Royalty on the stump: Napoleon hits campaign trail

5th June 2007, Comments 0 comments

FONTAINEBLEAU, France, June 5, 2007 (AFP) - Two hundreds years ago, his ancestor Napolean Bonaparte laid siege to Europe, shaping modern history with one of the greatest military conquests of all time.

FONTAINEBLEAU, France, June 5, 2007 (AFP) - Two hundreds years ago, his ancestor Napolean Bonaparte laid siege to Europe, shaping modern history with one of the greatest military conquests of all time.

But for Charles Napoleon, who spent last weekend on the campaign stump, handing out leaflets on a market in the imperial city of Fontainebleau, a seat in the next French parliament would do just fine.

The 56-year-old is Napoleon's great-great-great-grandnephew.
As head of the only branch of the Bonaparte family directly descended through the male line, he also claims the title of prince of the imperial house of France.

But unlike his diminutive forefathers, the prince's athletic frame towers 1.97 metres (6 feet 5 inches) above customers on the market square, a mane of grey hair swept back from his forehead and deep-set brown eyes.

This modern-day Napoleon also runs nine miles (15 kilometres) twice a week, uses a bicycle or motorbike in Paris and eschews heavy meals for a salad and a glass of mineral water.

And he appears determined to break with conservative Bonapartist tradition, standing in the parliamentary vote on June 10 and 17 as a candidate for the Democratic Movement, a newly-founded centrist party led by the presidential candidate Francois Bayrou.

His chosen constituency of 110,000 voters embraces the conservative city of Fontainebleau -- site of the emperor's favourite residence, where he spent his last days before heading into exile on the island of Elba in 1814 -- as well as 72 surrounding towns and villages.

Charles' surname is Napoleon "because my great grandfather decided to use Napoleon instead of Bonaparte and so it's been ever since," he explains.

He says the names helps give him instant recognition -- but people "quickly move beyond that and want to know what I can do for this region. I will have to ensure that there is an after-sales service," he smiles.

He also makes politely clear his irritation with the fascination his name arouses. "I have a life beyond my name and my inheritance," he adds, anxious to be known for his own achievements.

Among these, he boasts a doctorate in economics, a masters in finance and law, degrees from the Paris-based Higher School of Social Studies (EHESS) and the University of Pittsburgh's Ford Institute for Human Security.

He worked in various French ministries and public bodies and in West Africa before becoming a banker, later acquiring a financial services company of which he is still managing director -- although his deputy is filling in to allow him to concentrate full-time on the campaign.

Napoleon's first foray into politics was in 2001 when he won a municipal election in the city of Ajaccio, in his Mediterranean homeland of Corsica.

Held for over 100 years by the Bonapartists, who he describes as "a very conservative, very clannish party which represented values completely opposite to those I hold."

His father Louis, a conventional Bonapartist irritated by his son's left-leaning tendencies and second marriage, made a failed attempt to disinherit him.

French law prevented him from doing so but he did succeed in cutting Charles Napolean out of the imperial line of succession, meaning the throne will pass directly to Charles' son Jean-Christophe.

The prince shrugs off the episode: "I don't disown my history and heritage but I take it for what it is," he says. "I am a man of the centre, a modern Social Democrat," with "absolutely no interest" in celebrity glitter. 

Instead, when not working, campaigning or mountain-climbing he writes. He has written two books about his ancestors, another on the history of public transport and a fourth "Towards a New Republic" published this year.

And he runs the European Federation of Napoleonic Cities which he founded. "It's a cultural assocation which seeks to explain what Napoleon did for European construction," he explains.

But for now he is focused on the campaign: "A fascinating experience and essential to understand what people want," he says, adding after a pause: "Also a little stressful!"

Copyright AFP

Subject: French news

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