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This article refers to the son of Napoleon III. For the stepson of Napoleon I, see Eugène de Beauharnais
Louis Napoléon
Prince Imperial
Father Napoleon III of France
Mother Eugénie de Montijo
Born 16 March 1856(1856-03-16)
Died 1 June 1879 (aged 23)

Napoléon IV, Prince Imperial, often referred to as Louis Napoléon (Full name: Napoléon Eugène Louis Jean Joseph, 16 March 1856, Paris – 1 June 1879), Prince Imperial, Fils de France, was the only child of Emperor Napoleon III of France and his Empress consort Eugénie de Montijo. His early death in Africa sent shock waves throughout Europe, as he was the last dynastic hope for the restoration of the Bonapartes to the throne of France.



His mother, Eugénie, Empress of the French

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, he had to flee from France with the Imperial Family and settled in England at Chislehurst, Kent. On his father's death, Bonapartists proclaimed him Napoleon IV. During the 1870s, there was some talk of a marriage between him and Queen Victoria's youngest daughter, Princess Beatrice. Toward the end of his life there were rumours, not all untrue, that he was romantically attached to Spanish infanta María del Pilar, daughter of Queen Isabella II of Spain. Infanta Pilar died the same year as Louis Napoléon.

With the demise of the Second French Empire, the Prince Imperial was exiled to the United Kingdom, where he first attended elementary lectures in physics at King's College London. He subsequently applied and was accepted to the Royal Military Academy, Woolwich. After finishing 17th in his class, he was commissioned into the Royal Artillery in order to follow in the footsteps of his famous great-uncle. Finally, 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. He was only allowed to go to Africa by special pleading of his mother, the Empress Eugenie, and by 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, " avoid running unnecessary risks. I reminded him of the Empress at home and his political party in France."

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.

On the morning of 1 June the troop set out, earlier than intended, and without the full escort, largely owing to Louis' 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 screaming uSuthu! ("kill") towards them. 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, trampling his right arm. He leapt up, drawing his revolver with his left hand, and started to run - but the Zulus could run faster.

The Prince was speared in the thigh, pulled the assegai from his wound, and turned and fired on his pursuers, another assegai struck his left shoulder. 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 18 assegai wounds. Two of his escort had been killed, and another was missing. Lt. Carey and the remaining four came together about 50 yards from where the Prince made his final stand - but not a single shot did they 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 Eugenie and Queen Victoria, he was to return to his regiment a pariah - shunned by his fellow officers for not standing and fighting. He endured several years of social and regimental turmoil before his death in Karachi, India, 22 February 1883.

Louis Napoleon's death caused an international sensation, and in one slanderous account Queen Victoria was accused of deliberately arranging the whole thing. The Zulus later claimed that they would not have killed him if they had known who he was. Zabanga, his chief assailant, met his death in July at the Battle of Ulundi. Eugénie was later to make a pilgrimage to Sobuza's kraal, where her son died. The Prince, who had begged to be allowed to go to war, taking the sword carried by the first Napoleon at Austerlitz to war with him, and worried his commanders by his dash and daring, was described by Wolseley as "a plucky young man, and he died a soldier's death. What on earth could he have done better?".

Napoleon "IV" lying in state (Collage, about 1880)

After death the Prince was ritually disemboweled by one Hlabanatunga, a common Zulu practice to prevent his spirit seeking revenge on his killers in the afterlife. His badly decomposed body was brought back to England and buried in Chislehurst. Later, it 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. As his heir the Prince Imperial appointed Prince Napoléon Victor Bonaparte, thus omitting the genealogically senior heir, Victor's father, the rather detested Prince Napoléon (Plon-Plon).

The asteroid moon Petit-Prince was named after the Prince Imperial in 1998, because it orbits an asteroid named after his mother (45 Eugenia).

In Literature

In the R.F.Delderfield novel "Long Summer Day" (the first of the "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.

Titles from birth to death

  • His Imperial Highness The Prince Imperial (1856–1870)
  • His Imperial Highness Louis Napoléon, Prince Imperial of France (1870–1873)
  • His Imperial Highness Prince Imperial Napoléon, Head of the Imperial House of France (1873–1879)



  • Morris, Donald R. The Washing of the Spears. Simon and Schuster, 1965, pp 511–545.
  • David, Saul Zulu. Penguin/Viking, 2004, pp 311–336.

Further reading

  • Ellen Barlee, Life of Napoleon, Prince Imperial of France, (London, 1889)
  • M. d'Hérrison, Le prince impérial, (Paris, 1890)
  • André Martinet, Le prince impérial, (Paris, 1895)
  • R. Minon, Les derniers jours du prince impérial sur le continent, (Paris, 1900)
  • Ernest Barthez, Empress Eugenie and her Circle, (New York, 1913)

External links

Louis 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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