Pierre Napoléon Bonaparte was the son of Prince Lucien Bonaparte – a brother of Napoleon Bonaparte – and his second wife Alexandrine de Bleschamp. This made him the French Emperor’s nephew but by the time of his birth, his uncle had been exiled for the second and last time. On 22 March 1853, Pierre married the daughter of a worker in a copper foundry, Justine Eléonore Ruffin.
Justine went by the nickname Nina, and in 1858, she gave birth to the couple’s first child – a son named Roland. He would go on to marry Marie-Félix Blanc. Justine and Pierre initially lived in Corsica, but they returned to the continent just in time for the birth of their second child – a daughter named Jeanne in 1861. Several other children were born to them, but they did not survive to adulthood. Their marriage had only been blessed by a local priest in Corsica in 1853, and they had not had a prior civil marriage. Pierre later asserted that no ceremony had taken place, was he fearful of the Emperor’s reaction? When they eventually celebrated a civil marriage in 1867, Emperor Napoleon III refused to recognise it. A second ceremony in 1871 was performed after the fall of the French Empire in the French Consulate in Brussels, and now their marriage was finally valid, and their children had to the right to call themselves Bonapartes.
After Pierre’s death in 1881, Justine left for London where she opened a millinery shop – using her title to attract customers. Justine died on 13 October 1905 at the age of 74. Her daughter Jeanne went on to marry Henri Marie Christian de Villeneuve-Esclapon, 10th Marquis de Villeneuve-Esclapon on 22 March 1882. On 10 April 1886, she gave birth to a son named Pierre, and they would eventually have six children together. Jeanne became known as an artist in Paris. Jeanne died on 25 July 1910 in Paris at the age of 48. Her niece Marie Bonaparte wrote, “Aunt Jeanne died yesterday, following an operation. Pioche (Prince Roland’s secretary) sent a telegram. George opened the envelope and delayed the blow for a few seconds by saying, ‘ You know, your Aunt Jeanne is very ill.'” Marie later dreamed of her aunt, “whom I loved so much” but she was unable to attend the funeral as she was nursing. 1