During 1806, the Emperor Napoleon was nearing the apex of his
career and his conquests allowed him to bestow crowns and thrones on
his loyal followers and relatives.
Medals were soon struck honoring these newly crowned heads. One of
these medals is related to the short-lived Kingdom of Holland,
bestowed on Napoleon’s neurotic younger brother, Louis, whom the
emperor regarded as a budding military genius who needed only to apply
himself to become one of the leading soldiers and rulers of the new Europe.
Most historians agree that Louis, renamed Napoleon Lodewijk as
king of Holland, was mentally ill.
Louis formed an obsessive attachment to Holland, defying his
brother’s orders against commerce with England. In 1802, he had
married the vivacious Hortense de Beauharnais and had two sons, one
the future Emperor Napoleon III. The marriage was a disaster, ending
None of this is apparent from the 50-millimeter silver medal
bearing Louis’ youthful head and title NAP. LOUIS I. ROI DE HOLLANDE
CONN. DE FRANCE (Napoleon Louis, King of Holland, Constable of
France). The reverse presents the new kingdom’s arms on mantle: the
Dutch lion on a large shield before the Bonaparte eagle, topped by the
royal crown of the Bourbons.
Crossed behind are two scepters, tipped by the Main de Justice
(Hand of Justice) and the lion of the old Dutch Republic.
The ornate collars of the French Legion d’Honneur and Toison d’or,
Golden Fleece circle the devices and behind them is the sword of the
Constable of France.
The obverse bears the name of French engraver GEORGE, described by
Leonard Forrer in his Biographical Dictionary of Medallists, as
replacing the aged Johan Georg Holtzhey at the Utrecht Mint. George
designed other Napoleonic medals and the royal Orders of Holland.
This design raises questions: “Constable of France” was an old
royal title revived by Napoleon, but use of the old crown of the
Bourbons should have raised eyebrows. The mantle is speckled with
ermine tails, not French imperial bees.
In 1806, the Golden Fleece was either an Austrian imperial or
Spanish royal decoration. Louis cozied up to Napoleon’s enemy and
father-in-law Austrian Emperor Franz I, and in 1809 took refuge in his
dominions after abdicating as king of Holland but it is hard to
imagine him receiving the Golden Fleece three years earlier.
The medal illustrated was struck at the Paris Mint with the
Antique Lamp edgemark used from 1832 to 1841, after the fall of the
restored Bourbons. The medal is still available in bronze today.
David T. Alexander, is a longtime numismatic researcher and author
of American Art Medals, 1909-1995. He can be reached at Alexander.Numismatics@gmail.com.