A German homage to Napoleonic Europe
The myth of Napoleon I began to spread across Europe following his defeat in 1815, and after a short period of relief over the achievement of a stable peace and the end of the oppressions of the Napoleonic regime. The comparison with his successors in France (Louis XVIII and the ultra-royalists) or in Italy and Germany (divided again into many small states, often under a different foreign influence or control) was unflattering. There was also Napoleon’s own reinterpretation of his epic story, in line with more liberal and romantic principles, friendly to the rights of nations, This operation was constructed in Napoleon’s memoirs as written by Emmanuel de Las Cases in the Memorial de Sainte Helène, published in 1823. In 1840, under the constitutional monarchy of Louis Philippe and following the initiative of Louis Thiers, historian and Prime Minister, Napoleon’s body was repatriated with great fanfare from St Helena, where he had died in 1821 under British custody. This event generated great emotion and offered official support and institutional legitimization to the cult of the hero and the memories of the Revolution, far from the British view of the “Corsican ogre” and well beyond the intentions of Louis Philippe.
What we see here is a manifestation of the nostalgic and romantic cult of Napoleon’s Europe, through his family and the coins and medals that they minted throughout continental Europe. This silver hexagonal casket, containing a silver cup, was created in Germany in 1832 by I. Bohl who had it built around 18 coins and 10 medals of Napoleon and the Napoleonids (relatives who were beneficiaries of crowns handed over by the Emperor). Its creator left as an explanation the following inscription: haec numismata familiae napoleonis magni imperatoris I I. Bohl confluentinus in hunc ordinem et usum redigi curavit MDCCCXXXII.
The cup is supported by three lions’ feet. The coins are surrounded by 72 Napoleonic eagles, and by 36 crowned imperial initials N. The lid is topped by a crown, faced by a légion d’honneur, the decoration for highest merit of the French Empire. It is surrounded by medals of Napoleon with his first wife Josephine de Beauharnais and by the second, the Austrian Archduchess Marie Louise. The other family members adorn the lid, including the newborn heir (Napoleon II), the Bonaparte sisters Elisa, Paolina, and Carolina and the daughter of Josephine, Hortense de Beauharnais.
Of particular interest are the eighteen large silver coins inserted through a pivot on the six facades of the hexagonal container, making it possible to turn the coins and admire both sides, once the internal drinking cup is removed from its monumental container. As can be seen, while most of Napoleonic Europe had between 1803 and 1815 adopted progressively the franc/lira of the Germinal system (France, Italy, Benelux), the German and Spanish territories remained outside this early form of monetary unification, maintaining disconnected local coinage. In some cases, as in Naples, Westphalia and the Netherlands, the first issues were in local currency and later the franc/-lira replaced it.
Five coins depict the evolution of Napoleon’s titles as ruler of France, initially as Bonaparte, the first Consul of the Republic (a five francs piece minted in Paris during l’an XI (1803, at the beginning of the franc Germinal system, which regulated the coinage of large parts of Europe until 1914). The coin omits names of the other two consuls, Cambacéres and Lebrun, confirming their subordination unlike in its Roman republican model). In the following coin Napoleon is represented as Emperor but the State is still defined as République française, and only later it was corrected into Empire français. An additional change was the return to the Gregorian calendar after the Revolutionary calendar was dropped. An 1814 five francs piece represents Napoleon crowned by leaves of laurel, to recall his military victories. Finally the same coin is again inserted with the date 1815, to mark the discontinuity of the regime, after the return from exile in Elba and the 100 days leading to Waterloo. Napoleon is also represented as King of Italy in a 5 lire coin minted in Milan in 1814, while Eugene de Beauharnais, son of his wife and viceroy of Italy, is the only major family not represented in this ensemble.
The Italian Napoleonids are Napoleon’s sister Elisa, represented together with her husband Felice Baciocchi, as Princess of Lucca and Piombino (5 franchi, 1805), while in fact she ruled over the whole of Tuscany on behalf of her brother. Joseph Bonaparte appears as King of Naples in 1806-08 (120 grana from 1808), then replaced as King of Naples in 1808-15 by Gioachim Murat (12 carlini of 1810 and 5 lire of 1813), who had married another Bonaparte sister, Caroline. A 5 lire of Maria Luisa as Duchess of Parma and Piacenza is present as well, but despite the date of 1815 it was minted later in Milan and is part of the history of the Restoration following the Treaty of Vienna and not of Napoleonic Europe.
The German Napoleonids are Jerôme Bonaparte, who ruled in 1807-13 the Kingdom of Westphalia, created around Cassel by Napoleon (a thaler of 1807 and a 5 franken of 1813), as well as Murat as Grandduke of Berg (with two Thaler of 1806 and 1807, providing a far less impressive portrait then the mint of Naples produced the year after). The Grandduchy of Berg was centered on Dusseldorf and existed between 1806 and 1813.
Spain appears under the rule of Joseph Bonaparte as King of Spain (1808-13) with a 8 reales piece of 1809. The Kingdom of the Netherlands was given to Louis Bonaparte in 1806 (50 stuivers from 1808), after he had married Hortense, but he resigned in 1810, opposing his brother’s policies and the country was annexed directly by the French Empire.
The last silver coin is a 10 livres piece for 1810, from Ile de France et Bonaparte, the name temporarily taken by the French colonies in the islands of Maurice and La Réunion, in the Indian Ocean.
This 1832 cup is an original construction, following German traditions of using coinage to decorate beer chops or other domestic objects. Even though its stated purpose was a dynastic celebration, it ultimately produced a nostalgic recollection of the political and monetary union of Europe some seventeen years after it had collapsed.
Luca Einaudi, Centre for History and Economics
Centre for History and Economics,
Cambridge CB3 0AG, UK
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