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BEAUHARNAIS Eugene de - Letter Signed to Napoleon regarding Italian bishops

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Eugene de BEAUHARNAIS (1781-1824)

Letter Signed (“Eugene Napoleon”) to “Monsieur le Ministre des Cultes” [Bigot de Préameneu], listing the Italian bishops who were on their way to Paris, and those who had begged to be excused because of their “age or their infirmities”.

2 pages 4to in French, Cherbourg, 27 May 1811.                               

The tone of Eugene’s letter betrays a slight sense of tension, as he reported on which Italian bishops would attend the christening of Napoleon’s only legitimate child, Napoleon II. The child’s birth was greeted with joy in France, and even more so by Napoleon, who personally announced to the crowds in his apartments, “It is a King of Rome!” The christening took place at Notre Dame on 9 June, with Napoleon’s uncle, Cardinal Fesch, officiating.

Trans: “I fear that I cannot yet entirely satisfy the demands you have made in your letter of the 16th inst. Here is the list of the Bishops of the Kingdom of Italy who I know at the moment to be on their way to Paris. They are – the Archbishop of Ravenna and Udine, the Bishops of Padua, Como, Bergamo, Pavia, Chioggia, Crema, Vigevano, Brescia, Forli, Adria, Trento, Rimini, Feltre, Comacchio, Verona, Cervia, Sarsina and Treviso, in all 20, and the Patriarch of Venice, 21.

The Bishops who, because of their great age or their infirmities, have requested to be excused from attending are – the Archbishop of Urbino, the Archbishop of Ferrara, the Bishop of Novara, Modena, Lodi, Reggio, Concordia, Carpi and Ceneda, in all 9. I do not know if there will be any further requests for exemption. Nor do I know if requests of this sort will be accepted in part or in their entirety by His Majesty, to whom I had the honour to present them . . .

As to the confidential notes which you requested regarding the character and the principles of each of the Bishops who will attend, I will deal with that and I will have them sent to you . . .

The perfect organization of the great ceremonial events of his reign were of paramount importance to Napoleon, who was well aware of their impact on his image. The effort required in organizing such events put enormous pressure on all those involved, as can be seen here. As Viceroy of Italy, Eugene was evidently expected to know which Italian bishops would be attending.

In July 1801, Napoleon had signed the Concordat with Pope Pius VII, re-establishing, to some extent, the position of the Catholic Church in France following the vehement anti-clericalism of the Revolutionary period. In 1804, the Ministry of Cults was established. Its primary function was to ensure that the Concordat was observed, and that the laws which had come into force as a result of the agreement were obeyed.

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