Stamps depicting Napoleon III (1808-1873), last king of France:

upper line: Michel number 9 (issued in 1852), no. 10, 11, 12 and 13 (1853)
second line: number 18, 19, 22 and 23 (1862) and no. 28 (1867)

Charles Louis Napoleon Bonaparte was born on April 20, 1808 in Paris. Bonaparte was a son of Hortense de Beauharnais, who was the daughter of Josephine de Beauharnais and, thus, the stepdaughter of Napoleon Bonaparte. The identity of his biological father remains a subject of speculation. The father of record, however, was Hortense's husband, Louis Bonaparte, a younger brother of Napoleon. The couple had been made king and queen of a French puppet state, the Kingdom of Holland. During his youth, he was a member of the Carbonari, a resistance organization fighting Austrian domination of Northern Italy. This would later have an effect on his foreign policy.

Imprisoned after the second of two abortive coup attempts, he escaped to the United Kingdom in May 1846, returning after the revolution of February 1848 to win the presidential election that year on a platform of strong government, social consolidation and national greatness. President Bonaparte then on December 2, 1851 overthrew the Second Republic and seized dictatorial powers, becoming Napoleon III. He became Emperor exactly one year after overthrowing the Second Republic and established the Second French Empire. That same year, he began shipping political prisoners and criminals to penal colonies such as Devil's Island (in French Guyana) or New Caledonia. In 1855 he survived an attempted assassination.

Napoleon III's challenge to Russia's claims to influence in the Ottoman Empire led to France's successful participation in the Crimean War. He approved the launching of a naval expedition in 1858 to punish the Vietnamese and force the court to accept a French presence in the country. In 1859 French intervention secured the defeat of Austria in Italy, and the result of this was the unification of Italy, and the acquisition of Savoy and the region of Nice by France in 1860, the last time France extended its territory in Europe. France took part in the Second Opium War along with Great Britain, and in 1860 the French troops entered Beijing. However, the intervention in Mexico ended in defeat and in the execution of the French-backed Emperor Maximilian.

An important change during his reign was the rebuilding of Paris. Part of the design decisions were taken in order to reduce the ability of future revolutionaries to challenge the government. Large sections of the city were razed and the old convoluted streets were replaced with many broad avenues, with the intent of allowing cannon and cavalry to be used easily within the city. He also directed the building of the French railway network, which greatly contributed to the development of the coal mining and steel industry in France. The French economy, the second largest in the world at the time, experienced a very strong growth during the reign of Napoleon III. The French stock market also expanded prodigiously, with many coal mining and steel companies issuing stocks.

In 1870 Napoleon began the Franco-Prussian War. This war proved disastrous, and was instrumental in giving birth to the German Empire. In battle against Prussia in July 1870 the Emperor was captured at the Battle of Sedan and was deposed by the forces of the Third Republic in Paris two days later. He died in exile in England on January 9, 1873. He is buried in the Imperial Crypt at Saint Michael's Abbey in England.