Emperor of the French (French: Empereur des Français) was the title used by the House of Bonaparte starting when Napoleon Bonaparte was given the title Emperor on 14 May 1804 by the French Senate and was crowned emperor of the French on 2 December 1804 at the cathedral of Notre Dame de Paris, in Paris with the Crown of Napoleon.
The title emphasized that the emperor ruled over "the French people", the nation, and not over France, the republic. The old formula "king of France" indicated that the king owned France as a personal possession. The new term indicated a constitutional monarchy. The title was purposefully created to preserve the appearance of the French Republic and to show that after the French Revolution the feudal system was abandoned and a nation state was created, with equal citizens as the subjects of their emperor. (After 1 January 1809, the state was officially referred to as the French Empire.) The title of "Emperor of the French" was supposed to demonstrate that Napoleon's coronation was not a restoration of monarchy, but an introduction of a new political system: the French Empire. Napoleon's reign lasted until 22 June 1815 when he was defeated at the Battle of Waterloo, exiled and imprisoned on the island of Saint Helena, where he died on 5 May 1821. His reign was interrupted by the Bourbon Restoration of 1814 and his own exile to Elba, from where he escaped less than a year later to reclaim the throne, reigning as Emperor for another 94 days before his final defeat and exile.
Less than a year following the French coup of 1851 by Napoleon's nephew Louis-Napoléon Bonaparte, which ended in the successful dissolution of the French National Assembly, the Second French Republic was transformed into the Second French Empire, established by a referendum on 7 November 1852. President Louis-Napoleon Bonaparte, elected by the French people, officially became Napoleon III, Emperor of the French, from the symbolic and historic date of 2 December 1852.
His reign persisted to 4 September 1870, although he was captured at the Battle of Sedan during the Franco-Prussian War. He was then forced into exile through England until he died on 9 January 1873.
Since the early death of his only son Louis Napoléon in 1879, the House of Bonaparte has had a number of claimants to the French throne. The current claimant is Charles, Prince Napoléon, who became head of the house of Bonaparte on 3 May 1997. His position is challenged by his son Jean-Christophe, Prince Napoléon, who was named as heir in his late grandfather's testament.
The Emperors of the French had various titles and claims that reflected the geographic expanse and diversity of the lands ruled by the House of Bonaparte.
His Imperial and Royal Majesty Napoleon I, By the Grace of God and the Constitution of the Republic, Emperor of the French, King of Italy, Protector of the Confederation of the Rhine, Mediator of the Swiss Confederation and Co-Prince of Andorra.
His Imperial Majesty Napoleon II, By the Grace of God and the Constitution of the Republic, Emperor of the French and Co-Prince of Andorra.
His Imperial Majesty Napoleon III, By the Grace of God and the will of the Nation, Emperor of the French and Co-Prince of Andorra.