The Bonaparte brothers in Autun

Autun History, Napoleon I

Joseph and Napoleon arrived in Autun on 1st January 1779, in the company of their father who was on his way to Versailles in his capacity as representative of the Corsican gentry (Corsica became a French territory in 1768); the Bishop of Autun was then Alexandre de Marbeuf, nephew of General de Marbeuf, in charge of running Corsica and of the troops, which probably is why Autun was chosen for the Bonaparte brothers. Having been admitted to the Brienne Military Academy, Napoleon left Autun on the 20th or 21st of April 1779.

Joseph remained there until the end of August 1783. his teachers, who remembered Napoleon as a fierce and domineering character, always involved in brawls, described Joseph as gentle, quiet, serious and studious. For three years in a row, he was awarded “satisfaction testimonies” at the prize giving ceremony. His younger brother Lucien joined him at the end of 1782, and was a student at the college for twenty (or twenty two) months.

At the time, the college offered sixth to second year tuition (approx. Year 7 to Year 11 UK equivalent), as well as rhetoric, logic and physics lessons, with a well equipped laboratory; the end of year exam papers we have recovered show how significant were subjects such as mathematics, Latin literature and mythology. For their leisure time, the students benefited from a house in the countryside at Saint-Blaise; they played snooker-like games, staged plays: Joseph held the part of Dorante in “Les Fâcheux” (a ballet comedy by Molière) in 1782.

He maintained contact with some of his teachers or schoolfellows, which earned them valuable postings: for instance, the Abbot Simon became Bishop of Grenoble. When Joseph was King of Spain (from 1808 to 1813 in a country at war, having previously been King of Naples), some former students followed him and became Grandees of Spain Hugues Nardon, deputy-prefect in Autun in 1802, then administrator of the Cuenca Province, or Edme-Aimé Lucotte, who was his aide-de-camp, and Governor of Seville.