N & E
Napoleon & Empire

Nobility during the Empire

The Constitution of Year XII gave all members of the imperial family the title "Prince of France". In this way, the imperial nobility appeared at the same time as the regime itself. The nobility began to grow, at first slowly, as Napoleon I granted the titles of Prince and Duke to his closest collaborators in 1806 and 1807. The pace increased after the decree of March 1, 1808 which made the system official.

The titles of the nobility followed a strict hierarchy according to following order order: Prince, Duke, Count, Baron, Knight. The titles Marquess (Marquis) and Viscount did not exist as the Emperor found them to be ridiculous. Three successive generations of Knights of the Legion of Honor, in the same family, resulted ipso facto to its anoblissement.

A Council of Seals and Titles was charged with creating the coats of arms for the new noble families.

However, being part of the nobility did not lead to any special privileges. A title was not even hereditary unless it was accompanied by a majorat (occasionally granted by the Emperor himself). A majorat was a collection of movable assets and other income that could not be disinherited, producing a minimum revenue that was tied to the functions of the title that accompanied it. In this case however, the oldest son had the right to take the title that was directly inferior to that of his father: the son of a Prince became a Duke, the son of Duke became a Count, the son of a Count became a Baron. The younger children had to content themselves with the titles that came after that of their oldest brother. The only exception to the majorat rule was a knighthood: in order for it to become hereditary, a member of three successive generations had to be knighted!

In total, more than three thousand received such distinctions during the Empire, the vast majority (70%) as a result of military service. After the Restoration, the imperial titles were validated by Article 71 of the Charter.

However, from the point of view of the Emperor, this new nobility was a failure. In designing the system, he had hoped to make it a source of support for the regime. In 1812, he confided to Armand Augustin Louis de Caulaincourt that it did not live up to his expectations. Two years later, its failure was shockingly reinforced when its highest ranks instantly joined the Bourbons without a second thought for their own dynastic interests.


There were 12 princes in total. Three of these were the Emperor's brothers; three others owed their titles to similar blood ties: Eugène de Beauharnais was Napoleon's son-in-law, Joachim Murat was his brother-in-law, and Jean-Baptiste Jules Bernadotte was brother-in-law to Joseph Bonaparte. Of the six others, Charles Maurice de Talleyrand-Périgord was the only civilian. Louis-Alexandre Berthier was the only one who received two titles.

Jean-Jacques Régis de Cambacérès and Charles-François Lebrun were not included here among the 12 princes as their status was somewhat ambiguous. Following the Decree of March 1, 1808 (Article 1), they could claim the title as they were Grand Dignitaries. However, they did not receive principalities like their peers. Instead, they were granted Dukedoms less than two months later which they incorporated into their titles in the usual way.


Napoleon granted 32 titles of this rank. Three were later elevated to princes: Louis-Nicolas Davout, André Masséna and Michel Ney. More surprisingly, three princes also received the title of Duke. The first was Jean Lannes who was made Duke of Montebello one year after receiving the title Prince of Sievers because he refused to be called "Prince". The second and third were Jean-Jacques Régis de Cambacérès and Charles-François Lebrun who were Princes by right because they were also Grand Dignitaries, but they became Dukes soon after and used this title more often.

Only Ministers and Marshals received Dukedoms. In order for the title to become hereditary, a minimum annual income of 200,000 francs was required.


Senators, Ministers and Archbishops were Counts. The title appeared before the surname. In order for the title to become hereditary, a minimum annual income of 30,000 francs was required. There were around 400 counts in the Empire, among them: ...


Mayors of major cities and bishops were Barons, as well as a large number of generals. They needed to show a minimum annual income of 15,000 francs. This rank of the nobility numbered over a thousand during the Empire. The title appeared before the surname.


The recipient needed to show a minimum annual income of 3,000 francs and the title could become hereditary without a majorat. The title appeared before the surname. Napoleon created around 1,500 knighthoods during his reign.

The personal coats of arms of the imperial nobility can be found on the appropriate page when the name is followed by one of the following symbols:   Blason de prince Blason de duc Blason de comte Blason de baron Blason de chevalier