Napoléon, Prince Imperial

This article refers to the son of Napoleon III. For the stepson of Napoleon I, see Eugène de Beauharnais
Prince Imperial of France

Napoléon at age 22, 1878
Head of the House of Bonaparte
Period 9 January 1873 – 1 June 1879
Predecessor Napoleon III
Successor Napoleon V
Born (1856-03-16)16 March 1856
Paris, French Empire
Died 1 June 1879(1879-06-01) (aged 23)
Zulu Kingdom (present-day KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa)
Burial Imperial Crypt, St Michael's Abbey, Farnborough
Full name
Napoléon Eugène Louis Jean Joseph Bonaparte
House Bonaparte
Father Napoleon III of France
Mother Eugénie de Montijo
Religion Roman Catholicism

Napoléon, Prince Imperial (full name: Napoléon Eugène Louis Jean Joseph Bonaparte, prince impérial de France; 16 March 1856 – 1 June 1879) was the only child of Emperor Napoleon III of France and his Empress consort 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 Napoleon IV, Emperor of the French by the Bonapartist faction.

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 Bonapartes to the throne of France.


Napoléon at age 14, 1870

Born in Paris, he was baptized on 14 June 1856, at Notre Dame Cathedral. His godfather was Pope Pius IX, whose representative, Cardinal Patrizi, officiated. His godmother was Queen Victoria, represented by Eugène de Beauharnais's daughter, Josephine, the Queen of Sweden.

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, who was recommended by Queen Victoria and taught the prince English from an early age; his valet, Xavier Uhlmann;[1] and his inseparable friend Louis Conneau[2] also figured importantly in his life. The young prince was known by the nickname "Loulou" in his family circle.[3]

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 arms, 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 Royal 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.[3]

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.[4] He was then commissioned into the Royal Artillery in order to follow in the footsteps of his famous great-uncle.

During the 1870s, there was some talk of a marriage between him and Queen Victoria's youngest daughter, Princess Beatrice.[5] Victoria also reportedly believed that it would be best for "the peace of Europe" if the prince became Emperor of France.[5] The Prince remained a devout Catholic, and 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.[4]

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. 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."[6]

Chelmsford, mindful of his duty, attached the Prince to 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

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.[7]

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.[8] 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, where he was greeted warmly for the last time in his career: after a court of inquiry, a court martial, intervention by the Empress Eugénie and Queen Victoria, he was to return to his regiment a pariah, shunned by his fellow officers for not standing and fighting. Carey endured several years of social and regimental opprobrium before his death in Bombay, India, on 22 February 1883.

Memorial photomontage

Louis Napoleon's death caused an international sensation. Rumours spread in France that the prince had been intentionally "disposed of" by the British.[5] Alternatively, the French republicans or the Freemasons were blamed.[9] 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.[9] 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.[9] 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 the first Napoleon 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?"[10]

His badly decomposed body was brought back to Woolwich Arsenal, on board the British troopship HMS Orontes; and 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. Later, 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 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).[11]

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 named 'IMPerial'.[12] The names were converted to numbers in 1966; the 'IMPerial' exchange is still recognisable as the block of numbers that begin 020-467xxxx.

In literature

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.

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.[13]

As a child

As an adult

Titles, styles, honours and arms

Styles of
Napoléon, Prince Imperial
Reference style His Imperial Highness
Spoken style Your Imperial Highness
Alternative style Sir


See also


  1. Filon 1920, p. 292.
  2. Filon 1920, pp. 56–57, 84, 238, 272.
  3. 1 2 Echard 1985, p. 512.
  4. 1 2 Echard 1985, p. 513.
  5. 1 2 3 Markham 1975, p. 210.
  6. Kurtz 1964, p. 299.
  7. Morris 1994, p. 529.
  8. Morris 1994, p. 530.
  9. 1 2 3 Morris 1994, p. 537.
  10. Wolseley 1922, p. 44.
  11. "Solar System Exploration: Asteroids – Moons". National Aeronautics and Space Administration. 2011. Retrieved 18 September 2011.
  12. "London Director Exchange Names". Retrieved 1 June 2014.
  13. "Southampton Survivor Of The Zulu War: Vivid Story of Final Battle At Ulundi". Southern Daily Echo. Southampton, UK. 30 December 1943.
  14. 1 2 3 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.


Further reading

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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
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