Charlotte Bonaparte was born at Saint-Maximin-la-Sainte-Baume on 22 February 1795 as the daughter of Lucien Bonaparte, a younger brother of Napoleon Bonaparte, and his first wife, Christine Boyer. She was their eldest daughter. A brother was stillborn the following year, followed by a sister who lived for just a few hours. Her younger sister was Christine-Egypta, who was born in 1798. From her grandmother Letizia, Charlotte received the nickname “Lolotte.” Their mother died on 14 May 1800 after an illness; she was still only 28 years old.
Charlotte spent her early childhood in France and Spain. From 1804, she received a more formal education from nuns in Italy. As early as 1807, she was considered as a possible bride for the future Ferdinand VII of Spain. However, her father and uncle could not agree on the conditions, one of them being that Lucien should divorce his second wife – Charlotte’s stepmother Alexandrine de Bleschamp and that Charlotte’s education should be continued in Paris. Lucien said, “What? Can they expect me to put my child into the hands of people who will poison her mind against my wife?” The relationship between the two brothers deteriorated as Lucien refused to abandon his wife – as his brother Jérôme had done with his wife, Elizabeth. By 1807, she had borne him four children.
However, by 1810 he could see the advantages of her receiving an education in Paris and his mother promised to care for the girl and to see her suitably married. On 8 March 1810, the 15-year-old Charlotte was delivered into her grandmother’s hands. Nevertheless, the family continued to press for Lucien and Alexandrine’s divorce. The quarrel continued, and Lucien made Charlotte leave Paris the following June. She returned to her father and stepmother, who then attempted to sail for the United States. They were intercepted by the British and were sent to Malta, and then to England, where they lived until Napoleon was defeated in 1814.
During her uncle’s brief restoration in 1815, Charlotte was created a French Princess and she was given “Imperial Highness” as a style of address. Shortly after his final defeat and banishment, Charlotte was married to Don Mario Gabrielli, Prince of Prossedi. She and Mario went on to have eight children together, of which five survived to adulthood. Her only surviving son went on to marry his cousin Augusta Bonaparte.
Charlotte was a well-educated woman who was praised for the intellectuals that frequented her and her husband’s home on the Janiculum. She was widowed in 1841, and she quietly remarried to Cavaliere Settimio Centamori the following year. When Emperor Napoleon III came into power in 1852, Charlotte was included in the Imperial Family and recognised as “Princess Bonaparte” with “Highness” as a style of address.
She died at the age of 70 on 6 May 1865 in Rome.1