Napoleon Bonaparte, Emperor of France baptized in Kenmare Co. Kerry …???!!!

Helen Kelly, F.A.G.I.

During the course of a search of Kenmare R.C. Parish registers on, I was fascinated with an entry which was recorded in the baptismal register 30 June 1823 by Ed. O’ Callaghan. The entry, part of which is difficult to decipher, states:

‘Ego Ed O’Callaghan Bap. Napoleon Francis Charles Bonaparte, Emperor of France, King of Italy and Protector ? of the …………..of the………?

At first glance, one could be forgiven for concluding that Napoleon Francis Charles Bonaparte was baptised in Kenmare R.C. Parish, 30th June 1823. However, as this child was son of Emperor Napoleon 1, it seemed highly unlikely that his mother and/or his father would have taken up residence in Kenmare, even for a short period.

On closer inspection, a further notation at the side of the baptismal entry recording the year 1811 was noted, thus suggesting that this child was born in 1811 and perhaps, baptised elsewhere by Ed. O’Callaghan.

On-line research as set out hereunder[1] confirmed that Napoleon François Charles Bonaparte was born 20 May 1811 at Tulieries Palace, Paris, and that he was given a traditional French summary baptism on the day of his birth. His formal baptism ceremony took place 9 June 1811 at Notre Dame Cathedral.

Napoleon François Charles Joseph, son of Emperor Napoleon 1 and his wife Marie-Louise, Archduchess of Austria at 9-20am on 20 March, 1811, was born at the Tuileries Palace. He weighed 4kg and measured 50.8cm. The dynastic title given to him was the «Roi de Rome» or King of Rome.

On the day of his birth, the child was ‘ondoyed’, in other words given a traditional, French summary baptism, by his paternal great uncle, Cardinal Fesch, the imperial Grand Chaplain. The formal baptism ceremony took place a few months later (9 June) at the metropolitan cathedral of Notre-Dame de Paris. His godmothers were Madame Mère (his grandmother (father’s mother)) and Caroline Murat (his aunt (father’s younger sister)) and his godfathers were Francis I, Emperor of Austria (his grandfather (mother’s father)) and Joseph Bonaparte (his uncle (father’s elder brother).

Further research confirmed that Napoleon’s formal baptism ceremony was a very elaborate affair which appears to have been presided over by his great-uncle Cardinal Fesch, accompanied by other clergy[2]

As for the grand ceremony itself, it took place in the early evening of Sunday 9 June. The roads had been secured by the Imperial guard and troops from the garrison of Paris at 2pm. A canon blast at 5h30pm announced the departure of the imperial couple from the Tuileries Palace. The crowds saluted their passing with cries of ‘Vive le Roi de Rome’. All the institutional invitees (Senate, Council of State, Corps législatif, Cour de Cassation, Cour des Comptes, Cour de l’Université, the Paris Corps municipal, the mayors and députés for the 49 bonnes villes invited by the Hôtel de Ville) had been accompanied to Notre-Dame by a military escort; they were all in place by 5h30pm when the clergy entered the cathedral in procession. The imperial cortege entered the building shortly after 7pm, the emperor and empress being escorted to their kneelers in the chancel under individual canopies borne by cathedral canons. After a short ceremony, during which Cardinal Fesch sang the Veni creator, the emperor, the empress, the king of Rome and his governess and the rest of the imperial entourage approached the chancel screen for the Catechumens’ ceremony. They then entered the choir for the baptism proper, after which the empress stood up and held the child as the chief herald, Monsieur Duverdier, cried thrice “Vive le Roi de Rome”, a cry taken up by the congregation for a long period. The Emperor then took the child and lifted him up, visibly deeply moved. The musicians of the imperial chapel, conducted by Lesueur, then performed the Vivat (‘Long live the emperor’).

As Ed. O’Callaghan’s entry in the Kenmare baptismal register is very specific, it can be assumed that Fr. O’Callaghan was among the group of clergy who assisted at the baptism of Napoleon 11.

An initial enquiry to Kerry Diocesan archives failed to reveal information on Fr. O’ Callaghan, but it is very possible that Fr. O’Callaghan may have been based at the Irish College in Paris in 1811.

In due course, further research may provide insights into the life and ministry of Fr. Ed. O’Callaghan.