the III had spent his early life as an exile in Austria, spent
part of the time with his 'cousin', Napoleon Francis Charles Joseph,
the son of Napoleon and his second wife Marie Louise Hapsburg. A young man whose early death and the restoration of the Bourbons
would only bear the title Napoleon the II for nine days. Louis
Napoleon returned to France and plotted the overthrow of the restored
Bourbons. His plot discovered he was forced to flee to
America to evade capture. He
returned again to France, and was imprisoned for another attempted
coup d'tat. After six years in the prison at the castle
of Ham, he escaped to Britain, from where he plotted his return.
1848, when the tide of revolt swept across Europe, Louis Napoleon
was performing a different duty.
Fearful that the spark of upheaval might spread across
the English Channel, upright men rushed to join the ranks of Special
Constabulary of the Metropolitan Police to preserve the British
Monarchy, numbered amongst them was Louis Napoleon, the future
Emperor of France, born of a family which revolution had brought
to the fore, he now did his bit to insure the status quo in Great
Britain, by exercising his newly found civil authority.
We know for a fact that he arrested at least one man for
being drunk on London Bridge. But across the English Channel,
Paris was in turmoil, a saviour was needed, and who better than
a Bonaparte to save France at her time of need.
Louis Napoleon answered the call, before 1848 had reached
its bloody end - he was elected by the people of France as President
of the Republic of France.
four years he proclaimed himself Emperor and announced the arrival
of the Second Empire. In 1853, he married Eugenie de Montijo,
the daughter of a penniless Spanish duke, whose origins were as
equally clouded as his own. This new Napoleon would stand side-by-side
with Britain and Turkey against Imperial Russia in the Crimean
War, of 1854-55, and thus endear himself to Queen Victoria.
Indeed the Queen on hearing that the Empress Eugenie was
finally pregnant following a series of miscarriages, advised the
Empress to stop riding, which she did and so gave birth to the
six hours of his birth Louis, or as he was affectionately called
"Lou-Lou", was installed as a Chevalier of the Legion of Honour,
and within days his name was enrolled on the list of Grenadiers
of the Imperial Guard, by the age of six he was promoted to the
rank of corporal. He was a physically frail child, and so he in
order that he might attain a martial resolve, his education was
placed in the hands of General Froissard.
Young Louis matured quickly, but he was not without an
irrational side to his nature, a trait that many would blame on
his so-called tainted Spanish blood.
1868, he would visit the cradle of the Bonaparte family, Corsica.
However, other events lent a hand to the fate of the Second Empire. The disastrous French intervention in Mexico
during the mid-1860's and the subsequent desertion of the Austrian
Archduke, Maximilian, to his fate by a firing squad, had done
little to for the reputation of Napoleon the III. In an attempt
to regain his position and reassert the family name, Napoleon
the III declared war against a confederation of German States,
headed by Prussia, in July 1870.
young Prince Imperial was just fourteen years of age when he accompanied
his father to the front between Metz and Saarbrücken The Prince
Imperial was dressed in the uniform of a sous-lieutenant of the
Imperial Guard. The action of Saarbrücken was destined to be the
only notable French victory of the entire campaign, and the young
prince looked on as sixty thousand French troops put pay to a
token force of one thousand Prussians. But it was his debut on the field of battle,
the rightful place of anyone who bore the name of Bonaparte. Within weeks the Prussian defeat at Saarbrücken
was avenged, the Prussian war-machine rolled relentlessly across
France, the professional soldiers of the Prussian forces sweeping
the ill-trained conscripts of the French army before them. Napoleon
the III found himself besieged at Sedan, with his only option
to surrender his forces to save any further loss of life.
The Empress Eugenie was forced to flee in disguise from
the capital city that her husband's vision had created; already
groups were forming from the populace to defend their city.
They would in time become the Communards, and suffer great
deprivations as they struggled to defend their Commune.
Sharing their Parisians' suffering were a number of British
military officers who had volunteered their services as first
aiders in a unit entitled the English Ambulance, among their number
was a French educated officer whose regiment had recently been
disbanded, his name was Jahleel Brenton Carey.
small escort led the Prince Imperial from French soil across the
Belgium frontier; he embarked from Ostende for Britain and exile. In England the Prince was reunited with his
mother. The Empress rented
a house named Camden Place in Chislehurst, Kent.
When the Emperor was released from captivity in 1871; he
was permitted to join his family in exile.
The house became a court in exile, the then Prince of Wales
becoming one of the first to be received the Imperial exiles.
Her Majesty Queen Victoria pitied their plight, and she
was very fond of her former brother-in-arms, but in the 1870's
there were still those alive who remembered when the name Bonaparte
was the scourge of Europe.
decision had to be made as to the Prince's education that the
events of the Franco-Prussian War had halted abruptly. He had the services of a personal tutor, one Augustin Filon, who
suggested that he should embark on course of study at King's College,
in the Strand. But the
monotony of the academic surroundings proved too much for young
Louis, and he only lasted one term.
He longed for a military career in keeping with family
traditions, but he was an imperial exile in a foreign land, what
options were open to him? His mother came to his rescue, using
her feminine charm she beguiled the Commander-in-Chief of the
British Army, the Duke of Cambridge, and obtained for her son
the opportunity to attend the Royal Military Academy at Woolwich,
in south London, where gentlemen cadets of the Royal Engineers
and the Royal Artillery were taught the art of war.
entered the Academy in November of 1872, with respect to his studies
he was hampered by imperfect knowledge of English, which lead
to some moments of near comedy.
The Prince also held some violently partisan views on the
Academy's professor's rendition of the Battle of Waterloo.
But at last he was happy with his lot, but his happiness
was shattered in January of 1873, an aide appeared at the door
of his classroom, the news was grave his father, Napoleon the
III was dying. A carriage
hurried Louis the few short miles from Woolwich to Chislehurst,
but he arrived too late his father was already dead.
Thousands of Frenchmen loyal to the Imperial cause crossed
the Channel to pay homage to their former Emperor, who was laid
to rest in a side chapel of Saint Mary's Church, Chislehurst.
With his father's death they were many in France eager that Louis
became the leader of the Bonapartist party, which despite all
things still had a voice in the French parliament, but he declined,
stating that if the French people elected him in a plebiscite
he would return, however, he must first attain his majority as
he was still only seventeen, and therefore could not even be considered.
So he returned to Woolwich and to his studies.
graduated in February 1875, he had come first in fencing and riding
and seventh overall in a class of thirty-four cadets, he might
have came fourth overall had he not been placed second in the
French written examination. His thirty-three companions all received
commissions into the British Army, Louis had to content with an
honorary lieutenancy in the Royal Artillery, after Benjamin D'Israeli
had intervened stating that an heir apparent to a foreign throne
could not pledge allegiance to the British sovereign, especially
if that heir bore the surname of the monster Bonaparte.
in France the Republican press mocked him, labelling 'Napoleon
the Third and a Half' and 'the Imperial Baby'.
Louis ignored the newspaper comments, and when his age
group was due to be called for conscription, he submitted his
name for the draft, rather suffer the possible disgrace of being
declared an outlaw for draft-dodging. Needless to say the Republican Government did
not call on his services, but his gesture had not gone unnoticed.
was fast becoming very popular in the right circles in England.
A romance blossomed with the youngest daughter of Queen
Victoria, Princess Beatrice. But he was restless - he yearned for action
at least once before he settled into a life of privilege on one
side of the other of the English Channel.
If he had the chance he could prove himself to those who
ridiculed, then he felt certain the French people would accept
him back as their Emperor, how better for a Bonaparte to prove
himself worthy than on the field of battle. In 1877 he volunteered his services to the
Austro-Hungarian Kaiser Franz Josef, whose Balkan states where
being used as a battlefield for the Russo-Turkish War.
Perhaps in an act of atonement to the Austrian Emperor,
over the unfortunate involvement of Napoleon III in the "Mexican
Adventure", which had led to the death, by firing squad, of Franz
Josef's brother, Arch Duke Maximillian, whilst serving as Emperor
of Mexico. Franz Josef
politely declined his offer.
the beginning of 1879, there seemed to little in prospect save
for possibility of his marriage to Beatrice.
On the 11th February, 1879, grave news reached London,
without the consent of the Home Government, His Majesty's Governor
General of the Cape Colony and High Commissioner for South Africa,
Sir Henry Bartle Edward Frere had declared war on the independent
tribal kingdom of KwaZulu, and three British columns had invaded
KwaZulu from the British Colony of Natal on the 11th January.
The military commission of the campaign had been placed in the
hands of Lieutenant-General Lord Chelmsford, General Officer Commanding
Southern Africa, who had recently brought to a successful conclusion
the Ninth Cape Frontier War against the AmaXhosa people of the
had gone well to begin with the much-vaunted Zulu impis were defeated
in initial skirmishing. However, on Wednesday the 22nd January
1879, Lord Chelmsford divided his main column, Number Three Column,
taking with him towards the direction of the Zulu capital, oNdini,
or Ulundi, almost two thousand men in an effort to flush out the
main Zulu army, which consisted of some twenty-five thousand warriors.
behind him some one thousand, seven hundred British, colonial
and loyal African soldiers at his transit camp in the shadow of
a mountain named Isandlwana,
which lay just seven miles, as the crow flies, from the Natal
border and a place called Rorke's
Drift. Whilst Lord Chelmsford was hunting for the Zulu army some ten miles
off to the east, the Zulu impi was in fact encircling his force
remaining at Isandlwana. One thousand, three hundred and twenty-nine
troops perished at Isandlwana, less than one hundred white men
survived the massacre. Fifty-five officers were amongst the dead,
more officers died at Isandlwana than had died in the entire Waterloo
campaign of 1815, and not until the horror of the first day of the Battle of the Somme
in 1916 would that toll be rivalled.
news of the defeat brought forth a call for reinforcements, at
least two of his former classmates from Woolwich were already
in KwaZulu, Louis felt it his duty to volunteer.
He pleaded with the Duke of Cambridge to go.
He had valid public reasons - he wished to show his gratitude
to Victoria, and to fight his first campaign for Britain.
There were, of course, other reasons, private and urgent. A military record would endorse his claim to
the French throne as nothing else could, but he could not seen
for political reasons to side with Britain in any continental
war, or either a campaign in the Indian sub-continent in case
he caused offence. The AmaZulu presented themselves as the perfect foe, after all no
Frenchman could possibly take umbrage at his fighting against
a savage nation. Here
was his opportunity to prove himself for the entire world to see.
The Duke of Cambridge was willing to let Louis indulge, but D'Israeli
'had never heard of anything more injudicious'.
Louis's little enterprise was stymied, until his mother
entered the fray, the Empress Eugenie took up his cause with Queen
Victoria, who obviously was not a disinterested party as for as
Louis was concerned. Eugenie's
motive must have been political the adventure could do no harm
to Louis's credibility in France. Faced with the interference
of two obstinate women as he referred to them D'Israeli relented,
and with Cambridge's agreement Louis was to be permitted to go
to the front as a "spectator" in a private capacity. Cambridge
wrote in confidence to Lord Chelmsford stressing Louis's status,
but warning the general to keep in check the Prince's spirited
behaviour. The French on the hand were outraged.
There was an obvious political divide - to the Bonapartist
party he was already Napoleon the IV, whilst the Republicans
feared him as a threat to their power, but still regarded him
as a Frenchman. Now he
was deserting his own people to risk his Imperial neck for the
hated English in what was referred to at the time as "a petty
dispute with some obstreperous blacks at the other end of the
world". Louis assured
his own party that his reasons were political, and he wished to
gain experience and improve his knowledge of the art of war, some
would say with a view to practising it on some of his fellow countrymen
on his safe return.
the 28th February 1879, he boarded the hired transport ship Danube
at Southampton - he waved a fond farewell to his mother, the Empress,
who collapsed as the ship left the harbour.
Normally, any British ship bound for the Cape of Good Hope,
would re-supply at Saint Helena, but the captain rather prudently
excluded this port of call for his schedule, for fear of upsetting
his Imperial passenger. The ship reached Cape Town on the twenty-sixth
of March, and Louis paid his respects to Lady Frere at Government
House. His voyage continued
to D'Urban arriving on the evening of the thirty-first.
Louis had by now donned the uniform of an officer in the
Royal Artillery. He presented
him to the Assistant Adjutant-General only to be informed that
Lord Chelmsford was out on an expedition to relieve a besieged
British column at a Mission Station at a place called Eshowe,
close to the Indian Ocean coastline of KwaZulu. Louis impatiently
waited for his Lordship's return.
in the appropriately named Royal Hotel, D'Urban, he happened to
look outside and see a civilian riding by on grey BaSotho pony,
Louis needed a horse as one of his had died during disembarkation
and his other was ill. Louis sent his manservant Xavier Uhlmann out
to see if the rider, Meyrick Bennett, would part with his mount,
initially he declined the offer.
Uhlmann pressed the matter, and identified who the intended
purchaser was, at which Bennett relented.
The horse was called Percy; Bennett warned that
it was apt to be skittish.
was taken ill with a fever, but he recovered before Lord
Chelmsford returned to D'Urban, flush with the success of
a victory over the Zulus at a place called Gingindlovu, which
means the place of the elephant.
Chelmsford invited Louis to be an extra aide de camp on
his personal staff. Louis eventually made his way up country and
on the 2nd of May 1879 at a camp named Khambula, he was reunited
with two of his companions from Woolwich, Lieutenants Arthur Bigge
and Frederick Slade.
these officers had fought in the action at Khambula, on 29th March,
which had in fact proved the turning point in the campaign - Louis
listened avidly as they recounted the battle, wondering when it
would be his chance to see some action. Shortly after on the 8th
May Chelmsford appointed Colonel Richard Harrison, Royal Engineers,
as his Acting Quartermaster-General, despite his title Harrison's
task was military intelligence, which to some would appear to
be a contradiction in terms. Harrison's staff was limited, he
had two officers, Brevet Major Francis Grenfell and Lieutenant
Jahleel Carey, and one Lance Corporal, by the name of Martin.
Chelmsford decided that a position on Harrison's staff
would be an ideal billet for the Prince Imperial.
Thereby permitting the General to stop being a royal tour
guide, and get on with the matter in hand, defeat the Zulus.
Thus Louis was appointed to the colonel's staff.
He very quickly found a soul mate in Carey. Thirty-one year old Carey was the son of a Devon vicar, who had
been educated at the Lycee Imperial in Paris.
As mentioned early, he had served as a first aid volunteer
in the Franco-Prussian War. In
addition he had previously seen active service in West Africa
and Central America. Because of his Parisian education he affected
certain French mannerisms, also well speaking the language with
a marked Parisian accent.
sought out some wounded Frenchmen who had been serving the volunteer
irregular horse units, which had borne the brunt of the casualties
at an action called Hlobane, which had been fought on 28th March. All the men he found were survivors from the
Paris Commune, determined to seek a new life in southern Africa,
now they found the lives again threatened by war. The French press
were interested in Louis too, so much so that L'Figaro,
sent a correspondent, Paul Deleage to follow his progress, Deleage
made his own way to the British encampment, only to discover that
the Prince Imperial had been permitted to be a first hand spectator
and had embarked on a reconnaissance deeper into KwaZulu. Louis
had been allowed, with Colonel Harrison's permission, to accompany
a strong probing patrol, of some three hundred veteran volunteer
horsemen, both European and African, to test the Zulu strength
ahead of the line of march.
was in his element - the opportunity for action had at last come
to him. On the 16th of
May, as Zulu scouts were spotted on the ridge of the Itelezi Hill,
on sighting the patrol they melted back from sight.
The reconnaissance commander, Lieutenant-Colonel Redvers
Buller V.C., turned to his imperial guest to
point out the stealth of the Zulu warriors,
only to see Louis draw his sword, which was the same sword that
his great-uncle had carried at Austerlitz, and galloped headlong
in pursuit of the Zulus, thus jeopardising the purpose of the
mission. Buller despatched troopers after the eager young man, who returned
dejected he had not drawn blood.
Buller asserted his authority over this spectator with
extreme wrath - "Your Imperial Highness, this is a reconnaissance,
not a Zulu hunt...- Under no circumstances will I permit such
reckless action again. Do I make myself clear, Sir." Sheepishly, the young Bonaparte admitted his
error. On his return to the British lines, Buller, brave, reckless
Buller, who only weeks before had personally risked his own life
to rescue, not once, but three times, unhorsed men from the very
clutches of the Zulu, voiced his opinion to his own superior,
and to Harrison of the Prince's behaviour.
Buller's objections Louis was soon out again on patrol, this time
with Captain William Molyneux, one of Lord Chelmsford's aide de
camps. Molyneux asked
Louis about his conduct during the previous patrol, enquiring
if he thought that "by risking his life in order to grips with
a few Zulus whose deaths, after all, would have made not the slightest
difference to the outcome of the campaign." Louis replied, "You are right, I suppose,
but I could not help it. I
feel I must do something." As
Louis spoke a shot rang out to their left, nothing was seen, save
for a trooper calmly reloading his rifle and continuing with his
pace. Molyneux concluded
that the man had hit whatever he had been aiming at.
Not so the Prince, who again drew his sword and rode at
full tilt towards the trooper. Molyneux shouted, "Prince, I must order you to come back." Louis pulled up at once, and turned to face
Molyneux, he saluted the officer with his sword, before returning
it to its scabbard, then he let fly at the captain, "It seems
I am never to be without a nurse."
he returned to camp. On
his arrival Colonel Henry Evelyn Wood, quipped to Louis, "Well
Sir, I see you've not been assegaied yet."
Louis replied, "Not yet, but while I have no desire to
be killed, if I have to fall I should prefer an assegai to a bullet,
for it would show that I had at least been at close quarters."
his sins Louis was unofficially confined to camp, employed on
the less than rigorous duty of drawing maps, a task which he seethed
about, how could he accomplish his political purpose and re-establish
the Napoleonic dynasty, armed only with mapping paper and a drawing
Sunday, 1st June, 1879, Harrison gave permitted Louis to verify
some of the detail of his maps, by being allowed to traverse the
ground in question, in order to select a spot for the camp to
move on the following day. Jahleel Carey sought permission to accompany
Louis, which was duly granted.
Two non-commissioned officers, and four troopers of Captain
Bettington's Troop of the Natal Horse furnished an escort.
Six African troopers of Captain Shepstone's Native Horse
were also assigned to parade at 9.15 a.m., but due to a mistake
they reported to the wrong tent. A renegade Zulu was assigned as a guide.
Eager to be about his task Louis left without waiting for
the extra men to appear. Major Francis Grenfell fell in with the
group and travelled with them in the direction of the Blood River,
a little over twenty miles off to the east was Ulundi, the Zulu
capital. Harrison who was on another mission in the
same vicinity came upon the little party, he suggested that their
numbers were insufficient, to which Louis replied, "Oh no, we
are quite strong enough." Harrison could see other mounted units
scouting on the nearby hills - he felt that there was no unnecessary
reason to dispute the matter further. Harrison ordered Grenfell to return to camp
with him, Grenfell turned in his saddle and said, "Take care of
yourself, Prince, and don't get shot."
The Prince, replied, pointing to Lieutenant Carey, "He'll
take very good care that nothing happens to me."
hours the small band went about their task, with Louis sketching
the localities, seeking an appropriate campsite for several thousand
men and their impedimenta. At
3p.m. despite Jahleel Carey verbal misgivings, the patrol rode
into a Zulu umuzi, or kraal, close to the banks of the Ityoyozi
River. The beehive huts
were deserted, but betrayed signs of recent habitation. Louis gave orders for the men to off-saddle
their mounts and allow them to be graze.
Their Zulu guide was despatched to fetch water so that
the white men could have some coffee.
Louis lay down beside one of the huts and relaxed, he was
in his element, free from the constraints of being made to obey
orders, he was now giving orders. Carey and Louis mused over the victories of
the 1st Napoleon in Italy in 1796; Louis's mind was obviously
wandering towards his own future.
The men relaxed over their coffee, and enjoyed a pipe,
but no one had deemed it necessary to set a guard.
3.35 p.m. Carey suggested to Louis that they should saddle up,
Louis replied, "Just another ten minutes."
Almost simultaneously the Zulu guide reported that he had
seen a lone Zulu on the rise above the kraal.
The order was given to saddle-up, but some of the horses
had strayed and it was a further ten minutes before all of them
could be gathered and made ready. Jahleel Carey mounted independently to the
others. The men stood
by horses, with Louis facing them, he enquired of the other-ranks,
"Are you all ready?" To which the men replied they were. Louis then gave the order "Prepare to mount",
at which the men each put their left foot in the nearside stirrup
- all were waiting for the Prince's next word of command. As the word "Mount" came from his lips it was drowned by a ragged
volley of rifle fire from the surrounding bush, from which broke
some forty or so Zulus, yelling their war cry, "Usuthu!" as they
came. Trooper George Rogers's horse bolted with the
din, stranding him on foot, he managed to load and fire his carbine
before falling to a warrior's assegai.
Carey and the others rode off towards the river, Trooper
William Abel fell from his mount, and his flight stopped by a
bullet from a captured British rifle. As for Louis, he struggled to mount his horse
and in doing so his sword, Napoleon's sword from Austerlitz cluttered
to the ground. His horse,
that skittish grey, was dragging him along as he clutched to a
saddle holster. He was passed at this point but Trooper Nicholas
Le Tocq, a Guernsey man from Cobo Bay, Le Tocq was laying his
stomach across the saddle of his galloping horse and could offer
the prince no help, save for urging him in French to mount his
horse. But fate intervened and the leather of the saddle holster tore,
sending Louis crashing to the ground, injuring his right arm. Corporal Jim Grubb looked back to see Louis
making off on foot pursued by seven Zulus.
The fleet-of-foot warriors gained on their prey and Louis
who had run some three hundred yards turned to meet his destiny. One warrior hurled an assegai, which struck the Prince in the thigh.
Louis plucked the spear from his leg, and drew his pistol
from which he fired two shots, neither of which find a mark despite
the close range. Another
warrior threw a spear, which entered his left shoulder, and eventually
he slumped to his knees. The
Zulus closed in on him and he died under a flurry of assegai blades.
no chance to rally Carey and the others rode on, until they encountered
Wood and his men, which takes us back to the beginning of our
story. Due to the lateness
of the hour, it was decided that it would have been futile to
risk any further lives in the dwindling light of an African dusk.
Carey and his men rode into camp that night and imparted
their sorrowful news to General Lord Chelmsford.
In the pre-dawn light of the following morning two regiments
of regular British cavalry, several units of volunteer cavalry
and a battalion of loyal African soldiers mustered to search for
the Prince Imperial. The correspondent from the L'Figaro, Paul Deleage, his eyes
filled with tears yelled his abuse and at the officers, with the
words, "Yesterday the Prince left this camp with but seven companions. Today a thousand men will search for his body." The search party found his body, where he had
died, stripped of all its clothing, the body bore seventeen spear
wounds of which one of three could have proved fatal.
The body was borne away, and amid great ceremony it was
taken back through Natal, and eventually to England.
Where an almost state funeral took place at Chislehurst.
Carey was found guilty of cowardice by a court-martial convened
hurriedly in the field, but so hurriedly was the court convened
that no one had thought to swear the members of the court in.
Due to this oversight Carey was acquitted and the sentence
of the trial overturned.
year later the Empress Eugenie visited the place of her son's
death, and found it marked by a simple cross. Eugenie left Chislehurst,
for Farnborough in Hampshire in 1881, and moved the bodies of
her husband and son from Chislehurst to a mausoleum she had erected
there. Only a simple Celtic cross remains at Chislehurst
as a memorial to Louis. Eugenie,
herself, lived until 1920, obviously haunted by thoughts of what
may have been.
I close my story I will leave you with some thoughts, ponder if
you will if Louis had not died in KwaZulu, then it not inconceivable
that he would have been restored by a plebiscite of the French
people to his father's throne.
Consider also that if he had married Queen Victoria's daughter,
Beatrice, then the closest of alliances would have been formed
between Great Britain and France, which would have pre-dated the
Entente Cordiale by some twenty-five years. And maybe, just maybe, if such an alliance
had existed then might not a bloodier, greater war have been avoided. The history of the twentieth century would
have been vastly different then, had not cruel fate intervened.
© John Young 1994