The number of members of the Bonaparte family that have held the title of Emperor of the French people is subject to different interpretations, according to the criteria used to judge it and to the political opinions held.
Napoleon I is universally known, even though not universally recognised, given that he was considered a usurper with no legitimate rights to rule by most European governments of the time, held by monarchies of divine right. He was First Consul of the French Republic between 1799 and 1804 and Emperor of the French between 1804 and his first abdication in 1814 and again during the Hundred days of his restoration in 1815. His nephew (the son of his brother Louis) Louis Napoleon Bonaparte was elected first President of the French Republic in 1848 and became Emperor in 1852 under the name Napoleon III after a coup d'etat. These two emperors presided over one of the most abundant issues of gold and silver coins in history before the twentieth century and ruled for an extended period. Coins have however also been issued in the names of two other imperial Napoleons, who claimed the right to ascend to the throne but never held any substantial power and came to early and dramatic deaths.
The son of Napoleon I and the Austrian Archduchess Maria Louisa was born in 1811 and was immediately given the title of King of Rome by his father. He was taken away to Austria by his mother in 1814, never to see France again. Napoleon I abdicated in his favour as Napoleon II after the defeat at the battle of Waterloo, but this claim was never accepted and Louis XVIII was reinstated as King of France in his place. The son of Napoleon was educated as an Austrian, given the title of Duke of Reichstadt and commissioned in the Austrian Army. Bonapartists around Europe pinned their hopes on his escape from the yoke of the Viennese court, but the young "Eagle" died aged 21, with an unfulfilled romantic idea of politics, recorded later in the theatrical piece by Edmond Rostand. Coins were issued in his name, dated 1816, but in fact they were probably minted privately around 1860 in Brussels. They showed the small child as head of State. But the pieces never circulated as a monetary instrument and were mere tokens, to be used for propaganda, for the nostalgic, and for collectors.
Napoleon III had only one son, like his uncle. After the defeat at Sedan in 1870, Napoleon III had been deposed and went into exile in the UK, where he died in 1873. His son was considered by Bonapartists as the legitimate heir to the throne, under the name of Napoleon IV. In 1874, when he became 18 years old, coins were minted privately in Brussels to state his case. Again, lacking any control over the French Government and over the Mint and the financial system, such pieces were mere tokens of a pretender, a pure political statement, and had no legal right to circulate in the economy as money. Deriving his legitimacy from a family tradition at war and exiled from his country, the young Napoleon IV also had to enrol in a foreign army. He sought military experience in the British army, took part in a campaign in South Africa and died aged 23, in 1879, in a skirmish with Zulu warriors, while the rest of the patrol fled. Other Bonapartes made later claims but without any success.