The Last Bonaparte: The Extraordinary Life of Princess Marie Bonaparte

"If ever anyone writes the story of my life, it should be called The Last Bonaparte, for I am the last.  My cousins of the Imperial line are only Napoleons." - Marie Bonaparte

Wife, mother, Royal Princess, great-great niece of Napoleon Bonaparte, friend and rescuer of Sigmund Freud, and psychoanalyst. These are just some of the roles that Marie Bonaparte (1882-1962) played during her eighty-years on the planet.  She was also passionate, glamorous, reckless, intelligent and wealthy. Her enthusiasms in life were for sex, her chow dogs, and Sigmund Freud. Marie Bonaparte was the daughter of Prince Roland Bonaparte and Marie-Felix Blanc.  Prince Roland was the grandson of Napoleon's younger brother Lucien, who was the most rebellious of the brothers Bonaparte.  While Jerome fell in line with Napoleon's wishes, divorcing Betsy Patterson and marrying Princess Catherine of Wurtemberg, Lucien refused to put aside either of his wives.  Consequently, he was disinherited by his brother.  While Lucien was made a prince by the Pope in Rome, he and his descendents were not part of the Imperial line. 

Prince Roland's father, Prince Pierre Bonaparte, also married a woman who was lower-class and barely literate, but not until after she had given birth to Prince Roland and his sister Princess Jeanne.  The couple were not married with Imperial consent by Napoleon III, and he refused to recognize the marriage or the legitimacy of the two children. It wasn't until the Third Republic that their marriage was recognized and his wife entitled to bear the title of Princess. Still the Princess was not recognized by Parisian society which galled her for the rest of her life.  Princess Pierre arranged her son Roland's marriage to the daughter of Francois Blanc, who was the principal real-estate developer of Monaco, also co-owning the Casino in Monte Carlo as well as one in Homburg (Pierre's brother Prince Charles-Lucien Bonaparte broke the bank at Homburg winning 180,000 francs, the first person to do so.)  Marie-Felix had a fortune of almost 14 million francs.  She was also suffering from tuberculosis which was kept from her.  The race was on to get Marie-Felix pregnant before she died.  On July 2nd 1882, she gave birth to a daughter Princess Marie Bonaparte known to her family as Mimi.  A month later, but not before making out a will in her husband's favor, Marie-Felix died in his arms of an embolism.

Princess Marie was brought up isolated at St. Cloud, outside of Paris, her only companions were her wet-nurse and then later her governess.  She rarely saw her father, who she adored, since he spent most of his time with his work with the Geographical Society (he also discovered several species of ferns) and her grandmother had little use for her.  When Marie was child, she showed symptons of tuberculosis which meant that she was even more isolated until her father and grandmother were assured that she would survive.  Because of this isolation, Marie grew up a bit neurotic, worrying that she might die at any moment like her mother.  It wasn't until she was older, that Marie learned that her isolation was partly because her grandmother and father were not accepted in Parisian society.

At the age of 25, her father arranged her marriage to Prince George of Greece and Denmark, the second son of King George I of the Hellenes.  Prince George was 13 years older than his bride, incredibly tall and handsome.  Marie fell head over heels in love with him, although from the beginning she sensed that they had nothing in common, that while she was happy to listen to her husband, he had absolutely no interest in her or her life.  She also didn't want to leave her life in Paris and move to Athens, where she was afraid that she would be bored by Athenian society. However, she wanted to please her father who was adamant that teh marriage take place. To her father's surprise, Prince George signed a document giving up all rights to Marie's fortune, leaving it in her hands to do with what she wished.  Despite her misgivings, she married her Prince on November 21, 1907 in Paris in a civil ceremony and then in a religious ceremony in Athens on December 12, 1907 becoming HRH Princess George of Greece and Denmark.

Marie's fears proved to be well-founded.  Her husband was emotionallly as well as physically distant, he brooded constantly over his former role as Governor of Cyprus, and he was a little too attached to his Uncle Waldemar, who he spent every summer with in Denmark.  Despite the lack of affection, the couple managed to have 2 children, Prince Peter born in 1908 and Princess Eugenie born in 1910.  Seeking the love and affection denied her by her husband, Marie indulged in a series of discreet affairs with among others Aristide Briand, the French Prime Minister and one of Freud's disciples Rudolph Loewenstein but she still remained unfufilled sexually. During the Balkan wars and World War I, Marie occupied herself with setting up hospital ships in Athens and serving with the Women's Emergency Canteens for Soldiers in Compiegne in France.

Marie became interested in psychoanalysis through Rudolph Loewenstein.   She hoped that by being psychoanalyzed by Freud, it might help with her frigidity.  She had already undergone an operation to have her clitoris moved closer to her vagina, after undertaking a study of 243 women which showed that women who had theirs closer easily achieved orgasm during intercourse.  She published her findings in the medical journal Bruxelles-Meidcal under the pseudonym A.E. Narjani.  It was the beginning of a life-long study into female sexuality that culminated in her book Feminine Sexuality that was published in 1953 and republished in 1979.

Her meetings with Freud began a life-long friendship and led her to a new career as a psychoanalyst.  Freud's famous remark "The great question that has never been answered and which I have not yet been able to answer, despite my 30 years of research into the feminine sould, is 'What does a woman want?" was asked of Marie. Freud helped Marie remember that as a child she had seen her wet-nurse and her father's half-brother Pascal who worked in the stables, not only having sex but also that they had drugged her to keep her quiet while they snuck off to have their affair.  Marie spent increasing time in Vienna not just being psychoanalyzed but also studying with Freud, much to the dismay of her children who were increasingly resentful and jealous of their mother being away.

She became one of Freud's closest friends, lavishing gifts on him.  When things looked dicey for Freud in Vienna, because of Hitler, Marie later paid the money that Freud needed to get out of Austria, as well as paying to set him and his family up in Hampstead.  She also bought Freud's letters to Wilhelm Fleiss to preserve them despite Freud's wish that they be destroyed. When Freud died, his ashes were placed in an urn that Marie had given him.  She later became very good friends with Freud's daughter Anna. Marie also spent a considerable part of her fortune to help rescue at least 200 Jewish families leave Germany, saving them from the Nazi's.  She also used her money to help set up a school in Paris to train psychoanalysts. Her wealth contributed to the popularity of psychoanalysis in France, becoming a pivotal figure in the French Psychoanalytical Society.  During her career, Marie only took on 5 or 6 patients at a time, crocheting while they talked.  Most of her sessions took place outside in her garden, and then later on in life when she got older she would see her patients in her boudoir while wearing a lovely peignoir. Later in life, when she and Prince George attended the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II of England, Marie spent her time psychoanalyzing the gentleman next to her who turned out to be Francois Mitterand, the future President of France.

During Prince Philip's childhood, after his family was forced to leave Greece, Marie and her husband Prince George gave them a home in St. Cloud and Marie later helped pay for Prince Philip's schooling. She maintained a lifelong and affectionate interest in her nephew.  When his mother Princess Alice was diagnosed as schizophrenic, Marie arranged for her treatment in a clinic in Switzerland. Over the years, the royal couple managed to grow closer, although Marie build her husband a house where he could live and spend time with his uncle Waldemar.  After the war, however Marie's fortune was not what it used to be, and she had to sell the house. 

Marie had a long time interest in the criminal mind, interviewing Madame Lefebrve who had shot and killed her pregnant daughter-in-law in cold blood.  Marie wrote an article on the convicted criminal for the Revue Francaise de psychanalyse.  Her interest continued with the case of Caryl Chessman in California who had been on death row for a number of years. She also adored the writings of Edgar Allan Poe and wrote a book entitled The Life and Works of E.A. Poe in 1949.

Marie died of leukemia at the age of 80 in 1962, and is buried inext to her husband Prince George, who died in 1957 a year away from their 50th wedding anniversary, in the royal cemetary at Tatoi in Greece.


Marie Bonaparte: A Life - Celia Bertin, Yale University Press, New Haven, 1982


Marg said…

Thanks for the post.
Johanna said…
Came across your blog and wanted to say that I love it. Love it! Will now be stalking you. Thanks for the great post.

dave hambidge said…
ditto Marg; you do condense these amazing biographies so neatly, readably and engagingly. Shame on me as a brit and a shrink, I knew nothing about her, but now I do; thanks!
I'm amazed Dave that you didn't know about her. I find her fascinating, particularly that he was able to do more with her life than just being a Princess and a Bonaparte. She left her mark on the profession of pyschoanalysis particularly in France. Ironically I learned about her while reading a biography of Prince Philip!
dave hambidge said…
Psychoanalysis has never been a major treatment option in britain, mainly because of the huge cost and limited number of trained analysts. There are a few in the large cities such as London but costs are high. Our NHS will only fund such therapy in very rare and unusual situations.

Briefer derivatives such as brief insight psychotherapy, my particular specialism in the talkies line, uses much of the basic freudain approach but in time limited work; say 1 hour a week over maximum of 12-16 weeks. Great for "nearly normal" who have developed problems, not the seriously bent in the first place!
Just as Freud analyzed his own dreams to prove his theories on sexuality, Marie Bonaparte made her own body an object of research, to study sexual dysfunction in women. A rare and fantastic genius.

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