University Archives


Several Strands of Napoleon's Hair with Remarkable Beauharnais Provenance, & Bizarre Tale Involving a Cross-Dressing Queen's Maid

Approximately six strands of hair belonging to French Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte (1769-1821), mounted to a card inscribed in French "cheveux de Sa / Majeste L'Empereur / Napoleon / 3 mai 1820" and "donné par Mde Lacroix -- / dame de confiance de la reine / hortense -- habitant de Vienne / et puis enterre a / Augsburg" [trans: "hair from His / Majesty the Emperor / Napoleon / 3 May 1820"] and [trans: "given by Mde Lacroix -- / lady-in-waiting of queen hortense -- resident of Vienna / and then buried at Augsburg."] 

The lock of hair is secured to the card via three thread loops, and displayed behind glass in a period cast-brass and wooden frame measuring 3.625" x 4.5" x .5." The hair strands are golden blond and rest together in a gentle curl measuring approximately 3" in length. Expected wear to the paper including light folds and isolated loss. Scattered surface wear to the frame fitted for hanging. Else near fine.

On the reverse of the chipboard frame backing, a handwritten label in French and German bears an embossed red wax seal and a small length of ribbon. The label repeats the handwritten inscription recto, and adds collector's notes regarding other items that were almost certainly at one time preserved alongside the Napoleon hair. Based on the given descriptions of these items, they related to: André Hippolyte Chélard (1789-1861), French composer and violinist; and the Battle of Arcole (November 15, 1796), in which Napoleon defeated Austrian forces during the War of the First Coalition. (This part of the label reads, translated: "On the reverse side / André Hippolyte Chelard, 1820 / Emile Chelard 1861. / 1 [illegible] of Flag from Arcole / 15 November 1796.")

Napoleon's hair, then, was collected from life on May 3, 1820 and presumably gifted to his stepdaughter, Hortense de Beauharnais (1783-1837). The hair was then given to Hortense's servant Madame Lacroix, who is alternately referred to as either her lady's maid or lady-in-waiting. In the spring of 1820, Napoleon was still confined to the island of St. Helena; he would die there a little over a year to the day this hair was collected, on May 5, 1821.

Hortense de Beauharnais was the daughter of Napoleon's first wife Josephine de Beauharnais and thus his stepdaughter. Hortense also became Napoleon's sister-in-law after she married Napoleon's younger brother Louis Bonaparte in 1802. From 1806-1810, Hortense and Louis ruled as monarchs of Holland, a territory corresponding to the modern day Netherlands then controlled by the French. After Hortense supported Napoleon Bonaparte's bid during the Hundred Days, she was banished from France. Hortense was granted protection from Tsar Alexander of Russia and traveled throughout German and Italy before settling at Chateau Arenenberg near Lake Constance in Switzerland after 1817.

From the inscription accompanying Napoleon's hair, we know that "Madame Lacroix" lived in Vienna and died in Augsburg. We can supplement this biography by consulting a remarkable primary resource, a memoir written by Louise Cochelet, one of the queen's companions, and published a year after Hortense's death. (Louise Cochelet, "Mémoires sur la Reine Hortense et la Famille Impériale, par Mademoiselle Cochelet, Lectrice de la Reine" (Paris, Imprimerie d'Adolphe Everat et Compagnie, 1838.) [The translated title is: "Memoirs of Queen Hortense and the Imperial Family, by Mademoiselle Cochelet, the Queen's Reader."] Lacroix is mentioned twice in this book; see below for references.

"Memoirs," page 64
Circa November 1815

Hortense's household was searched by Swiss authorities during her flight from France because they believed that Joseph Bonaparte, Napoleon's older brother and former King of Naples, Sicily, and Spain, was being hidden there. Cochelet writes: "They had thought that a lady's maid of the Queen, named Mademoiselle Lacroix, large, strong and of a little feminine visage, was the king Joseph dressed as a transvestite."

"Memoirs," page 206
Circa June 1816

"Madame Lacroix, the lady's maid of the Queen, whose husband was also employed at the house, had also left her children in Paris; she immediately sent for her son, and the growth of this little colony [Hortense's residence in exile], which would enlarge ours at Constance [Lake Constance, Switzerland], was an object of impatience to each of those interested."

A splendid lock of Napoleon's hair, whose provenance boasts a royal lineage!

This item comes with a Certificate from John Reznikoff, a premier authenticator for both major 3rd party authentication services, PSA and JSA (James Spence Authentications), as well as numerous auction houses.


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