The Prince Imperial by Alf Wade

This article is the text of a talk to the S.A. Military History Society by Mr Alf Wade, of Vryheid, Natal, in March, 1974.
Situated on the common at Chislehunt in Kent is a 20-foot Maltese cross which appears to be a local war memorial. The inscription on the base is as follows:
‘I shall die with a sentiment of the deepest gratitude to Her Majesty the Queen of England, to all the Royal Family and to the country where, for eight years, I have received such cordial hospitality.’

Did this unusual person, intimate with the Royal Family, erect a memorial to himself? The answer to that is set out below in less eye-catching script:
‘In memory of the Prince Imperial and in sorrow at his death, this cross is erected by the residents of Chislehurst 1880.’

The strange first-person message does, in fact, quote the actual words of the Prince Imperial. He wrote this sentence as the sixth clause of his will the day before he sailed for South Africa, where as a young Royal Artillery subaltern, he met a lonely and terrible death facing hopeless odds.

Napoleon Eugene Louis Jean Joseph, the Prince Imperial of France, was born at the Tuileries, Paris, on 16th March, 1856, in what was the most glorious year of the recently established Second French Empire. Shortly after three o’clock in the morning, the guns at Les Invalides began to boom a one hundred and one gun salute. Not many people were aware of or even bothered to count, the shots, and it was morning before the public learned that the Empress Eugenie had been safely delivered of a son. The birth was a semi-public affair with hordes of official witnesses, including the Emperor’s cousin, Prince Napoleon, known as ‘Plon-Plon’, who had just been relegated to third place in the line of Imperial succession. The young prince was the son of Napoleon III (1808-1873), Emperor of France and third son of Louis Bonaparte (King of Holland, during the ascendency of his brother, the great Emperor). His mother was Eugenie Marie de Guzman, the beautiful younger daughter of the Spanish Count de Montijo and his Scottish wife, Donna Maria Kirkpatrick. They were married in the Cathedral of Notre Dame on January 30th, 1853, before the Archbishop of Paris and many other important dignitaries.

The joy of the Emperor and Empress at the birth of their son was unbounded and it was expressed not only in gracious words to the almost endless deputations that daily came to the Palace from far and near to congratulate the Sovereign and his consort, but also by all manner of acts of grace and benevolence. There were amnesties to offenders, substantial donations to charitable institutions and individuals in need, not to mention various privileges and favours to towns and societies. Every legitimate child born in France on the same day received a present and was accorded the honour of having the Emperor and Empress as godparents.

His mother, Eugenie, was a remarkable person. She spent over fifty years in England and died in 1920. Her political insight was striking and it is worth recalling her reaction at the age of 92 to the Treaty of Versailles:
‘This is no peace’, she said ‘these are the seeds of future war.’

The private baptism of the young Prince took place at the Palace on the 17th March, 1856, while the public baptism at Notre Dame on June 15th was an imposing event. Pope Pius IX agreed to be the Prince’s godfather and the many cardinals, bishops, princes, ministers, noblemen and women added further colourful splendour to the historic building. The vast congregation witnessed an event that seemed to promise so well for the future of France.

Among the many gifts to the little Prince, perhaps the most remarkable was that from the City of Paris. This took the form of a magnificent cradle, representing an ancient Norman nef or ship, adorned with suitable devices, including the Imperial Eagle and a guardian figure holding aloft the Imperial Crown.

The Prince’s education began at the age of seven; his first tutor was M. Monnier who taught him to read and write. As both his parents spoke English well and his devoted nurse, Miss Shaw, was English, the Prince in due course acquired a good knowledge of English. Latin, history and literature followed and he was found to have a flair for mathematics. On 8th May, 1868, at the age of twelve, the young Prince was confirmed by the Archbishop of Paris and took his First Holy Communion. When he was fourteen, the Franco-Prussian War broke out, on 19th July, 1870, and, attired in the uniform of a ‘sous-lieutenant’, he rode off with his father who was to take personal command of the French forces.

On August 2nd, the Prince received his military initiation in the famous skirmish at Saarbrachen where he saw shells explode and men with bandaged limbs, and picked a spent bullet off the ground. The soldiers were amazed at the courage of the boy of fourteen in a real battle. The war did not last long and, in a brief letter, Napoleon III surrendered to the King of Prussia. That letter dated 2nd September, 1870, spelt the end of the French Empire. Napoleon was taken prisoner of war and the young Prince, conducted by a faithful guardian, joined his mother at the Marine Hotel in Hastings, England, where she had arrived a few days earlier.

Towards the end of September, 1870, the Empress and the Prince took up their residence at Camden House, an estate in the district of Chislehurst, Kent, about half an hour’s railway journey from London. Soon afterwards, the Emperor arrived after his release by the Prussians. In England, Napoleon III and his family found refuge and were befriended by Queen Victoria.

In 1872 the Prince became a military cadet at the Royal Military Academy, Woolwich, and was attached to the Royal Horse Artillery at Aldershot. During his stay at Woolwich, his father died on 9th January, 1873, and he became head of the Bonapartist Party in France. He was a popular person at the Academy and was even admitted to the highly unofficial ‘Alpine Club’, a practice of which was to decorate the towers and spires of Woolwich with chamberpots on the eve of the annual inspection by the Duke of Cambridge.

At graduation in 1875, Louis achieved first place in riding and fencing and ranked seventh over-all in a class of 34 cadets. He might have come fourth had he sat for the examination in French, but he refused to take unfair advantage of his classmates. Political circumstances prevented his taking a commission in the British Army but, by permission of Queen Victoria, he was attached to ‘A’ Battery, Royal Artillery, with the privilege of wearing the uniform of a lieutenant Royal Artillery. He took part in the annual manoeuvres at Aldershot and elsewhere.

In the Army he made his greatest friends – Captains Woodhouse, Slade and Arthur John Bigge. All three were to become famous, Woodhouse and Slade as generals, while Bigge, who was private secretary to Queen Victoria for many years, was created Baron Stamfordham by George V in 1911. Slade and Bigge fought the Zulus at Kambula and later returned to South Africa with Colonel Wood and the party which escorted Eugenie when she made her pilgrimage there in 1880.

The Prince’s name was romantically linked with many famous women, including Queen Victoria’s daughter, Princess Beatrice. By this time, the Zulu War had broken out and many of his friends had gone to the front. Louis asked to be allowed to go but Disraeli would not agree. Then came the horrifying news of Isandhlwana, and after further appeals, he was granted permission to go out in his private capacity as a ‘spectator’ in the role of additional aide-de-camp to Lord Chelmsford. The French exploded and a host of rumours swept the land. Louis, ignoring the storm, told his party that he wished to take advantage of an opportunity to gain experience and improve his knowledge of military matters.

He wrote out his will on 27th February, 1879, directing that, if he were killed, he should be buried beside his father until such time as their bodies could rest in French soil. He made several generous bequests and left his weapons to his closest comrades. A rather peculiar request concerned his uniforms which he left to his friends, except ‘… the last I shall have worn, which I bequeath to my Mother.’ He signed the will ‘Napoleon’ – the first and only document in this manner. He sailed on the ‘Danube’ from Southampton on 28th February, 1879. He had hoped that they would call at St. Helena but they touched at Madeira instead.

On 26th March, 1879, the ship docked in Table Bay where he was entertained by the Governor of the Cape, Sir Bartle Frere and Lady Frere. The ship sailed for Durban the next day and arrived on 31st March. Most of Durban was at the Point to greet him as he came ashore in the uniform of a British lieutenant.

Destiny took a sinister hand in Durban. One of his two horses was killed in a landing accident, and the other was taken ill. While visiting the Royal Hotel one day, Louis glanced out of a window and noticed a civilian trotting past on a magnificent grey. The rider turned out to be the managing director of Randles, Brother and Hudson and the horse was named Percy. After some discussion, Mr. Bennett sold the animal to Louis. Shortly afterwards, the second of his two horses died and he purchased another which he named Fate.

At this time, Lord Chelmsford was busy preparing for the second invasion of Zululand and on 17th April, accompanied by the Prince Imperial, he moved his head- quarters from Durban to Pietermaritzburg. Louis was one of the earliest patrons of the Oaks Hotel and outside the Imperial Hotel can be seen a hitching rail which he used. Chelmsford then moved up country and the Prince, following a few days later, caught up with him at Dundee. They made their way to Kambula to visit Evelyn Wood, travelling via Landman’s Drift, Koppie Alleen and Conference Hill. At Kambula, Louis met his great friends, Lieutenants Arthur Bigge and Frederick Slade. These two men had served their guns in the open during the attack on the Kambula Camp on March 29th.

They moved on, travelling via Conference Hill and Balte Spruit to Utrecht where Chelmsford set up his headquarters on 8th May, 1879. Louis was now attached to the staff of Colonel Richard Harrison, RE, who was acting Quarter-Master General and whose major concern was to find a suitable way south and east from the Blood River into Zululand.

Louis was in fact sent out on two patrols into Zululand. The first, on 16th May 1879 from Koppie Alleen under Colonel Harrison, was a day patrol only. The second, under Commandant Bettington leading Troop ‘3’ of the Natal Horse, was more venturesome. The Natal Horse was raised in February 1879 after Isandhlwana and consisted of the NCOs of the disbanded 3rd Regiment NNC in three troops. Bettington had 6o mounted men under his command. They penetrated into Zululand as far as the headwaters of the Nordwent River and then returned to the base camp at Conference Hill.

On Sunday 1st June, the Second Division moved towards its new camp just north of the Itelezi Hill (Fort Warwick), The day’s orders called for a patrol to proceed about ten miles south east to select a suitable site for the advancing Second Division. Louis volunteered to lead this patrol but, since he was not officially an officer, he could not command the patrol. At this stage, Lieutenant Jaheel Brenton Carey applied for permission to join the patrol to verify some observations made previously. At 9.15 a.m., they left the Koppie Alleen camp.

In addition to Louis and Carey, the patrol consisted of six of Bettington’s troopers. They were Corporal Grubb, a Natal farmer and a veteran of 16 years in the RA; Le Tocq, a French-speaking Channel Islander; and Troopers Abel, Rogers, Cochrane and Willis. There was also a Zulu guide mounted on Louis’ horse Fate while Louis himself was on Percy. Also with them was Louis’ little fox terrier. Just out of camp, they came across Colonel Harrison who rode with them for about an hour. Harrison, noticing the absence of Bettington, assumed that Carey was replacing him.

The patrol rode down the valley to the west and by noon had reached the end of the ridge where they halted while Louis made a quiet sketch of the countryside. By 3 p.m. they had reached a deserted kraal about 230 yards further on, and they off-saddled and knee-haltered their horses. Coffee was soon made and everyone relaxed. Carey and Louis were discussing Napoleon Bonaparte’s campaigns. No lookout was posted as the area appeared clear of the enemy.

At about 4 p.m., the Zulu guide reported that some Zulus had been seen In the neighbourhood. Scarcely had the order to mount been given than a volley ripped out of the long grass nearby, causing a stampede. About 40 Zulus charged out of the grass screaming. The Prince made desperate efforts to mount his horse but was impeded by the animal’s terrified rearing and plunging. With the Zulus now closing in, he decided to run with the horse, holding the stirrup leather. When it broke, he found himself alone with his sword and revolver and he turned to meet his death. He fired three shots with his left hand as his right hand had been trampled by his horse as it fled.

Despite being hit by an assegai, Louis held the Zulus back for an instant, defending himself with the weapon which had hit him but the odds were overwhelming. It was over in a few moments and he was stabbed to death.

Rogers fared no better. When the first shots were fired, his horse bolted and he was last seen trying to load his rifle. He did not have a hope. Trooper Abel managed to mount but, as he moved off a bullet smacked into his back. He threw up his hands and slid off his horse.

The next morning, search parties were sent out from Wood’s camp as well as from the camp of the Second Division. The body of Trooper Abel, badly mangled and naked, was discovered first about a hundred yards from the kraal. Nearby was Rogers, also naked with his belly ripped open. At this spot lay the body of the Prince. He too was naked except for a thin gold chain with a medal and his great-uncle’s seal about his neck. There were no less than seventeen separate wounds in his body, all in front. The ground about was bloody and trampled, and nearby were the speared remains of his terrier. Later seven Zulus, captured at Ulundi, testified that the Prince had fought like a lion.

The body was placed on a blanket, carried to a nearby ambulance and taken to the camp on Itelezi Hill. Here the viscera were removed and buried in a biscuit box while the body was crudely embalmed by the surgeons as well as possible with the materials (mainly salt) available. The body was sent back to Natal accompanied by an escort of Natal Carbineers. The party travelled via Koppie Alleen, Vegkop, Landman’s Drift, Dundee and so to Pietermaritzburg where they arrived on Sunday, 8th June. There were impressive ceremonies in Pietermaritzburg; even Colenso and Macrorie made a rare mutual appearance. The body lay during the night in the Catholic Church in Loop Street (now St. Mary’s, School Lane).

By 11th June the cortege had reached Durban where the whole town turned out to pay their last respects. The coffin was taken aboard HMS Boadicea and conveyed to Cape Town where it was transferred to HMS Orontes which arrived in Plymouth on July 10th.

The casket was opened in the chapel at Woolwich for formal identification by the Prince’s Doctor, Dr Conneau, and an American dentist, Dr Evans. The obsequies in the Chapel at Chislehurst were conducted by Cardinal Manning. Over 40 000 people attended the funeral, including Queen Victoria and her daughter, Beatrice. The pall-bearers were the Prince of Wales, the Duke of Edinburgh, the Duke of Connaught, Crown Prince Gustave of Sweden and two Frenchmen.

An unfeeling person sent the dead Prince’s Mother a box containing the blood-stained remains of his uniform, smeared with mud from the donga. In 1888, his remains, together with those of his father, were re-interred in the crypt of Farnborough Abbey, Hampshire. There Louis rests with his parents.

In 1880, Eugenie visited South Africa. In the company of Sir Evelyn and Lady Wood, Bigge and Slade, they visited Durban, Pietermaritzburg, Seven Oaks, Greytown and Utrecht. They lunched on the Kambula battlefield on 16th May and, on May 21st, erected a stone cross on Campbell’s grave on Eastern Hlobane. They crossed Hlobane, descending via the Devil’s Pass where Buller won his VC. They also visited the grave of Piet Uys at the foot of the pass. On 1st June 1880, on the anniversary of her son’s death, Eugenie spent the night in prayer at the very spot where he was killed. Towards dawn, a very strange thing happened. ‘Although there was not a breath of air’, she says, ‘the flames of the candles were suddenly deflected, as if someone wished to extinguish them, and I said to him. “Is it indeed you beside me? Do you wish me to go away?”‘

Slowly she rose and walked to her tent in the early light. Her pilgrimage was over!

The Prince Imperial’s Prayer

It is written in his own hand and was found in his prayer-book. Translated into English, it runs as follows:

‘My God I give Thee my heart, but Thou, give me faith. Without faith there can be no ardent prayer, and prayer is one of my soul’s needs.
‘I pray to Thee, not that Thou shouldst remove the obstacles that stand in my way, but that Thou shouldst allow me to overcome them.
‘I pray to Thee, not to disarm my foes, but that Thou shouldst aid me to conquer myself and deign, O God, to hear my prayer.
‘Preserve to my affection those who are dear to me. Grant them lives of happiness. If Thou wilt shed upon this earth only a certain sum of joy, O God, take my share from me.
‘Distribute it among those most worthy, and let the worthiest be my friends. If Thou wouldst make reprisals upon me strike me.
‘Misfortune is turned to joy by the sweet thought that those whom one loves are happy.
‘Fortune is poisoned by this bitter thought: I am glad and those whom I love a thousandfold more than myself are suffering. Let there be no more good fortune, O God, for me. I flee from it. Take it from my path.
‘Joy I may not find save in forgetting the past. If I forget those who are no more, I shall be forgotten in my turn, and how sad is the thought which makes one say “Time wipes out everything”.
‘O my God, show me always where my duty lies; give me strength always to do it.
‘When I have come to the end of my life, I shall turn my eyes towards the past without fear. Its memory will not be for me a long remorse. Then shall I be happy. Instil deeper into my heart, O God, that the conviction that those whom I love and who have died are the witnesses of all my actions. My life will be worthy for them to see, and my inmost thoughts will never cause me to blush.’

South African Military History Society /

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