From this picture of Prince Pierre Napoleon Bonaparte (1815-1881),
it's hard to imagine the swashbuckler portrayed in his lifestory.
A man of many doubtful parts, Prince Pierre Bonaparte certainly killed the Paris journalist Victor Noir in 1870. It was a bloody epoch, but even so, one writer wrote, "... one asks, are we under the Bonapartes, or the Borgias?" Prince Pierre was a violent man, always armed, but simply to see him as an unstable assassin, is too simplistic a description.
He was the son of Lucien Bonaparte (Boney's younger brother), born in 1815 and he grew up with nine siblings on the vast (nearly 20 000 acres) family estate of Camino, 60 kms from Rome. He ran wild in the rough countryside in the company of estate workers and suffered the lack of parental supervision or affection. The estate was uncivilised as well as extensive and malaria was rife.
Nonetheless the children had two clerical tutors, who had considerable education beyond the classroom and included astronomy, archaeology and science. At the same time Pierre played his part in keeping the many local bandits at bay. He spent lots of time with the shepherds, who themselves were armed to the teeth and had dogs not only to guard the flocks, but also people.
The inhospitable country was also unruly and many crimes went unpunished, including murder. Soldiers and pontifical gendarmes were often sent in pursuit of brigands, but were in many ways no better, terrorising the population quite as much. Pierre himself was ambushed at 14. Hence the lad grew up with the determination to make his own justice.
Thus he sought a career to which he felt predestined - one of adventure. It started early; at the age of thirteen he was already pleasing to women and fell for a serving wench in an inn and managed to make a date with her in her room one night. Upon arriving at the door, he heard a loud argument and burst in doing battle with the man, only to find out to his horror that her lover was none other than the innkeeper!
The fountain that Prince Pierre gave to grateful calinzannais.
In 1831 he spent 6 months in prison for a minor misdemeanour and was banished from the Papal States, so he took ship to the United States today with his uncle Joseph (the ex-king of Spain), who lived in Bordentown, New Jersey. He spent some time in New York, but the comfortable life did not please him. In 1832 he sought service in the army of general Santander, the President of Colombia. He became the President's adc with the rank of commander at the tender age of 17. Though the President offered him the chance to stay on at the end of the war, European leaders feared the Bonapartes might become powerful in South America and prevented his continued service.
After falling ill he was allowed to return to the family estates at Camino. He set about a life of hunting, but one day rather than surprising game, it was the renowned bandit Saltamachione whose head popped up. His brother wounded him and once captured, the boys delivered him top the police. The latter were far from happy and set out to arrest the young Bonaparte. Pierre thinking he was being ambushed, lashed out with a hunting knife and killed a young lieutenant. he was condemned to death, but after 9 months was released, graced by the Pope, provided he left Camino again.
The gazebo of Prince Pierre's house in Calinzana.
He went back to the US but was not well received by the family and left almost at once for London, where he offered his services to Russia, Egypt and Spain, all without success. His picaresque adventures were to continue in Corfu, where again he pursued a life of hunting. One day he and some friends decided to go over to the Albanian coast where the game was supposed to be good. He, while picnicking, they were set upon by bandits and in the ensuing fight, Pierre felled two of them. They escaped back to Corfu, where the authorities advised them to leave right away. From that day, Pierre feared reprisals from the Albanian bandits and was always armed, even at home.
After Corfu, London and then on to the Belgian Ardennes with his companion of 14 years, a young French woman, Rose Hesnard, after his services had again been widely refused, despite the fact that his cousin had now (1848) become the French President. He spent a dozen years there, happy hunting, though still restless.
At the beginning of the revolution that chased Louis-Philippe from the throne, Pierre rushed to Paris, risking arrest, but was soon appointed a commandant in the Foreign Legion by the anarchist Louis Blanc.
The ruins of Prince Pierre's mansion at Luzipeo from the park.
The French habit of holing multiple offices (now coming to an end) was rampant in those days and Pierre managed to get indefinite leave and get himself elected after the revolution that ushered in the Second Republic in 1848 to represent both Corsica and the Ardèche. other Bonapartes got themselves elected (Prince Jérôme, Louis-Napoléon and Prince Lucien Murat). In June of that year he was at a barricade in Paris (Faubourg du Temple) and had his horse shot found him. he was beside the poet Lamartine and afterwards the two went to dinner!
His picaresque story continued when he rejoined the colours after some political affronts and went to command 600 men in the south of Algeria to rout rebels. His months tour had he returning to Paris amid a furore of him being denounced as a deserter. By 1851 despite his democratic (!) persuasion, he is refusing to take part in the coup d'état, but clearly he does not feel safe and obtains authorisation to carry arms.
By 1852, when his beloved Rose died, he consoled himself by secretly marrying the 19 year-old Eléanor-Justine (Nina) Ruffin, the daughter of a foundry worker. Napoléon III, now on the throne did not approve and Pierre 'retreated' to Calinzana with Nina, but not before the Justice Minister commissioned him to convince the cruel bandit Serafino who was terrorising the Calvi region, to accept a passport and escape to America. His mission failed and gendarmes gunned down the bandit.
Pierre and Nina set up house at Grotta Niella, 4kms from Calvi (right near the present day Signoria Hotel), but the climate did not suit her and he planned the new mansion at Luzipeo. Its ruins stand on the magnificent hilltop dominating the Bay of Crovani, about half an hour south of Calvi. This amazing place was last occupied by the Italian army of occupation during WWII.
The ruins of Prince Pierre's mansion at Luzipeo, showing the coach houses.
Pierre went back and forth to Paris and suffered several humiliations at the hands of Emperor Napoleon III. The Emperor asked him to witness his marriage to Eugénie de Montijo, but not in the presence of the marrying pair, nor to attend the wedding. Pierre and Nina manage to persuade a local abbot to marry them without civil formalities and the Emperor refuses to recognise it, nor another correctly conducted wedding in Belgium where they went to live, notwithstanding having made him a Prince!
Later the Emperor removed from Pierre the right to use his second name. Pierre enjoyed his Corsican time, spending a lot of time hunting and philandering, often combining the two - and father several illegitimate children by Calinzana girls. It was this that had Nina persuade him to decamp to Belgium. While still in Calinzana, he enjoyed the company of the locals of many ranks, not least Olinthe Bonacorsi, a big local landowner and descendent of an illustrious Florentine family. Another companion was Captain Bianconi, to whom he entrusted the management of his estates when he left Corsica.
The couple were not well received at the Emperor's Tuilleries palace and completely banned after the Victor Noir shooting. By 1871, Nina manages to arrange a Belgian wedding that was formally recognised, but by then Pierre was ruined. She however, with her newly official title of Princess decamped to London with her kids and opened a dress shop and the use of her name over the door caused another scandal!
Notwithstanding his misery accompanied by diabetes, Pierre took yet another new mistress, his serving girl Adèle Dideriche. He was supported by his son Roland, who had married well after leaving St Cyr as a lieutenant. He died in 1881, as much from morphine taken to assuage his pain as from his battered soul, with Nina, Adèle and his children at his side.
Here's the view from Prince Pierre's Luzipeo mansion
out to the Bay of Crovani, so why would he leave?
For more about the Prince Pierre go and get a copy of a paper about him at Accademia Corsa.
If you want any more pointers to enjoying a visit to Calinzana, you could do worse than asking us. If you'd like to visit more of Corsica, then go to Corsica Isula - a website with a vast coverage of all aspects of Corsica.
calinzana.corsica-isula.com © 2005 William Keyser