A pair of slippers sitting in a collection at the University of Aberdeen in Scotland has been identified as belonging to Napoleon Bonaparte’s youngest sister, Princess Pauline Borghese.
Louise Wilkie, assistant curator of the university’s collection, made the discovery while sorting through a number of items bequeathed by Robert Wilson more than 140 years ago, the Independent reported. Wilson was a surgeon with the East India Company and left his collection of clothes, jewelry and other items to the university when he died in 1871.
"In a list of the objects donated by Wilson is the description of 'A pair of slippers -- Pauline, Rome Jan 20th 1824.' The same inscription is on the base of the slipper. I began to look at other archival material held by the university and found that Wilson had a friendship with Princess Pauline Borghese, the sister of Napoleon Bonaparte,” Wilkie told the paper. "Letters from him to Pauline show a close friendship, and in his diary he describes how she spent a lot of time with him traveling in Italy and gave him many gifts, including a ring, which is also held in the museum collections."
The pair of slippers worn by the French ruler’s sister is tiny by today’s standards. They measured 1 ½ inches across the toes and are 4 inches long, Live Science reported.
While Wilkie determined that Wilson was connected to Napoleon’s sister, it’s unclear whether they had a sexual relationship. But Live Science noted that Borghese was known to cheat on her husband, Prince Camillo Borghese.
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"The relationship between Wilson and Princess Pauline can only be speculated upon, however records do indicate some form of attraction and attachment," the assistant curator said. "In his diary he wrote 'I passed a fortnight in the vicinity of Pisa with the Princess Borghese in a state of almost perfect seclusion and afterwards accompanied her to the Baths of Lucca.' It seems she spent a great deal of time with him in Italy and a close friendship developed."
Borghese was Napoleon’s youngest sister.
Neil Curtis, head of museums for the University of Aberdeen, lauded Wilkie for linking the slippers to Napoleon’s sister.
"The university holds huge collections, and many of the items given to us over the years do not have full descriptions. It was a great piece of detective work from Louise to piece together the fascinating history behind the slippers,” he said, according to the Independent. “We are delighted that these significant objects are now on display and can be enjoyed by the public for the first time."