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Posts Tagged ‘Prince Imperial’

 

pi jeanleon gerome

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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winterhalterEver since she became an empress, Eugenie de Montijo feared Queen Marie-Antoinette’s fate. She was right to feel uneasy. Eighteen years into the reign and some eighty years after Marie-Antoinette’s head was severed under the guillotine, Eugenie ran in terror through the streets of Paris with a mob at her heels. The year was 1870 and the only friend the French empress found in her distress was her American dentist.

Eugenie doesn’t deserve her lack of fame. Who doesn’t know Marie-Antoinette and her horrible end? Who has never heard of Empress Josephine, the wife of Napoleon I? Both are legendary figures of the French history. One was executed; the other had to agree to a divorce. That the French had two more empresses, Marie-Louise and Eugenie, is a lesser known fact. Marie-Louise’s contribution to the French history was reduced to giving Napoleon his only legitimate heir, an heir that Josephine was unable to provide.  After the fall of the First Empire, Marie-Louise and her little son (who might have ruled as Napoleon II had he not died in the exile) went to live in her native Austria and neither saw France again.

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Napoleon III

With the Bonaparte family banished from the country, France went through two Bourbon kings and two revolutions to become, again, a republic. After 34 years in the exile, the Bonapartes were back, this time headed by Louis Napoleon Bonaparte, the nephew of Napoleon I. His four-year stint as an elected French president ended in 1852 with a coup d’état when he took what he considered rightfully his: the imperial crown. Henceforth, he was known as Napoleon III.

Generally, the French don’t like Napoleon III. They call him Napoleon le Petit and they say that he did nothing for the glory of France. They seem not to notice that their glorious Napoleon I turned Europe into a battlefield where he sacrificed an entire generation of Frenchmen and caused untold misery to people all over the continent from Spain to Russia. His nephew, on the contrary, was an achiever of another sort. Under his 18-year rule, France conquered the world with her culture and industry. He was the builder of Paris as we know it today, with the wide avenues and sanitary underbelly. He was a modern man in every sense and he truly cared for his people’s well-being.

Fortunately, the new emperor was a bachelor and he could hope to find a bride of royal blood to solidify his lofty position.  Unfortunately, he was also the slave of his hormones. While his emissaries were shopping for a suitable bride among the reluctant royal families of Europe—they all still smarted from the consequences of his uncle’s conquests—Napoleon III met the woman of his life and she was not a royal.

Even though Eugenie de Montijo was a stunning beauty, she would never have made the history books had she been only one of Louis Napoleon’s easy conquests. Let’s say it right here:  the man had a long list of bedroom adventures although he wasn’t averse to having sex in any other room, in any stationary or moving vehicle, or even in a haystack –  standing, sitting or laying down.  His sexual appetite was legendary and sometimes embarrassingly noticeable. His Majesty the Empereur was renamed by his sneering courtiers His Majesty the Ampleur.

In Eugenie he found a fortress to be conquered. The rules were laid down very early after the two met.  He was still the Prince-President of the French Republic, she the 26-year-old daughter of a widowed Spanish countess. He invited the two women for a weekend in a country chateau. As he was returning from a horse ride, he spotted Eugenie at one of the numerous windows. Not knowing the exact layout of the building, he called: “How do I get to you?” “Through the chapel, Sire,” she answered.

The siege of Eugenie lasted eleven months before her would-be-conqueror declared defeat. By that time France had, once again, become an empire with Louis Napoleon on the throne. Everyone, especially his family, expected him to do his duty by marrying a virginal princess. Instead, he presented them with a Spanish adventuress of dubious virtue. They were furious.  “But I love her,” he said simply.

Eugenie’s extraordinary resistance to seduction was explained during the wedding night.  She had no appetite for physical love. “Sex? Quelle saleté!” (Sex? What filth!) she was heard saying the next morning. Despite his wife’s attitude, the emperor remained faithful to her for a period of six months before he returned to his old habits. That did not sit well with the empress. She was very particular about her possessions and she would make an issue of a displaced pillow let alone of a displaced husband. The household was soon aware of her displeasure, most of all the emperor, who was forbidden access to the marital bed. But the pair had to produce an heir. A truce followed during which the task was accomplished. A lovely baby boy was born and given the title Prince Impérial. There were no other children. For the rest of the Napoleon III’s reign, the frigid Eugenie presided over one of the most debauched courts in history, a court where adultery was the norm and a one-night stand with the emperor a badge of honor.

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The Second Empire court at its zenith. A soiree at the Tuileries, 1867

By now the reader has reached the opinion that Eugenie was a gold-digger with a block of ice where her heart ought to have been. That is incorrect. Most of her life was spent in serious charitable endeavors. An early feminist, she was pushing for female education and advocating the recognition of women’s achievements in literature, arts, and education. That her efforts were largely unsuccessful was the fault of the society she lived in. The reforms she championed came too early.

As an empress, Eugenie was without reproach. Always courteous and elegant, she represented her country admirably, whether at home or abroad. Queen Victoria, favorably impressed, quickly became Eugenie’s intimate friend. Politically, Eugenie certainly had an influence on the emperor, especially when he was weakened by a disease in the last years of his reign.  The Bonapartes had many enemies; the most influential among them was the ultra-Republican Victor Hugo, author of Les Misérables. Acting from his exile, he bombarded the imperial pair with insulting pamphlets.  The mud stuck and Eugenie was blamed for everything that went wrong. Like Marie Antoinette, she was foreign and foreign queens were suspected of spying for their homeland and generally wishing ill to the French people.

The declaration of war on Prussia and the consequent debacle were entirely laid at her feet. While her husband, suffering from a debilitating pain, eagerly sought honorable death on the battlefield before surrendering to Bismarck, Eugenie refused to shoot into an angry mob that surrounded the imperial palace.  She chose to flee.  Alone, she tried several addresses before help was offered.  Her savior was Dr. Evans, her American dentist. The pair sneaked off to the coast where the empress, in strict incognito, boarded a ship for England.  As for Dr. Evans, he dined on the story for the rest of his life.

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The widowed Eugenie and her son in a Tissot’s painting, 1878

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Napoléon, Prince Imperial

After the emperor’s comfortable imprisonment in the newly formed German Empire, the family is reunited in Camden Place, Chislehurst, southeast of London, to begin a life in the exile.  A plan for regaining his throne is certainly in the making when the emperor dies. From then on, Eugenie lives entirely for her son’s future. Not long after, tragedy strikes again: the prince, engaged in the war with the Zulus in South Africa, is slain by the savages.

The news makes the round of the planet. That his mother is devastated is understandable. oldBut the prince’s death crushed the hopes of numerous Bonapartists. It was generally understood that should the handsome prince claim the imperial crown it would be his for the taking. The grief in France could be compared to the one felt by the British when Princess Diana succumbed after the car accident. Husbandless and childless, Eugenie drags her sorrow through the rest of her long life. She dies in 1920 at the age of ninety-four.

Update: Dear reader, for some reason I cannot fantom, this article has had ten times the success rate compared to others posted here, although — in my opinion — there are posts of the same, if not greater, interest such as The Inescapable Sarah Bernhardt or The Bloodbath of the Paris Commune. I would appreciate your feedback regarding where you found the link to The Tragic Empress post and why you decided to read it. Thank you in advance.

 

 Royal Collection
The memorial of Prince Imperial in Zululand

 

Related posts:

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

The English Courtesan Who Made a French Emperor

Mark Twain on Napoleon III

 

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