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Bonaparte, Joseph (1768–1844)

Bonaparte, Joseph (1768–1844)

Joseph Bonaparte (b. 7 January 1768; d. 19 July 1844), king of Spain. The oldest brother of Napoleon Bonaparte, Joseph was born into a family of the minor nobility in Corte, Corsica. He became a lawyer in 1788 and held a series of posts in Corsica and, after 1793, in France, where he and his family found refuge after the British seized the island. As Napoleon rapidly rose through the French military ranks (he was proclaimed emperor in 1804), Joseph's career gradually became entwined with the military successes of his ambitious brother. Napoleon's dream of a French empire extending across all Europe led him to invade Portugal in 1807 and Spain in 1808, forcing the abdication of the ruling Spanish Bourbon family (first Charles IV and then Ferdinand VII). With the monarchs now absent, Napoleon proclaimed the reluctant Joseph king of Spain in June 1808. These unpopular actions sparked the Peninsular War, a fierce Spanish guerrilla resistance to French incursions that was aided militarily and financially by Great Britain. As king, Joseph's actions were dictated by Napoleon's interests. His tremendous unpopularity led Spaniards to nickname him Pepe Botella (Pepe the Tippler), a vice he was not known to possess.

The rupture of legitimate monarchial power created a crisis of political legitimacy and a power vacuum in Spain's American colonies. French usurpation of the Spanish crown set in motion the Spanish American movements for independence, the causes of which had been developing for several decades. Influential criollo leaders, long discontented with the contradictions and restrictions of Spanish colonial administration, aware that their interests and those of Spain were different, and disillusioned by the rapid decline of the once powerful Spanish metropolis, saw in this turn of events an opportune moment to assert their independence. Joseph died in Florence, Italy.

See alsoFrench-Latin American Relations; Napoleon I.


William Spence Robertson, France and Latin American Independence (1939; repr. 1967).

Gabriel H. Lovett, Napoleon and the Birth of Modern Spain, 2 vols. (1965).

Owen Connelly, The Gentle Bonaparte: A Biography of Joseph, Napoleon's Elder Brother (1968).

Michael Ross, The Reluctant King (1976).

Additional Bibliography

Cambronero, Carlos. José I Bonaparte, el rey intruso: Apuntes históricos referentes a su gobierno en España. Madrid: Alderabán, 1997.

Esdaile, Charles J. The Peninsular War: A New History. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2003.

Moreno Alonso, Manuel. Sevilla napoleónica. Sevilla: Ediciones Alfar, 1995.

Stroud, Patricia Tyson. The Man Who Had Been King: The American Exile of Napoleon's Brother Joseph. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2005.

                                           J. David Dressing

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