Joseph Bonaparte (1768-1844), the eldest brother of Napoleon, was successively King of Naples (1806-1808) and King of Spain (1808-13). At the Battle of Vitoria (21 June 1813) a British, Portuguese and Spanish force led by the Anglo-Irish General Arthur Wellesley, 1st Marquess of Wellington, defeated the French under King Joseph. A victory which would prove significant and eventually lead to Napoleon’s defeat in the Peninsula War and the elevation of Arthur Wellesley to Duke of Wellington, “the conqueror of Napoleon”. As the French army took flight at Vitoria, King Joseph managed to escape on horseback but his private carriages, containing his personal luggage, including his coat, were captured by General Sir William Parker Carrol (1776-1842), who was born in Tulla House, Co.Tipperary.
Joseph Bonaparte was married to one of the Clary (né Clery) sisters who lead remarkable lives. Julie (1771-1845) and Désirée (1777-1860) were descended from a wealthy Co. Limerick merchant family and they both married into the elite of Napoleonic France. Julie married Joseph Bonaparte in 1794 and was successively the queen consort of Naples and the first Queen of Spain not of royal birth. She never lived in Spain with her husband and was referred to as ‘Reina ausente’(The Absent Queen) and having been separated for many years, the couple reunited in 1840 in Florence where they both passed away, Joseph on 28th July 1844 aged 76 and Julie eight months later at the age of 73.
Julie’s sister Désirée was engaged to Napoleon Bonaparte but he broke off the engagement when he became involved with Josephine de Beauharnais, whom he married in1796. In 1798, Désirée married Jean Bernadotte who became Charles XIV of Sweden and Norway and Désirée became Queen. She enjoyed social life but disliked formality and court etiquette, which made it more difficult for her to be respected by the nobility because she was of the merchant class. In 1844 Charles died and she became Queen Mother as her son, King Oscar I, ascended the throne and on the 17 December 1860, Désirée passed away in Stockholm Palace at the age of 83.
In 1951 a best-selling novel by Annemarie Selinko called Désirée was published which chronicles the love affair between Désirée and Napoleon and in 1954 it was turned into a major Hollywood movie which starred Marlon Brando as Napoleon and Jean Simmons as Désirée.
King Joseph’s coat is just one of many items on display in the People’s Museum at the moment as part of The Parker-Carrol Collection.
Thank you to Niall Carey for researching and writing this piece.