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‘Make sure your kitchen staff is French!’

As a foreigner how would you assemble a royal court in an old republic that has been around for over two hundred years? Senior researcher Jos Gabriëls quickly came to interesting insights in how Louis Bonaparte took on this challenge.

The way Louis Bonaparte assembled his court has recently been researched in the first phase of project ‘Monarchy in Turmoil, 1780-1820′. After he suddenly was made king of Holland in June 1806 by his imperial brother, Louis found himself in a quite difficult situation as king and foreigner. After all the Netherlands were a Republic for over two hundred years and disliked monarchies, especially after the Batavian Revolution. And those that would like a monarchy in the Netherlands, preferred a Prince of Orange over a French parvenu as king.

When he took office Louis kept all ministers and all officials in place. But all court personnel had disappeared with the last stadtholder in 1795. Choosing his staff was quite important. The new king had to be able to trust them, because they would be close to him every step of the way. ‘Be careful appointing natives as court personnel’, Napoleon Bonaparte warned him for that reason. ‘If you don’t want to end up murdered or poisoned, make sure at least your commanders of the Royal Guard and your kitchen staff are French!’

Louis solved this problem exactly the same as his relatives in Milan, Naples, Kassel and Madrid. It actually made sense. As brother of the French emperor he had been a prince since 1804. Long enough to have his own court personnel at his Parisian city palace which was made up off childhood friends, fellow army officers and noble acquaintances of his wife Hortense de Beauharnais and her mother, empress Joséphine. He convinced most of them to accompany him from Paris to Holland. And so yes, taking his brothers’ warning at heart, his commanders of the Royal Guard and his kitchen chef were French.