.But the traditional view takes no account of Cambacérès at the height of his power, careful, prudent and with a low profile. Tradition remebers only the caricatures which appeared in 1814, which fixed the image of the arch-chancellor, emphasising his ostentatious arrogance and his flamboyant homosexuality.The Restoration wrote the first history of the Empire, and organised what one would call today ‘a media asassination’ of the ex-arch-chancellor.

Le Moniteur Universel of Tuesday 16 March, 1824, detailing the distribution of recently deceased Cambacérès’s vast fortune, ends the article with the following words: “We are told that M. Cambacérès has left behind him memoires… It is also said that these memoires will be that much more interesting in that they are accompanied by papers and remarkable notes by Cambacérès himself which he had kept in his possession”. Louis XVIII’s government was to try to seize the deceased’s papers, but the heirs objected vehemently to this outrageous demand. At the end of the long legal proceedings (which were to set a legal precedent for the politicians’ archives), the Memoires, some correspondence and many files were handed over to Hubert de Cambacérès.

These archives, for the most part unpublished, will from the basis of this thesis.

The Memoires are entitled Eclaircissements publiés par Cambacérès sur les principaux événements de sa vie politique were dictated by Cambacérès to his secretary Lavollée, between 1814 and 1824, following the following chronological plan: Revolution, COnsulate, Empire. On a recently discovered scrap of paper, a few words in the hand of Cambacérès describe the project: ‘write like someone in the witness box. Include few details concerning birth, education, and private life. Only include these (unreadable word) if the facts or circumstance can shed light on the public character of the man and on the events of his political career…’. The Eclaircissements are precisely this, that is, the most objective possible account of his political career, the unique story of a major player.

The first aim of this thesis is to establish a definitive text of these Memoires and to provide a critical commentary.

But this is not enough, because in the Eclaircissements Camabacérès often sinned by omission. It is therefore necessary to fill out the gaps using other archives both in France and elsewhere (USA and Japan) held by members of the Cambacérès family. Indeed, despite the fact that the arch-chancellor, always with an eye on history, destroyed when possible some compromising documents, nevertheless some exceedingly important documents still exist, notably with reference to the Code Civil, and Free Masonry of which he had been a member from 1770.

The next stage is to find and employ these complementary archives.

And the character which leaps out from all this is very different from the image propagated by Aubriet, Cambacérès’s first biographer, and copied by all who came after him: namely that of an able lawyer but a parvenu with doubtful habits and an immense fortune.
J.J.R. de Cambacérès was an aristocrat from Languedoc, born in an ancient and noble family, wealthy and well-connected. A Free Mason and Prior of the Pénitents Blancs, formed in the social circles described by M. Agulhon, Camabacérès entered the Revolution as an erudite and liberal lawyer and an enthusiastic reformer of the abuses of absolute royal power. He abandoned definitively the aristocratic ‘de’ in his name.
1793, and Cambacérès was caught up in the violence. He lent his talents as an expert in law to the Convention and as such came to the attention of all parties without becoming attached to any of them.
He developed three projects for the Code Civil qnd came to political power after Thermidor. His sole aim was to establish peace at home and abroad. And he succeeded in part but halted before regicide. As a result the Directoire shut him out. He used this period political purgatory to set himself up with a powerful network of friends.

It was this man who desired only consensus, who objected to exclusion, whom Napoleon chose as his second in command in 1799 to work on the reconstruction of the Consulate and to base it on the idea of fusion, a concept completely incompatible with ideology.

For fifteen years, Cambacérès was the most valued and best paid of Napoleon’s civilian aides.

Competent, discreet and possessing all the qualities necessary to make him a loyal and efficient right-hand man, Cambacérès was Napoleon’s national administrator when the general was on campaign. He was also an advisor, a consultant in recruiting high officers of state, an expert in the organisation and administration of the large government ministries, the prime legal consultant in the country, spokesman for the Nationla Assemblies, symbol for pressure groups such the Free Masons, mediator for conflicts within the Imperial family, god father at the baptism of Napoleon’s son and heir, and factotum in dealing with Napoleon’s illegitimate children.

Napoleon entrusted a great deal to Jean Jacques Régis Cambacérès, calling him ‘the wisdom of the nations’.

The final task of this these is to bring together all these strands and to combine them with an iconography.

Laurence Châtel de Brancion studied philosophy at university. She is returning to historical studies after having been a manager in high technology construction company. She has also set up her own contemporary art gallery. She is to submit her thesis in 1999 and the two hundredth anniversary of the Consulat.


Laetitia DE WITT: The Prince Victor Napoléon
Doctoral thesis in Contemporary History
Supervisor: M. Jean Tulard
Université Paris IV – Sorbonne

It is first of all necessary to put Prince Victor in context. He was the grandson of King Jerôme, Napoleon I’s last brother and Catherine Würthemburg. It was to assist the Emperor politically that Jerôme married his second wife Catherine Würthemburg. Together they were to have three children: Prince Jerôme Bonaparte (killed by an illness in 1847), Princess Mathilde and Prince Napoleon-Joseph who, after his brother’s death, took the name Jerôme. He was mockingly nicknamed Plon-Plon (‘Mr Plod’). During the Second Empire, in 1859, with the aim of furthering Napoleon III’s Italian politics, ‘Plon Plon’ married Princess Marie-Clotilde of Savoy, daughter of Victor-Emmanuel of Savoy and Adélaïde de Habsburg. Three children were born from this union: Victor in 1862, Louis in 1864 and Laetitia in 1866. Prince Victor was therefore the grandson of two Kings, Jerôme King of Westphalia and Victor-Emmanuel, King of Italy from 1861 onwards. His prestigious family connections meant that Prince Victor was able to play a political role of the highest importance. As a result of various successions, Prince Victor as last male heir of Napoleon I and his brothers became head of the Imperial house. In fact, King Joseph only had daughters and Louis’s (Napoleon III’s) line ended in 1879 with the death of the Prince Imperial, hence Jerôme Bonaparte ended up the only direct descendent remaining.On the death of the Prince Imperial, Prince Jerôme should have become the head of the Imperial house. But because of Jerôme’s reactionary political ideas, the Prince Impérial added a codicil to his will stating that ‘the duties of this our house towards this our country should not be cancelled by my death. When I am dead, the task of continuing the work of Napoleon I and Napoleon III falls to the eldest son of Prince Napoleon’. The Prince Imperial therefore passed over Jerôme, preferring Victor, and it was a decision which was to have serious repercussions. First of all, the Prince Imperial’s codicil caused the breakdown of all relations between Jerôme and his son Victor. Second, at the tender age of eighteen and quite against his will, Prince Victor became the representative of the imperial cause. And he was to remain such until his death in 1926. But despite being the head of the imperial house for forty years, Prince Victor has been almost completely forgotten by history. Several reasons could be advanced for this. Prince Victor lived in a period when to have the same name as Napoleon I was not necessarily an advantage. The Second Empire had only recently fallen and the defeat of Sedan was still very fresh in people’s memories. Furthermore, Prince Victor found himself at the head of the Bonapartist party almost ‘by accident’, hence he had not been prepared for the job. He was very quickly blocked in any actions he might have taken by the bill of exile, passed by the Third Republic in 1886, which distanced him from his supporters. He never had the time to become known and the Bonapartist party was in full decline.

The almost non-existent bibliography on Prince Victor shows clearly the obscurity into which he has fallen. With the exception of some works of Bonapartist propaganda written on him while he was still alive, no book has ever been written on him. The fullest work, a biography of him written by André Martinet and published in 1895, was written for doctrinal purposes. What is more, being published thirty years before his death it omits almost half of his life. Fortunately particularly detailed archives exist both in Paris and abroad. In Paris there are papers at the Archives Nationales (most of Prince Victor’s correspondence, his personal papers and propaganda photos), and at the Archives de la Préfecture de Police, with police reports for the years 1884-1901 (as pretender to the imperial throne, Prince Victor was kept under permanent surveillance). For the years after 1900, there are archives held by the Primoli family in Rome and in the Palais-Royal in Brussels.

The lack of interest in Prince Victor is even more surprising given that biographies have been written on nearly all the other members of the imperial family. It is for this reason that Laeticia de Witt has decided to fill this historical gap and to discover not only who Prince Victor really was but also what was his political role in a period when the Republic had come to stay.

In her thesis, the author intends to approach Prince Victor from three points of view :

  • His family and personality,
  • His political action – Prince Victor’s life was conditioned by politics and by what he represented. Politics was the cause of the break with his father, his move to Brussels and hence his marriage to Princess Clémentine of Belgium,
  • The development of his political action.

In other words, his new concept of his Napoleonic heritage – he saw Napoleonic ideology not only as political but also as historical and artistic. Indeed to compensate for the decline of the Bonapartist party, Prince Victor decided to concentrate on one thing which was going to take up his whole life: namely, the development and nurturing of the Napoleonic legend, principally through the building of an outstanding Napoleonic collection.

Laeticia de Witt chose this subject as the extension of her work for her DEA. Her aim is to study Prince Victor with reference to his family interests, using archives to which she has access and which are at present unpublished.