Thursday, 9 April 2015

Henry Bathurst: Who was he?

The Third Earl Bathurst (1762-1834), President of the Board of Trade & Secretary of State for War and the Colonies

Along with the Prime Minister Lord Liverpool, and Castlereagh at the Foreign Office, Earl Bathurst, the Secretary of State for War and the Colonies, was a key figure in shaping Britain's foreign, military and imperial policy for over a decade.

To say that Bathurst has been forgotten would perhaps give a false impression: a poor public speaker, always a somewhat shadowy figure in the Liverpool Government, he made little impression on contemporaries outside ruling circles.(1)

Almost a century later, Earl Rosebery delivered the most damning of verdicts:

Who was Bathurst?

It is difficult to say. He was we know, grandson of that secular Lord Bathurst who, sixty years after his first elevation to the peerage was created an Earl, and who, in the last months of his life, in his ninety-first year, was the subject of a famous apostrophe by Burke. He was, we know, son of that second Lord Bathurst, who was the least capable of Chancellors. He himself was one of those strange children of our political system who fill the most dazzling offices with the most complete obscurity. He had presided over the Foreign Office. He was now, and was for a term of fifteen years, a Secretary of State. Yet even our most microscopic Biographical Dictionary may be searched in vain for more than dry recital of the offices that he filled, the date of his birth, and the date of his death. (2)

Bathurst's biographer in my view fails to bring this obscure figure to life, but from the biography we can glean a little of the man. His family were recipients of royal patronage and he was a staunch friend of the monarchy and highly regarded by all the Kings he served; a sincere believer in the aristocratic order and an opponent of parliamentary reform, in his dying days he remained an uncompromising opponent of the 1832 Reform Bill.

In 1808 he was relieved to be able to sell the family's London home, Apsley House, to a fellow aristocrat, Lord Wellesley, and said he would have been unwilling to sell it to a financier or merchant. (3) This from a man who then held office as President of the Board of Trade!

His was a fairly typical aristocratic background: educated at Eton, not bothering to complete his degree at Oxford, venturing outside the country in his youth, he visited France, Germany and Austria but somewhat untypically, missed out Italy. Thereafter apart from a brief single trip to Scotland, he stayed in England for the rest of his life. (4)

In foreign affairs a staunch and consistent opponent of France, he believed that Britain's interests required France to be reduced to its pre-1792 borders. In 1801 he even disagreed with his hero William Pitt over the latter's approval of the peace negotiated with Napoleon. (5)

In early 1814 amidst a flurry of diplomatic activity interspersed with battles as Napoleon fought a rearguard action against the continental alliance, Bathurst was among those members of the Cabinet strongly opposed to conceding better terms in order to bring about an end to war. (6)

For Bathurst it was an ideological struggle which went beyond the long-standing Anglo-French competition for hegemony. Bathurst told Wellington in March 1814 that he preferred Britain to fight alone for the Bourbon cause if Spain and Holland were safe rather than accept Napoleon in concert with the other allies. (7) In another despatch to Wellington he described the battle of Toulouse on 10th April 1814 between Wellington and Soult as the last effort in an expiring cause, consistent in evil, to protract the miseries which its supporters had occasioned, and to postpone as long as possible the return of that harmony and peace which they had for upward of twenty years too successfully laboured to disturb. (8)

As surprised as anyone by Napoleon's return from Elba, and informed by Wellington that the King would destroy him without difficulty, Bathurst was far from convinced that Napoleon would re-establish control in Paris.(9) In the event Bathurst was with Wellington at the centre of the hectic planning for the renewal of war: having sent an army to fight in America, Britain was short of troops, and efforts to recruit more proved disappointing. It was also difficult to call out the militia, since Britain was not legally at war. Napoleon again surprised the allies by crossing over into Belgium in mid June, rather than waiting for the inevitable attack on Paris. Among those who fought at Waterloo was Bathurst's own son, Seymour who had been appointed as one of Wellington's aides-de-campe. Hearing of the news of Napoleon's surrender, Seymour Bathurst wrote to his mother

I cannot conceive the state you must all be in with Bonaparte in England. What are you going to do with him &c. Pray go and see him and be civil to him. I am all for his being treated well.(10)

By the time that Seymour Bathurst had written the letter the British Cabinet, minus Castlereagh who was in France, had pretty well decided that Napoleon would be sent to St. Helena, and Bathurst who was to superintend Napoleon's exile until the latter's death, informed Wellington that he had appointed Sir Hudson Lowe as the new Governor,

I do not believe we could have found a fitter person of his rank in the army willing to accept a situation of so much confinement, responsibility, and exclusion from society." (11)

Napoleon was given the official decision by Admiral Lord Keith, accompanied by Colonel Bunbury. Accompanying them, although to his annoyance not allowed on board to meet Napoleon, was none other than William Lennox Bathurst, a 24 year old MP for a rotten borough who just happened to be another son of Lord Bathurst!

This web of aristocratic privilege and connection seems to epitomise the eighteenth century world, that rarefied world of order, harmony and peace from which Bathurst had emerged, and which he and the Liverpool Government fought to preserve against foes at home and abroad. At the same time Bathurst and his colleagues laid the foundations of British hegemony, the domination of its manufactures and its manufacturers, and of a triumphant liberal ideology for which they had little sympathy.
1. Neville Thompson, Earl Bathurst and the British Empire, 1762-1834 (Leo Cooper, Great Britain, 1999), Introduction vii-x.
2.Lord Rosebery, Napoleon The Last Phase London 1900, pp 117-118. Bathurst's biographer, Neville Thompson pours scorn on this judgement, coming from a man who had himself only very briefly been Prime Minister and Leader of the Liberal Party!
3. Thompson p. 30
4.Thompson p. 11
5. Thompson p. 21-22
6. Thompson p. 72.
7. Bathurst to Wellington, 29 March, 1814, quoted in Thompson p. 73
8. quoted in Thompson p. 74
9. Thompson p. 89
10 quoted in Thompson p. 100
11. quoted in Thompson p. 101
12. ibid

Monday, 30 March 2015

Anthony Burgess and Napoleon

According to Anthony Burgess's not always reliable autobiography, at his birth his father breathed beer on him and said He may be a new Napoleon.

Not Wellington. The Catholic northwest, like Ireland, had looked to the French being on the sea, and the decay of the Orange (1)

In the event Burgess did not turn out to be a leader of men, and the highest rank he attained was a Sergeant Major in the Army Educational Corps. At the advanced age of 37 he became a writer. At the same age Napoleon had already written a romantic novel, won countless battles and become Emperor of the French, so Burgess's father had almost inevitably set him up for failure.

In the early 1970's Burgess wrote a script on Napoleon for Stanley Kubrick, producer and director of A Clockwork Orange, which the latter rather tersely declined. Burgess instead turned it into a far from complimentary novel about Napoleon, Napoleon Symphony, a somewhat whimsical attempt to recast the life of Napoleon in the form of Beethoven's famous Eroica symphony which legend has it was intended to be dedicated to Napoleon until he crowned himself Emperor. (2)

Before this novel was published in 1974 Burgess gave his thoughts on Napoleon to Charles T. Bunting

a great demonic force .. a very modern man, really a very contemporary man, because he - well can I say that even - he's half animal and half computer. It's only possible to think in those terms in the modern age. His head was a computer. His body was the body of an ape. .. Napoleon was over-energetic, even sexually so. His excessive sexual energy, of course, explains why he had so little success with women. And he was also a very obscene man, which never comes out in the official biographies. (3)

Burgess also added some pertinent comments about his reactions to Napoleon as an Englishman and about the views of the English lower classes. He concluded with a brief reference to what we used to call the Common Market, which the United Kingdom (including England!) had recently joined, despite the efforts of another French leader to prevent it from doing so:

I've never really known much about Napoleon. Being an Englishman, I've never been attracted to Napoleon because, after all, he was the enemy. This is what I have been brought up to believe, but having done some research and having seen it from my wife's point of view - my wife's an Italian - I see now that he was not really the enemy; he was only the enemy of the ruling class in Britain, and, of course, he was very popular with the lower class. And in my own town of Manchester when the Peterloo Massacre took place, the working people were animated by Napoleonic principles. They were more on the side of the Revolution, and Napoleon seemed to them to embody the ideas of the Revolution. they were not on the side of the ruling class, and I see now that it's possible to be an Englishman and a Bonapartist. I see also that Napoleon has fulfilled posthumously his intention of bringing England into Europe. It's been done by peaceful means, but the great dream of a united Europe with England as part of it has been fulfilled with the Common Market. So Napoleon is still a living force. (4)

Contrary to the claims of modern Eurosceptics, Burgess had no doubt in 1973 that England had become part of something rather more than a mere market! That is my memory too!

The support for Napoleon amongst sections of the English population to which Burgess refers does not fit in with conventional views of English history. It was certainly not part of the curriculum that I studied, although it has appeared on a number of occasions in my blog.

At some point I intend to return to Napoleon Symphony, which I read on my last trip to St Helena two years ago, and have been mulling over ever since.
1. Anthony Burgess, Little Wilson and Big God (Vintage Edition 2002) p. 17
2. An earlier post covers Burgess's script for Kubrick. I have since examined a document at the International Anthony Burgess Foundation in Manchester which is certainly nothing like a full script, but a few pages which lay out a number of themes recognisable in Napoleon Symphony . If this is what was sent to Kubrick, then his short reply turning it down is entirely understandable.
3. "Dressing for Dinner in the Jungle", Charles T. Bunting/ 1973 Studies in the Novel v.5, No 4 Winter 1973 pp 75-76.
4. ibid.

Friday, 20 March 2015

Castlereagh and the Defeat of Napoleon

Viscount Castlereagh: "the prim smirking aspect of a haberdasher" - Hazlitt

With a reputation for being cold and calculating, Castlereagh was perhaps the most hated of all English politicians. A member of the Irish Ascendancy, playing a key role in crushing the rebellion in 1798, his alliance with the reactionary rulers of Russia, Prussia and Austria and his defence of the repressive domestic policies of the Liverpool Government after the Peterloo Massacre, soured his reputation among those who had hoped that the world was on the verge of a more enlightened era.

Two of the greatest romantic poets led the condemnation. Shelley most famously in his Masque of Anarchy,

I met Murder on the way –
He had a mask like Castlereagh –

whilst Byron exhorted passers by to piss on his grave. (1) His death by his own hand in 1822 was for many a cause for celebration.

As Foreign Secretary from 1812, Castlereagh was the architect of the alliance that finally brought about Napoleon's defeat. He always had a clear view of British interests and of the aims of the war against Napoleonic France: on the continent a balance of power and access for British commerce, at sea British hegemony. Despite the impression nurtured by the loyalist press, the object of the war was not the removal of Napoleon from power. This in time caused some dissension in the Cabinet, as well as with the Prince Regent who not unnaturally favoured the restoration of the Bourbons at a time when his throne did not feel too secure.

Castlereagh's view was that if Napoleon retained the support of his subjects, and if a peace which satisfied Britain's objectives could be reached with Napoleon still in place, and that was a big if, then Britain should not support a continuation of war to overthrow him. Such a policy would have risked civil war in France and dissension amongst the allies, with Russia, no friend of the Bourbons, favouring Bernadotte or a weak Revolutionary Government, Austria favouring a Regency of the Empress Marie Louise on behalf of her son Napoleon II, and Britain not wanting either.

Increasingly Britain's war aims narrowed down to an insistence that France give up Antwerp and the River Scheldt, vital to Britain's security and hegemony at sea, an aim not necessarily shared by its continental allies. Castlereagh had been fixated on Antwerp and the Scheldt since at least 1797, and it was this alone which caused Britain to veto the Frankfurt proposals brokered by Metternich in December 1813 under which Napoleon would have given up Italy, Spain, Germany and Holland, but not all of Belgium.

In February 1814 a letter from the Prime Minister Lord Liverpool to Castlereagh revealed the tensions in the Government, but also perhaps a deference to Castlereagh, the dominant member of the Cabinet:

The only material point on which we differ with you is as to the overthrowing of Buonaparte. we incline to the view that this event may be desirable whatever might be the immediate result of it.
No Government, be it what may, could be so bad for Europe as Buonaparte; .. I admit, however, that if France continues to support Buonaparte, we must make peace with him, and that we ought not to look to his destruction by any means which, in progress, will tend to separate the allies. (2)

In the event, Napoleon's refusal of the terms of the Treaty of Chaumont in March 1814 got Castlereagh and the British Government off the hook. A pro-Bourbon party emerged in France, led by Talleyrand, Napoleon's former Foreign Minister, a confidant of the Czar and the recipient of substantial British secret service funds. On 19th March 2014 Castlereagh was instructed by the Cabinet not to sign any treaty with Napoleon.

Unwilling to recognise Napoleon's title as Emperor of Elba or anywhere else, and sharing the concerns of Talleyrand and the Bourbons about the nearness of Elba to France, Castlereagh did not become a party to the Treaty of Fontainebleau. (3) With France subdued and Napoleon on Elba, he was then able to devote his energies to the peace treaty at Vienna, later to earn him the admiration of that twentieth century practitioner of realpolitik, Henry Kissinger.

An interesting glimpse into Castlereagh's views after Napoleon's return from Elba is given by John Quincy Adams, American diplomat and future President. Only a week before the battle of Waterloo, at a dinner also attended by Lord Liverpool, Castlereagh showed Adams a snuff box bearing a miniature picture of Napoleon which he had bought at Vienna from the court painter Jean Baptiste Isabey. Adams noted that the general opinion of those at that dinner was that Napoleon would shortly take refuge in America; for as to another island of Elba, that was out of the question. That experiment would not be tried a second time . (4)

At the dinner Castlereagh told him of Napoleon's wish to come to England at the time of the Fontainebleau Treaty to which he (Lord Castlereagh) had objected, as he could not have been answerable for the safety of his person here. Adams was perhaps surprised at the moderate tone in which Castlereagh spoke about Napoleon. Rather curiously Castlereagh said he had

much rather that he should have come back and be as he now is, than that he should have lost his life under the protection of the allies. Lord Castlereagh said he had never seen him, though he had felt a curiosity to see him, but the only opportunity that he had ever had for it was at the time of the Treaty of Fontainebleau, and then he had abstained from delicacy.(5)

A strange interlude, and perhaps we should be wary of taking at face value the comments of diplomats when socialising together, particularly when we remember that only a year earlier the British navy had set fire to the Capitol and the White House. Whatever Adams' opinions of the French Revolution and Napoleon, the United States was known to favour a strong France and for obvious reasons to oppose British naval hegemony. Also we have the benefit over those who attended the dinner in that we know the outcome of the Battle of Waterloo! Despite the large military imbalance in favour of the allies which would surely ultimately have led to his defeat, dealing with a temporarily victorious Napoleon would have put a strain on Castlereagh and the British Government at home as well as on the continental alliance.

Castlereagh's comments about Napoleon's safety probably reflected awareness of plots the Bourbons made against him whilst he was on Elba. The concern may appear to sit uneasily alongside modern claims that Castlereagh was in 1804 involved in a plot to assassinate Napoleon.(6) But the key words are under the protection of the allies . Napoleon's murder on Elba would have done damage to the British Government at home and on the continent, irrespective of who had done it. Napoleon's assassination as Emperor in 1804, if all evidence of the British Government's complicity could have been destroyed, would have been another matter altogether, as any advocate of realpolitik would readily understand!

1. This seems to have been written in 1820 before Castlereagh's death.

Posterity will ne'er survey
A nobler grave than this:
Here lie the bones of Castlereagh:
Stop, traveller, and piss.
It was first published in Lord Byron's Works , 1833, xvii. 246. In this edition the last two words were replaced by * *.
2. Quoted in Rory Muir, Britain and the Defeat of Napoleon 1807-1815 (1996) p 318.
3. Sir Charles Webster, The Congress of Vienna 1814-1815 First published by the Foreign Office in 1919, Reissued 1934, pp 17-31,36-40. Nicolson, Congress of Vienna (London 1946) p118.
4. June 11th 1815. Memoirs of John Quincy Adams: Comprising Portions of His Diary from 1795 to 1848, Volume 3 J.B. Lippincott & Company, 1874, pp 219-220. Isabel attended the Congress as part of the French delegation and was commissioned to paint a portrait of the gathering.
5. Adams reported Castlereagh as saying he thought his [Napoleon's] speech to the legislative Assembly, this day received, was a very good speech; that it noticed in moderate terms the capture of a French frigate in the Mediterranean, but pretended that it was hostility in time of peace. Adams pp 219-220
6. For details of this plot, which formed a backdrop to the murder of the Duke d'Enghien, see Andrew Roberts, Napoleon the Great London 2014 pp 333-334

Sunday, 22 February 2015

Napoleon On Elba: "He is quite forgotten -- as much as if he never existed."

Napoleon Bonaparte leaving Elba, 26 February 1815. Joseph Beaume 1836

Almost 200 years ago, on 26th February 1815, Napoleon and his supporters left Elba, bound for France, where he was to regain the throne without a shot being fired. The breaking of the terms of the Treaty of Fontainebleau by the great powers was in his eyes justification enough for his return.

The departure was witnessed by an English visitor, Henry Grattan, the son of a prominent Irish politician, who had been told by a servant that Napoleon and his troops were about to leave for Italy. **

At 7 p.m. the troops marched out of the fortifications without music or noise, and embarked at the health-office in feluccas and boats which were alongside, a part of them being transported to the brig which lay in the harbour.

At 9 p.m. Napoleon with General Bertrand passed out in the Princess Pauline's small carriage drawn by four horses, embarked at the health-office in a boat, and went on board the brig 'L'Inconstant.' Immediately afterwards the whole flotilla got under weigh with sweeps and boats, the soldiers crying out 'Vive l'Empereur!'(1)

Somewhat surprised at being a witness to this celebrated moment of history, Grattan hired a boat to go out to 'L'Inconstant' where Napoleon was pacing the quarter-deck in his greatcoat. Questioned by one of the officers on board, after being told that he was English, Grattan said he had come merely to see the Emperor; upon which he was ordered to go away. This he immediately complied with, for he expected every moment to be fired or seized (2).

In Florence, about 10 days before Napoleon's departure, Sir Neil Campbell, the British Commissioner on Elba, raised his fears that Napoleon might leave with Edward Cooke, the Under-Secretary at the Foreign Office. He told him of the concerns that were unsettling Napoleon, his family and his closest companions: the money that had been promised and never paid, rumours about the actions of the Congress of Vienna and concerns about the intentions of the Empress Marie Louise.

Cooke's sarcastic reply alleviated Cambell's concerns or so he claimed:

You may tell him that everything is amicably settled at Vienna; that he has no chance; that the Sovereigns wil not quarrel. Nobody thinks of him at all. He is quite forgotten -- as much as if he never existed! (3)

We do not know when Napoleon decided to leave Elba or whether he would ever have been reconciled to staying there. It is clear though that, aside from the situation in France where the Bourbons, propped up by the British Government with the hated and nearly assassinated Duke of Wellington as Ambassador, had made as much of a mess of things as Napoleon had anticipated, there were three major factors which contributed to his decision or at least made it easier.

Firstly was the failure of Marie Louise and his son to join him on Elba. The last letter he received from her was dated August 10th, and said that although she had promised to join him her father had insisted that she returned to Vienna. He wrote a last letter to her on August 28th, I long to see you and also my son and ended Adieu ma bonne Louise. Tout à toit. Ton Nap.(4) Soon thereafter she began a relationship with Count von Neipperg, with whom she was to bear three children.

In December Napoleon discussed with Campbell the rumour that the Austrians were seeking to annul his marriage to Marie Louise and aired his sense of injustice over the behaviour of his father in law:

"She had promised to write to him every day upon her return from Switzerland to Vienna, but he had never since received one letter from her. His child was taken from him like the children taken by conquerors in ancient times to grace their triumphs. The Emperor ought to recollect how differently he had acted towards him when he was entirely at his mercy .. He had twice entered Vienna as a conqueror, but never exercised towards the Emperor such ungenerous conduct." (5)

The second issue was that of funds. Under the Treaty of Fontainebleau it was agreed that Napoleon should receive 2.5 million francs per annum from the French Government. Not a penny was ever paid, and Napoleon was too proud to ask for it. Campbell raised this a number of times:

If pecuniary difficulties press upon him much longer, so as to prevent his vanity from being satisfied by the ridiculous establishment of a court which he has hitherto supported in Elba, and if his doubts are not removed, I think he is capable of crossing over to Piombino with his troops, or of any other eccentricity. But if his residence in Elba and his income are secured to him, I think he will pass the rest of his life there in tranquility. (6)

The third and perhaps most important issue concerned the rumour that he was going to be moved to St. Helena or St. Lucia. As early as July 1814 the Morning Post carried a report that Napoleon had been seized on Elba and transported to Malta or St. Helena, and this false story was repeated in a number of British provincial papers. More significant though, on October 19th the Courier, mouthpiece of the Tory Administration, had run a story that Napoleon was to be sent to St Helena. This rumour apparently spread across Italy and and had reached Elba at least by early November.(7) Madame Bertrand raised it with an English visitor in January, and Napoleon also discussed it with Campbell at around the same time. Campbell tried to reassure him, and said that he at least did not believe it.(8) In fact one of the first questions discussed at the Congress of Vienna in September was precisely this, all the powers were concerned that the presence of Napoleon so close to the continent exacerbated problems in France and Italy.(9) The King of France was apparently ready to pay Napoleon the sum owed, and more, if he went to the Azores!

On Christmas Eve 1814 Napoleon was visited by the future Prime Minister Lord John Russell, one of a number of Whigs who found their way to Elba. Russell reported that Napoleon seemed very agitated.(10) At the end of December though Campbell thought he detected a change in Napoleon's mood:

Napoleon's spirits seem of late rather to rise than to yield in the smallest degree to the pressure of pecuniary difficulties; although his mother, and some of the principal persons who have followed his fortune, are constantly absorbed in grief and effusions of discontent. They place their last hope for amelioration in the Congress, the members of which, they expect, will fix the regular payment of Napoleon's annuity, according to treaty. They appear also to entertain sanguine hopes that Mary-Louise will reside at Parma as sovereign, and even that she will come to Elba after the Congress is dissolved. (11)

Clearly there is much that we don't know about Napoleon's decision to gamble everything on a return to France. Few expected that he would be able to ascend the throne of France so easily. His own expectations are unknown, he appears to have confided in nobody. What does seem clear though is that from his point of view it was a gamble worth taking: his future as Emperor of the Lilliputian Kingdom of Elba was uncertain, to say the least. Norman Mackenzie neatly summarised his position:

If he stayed on Elba, even for a few more months, he was finished. At best he might be offered a bribe to take himself off to some final place of exile, and at worst he might be transported, imprisoned in a fortress, or killed defending himself.(12)

Quite simply he had nothing to lose. He was in a trap.

His attempt to break out caused an explosion of rumour on the continent. Britain's allies were inclined to pin the blame on Perfidious Albion, whose motives were variously seen as allowing him to escape with a view to having an excuse to treat him more severely, or in ruling circles in France as a manoeuvre designed to cause civil war and therefore to weaken the country further. (13) This latter interpretation was shared by the radical William Cobbett in his 1830 History of the Regency and Reign of King George the Fourth. There is I think no evidence to support this conspiracy theory, although the weakening of France was the result and indeed the intent of British policy over twenty years of war: never again was France to be in a position to exert hegemony on the continent of Europe and for the time at least, Britain reigned supreme.


** See comments below. The Mr Grattan who witnessed Napoleon's departure may have been Henry's brother James.

1. Major-General Sir Neil Campbell Napoleon at Fontainebleau and Elba Being A Journal of Occurrences in 1814-1815 (London 1869) pp 372-3.
2. ibid.
3. Campbell pp 362-3
4. Quoted in Andrew Roberts, Napoleon the Great (London 2014) p. 724.
5. Campbell op. cit. p. 327.
6. Despatch No 34 to Castlereagh, Campbell op. cit. p. 319
7. Campbell op. cit. p. 349. In the same interview Napoleon expressed his concern that the Bourbons were planning to assassinate him.
8. Campbell p. 318-9.
9. Sir Charles Webster, The Congress of Vienna 1814-1815 (first published by the Foreign Office 1819, 1950 edition) p. 136
10. Katherine MacDonagh,"A Sympathetic Ear: Napoleon, Elba and the British", History Today, (1994), VOL. 44
11. Campbell p. 349.
12. Norman Mackenzie, The Escape from Elba, The Fall and Flight of Napoleon 1814-1815 (Pen and Sword edition, 2007) p. 188
13. Katherine MacDonagh "A Sympathethetic Ear .."

Thursday, 1 January 2015

July 1879, A Great Victorian Spectacle: The Funeral of the Prince Imperial

Prince Napoléon Eugène Louis Jean Joseph Bonaparte (1856-1879)

Little is now remembered of Napoleon IV, but his premature death rocked Victorian England and led to a remarkable outpouring of public sympathy. The Illustrated London News felt it important enough to merit a special edition.

The Prince Imperial's body being transported back to England

Prince Louis Napoleon, the Prince Imperial came to live in England in 1870 after his father Napoleon III was overthrown following defeat and capture by Prussia at the battle of Sedan. The young Prince's mother Princess Eugenie had to flee from the Paris Commune, and joined him in a hotel in Hastings. They then settled in Chislehurst where Napoleon III joined them six months later when he was freed by the Prussians.

In the summer of 1872 the young prince was admitted to the Royal Military Academy in Woolwich. After the death of his father in January 1873 he technically became Napoleon IV, although he never used the title himself. In 1879 he went out with the British Army to South Africa to act as an observer in the Zulu War. Despite the efforts of the British military, under strict orders to shield him from danger, a reconnaissance party he had joined was ambushed by a group of Zulu warriors and he was killed.

Painting by Paul Jamin portraying death of Prince Imperial in South Africa

The Prince Imperial's death was both tragic and highly embarrassing, particularly to Queen Victoria, by origin a German princess whose sympathies with the newly unified and triumphant Germany were well known, and who against the wishes of the young man's mother and against the advice of her Prime Minister had given the young prince permission to go to South Africa.

The Prince's body was transported back to England, and his funeral took place in a small Catholic church in Chislehurst in July 1879. The procession was witnessed by some 40,000 people. It must have been one of the largest seen in Victorian England.

This was an extraordinary event, or at least so it seems to modern eyes: the funeral of a 23 year old prince from a parvenu and twice ousted French dynasty, attended by royalty, representatives of the Cabinet, foreign dignitaries, members of the Catholic hierarchy and British military top brass.

The Catholic journal, The Tablet, waxed lyrical:

When it is said that seven batteries of the Royal Horse and Royal Artillery, with both their bands, mounted and unmounted, and that the 5th Royal Irish Lancers, all took part in the procession, it may easily be imagined that for one hour it slowly defiled along. The boom of the minute guns and the tolling of the church bells were all, save the mournful music, that broke the silence of the scene. Sorrow sat on the faces of all the crowd, who, grieving for the dead, mourned still more for his Imperial mother, for they recalled "that he was the only son of his mother, and she was a widow."(1)

Queen Victoria herself was in attendance, having previously made the tearful journey to Chislehurst to comfort Princess Eugenie. Victoria was fascinated by death, but royal protocol prevented her from attending the funerals of mere commoners, but this was different.

What is more the Prince Imperial was apparently her godson, although she had not actually attended the christening at Notre Dame in 1856, but had been represented by Josephine, Queen Consort of Sweden and Norway. The granddaughter of the Empress Josephine, a Catholic monarch in a Lutheran country, representing the Protestant grandmother of the future Kaiser Wilhelm II at a Catholic funeral in France: what a strange cosmopolitan world nineteenth century Royalty inhabited!

Royal pall Bearers at funeral of Prince Imperial

The Tablet emphasized the Royal connections:

The Prince of Wales wears the uniform of the Norfolk Artillery Militia, the Duke of Edinburgh that of the Scottish capital from which he takes his title, the Duke of Connaught of the Isle of Wight Artillery. The Duke of Cambridge wears the uniform of a Field Marshal; Prince Leopold that of an Elder Brother of the Trinity House, and the Crown Prince of Sweden, the great grandson of Bernadotte, the white tunic and quaint brass helmet of the cavalry of the Swedish Guards. In front of the carriage two artillerymen support an enormous wreath of violets, the offering of the City of Paris; on the Union Jack which totally covers the coffin lies a gilt laurel wreath placed there by the kindly hand of the Queen herself, and a violet cross formed of porcelain, the tribute of the Princess Beatrice. (1)

In the funeral procession was an unidentified old man who apparently had been present at the funeral of Napoleon I on St. Helena and more recently at the funeral of Napoleon III. Among the members of the Roman Catholic hierarchy who attended was a Catholic Bishop, Monseigneur Las Cases, formerly Bishop of Constantine in Algeria, and a relative of the author of the Memorial de Ste. Helene.

There was of course a full turnout of the Bonaparte family and their supporters, including actress Sarah Bernhardt, the slight figure in deep mourning, amongst a group of brother and sister artistes of the Comedie Francaise. Among all the floral tributes was an enormous wreath of bay leaves, carried with difficulty by five men. This came from Ajaccio, in Corsica, from the cradle of the first to lie at the tomb of the last of the Napoleons (2).

There were two memorials to the Prince Imperial in Chislehurst, where he was apparently much loved. The main memorial bears words taken from his will:

I shall die with a sentiment of profound gratitude to Her Majesty the Queen of England and all the Royal Family, and for the country where I have received for eight years such cordial hospitality
There is more surprisingly another in the chapel at Windsor.

Monument to the Prince Imperial (Napoleon IV), Chapel of St. George, Windsor Castle, 1881

This was initially suggested by the Dean of Westminster, but the British establishment felt that a memorial to a member of an exiled French dynasty ought not to appear in Westminster Abbey, and that it should more appropriately be located at Windsor to show the personal and private affection of the Royal Family towards the Prince Imperial. (3)


1. The Tablet

2. The Tablet, op. cit.

3. Chapel Archives and Chapter Library, Windsor