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)

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1. The Tablet

2. The Tablet, op. cit.

3. Chapel Archives and Chapter Library, Windsor

Tuesday, 2 December 2014

Images of Napoleon


Finding Napoleon Face to Face from Margaret Rodenberg on Vimeo.

Margaret Rodenberg and her husband Bert have put together this collection of 70 or so images of Napoleon, including an American impersonator who looks quite like him. I thought it was an interesting idea, and Margaret has kindly given me permission to put it on my blog.

Wednesday, 19 November 2014

Dr Archibald Arnott, Kirkconnel Hall and Salix Babylonica


Kirkconnel Hall, family home of the Arnott family (1838 and 1870)

On a recent visit to Scotland I decided to pull off the A74 and have a look at Kirkconnel Hall, the home of Dr Archibald Arnott (1772-1855), Surgeon of the 20th Regiment of Foot and the last doctor to attend Napoleon on St Helena.

Arnott was born in an older house which once stood on this site, and after his retirement he had it demolished and completed the relatively modest two-storey house to the right around 1838. It is now somewhat overshadowed by the larger three-storey building to the left.

Two-storey house built by Dr Arnott around 1838

Dr Arnott lived in his new house until his death and is buried in the nearby Ecclefechan churchyard, with the following inscription on his tombstone:

At St. Helena he was the medical attendant of Napoleon Bonaparte whose esteem he won and whose last moments he soothed.

The hall iself is now a hotel, and pictures either side of the fireplace in reception remind the visitor of its historical associations.

To the left a picture of Napoleon, to the right Dr Arnott

And on the mantelpiece, almost hidden by unrelated bric a brac, is to be found a plate bearing an easily recognised image.

A Plate bearing an image of Napoleon on mantelpiece

Curiously the current owner has created a corner dedicated to his own hero Winston Churchill. He was not aware of Churchill's admiration for Napoleon.

Churchill memorabilia, to the left plans of the house Arnott built

Perhaps most interesting of all is the willow tree to be found in the grounds of the hotel. This is claimed to have been grown from a cutting brought back from St Helena by Dr Arnott, of the famous willow that once grew on the site of Napoleon's grave.

Salix Babylonica in the grounds of Kirkconnel Hall

Apparently the original was destroyed when the A74 was upgraded in 1992, and the current tree was grown from a cutting taken from it.

Whilst I was in Scotland my friend John Grimshaw was on the other side of the world, photographing a tree in Sydney Botanical Gardens that is also claimed to descend from the famous St Helena willow.

Monday, 13 October 2014

"The pocket-sized Emperor" - letter to the Observer

letter to The Observer October 12th 2014

I cannot remember when I last wrote to newspaper, but a review of Andrew Roberts' recent biography of Napoleon moved me to do so. The propaganda about Napoleon's height, now some two centuries old, was discussed in Finding Napoleon almost a year ago. I imagine that Napoleon would be at least as surprised to find that his stature gave rise to a complex named after him as he was on St Helena to find that the English inappropriately nicknamed him "boney".

Anyway an uncharacteristically and perhaps appropriately short post from me on this occasion.

Monday, 8 September 2014

"Napoleon the Great" - new book by Andrew Roberts

"Napoleon the Great" - by Andrew Roberts

Biographies of Napoleon come thick and fast, and doubtless more will follow as we near the bicentenary of Waterloo. The latest is the work of the Conservative British historian Andrew Roberts, author of Napoleon and Wellington and Waterloo: Napoleon’s Last Gamble , who visited St Helena last year.

The publishers' blurb makes interesting reading:

It has become all too common for Napoleon Bonaparte's biographers to approach him as a figure to be reviled, bent on world domination, practically a proto-Hitler. Here, after years of study extending even to visits paid to St Helena and 53 of Napoleon's 56 battlefields, Andrew Roberts has created a true portrait of the mind, the life, and the military and above all political genius of a fundamentally constructive ruler. This is the Napoleon, Roberts reminds us, whose peacetime activity produced countless indispensable civic innovations - and whose Napoleonic Code provided the blueprint for civil law systems still in use around the world today.

Andrew Roberts at Longwood House in 2013

Anybody with any awareness of epistemology and/or the philosophy of history would be a little uncomfortable with claims to have produced "a true portrait", but nevertheless it will be interesting to read Roberts' work alongside Soldier of Destiny by Michael Broers, published earlier this year.

I also notice that on October 8th a debate is to take place in London between Roberts and Adam Zamoyski, author of 1812. Napoleon’s Fatal March on Moscow and Rites of Peace. The Fall of Napoleon and the Congress of Vienna :

all mention of Napoleon as ‘great’, ‘hero’, ‘villain’ or ‘monster’ has Adam Zamoyski running for the hills, bemused why – in his opinion – this rather ordinary man excites such passion in otherwise level-head intelligent people.

The debate is to be chaired by Jeremy Paxman no less.