Saturday, 27 August 2016

Queen Victoria's Visit to Napoleon's Tomb

Queen Victoria at the Tomb of Napoleon, 24 August 1855, by Edward Matthew Ward

Queen Victoria's official visit to France during the reign of Napoleon III was the first by an English/British monarch since 1520, and indeed Britain's claims to the throne of France had only been given up as recently as 1801.

During her stay in Paris she visited the tomb of Napoleon at Les Invalides. This little known painting from the Royal Collection was commissioned by Queen Victoria and completed in 1860. With the Queen on this occasion were Prince Albert, the Princess Royal and the young Prince of Wales. They were accompanied by Napoleon III and the Empress Eugenie.

The Queen apparently put her hand on the young prince's shoulder and told him to kneel down before the tomb of the "Great Napoleon." At that moment there was a huge clap of thunder and a deluge of rain, and the organist struck up the national anthem. "Strange and wonderful indeed!" was the Queen's comment!

In her diary she recorded

It seems as if in this tribute of respect to a departed and great foe, old enmities and rivalries were wiped out, and the seal of heaven placed upon that bond of amity which is now happily established between two great Nations! May heaven bless and prosper it. (1)

It is a fact that since that time France and the United Kingdom have never come to blows, although frequently there has been little love lost. The young Prince of Wales became a great francophile, and as King had some influence over the development of the Entente Cordiale of 1904.

1. Quoted in, David Baldwin,Royal Prayer: A Surprising History (London 2009) pp 55-56.