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The French have the tendency to elevate the ordinary, to find beauty where there is none, to make insignificance matter. Nothing is too low to deserve contempt. While everybody agrees that every cloud has a silver lining, the French focus on the silver lining, trying to ignore the rainy side of the matter. That’s the part of their savoir vivre.

To start with, open a menu in a French restaurant. Nowhere in the world does food sound so extraordinary. Even a simple dish of peas topped with butter bears the fancy name of Petits Pois Bonne Femme. Naturally, you eat a dish thus named with a proper reverence. And that’s how things should be done, n’est-ce pas? Similarly, a mole becomes a grain de beauté. If you have one, doesn’t it make you feel better? It does, doesn’t it?

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This attitude extends to the homeless. There is a certain nobility in a bum who sleeps under the bridge, with an empty bottle at his side, as long as the bridge is in Paris and the empty bottle had held the Beaujolais. The Parisian homeless is not a lowly bum. He is called a clochard and he deserves a song, a story, a painting, or even an entire movie. He is as much part of the Parisian folklore as all the midinettes, gigolettes, and grisettes of the previous posts.

Let’s first look at the silver lining before we address the reality. It is true that the clochards, like all the vagrants elsewhere in the world, enjoy a privileged life. They are their own bosses, they have no hours because time is their own and they are free of mortgage and of monthly bills. Why not celebrate this extraordinary freedom with a popular valse?

Below are the chorus lyrics to the video that begins this post. Do start the video now.

Sous les ponts de Paris
Lorsque descend la nuit,
Tout’s sort’s de gueux se faufilent en cachette
Et sont heureux d’trouver une couchette
Hôtel du courant d’air,
Où l’on ne paye pas cher,
L’parfum et l’eau c’est pour rien, mon marquis
Sous les ponts de Paris.

Translation:

Under the bridges of Paris / When the night begins / All sorts of ragamuffins sneak in / Happy to find a berth

It’s the hotel of cold drafts / Where we don’t pay much / The perfume and water are for free, my marquis / Under the bridges of Paris

 

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Now that we waltzed to the romantic lyrics, we can send a postcard of two vagrants (cheminaux) enjoying a lazy day next to someone’s working tools. Being a bum was not that bad when the warm weather lasted.

 

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Let’s get real. This picture shows a cave, where the homeless gathered for a night in inclement weather. Nothing romantic can be found here. In some shelters of this type, the bums sat secured by a rope that prevented them from falling during sleep.

 

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The poor gather around a heat source during winter

 

Modern times brought better shelter for the homeless but the problem of people without a fixed address in Paris streets grows instead of going away. Gone is the happy clochard content with a bottle of wine. The city is a target for a new type of homeless: those who came from the former colonies after having taken a perilous clandestine journey over the Mediterranean Sea.  They came to partake in the riches of Europe and as their dreams fade, they become increasingly angry.

 

Related posts:

Poor and Helpless in 19th Century Paris

The Worst Season in Paris

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The second video, made for the American tourist, is from the 1920s. Explore the boulevards and their café culture. Gain valuable knowledge, such as the way of serving caviar and pancakes. 😉

 

 

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The Arrival of the Midinettes by Jean Béraud

 

In the earlier Parisian fauna, we met the grisettes and the gigolettesThe former were independent working-class girls often romantically involved with students. The latter, the equivalent of gangsters’ molls, were mostly full-time prostitutes. Generally speaking, while the grisettes centered in the Latin Quarter on the Left Bank, which housed the Sorbonne, the Polytechnic School, and other important educational institutions, the gigolettes inhabited the working-class neighborhoods on the city periphery.

The Right Bank, around the rue de la Paix, saw a rapidly-growing number of couture houses and luxury accessories workshops populated by young and fashion-conscious female workers. At noon -midi – these girls hurried out to take a light meal – dinette – in a cheap restaurant or simply on a public garden bench. The age of the midinette extends from around 1850 to the 1960s, when the haute-couture business began to fade.

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The Milliner on the Champs Elysées by Jean Béraud

Both the grisette and the midinette were steady figures in the romantic imagery of Paris. They acted as the muses for writers and painters. Poems, songs,  novels, and later movies, paid homage to them. The tragic Mimi, from the opera La Bohêmeimmediately comes to mind.

The midinette is painted as she trots the streets delivering a dress or a new hat. She is immortalized dancing in public balls or enjoying a Sunday picnic. Little is said about a 12-hour day and insufficient wages. The girl, who wants to be fashionable, may resort to prostitution to pay for her finery.

The temptation is ever-present. At noon, the predators are waiting. Old men in the pursuit of youth gather at the entrance of the couture houses, offering the treat of a luxury lunch; men with dark intentions roam the public gardens, where the girls rest.

 

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“With no regard for your white hair, you run after the midinettes. Merry Spring finds Winter scary – don’t bother the young girls,” says this postcard

 

Paris honored her working girls. The washerwomen became queens for a day.  As for the midinettes, once a year, they participated in a grueling competition known as The Race of the Midinettes.

 

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The course started on the Place de la Concorde and led up the Champs Elysées, and past the Arc de Triomphe, to end after 12 kilometers (approx. 8 miles) in Nanterre. A newspaper describes the event in 1903:

All these young ladies, competing first, in the most varied costumes, some, not all, very successful: then the crowd of relatives, friends, and finally innumerable, thick, the troop of the curious. The departure was laborious. At last, at half – past eleven, a real army sprang from the Place de la Concorde towards the Arc de Triomphe; cars, cabs, bicycles, motorcycles, struggled in the midst of all this and, although preceded by Paris guards on horseback, the Midinettes sometimes had to play fists to make their way. The first arrival was Miss Jeanne Cheminel, a pleasant twenty-four-year-old brunette who shot her 12 kilometers in 1:10, which is meritorious. This sturdy walker is a milliner, and that somewhat upset a few seamstresses, who, behind her, nevertheless obtained the best places. Here, in fact, were the first: Jeanne Cheminel, milliner; Lucie Fleury, seamstress; Marie Touvard, seamstress; Louise Balesta, seamstress; Alice Brard, seamstress; Mathide Mignot, seamstress; Kugel, seamstress; Marguerite Pradel, seamstress; Jeanne Brederie, seamstress.

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A competitor in the race offered a pleasant sight: a chic naval hat sitting on freshly curled hair, a dress with a lace collar, the waist squeezed with a corset. A bouquet of fresh flowers pinned at the shoulder completed the outfit

 

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The end of the race shows considerable damage to the outfit and the hairdo. The sport was in its infancy and so was the fashion for the competitors. See how men dressed for this type of events here

 

Related posts:

From Washerwoman to Queen of Paris

La Grisette

Parisian Prostitutes (2): La Gigolette

 

 

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An attack on a police wagon. Criminal gangs were the scourge of Paris

 

It was never easy to police Paris. The Parisians, instead of being glad for the help and protection, have always despised their policemen.  The contempt has been profound and general. It could be that the Parisians, more than most, don’t want to be told how to behave. A strike, a riot, a revolution, have been their tools of political and social change across the 19th century and well beyond. To say that policing during the Belle Epoque  (1870 – 1914) was a martyrdom would be a slight exaggeration but it was a very hard job on a tiny pay. The police staff was recruited mostly from the army and the discipline in the police corps was just as hard, if not harder. The recruits had to have a virginal criminal record. According to the 1880s tariff, the policeman earned 4 francs and 75 cents for an eleven and a half-hour day. In comparison, a maid-of-all-work touched one franc a day.  For that pitiful wage, the men had to risk their lives in many wild scenarios that are nowadays shared among different rescue services. In 1884, for example, the statistics show one killed policeman and 144 injured ones.

Let’s have a look at a policeman’s day and the variety of crimes committed in that era:

 

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Strikes of all sorts are still part of the urban life in Paris. They may be less violent than in the past when the police collected bruises in the street

 

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The Belle Epoque Paris faced the threat of various anarchist bomb-throwers. Bombs exploded in the National Assembly, in police stations, in cafés, or simply in the street. Premature explosions also happened, as in this picture

 

 

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The public, accustomed to the explosion of anarchists’ bombs, reacts to a malfunctioning motorcar

 

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Police had to deal with the raging crowd when a hated criminal was transported. Here they protect Jeanne Weber, a serial child killer

 

 

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Arrestation of the Sirène de Reuilly. Marie-Thérèse de Gordoue, or simply Gourdon in real life, was a successful courtesan and the head of a large crime organization

 

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Criminal gang members, suspected of snitching, were separated from their noses during a surgery without anesthesia

 

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Shopkeepers, working alone, were often victims of robbery and murder

 

 

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The Bois de Boulogne on the outskirts of the city continues to this day to be the playground of vice and crime. From time to time, the authorities ordered a thorough cleanup.

 

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A police raid in a “hôtel de passe”. These establishments rented rooms on the hour. Considered immoral, they were often visited by the police. Men went scot-free but women caught in the raid were transported to the police depot, and from there to the Saint-Lazare female prison

 

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Escapes and roof chases kept the policemen in good physical condition

 

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The police operated at different height levels. A pickpocket plucked from a tree

 

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At the commissariat, a thief surrenders a watch he had swallowed

 

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Family drama: The father is not dead yet but the fierce competition among the siblings is already in a full swing

 

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A police commissaire is seriously injured in a Paris riot

 

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Another victim of duty, an undercover police officer is shot in front of the Moulin Rouge

 

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Acts of bravery and dedication abounded despite the public contempt for policemen

 

Related posts:

The Gangs of Paris: Les Apaches

Murder Most Horrible: The Bloody Trunk Case

Saint-Lazare: Women in Prison

1890’s Terror in Paris: History Repeating Itself

 

It takes a lot of effort to become an emperor. First, you have to believe in yourself and your star, which is easy when you are a nephew of the Great Corsican and the heir to his fallen throne. But you also need an endless persistence: the strength to overcome failure, to dust yourself off after a hard fall, and to pursue your goal with renewed energy. Next, you need a lack of moral scruples, the ability to handle people and, finally, a serious heap of money. Louis-Napoleon Bonaparte checked off every item on this list except for the last one.

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Louis-Napoleon Bonaparte

When we meet Louis-Napoleon in London, he is an errant prince with a busy past. He had staged two attempts at seizing power in France, was exiled to America for the first one, and imprisoned for life for the second attempt. He has recently escaped from a fortress, where he was supposed to rot, and now he is in London with only his name for a capital. He is thirty-eight years old.

What would you do at this stage of your life had you had these experiences? You and I would be glad to be alive and free, and we would be cured of our mad ambitions. Louis-Napoleon, on the contrary, was incurable and more than able to function in dire circumstances.

Although many unsavory rumors were later fabricated by his enemies, there is sufficient evidence that the prince behaved extremely badly during his American exile, where he was sent with the provision of fifteen thousand gold francs. Indeed, King Louis-Philippe, who then reigned in France, chose to reduce Louis-Napoleon’s first attempt at a coup d’état to a childish prank and he put some hush money into the youth’s pocket. After all, the Bonapartist feeling in France was still strong, and a political trial could rock the boat.

Louis-Napoleon, still in his twenties, managed to squander the money on New York’s whores. After being thrown out of three brothels for misbehaving and out of his hotel for “forgetting” to pay, he lodged with a prostitute and proceeded to live out of her earnings. If the woman’s clients complained about the price, Loulou was there to change their opinion with his fists. He thus ended in detention for assault and robbery. A good lawyer managed to set him free. The same lawyer, after Louis-Napoleon’s ascension to the throne, complained in a newspaper interview that he had never been paid for his effort.

Despite all that, one must not form an image of a lazy and brutal sex-addict. Louis-Napoleon had many intellectual qualities that later helped him in governing a nation. He was attentive and curious, pragmatic, and always willing to learn. During his imprisonment in the fortress of Ham, after the second botched coup d’état, he kept busy producing socio-economic pamphlets filled with progressive ideas that he realized later in life. He also managed to father two male children with the local washerwoman.

Women were not only his strongest interest, they were also the vehicles of his political ideas. Whether they fell in love with his legendary name and title, his romantic charisma, or with the man himself, is difficult to say but Louis-Napoleon never lacked a sweetheart willing to sacrifice herself for his political success. In London, after his escape from prison, that post was filled with Miss Harriet Howard.

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Miss Harriet Howard

 

The daughter of a Brighton shoemaker, Harriet, then aged twenty-three, was a beautiful and refined courtesan, who had amassed a fortune, which she laid at Louis-Napoleon’s feet. Being supported by a woman was nothing new for the prince.  Harriet dumped her current rich keeper for him and begun to earn a fat income from attracting clients to a gambling club.  For good measure, she also took in Louis-Napoleon’s two small sons whom he had to leave behind in France.

Thanks to Harriet’s industry, Louis-Napoleon was able to lead a comfortable life. Again, he kept busy writing. This time, he was correcting his manuscript The History and the Future of Artillery and producing a study on an economically profitable canal in Nicaragua. He also kept current on the news from France.  On February 26, 1848, he learned that there was a revolution in Paris.

 

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The 1848 revolution painted by Alphonse de Lamartine

 

There had been nothing drastically wrong with King Louis-Philippe’s government but, since the First Revolution, the French people became accustomed to uprising for real or imagined wrongs. This time, some clumsy government actions and a couple of moral scandals resulted in a riot which accidentally turned into a revolution. Not knowing what was wrong, and therefore unable to do something about it, Louis-Philippe gave up and, while the revolutionary mob was ransacking the royal palace of Tuileries, he bought a boat ticket for England.

Crossing the Channel in the opposite direction was Prince Louis-Napoleon with Harriet’s fortune. He would need it to finance his candidacy in the first electoral campaign in the French history. This time, everything went well for the prince. His name worked magic, and his innovative social and economic ideas spoke for him. He was elected to be the first president of the Second Republic. He would also be the last one. At the end of his four-year mandate, he would stage his third and successful coup d’état to put the imperial crown on his head under the name of Napoleon III. The Second Empire would last for eighteen prosperous years.  Until the next revolution . . .

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Napoleon III (same man, improved wardrobe)

And Miss Harriet Howard in all this? After having financed an enormous electoral campaign, Harriet was often seen in the Prince-President’s company but she was never invited to the Elysée Palace where the official business took place. The post of the First Lady was occupied by Louis-Napoleon’s cousin, Princess Mathilde. Still, Harriet kept hoping that her day would come when her lover would carry the imperial crown. Four years later, when no invitation came from the Tuileries Palace, the seat of the newly-formed imperial court, Harriet decided that she would wait no longer. She went there uninvited. It was the first, and the last time she appeared publicly in the emperor’s presence.

What happened next would have happened anyway but Harriet’s initiative did speed up the process.  The next day, her dear Loulou came to visit her, which was not unusual as they maintained a warm relationship, but this time he offered her an official mission to England. He provided her with a list of persons whom she should visit to establish a good relationship between England and France. Thrilled to be named a goodwill ambassador, Harriet accepted to leave at once. When she and her escort reached the seashore, bad weather prevented them from boarding their ship. While waiting for the weather to clear, Harriet purchased a newspaper where she read the announcement of the emperor’s engagement to Eugenie de Montijo. She returned to Paris at once.

Back home, she found her apartment in disorder, with the upholstery slashed open and her desk taken apart. All compromising correspondence was missing. In the end, Harriet fared better than the unpaid New York lawyer. She received a hereditary title, becoming the Countess de Beauregard, and retired to her country chateau of the same name. At her request, she continued to care for the washerwoman’s little boys.

 

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Harriet’s château

 

Related posts:

Eugenie, the Tragic Empress

Loulou and the Zulus: The Life and Death of Napoleon IV

Mark Twain on Napoleon III

 

 

 

 

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James Tissot: The Fashionable Beauty

 

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Self-portrait, 1885

James Tissot (1836 -1902) was a painter known on both sides of the Channel as he spent important chunks of his life both in England and in France. Born as Jacques Tissot to a prosperous merchant family in Nantes, Brittany, he decided to pursue an artistic career despite his father’s misgivings. He studied at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts in Paris and, in 1859, aged only twenty-three, he already exhibited at the prestigious Paris Salon. He began with depicting the Middle Ages but soon moved to the portrayal of fashionable life, where he excelled. Tissot’s name is evocative of pleasing paintings of pleasing people in pleasing situations. In the 1880s he produced a series of paintings called La Femme à Paris. We had already seen one of them—and the story it depicts—in the post Without a Dowry. More of the series paintings follow here.

 

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The Ladies of the Chariots

 

 

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The Shop Girl

 

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A Woman of Ambition

 

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The Artists’ Wives

 

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The Woman of Fashion

 

 

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The Bridesmaid

 

 

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The Circus Lover

 

 

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Provincial Women

 

 

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At the Louvre

 

Related posts:

Without a Dowry: The Business of Marriage

Jean Béraud: The Most Parisian of the Paris Painters

Paris Markets in Victor Gilbert’s Paintings

 

 

 

 

 

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Napoleon III and his family

 

Napoleon the Fourth? Was there ever such an emperor? Strangely enough, the Zulus in South Africa can tell you more about this personage than an average Frenchman. The Zulus know him as Prince Imperial and, each year, they celebrate his anniversary with the local version of pomp and circumstance. And why wouldn’t they if there is good tourist money in it?

 

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pi road signFollow the road sign and you can visit the Prince Imperial’s museum, his memorial financed by Queen Victoria, and the battlefields of the Zulu War. You’ll be retracing Empress Eugenie’s pilgrimage the year after her son’s death. If you happen to be on this road the first Sunday in June, you can participate in a mass for his soul celebrated in French, English, and Latin.

Except for a few die-hard Bonapartists, Napoleon the Fourth may be forgotten in his homeland. For most of his short life, he was known as Prince Imperial, the heir to the French throne. In his childhood, he was the darling of the nation and, as he grew into a handsome young man, he became the treasured secret of many a young girl’s heart. He was to the French what John Kennedy Jr. was to the Americans and it is easy to understand that his premature death at the age of twenty-three caused consternation and grief for the whole nation.

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Marie Bashkirtsheff, a Russian art student in Paris, tells us about this somber day in her diary:

As I was about to leave the studio at noon yesterday, Julian called to the servant through the speaking tube; she put her ear to the tube, and she said to us with some emotion:

“Ladies, M. Julian desires me to tell you that the Prince Imperial is dead.”

I gave a cry and sat down on the coal-box. Then, as everyone began to talk at once, Rosalie said:

“A moment of silence, if you please, ladies. The news is official; a telegram has just been received. He has been killed by the Zulus; this is was M. Julian says.”

The news had already begun to spread; so that when they brought me the Estafette with the words in capital letters, “Death Of Prince Imperial,” I cannot express how much I was shocked.

And then, no matter to what party one may belong, whether one be a Frenchman or a foreigner, it is impossible to avoid sharing in the feeling o consternation with which the news has been everywhere received.

One thing I will say, however, which none of the papers has said, and that is that the English are cowards and assassins. There is something mysterious about this death: there must be both treachery and crime at the bottom of it. Was it natural that a prince on whom all the hopes of his party were fixed should be thus exposed to danger, an only son?

I think there is no one devoid of feeling as not to be moved at the thought of his mother’s anguish. The most dire misfortune, the crudest of losses, may still leave some gleam of hope in the future, some possibility of consolation. This leaves none. One may say with truth that this is a grief like no other. It was because of her [Empress Eugenie] that he went; she gave him no peace; she tormented him; she allowed him no more than five hundred francs a month, a sum upon which he could hardly contrive to live. The mother and son parted on bad terms with each other. Do you perceive the horror of the thing? Can you understand how his mother must feel?

England has treated the Bonapartes shamefully on every occasion when they were so blind as to ask the help of that ignoble country, and it fills me with rage and hatred when I think of it.”

Thus spoke Marie in her youthful grief. That she seemed well-informed of the tensions between mother and son, tells us that she was an avid reader of the gossipy newspapers which began to bloom in that era. As for England’s bad treatment of the exiled Bonapartes, she could not be more wrong. There was a solid friendship between the British royalty and the Bonapartes that was born during Victoria and Albert’s visit to France in 1855. You can read about it in The Prince of Wales in Paris: Please Adopt Me! published here. Queen Victoria figured in Prince Imperial’s life on many occasions. To begin with, when Eugenie complained about the difficulty with getting pregnant, it was her good friend Victoria, mother of a large family, who gave her a valid advice which resulted in the prince’s birth.

Several sources reveal that Victoria reserved for him her youngest daughter Beatrice as a spouse regardless of the fact that after the Second Empire’s collapse in 1870 he became an heir without a throne. Like the Bonapartes, Victoria believed that her dear Loulou would reconquer his lost empire. So did the still strong Bonapartist party in the now Republican  France. Upon his father’s death in 1873, the young prince became Emperor Napoleon IV by the Bonapartists’ acclamation. It was—they hoped—only a question of time for the rightful ruler to claim his throne.

pi berceauNapoléon Eugène Louis Jean Joseph Bonaparte, or Loulou to his family, was born March 16, 1856, and spent his early days in this splendid crib donated by the City of Paris. His godparents were Queen Victoria and Pope Pius IX. As the only child, he had no one to play with and his main entertainment was watching the guard manoeuvering in front of the palace windows. His love for the military was born there. Sometimes, he would also play at governing. Sitting at his father’s desk, he would seize important documents and fold them into animal forms. His adoring father would not dare to protest. As an aside, had he lived and cultivated his talent for sculpture, Loulou could have become a brilliant artist. There were many promises in the boy’s life, all of them unfulfilled.

The following video records the young man’s life from birth to death. We see the delightful child growing into a Prince Charming, we follow him to the exile in England, and from there to South Africa, and witness his heroic death at the hand of the Zulu warriors. We assist at his funeral in England and see his mother’s grief. The old empress then remembers happier times. All of it in six and a half minutes.

 

 

Marie was also wrong about the conspiracy regarding the prince’s death in South Africa. On the contrary, the British Army and the government freaked out at the idea of taking responsibility for the young man’s life. They wanted nothing to do with him and it took the joined effort of Eugenie and Victoria, with the special order from the latter, for him to be enlisted for the war in Zululand. Even at that, he was scrupulously kept away from the real action. Both women believed that the prince needed to cover himself with glory in order to succeed in his crown conquest.  As for the man himself, he did not need any encouragement. Eager to become a worthy heir of his famous great-uncle, Napoleon I, he studiously sought danger to the chagrin of his British “baby-sitters”.  He found his death in a seemingly deserted kraal where he decided it was time for a coffee break during a recognition ride. In the video that follows, the event is reconstructed based on the statements given the following day by the members of the patrol.

 

 

prince imperialThere remain many what-could-have-been questions.  What would have happened had the uncrowned Napoleon IV not lost his life that day? Would he have recovered his throne and brought back the Empire? How would that change France’s and, to some degree, Europe’s destiny? Queen Victoria might have hoped to establish her youngest daughter as the Empress of France, but would the French go for it? That remains doubtful. Would they have unanimously accepted an emperor who had been schooled in England, served in the British army and married a British Protestant princess? Questions, questions…

 

Related posts:

Eugenie, the Tragic Empress

Mark Twain on Napoleon III

 

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