He was born into a famous family and raised at a time when his father was reaching the zenith of his career. For the elder Louis Napoleon was a schemer, and was determined to regain the Imperial throne lost by his uncle Napoleon Bonaparte at Waterloo. During the election for President under the 2nd Republic in 1848 he won a surprising landslide victory. He was viewed by the monarchist right as the least bad candidate, by the proto-communist left as being vaguely progressive and the unpolitized rural French as the only name that they recognized. He saw the presidency as a mere stepping stone to the restoration of the baffled imperial throne.
The constitution of the 2nd Republic did not allow for the re-election of the president. Louis Napoleon claimed he needed more time to completely implement the changes he had begun. To counter Louis Napoleon the National Assembly enacted restrictions on universal male suffrage requiring a 3 year residency in order to vote. As many lower class French were itinerant this effectively removed their right to vote. Louis Napoleon broke with the assembly. As he toured the countryside he secured the support of the Army, and made populist speeches in an effort to present himself as the protector of universal male suffrage. Finally on the 2nd of December 1851, seized the French government and proclaimed himself Emperor Napoleon III. It was the 47th anniversary of crowning of his uncle as Emperor in 1804.
On the 30th of January 1853, Louis Napoleon married María Eugenia Ignacia Augustina de Palafox Portocarrero de Guzmán y Kirkpatrick, a 26 year old princess of an ancient Spanish line. 3 years later on 16 March 1856, she gave birth to a son, styled the Prince Imperial, and named Napoléon Eugène Louis Jean Joseph Bonaparte. He was called Lou-Lou by his mother.
Eugénie(1)his mother, was a staunch Catholic. This probably acted as a counter to the most progressive tendencies of her husband. She was a defender of the papacy and ultramontanism. It was through her persuasion that the Grotto in Lourdes was reopened so that water from the spring could be brought to heal the Prince.
The Franco-Prussian War erupted after perfidious action by Bismarck, in the famous Emms Telegram, in 1870, the result of which ended in defeat of France, the declaration of the 3rd Republic, the Paris Commune, and the capture of Louis-Napoleon. The young Prince Imperial after having accompanying his father at the front was smuggled into Belgium, from which he was sent to England via Hastings. He was joined in short by his mother, followed by his father after a 6 month term as a prisoner of war in Wilhelmshöhe, Prussia. The dream of a Napoleonic Empire was past.
Possibly in an effort to follow in the spirit of his great-uncle Napoleon I he entered the Royal Military Academy at Woolwich, as a "gentleman cadet" passing out 7th in January 1875. It is said that he acquited himself admirably forgoing any "princely" deferments.
In 1874, Lord Carnarvon, who had successfully brought about federation in Canada, thought that a similar scheme might work in South Africa. Sir Bartle Frere was sent to South Africa as high commissioner to bring it about. One of the obstacles to such a scheme was the presence of the independent states of the South African Republic and Zululand.
In 1877 Sir Theophilus Shepstone, led a small force into the Transvaal and persuaded the Boers to give up their independence. Shepstone thus became the administrator of the Transvaal. Although at one time a supporter of the Zulus, his position as administrator required Shepstone to see a border dispute between the Boer and Zulu from the opposite point of view.
A commission was appointed by the lieutenant-governor of Natal in February 1878 to report on the boundary question. The commission reported in July and found almost entirely in favour of the contention of the Zulu. Sir Henry Bartle Frere, then high commissioner, who thought the award "one-sided and unfair to the Boers," stipulated that on land being given to the Zulu, the Boers living therein should be compensated if they left or protected if they remained. Cetshwayo was perceived by the British to be in a "defiant mood" and permitted outrages by Zulu both on the Transvaal and Natal borders.
The pretext for the war had its origins in those border disputes between the Zulu leader, Cetshwayo, and the Boers in the Transvaal region. However, the British had been bent on a war with the Zulu since 1877. Following the commission enquiry on the border dispute which reported in favour of the Zulu nation in July 1878, Sir Henry Bartle Frere, delivered an ultimatum to Cetshwayo. The British considered themselves at War with the Zulus on 11 January 1879, because Cetshwayo failed to reply to the British.
Cetshwayo had an army of about 40,000 Zulus. They were divided in to groups not unlike military regiments. Each of these regiments was formed of men or women, and were either all all single or married to the members of a regiment of the opposite sex. Their marriage was signified for the men by the wearing of a ring of hear and mud in their hair. Their weapon was a short spear called an assegai. It was a stabbing weapon. In addition they carried an oval shield made from cow hide with the hair left on. The older the regiment the darker the shield. The Zulus remained bare foot and ran from their kraal to the site of an engagement, no matter how far.
On the 22nd of January 1879, British troops under the command of Lord Chelmsford numbering about 1,700 were overwhelmed by a force of Zulus numbering about 20,000 at Isandlwana, a massif which resembles a resting lion. About 1,000 Zulus were killed. The failure of the British to form square, it's traditional style of defence against native attack, either through lack of time or by disdain for the fighting qualities of the African, was the probable immediate cause of the defeat. The defeat was an embarrassing blow to Imperial British prestige. It was only the British victory at Rorke's Drift that mended at least somewhat British honour the heroic defense of the 2nd battalion of The South Wales Borderers (24th Foot). The additional British columns were likewise besieged, placing the British Colony in jeopardy. It was only Cetshwayo's order not to cross over into British territory saved the colony.
After the disaster at Isandlwana, Louis obtained permission from Queen Victoria and the Duke of Cambridge, Commander-in-Chief of the British army, to come out with the British reinforcements as a "special observer."(2) he was attached to the staff of Lord Chelmsford.(3) Louis accompanied Chelmsford on his march into Zululand.
Louis was keen to see action, but was warned to remain safe and to consider his politcal party and his mother the Empress. The Prince was attached to staff of Colonel Richard Harrison of the Royal Engineers, where it was felt he could be active but safe. Harrison was charged with the column's transport and for reconnaissance of the route on the way to Ulundi. While Harrison welcomed Louis, he was reminded by Chelmsford that the Prince must be accompanied by a strong escort.
Lieutenant Jahleel Brenton Carey a British subject from the channel island of Guernsey was placed in charge of the Prince. On the morning of 1 June 1879 a large scout was led into Zululand led by Lt Carey, and accompanied by Louis. Although he was junior to Carey the Prince took command. About noon the troop halted at a deserted kraal. No security was posted. While making sketches the party was surprised by a party of 40 Zulus who screamed in Zulu, "uSuthu" (Kill them)! The dismounted prince attempted to mount, but his frightened horse bolted away, as Louis held onto a saddle holster. As the holster strap broke, Louis fell under the horses hooves and his right arm was trampled. He bravely rose and drawing his sidearm, he attmpeted to flee to safety. The Zulus, whose mode of travel was running, quickly caught him. He was struck in the thigh by an assegai which he pulled out, firing at the Zulus. Struck in the shoulder by another assegai, and weakened by his wounds he was overwhelmed. When his body was recovered he had been stabbed at least 18 times. After his death the Zulu ritually disemboweled the Prince to preclude his spirit from seeking revenge upon his killers.
In addition to the Prince 2 other soldiers had been killed and 1 was missing. Lt Carey and 4 other soldiers were about 40 yards from the Prince but failed to fire or come to his aid. He led his men back to camp and was received warmly in his mess, for the last time. Because of the stature of the Prince, a court of inquiry was convened. Lt Carey seeking to absolve himself, placed the blame for the Prince's death on the Prince. As a result of the Court of inquiry, it was recommended he be tried by Court-Martial for 'Misbehaviour before the Enemy'. The Court-Martial concluded he was guilty and that he should be cashiered from the British Army. However, the members of the Court-Martial were not sworn in, and when the matter was sent to be ratified in London, this point was raised. The Assistant Judge Advocate General O'Dowd overturned the findings of the Court and Lieutenant Carey was allowed to go free. Carey returned to his regiment were he was treated with contempt by his fellow officers for not coming to the aid of the Prince. Carey made matters worse by besieging the Empress with excuses for the death of her only son, during her time of mourning. He died a captain, at the age of 36, believed from peritonitis, in Karachi, India 22 February 1883.
According to legend Louis appeared to his mother in a dream and told he were to find his body. She did in fact travel to South Africa where the princes body was recovered and returned to England where it was interred next to his father at Saint Michael's Abbey in Farnborough, Hampshire. Upon her death in 1920 she too was buried at Farnborough. The empress bequeathed her estate to a Catholic Girls School, Farnborough Hill which still exists.
Lord Wolseley described The Prince Imperial as "a plucky young man, and he died a soldier's death. What on earth could he have done better?".
(1) My mother is named Eugenie, her mother and grand-mother who was born during the reign of Napoelon II and Eugenie.
(2) La Route du Prince Impérial
(3) Part of his kit was his personal sword, the same sword that his great-uncle Napoleon I wore at Austerlitz
Morris, Donald R. (1965) The Washing of The Spears. New York : Simon and Schuster; new ed. 1994 ISBN 0-306-80866-8.