The Objects

29th May 1815

Sewing kit resized.jpeg
Source: Fondation Napoléon: INV 583 : Patrice Maurin-Berthier

Hortense Bonaparte’s Sewing Kit

Contributed by: Katherine Astbury

Hortense (1783-1837) was the daughter of Napoleon’s first wife Josephine. She married Napoleon's brother Louis Bonaparte, making Napoleon both her stepfather and brother-in-law. Hortense was at the Tuileries to greet the Emperor on 20th March 1815 on his return to Paris, and she wrote on his behalf to Marie-Louise, the Empress, asking her to return to Paris with his son: they had returned to the court in Vienna after Napoleon's first abdication in 1814 and would remain there during the 100 days as Marie-Louise felt that staying put would enhance her son's chances of being allowed by the Allies to accede to his father's throne.
Hortense's school friend Louise Cochelet remained close to her and left us memoires recounting her life. She tells us that, in the Empress's absence, Hortense returned to the Tuileries every evening to dine with Napoleon and his guests. She remained faithful to him even in defeat, and gave him her diamond necklace, sewn into a black ribbon in case he needed money in an emergency. While we don’t know for sure that Hortense did the sewing herself, in a matter of such importance it seems quite likely – this sewing kit belonged to her.
Forced into exile by the return of Louis XVIII, Hortense eventually settled in Switzerland at Arenenberg, which is now a Napoleon museum with exhibits reflecting both the First Empire and the Second: Hortense's son, Louis Napoleon became President of the Second Republic in 1848 and Napoleon III in a coup d'état in 1851.


Further reading:

Mémoires sur la reine Hortense et la famille impériale / par Mlle Cochelet (Paris : Albin Michel, 1926)

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