Though Napoleon claimed he had only seven mistresses, he probably had at least 21. One of these was Eléonore Denuelle de La Plaigne. Napoleon met her in 1805, when she was a beautiful eighteen-year old in the employ of Napoleon’s sister, Caroline Bonaparte Murat (Eléonore was also the mistress of Caroline’s husband Joachim). In April 1806 Eléonore obtained a divorce from her husband, who was in prison for forgery. Napoleon set her up in a house on Rue de la Victoire in Paris. On December 13, 1806, she gave birth to Napoleon’s first child, a boy. Napoleon was delighted, as this proved he was not responsible for his wife Josephine’s infertility. When Eléonore asked for permission to name the boy Napoleon, he agreed to half the name. So the baby was christened Léon, and the birth certificate read:Share
Son of Demoiselle Eléonore Denuel, aged twenty years, of independent means; father absent. (1)Eléonore’s liaison with Napoleon ended shortly after Léon’s birth. In 1808 Napoleon arranged for her to marry an infantry lieutenant. He was killed during the Russian campaign in 1812. In 1814, she married Charles de Luxbourg, a Bavarian diplomat.
Meanwhile, young Léon was taken from his mother’s care and entrusted to a series of nurses, paid for by Napoleon. Léon was brought up under the last name of Mâcon, a recently deceased general of whom Napoleon thought highly. According to Napoleon’s valet Constant,
the Emperor tenderly loved [his] son. I often fetched him to him; he would caress and give him a hundred delicacies, and was much amused with his vivacity and his repartees, which were very witty for his age. (2)Once the King of Rome was born, Léon received much less attention, though Napoleon continued to provide for the boy and remained fond of him. In March 1812, the Baron des Mauvières – the father-in-law of Napoleon’s private secretary, Baron de Méneval – was appointed Léon’s guardian. This provided a discreet way for Napoleon to manage the funds he was settling on the boy. In June 1815, after Napoleon’s defeat at Waterloo and subsequent abdication, eight-year-old Léon (with Méneval) joined Napoleon at Malmaison before the latter’s departure for Rochefort and exile to St. Helena. (Read more.)