Napoléon, Prince Imperial

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Prince Imperial of France
Prince Impérial, 1878, Londres, BNF Gallica.jpg
Portrait in 1878 at age 22
Titular Emperor of the French
Head of the House of Bonaparte
Period9 January 1873 – 1 June 1879
PredecessorNapoleon III
SuccessorNapoleon V
Born(1856-03-16)16 March 1856
Paris, French Empire
Died1 June 1879(1879-06-01) (aged 23)
Zulu Kingdom (present-day KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa)
Full name
Napoléon Eugène Louis Jean Joseph
FatherNapoleon III
MotherEugénie de Montijo
ReligionRoman Catholicism

Napoléon, Prince Imperial (full name: Napoléon Eugène Louis Jean Joseph Bonaparte, prince impérial; 16 March 1856 – 1 June 1879), also known as Louis-Napoléon Bonaparte, was the only child of Emperor Napoleon III and his wife, Eugénie de Montijo. After his father was dethroned in 1870, he relocated with his family to England. On his father's death in January 1873, he was proclaimed by the Bonapartist faction as Napoleon IV, Emperor of the French.

In England, he trained as a soldier. Keen to see action, he successfully put pressure on the British to allow him to participate in the Anglo-Zulu War. In 1879, serving with British forces, he was killed in a skirmish with a group of Zulus. His early death sent shockwaves throughout Europe, as he was the last serious dynastic hope for the restoration of the House of Bonaparte to the throne of France.


Napoléon at age 14, 1870

Born in Paris,[1] he was baptised on 14 June 1856, at Notre Dame Cathedral. His godfather was Pope Pius IX, whose representative, Cardinal Patrizi, officiated. His godmother was Eugène de Beauharnais's daughter, Josephine, the Queen of Sweden, who was represented by Grand Duchess Stéphanie of Baden.[2]

His education, after a false start under the academic historian Francis Monnier, was, from 1867, supervised by General Frossard, as governor, assisted by Augustin Filon, as tutor. His English nurse, Miss Shaw, was recommended by Queen Victoria and taught the prince English from an early age. His valet, Xavier Uhlmann,[3] and his inseparable friend Louis Conneau[4] also figured prominently in his life. The young prince was known by the nickname "Loulou" in his family circle.[5]

At the outbreak of the Franco-Prussian War of 1870–1871, he accompanied his father to the front and first came under fire at Saarbrücken. When the war began to go against the Imperial army, however, his father sent him to the border with Belgium. In September, he sent him a message to cross over into Belgium. He travelled from there to England, arriving on 6 September, where he was joined by his parents, the Second Empire having been abolished. The family settled in England at Camden Place in Chislehurst, Kent. On his father's death, Bonapartists proclaimed him Napoleon IV. On his 18th birthday, a large crowd gathered to cheer him at Camden Place.[5]

The Prince Imperial attended elementary lectures in physics at King's College London. In 1872, he applied and was accepted to the Royal Military Academy, Woolwich. He finished seventh in his class of thirty four, and came top in riding and fencing.[6] He then served for a time with the Royal Artillery at Aldershot.[7]

During the 1870s, there was some talk of a marriage between him and Queen Victoria's youngest daughter, Princess Beatrice.[8] Victoria also reportedly believed that it would be best for "the peace of Europe" if the prince became Emperor of France.[8] The Prince remained a devout Catholic, and he retained hopes that the Bonapartist cause might eventually triumph if the secularising Third Republic failed. He supported the tactics of Eugène Rouher over those of Victor, Prince Napoléon, breaking with Victor in 1876.[6]

With the outbreak of the Zulu War in 1879, the Prince Imperial, with the rank of lieutenant, forced the hand of the British military to allow him to take part in the conflict, despite the objections of Rouher and other Bonapartists.[citation needed] He was only allowed to go to Africa by special pleading of his mother, the Empress Eugénie, and by intervention of Queen Victoria herself. He went as an observer, attached to the staff of Frederic Thesiger, 2nd Baron Chelmsford, the commander in South Africa, who was admonished to take care of him. Louis accompanied Chelmsford on his march into Zululand. Keen to see action, and full of enthusiasm, he was warned by Lieutenant Arthur Brigge, a close friend, "not to do anything rash and to avoid running unnecessary risks. I reminded him of the Empress at home and his party in France."[9]

Chelmsford, mindful of his duty, attached the Prince to the staff of Colonel Richard Harrison of the Royal Engineers, where it was felt he could be active but safe. Harrison was responsible for the column's transport and for reconnaissance of the forward route on the way to Ulundi, the Zulu capital. While he welcomed the presence of Louis, he was told by Chelmsford that the Prince must be accompanied at all times by a strong escort. Lieutenant Jahleel Brenton Carey, a French speaker and British subject from Guernsey, was given particular charge of Louis. The Prince took part in several reconnaissance missions, though his eagerness for action almost led him into an early ambush, when he exceeded orders in a party led by Colonel Redvers Buller. Despite this, on the evening of 31 May 1879, Harrison agreed to allow Louis to scout in a forward party scheduled to leave in the morning, in the mistaken belief that the path ahead was free of Zulu skirmishers.


Death of the Prince impérial during the Anglo-Zulu War, detail of a painting by Paul Jamin
Where the Prince was killed (top photo)
Destroyed umuzi near where Prince Imperial was killed; man in center is possibly Padre George Smith, the Vicar of Estcourt & Honorary Chaplain of the Weenen Yeomanry[10]

On the morning of 1 June, the troop set out, earlier than intended, and without the full escort, largely owing to Louis's impatience. Led by Carey, the scouts rode deeper into Zululand. Without Harrison or Buller present to restrain him, the Prince took command from Carey, even though the latter had seniority. At noon, the troop was halted at a temporarily deserted kraal while Louis and Carey made some sketches of the terrain, and used part of the thatch to make a fire. No lookout was posted. As they were preparing to leave, about 40 Zulus fired upon them and rushed toward them screaming. The Prince's horse dashed off before he could mount, the Prince clinging to a holster on the saddle. After about a hundred yards a strap broke, and the Prince fell beneath his horse and his right arm was trampled. He leapt up, drawing his revolver with his left hand, and started to run, but the Zulus could run faster.[11]

The prince in South Africa in 1879

The Prince was speared in the thigh but pulled the assegai from his wound. As he turned and fired on his pursuers, another assegai, thrown by a Zulu named Zabanga, struck his left shoulder.[12] The Prince tried to fight on, using the assegai he had pulled from his leg, but, weakened by his wounds, he sank to the ground and was overwhelmed. When recovered, his body had eighteen assegai wounds; one stabbing had burst his right eye and penetrated his brain. Two of his escort were killed and another was missing. Lt. Carey and the four men remaining came together about fifty yards from where the Prince made his final stand, but did not fire at the Zulus. Carey led his men back to camp. After a court of inquiry, a court martial, intervention by the Empress Eugénie and Queen Victoria, he was to return to his regiment. Carey died in Bombay, India, on 22 February 1883.

Memorial photomontage
Tomb of Napoléon, Prince Imperial

Louis Napoleon's death caused an international sensation. Rumours spread in France that the prince had been intentionally "disposed of" by the British.[8] Alternatively, the French republicans or the Freemasons were blamed.[13] In one account, Queen Victoria was accused of arranging the whole thing, a theory that was later dramatised by Maurice Rostand in his play Napoleon IV.[13] The Zulus later claimed that they would not have killed him if they had known who he was. Langalabalele, his chief assailant, met his death in July at the Battle of Ulundi.[13] Eugénie was later to make a pilgrimage to Sobuza's kraal, where her son had died. The Prince, who had begged to be allowed to go to war (taking the sword carried by Napoleon I at Austerlitz with him) and who had worried his commanders by his dash and daring, was described by Garnet Wolseley as "a plucky young man, and he died a soldier's death. What on earth could he have done better?"[14]

His badly decomposed body was brought back to Spithead on board the British troopship HMS Orontes, and thence transferred onto HMS Enchantress for sailing on to Woolwich Arsenal;[15] overnight, he lay in state in the western octagonal guardhouse by the riverfront. The funeral procession, including Queen Victoria, went from there to Chislehurst, where he was buried. On 9 January 1888, his body was transferred to a special mausoleum constructed by his mother as the Imperial Crypt at Saint Michael's Abbey, Farnborough, Hampshire, England, next to his father. The Prince Imperial had appointed Prince Napoléon Victor Bonaparte as his heir, thus skipping the genealogically senior heir, Victor's father, Prince Napoléon.


The asteroid moon Petit-Prince was named after the Prince Imperial in 1998, because it orbits an asteroid named after his mother (45 Eugenia).[16]

In the days when London's telephone exchanges were named, with dialling using the first three letters of the name, the exchange that served Chislehurst was renamed 'IMPerial' because it would have clashed with CHIswick.[17] The names were converted to numbers in 1966; the 'IMPerial' exchange is still recognisable as the block of numbers that begin 020-8467 xxxx.

In literature[edit]

The death is presented in some detail in G. A. Henty's The Young Colonists: A Tale of The Zulu and Boer Wars (1885). The narrator describes it as one of the most shameful incidents ever in British military history.

In the R. F. Delderfield novel Long Summer Day (the first of the A Horseman Riding By trilogy), Boer War veteran Paul Craddock buys a farm in 1900 or 1901. The middle-aged estate manager, Rudd, is somewhat embittered at having been one of the soldiers who had failed to rescue the Prince Imperial in 1879. Craddock is aware of the events, because by coincidence he had been born that very day.

Emma Lazarus wrote sonnets, under the common title of "Destiny", commemorating the prince's birth and death.

In the play Napoleon IV by Maurice Rostand, the Prince is killed in a carefully planned ambush arranged with the connivance of Queen Victoria, who fears that if he comes to power, France will outstrip Britain. In the climax to the play, the Prince's (imaginary) fiancée confronts the Queen.

In a 1943 Southern Daily Echo article, former Sapper George Harding (2nd Company Royal Engineers) recalled being ordered to take a horse ambulance and find the Prince's body and bring it back to the column. The Prince Imperial had been out on reconnaissance mission with a party of the 17th Lancers. Describing the mission, he said

We advanced to a dried up river bed and had to cut away the banks to get the ambulance across. Eventually, we reached a kraal beside a large mealie field where we found the bodies of the Prince and some of his party. They had been surprised by Zulus as they rested in the kraal. The Zulus broke out of the mealie field and killed them before they could remount their horses. The Prince had been stabbed 16 times with assegais. We made a rough coffin and put his body in the ambulance. After burying the other bodies where they were found, we went back to the column. The Prince's body was taken back to England for burial.[18]

The Prince Imperial is a minor character in Donald Serrell Thomas's Sherlock Holmes pastiche novel Death on a Pale Horse (2013). His death is planned by a renegade British ex-officer (the elder brother of Arthur Conan Doyle's Sebastian Moran), as part of a deliberate campaign to sabotage the British effort in the Zulu War, and the British Empire as a whole.


As a child[edit]

As an adult[edit]

Titles, styles, honours and arms[edit]


Styles of
Napoléon, Prince Imperial
Coat of Arms Second French Empire (1852–1870)-2.svg
Reference styleHis Imperial Highness
Spoken styleYour Imperial Highness
Alternative styleSir

French honours[edit]

Foreign honours[edit]



See also[edit]


  1. ^ Filon 1913, pp. 1–2.
  2. ^ Filon 1913, p. 7.
  3. ^ Filon 1920, p. 292.
  4. ^ Filon 1920, pp. 56–57, 84, 238, 272.
  5. ^ a b Echard 1985, p. 512.
  6. ^ a b Echard 1985, p. 513.
  7. ^ Filon 1913, pp. 135–138.
  8. ^ a b c Markham 1975, p. 210.
  9. ^ Kurtz 1964, p. 299.
  10. ^ Victorian war forum
  11. ^ Morris 1994, p. 529.
  12. ^ Morris 1994, p. 530.
  13. ^ a b c Morris 1994, p. 537.
  14. ^ Wolseley 1922, p. 44.
  15. ^ "Funeral of the Late Prince Louis Napoleon: The Arrival of the Remains at Woolwich". The Graphic. 19 July 1879. Retrieved 24 December 2019 – via
  16. ^ "Solar System Exploration: Asteroids – Moons". National Aeronautics and Space Administration. 2011. Retrieved 18 September 2011.
  17. ^ "London Director Exchange Names". Archived from the original on 25 May 2014. Retrieved 1 June 2014.
  18. ^ "Southampton Survivor of the Zulu War: Vivid Story of Final Battle At Ulundi". Southern Daily Echo. Southampton, UK. 30 December 1943.
  19. ^ a b c Knight, Ian (2001). With his face to the foe: the life and death of Louis Napoleon, the Prince Imperial, Zululand, 1879. Staplehurst, Kent: Spellmount. p. 80.
  20. ^ "A Szent István Rend tagjai" Archived 22 December 2010 at the Wayback Machine
  21. ^ Almanach royal officiel, publié, exécution d'un arrête du roi, Volume 1 ; Tarlier, 1854
  22. ^ Jørgen Pedersen (2009). Riddere af Elefantordenen, 1559–2009 (in Danish). Syddansk Universitetsforlag. p. 273. ISBN 978-87-7674-434-2.
  23. ^ "Condecorações de Napoleão III" [Decorations of Napoleon III]. Academia Falerística de Portugal (in Portuguese). 3 February 2011. Retrieved 28 November 2019.
  24. ^ Cibrario, Luigi (1869). Notizia storica del nobilissimo ordine supremo della santissima Annunziata. Sunto degli statuti, catalogo dei cavalieri (in Italian). Eredi Botta. p. 116. Retrieved 4 March 2019.
  25. ^ Staatshandbuch für den Freistaat Sachsen (1867) (in German), "Königliche Ritter-Orden", p. 4
  26. ^ "Caballeros de la insigne orden del toisón de oro", Guóa Oficial de España (in Spanish): 102, 1875, retrieved 4 March 2019
  27. ^ Sveriges och Norges statskalender. Liberförlag. 1874. p. 468.


Further reading[edit]

  • Ellen Barlee, Life of Napoleon, Prince Imperial of France, (London, 1889)
  • M. d'Hérrison, Le prince impérial, (Paris, 1890)
  • André Martinet, Le prince impérial, (Paris, 1895)
  • R. Minon, Les derniers jours du prince impérial sur le continent, (Paris, 1900)
  • Ernest Barthez, Empress Eugenie and her Circle, (New York, 1913)

External links[edit]

Napoléon, Prince Imperial
Born: 16 March 1856 Died: 1 June 1879
Titles in pretence
Preceded by
Emperor Napoléon III
Emperor of the French
9 January 1873 – 1 June 1879
Reason for succession failure:
Empire abolished in 1870
Succeeded by
Napoléon V Victor
French royalty
Preceded by
Jérôme Bonaparte
Heir to the Throne
as Heir apparent
16 March 1856 – 4 September 1870
Succeeded by