Saturday, June 18, 2016

Lieutenant Napoleon, of the British Royal Artillery

Napoleon I died on St. Helena in 1821, from either pneumonia or arsenic poisoning, depending on whose theory you wish to believe.  Bleak, cold, and miserable, the tiny island 1100 miles off the coast of Africa is the equivalent of being downhill from Hell.  (Well, a frozen hell!)

The former emperor was poorly housed in a building so dilapidated and in need of repairs that the insult had to be intentional.  Among other complaints, Napoleon noted that in order to enjoy his favorite pastime, playing cards, it was necessary to first bake the cards in an oven to dry them out.

There was, briefly, a Napoleon II.  The son of Napoleon I, he was technically the emperor for two days following his father’s abdication in 1814, and then again, for roughly a month, following his father’s second abdication in 1815.  Given an impossible name, Napoléon François Charles Joseph Bonaparte, Prince Imperial, King of Rome…he was called Franz.  Despite the hopes of diehard Bonapartists, when Napoleon II died at the age of 22 from pneumonia, there was no sign of the empire being restored.

The family business passed to Napoleon I’s nephew: the son of Napoleon I’s brother Louis.  Louis-Napoleon Bonaparte tried to follow in his uncle’s footsteps by becoming the first President of the Second Republic.  At the end of his four year term, Louis was constitutionally prevented from another term of office.  Naturally (he was a Bonaparte, after all), he staged a coup d’état, becoming the first emperor of the Second French Empire.  In other words, he became Napoleon III.

This empire lasted from 1852 until 1870, when Napoleon III was forced to abdicate.  His reign is chiefly remembered for his failed invasion of Mexico and his venture into Cochinchina.  A century later, France asked the United States for help in maintaining its colony, by then called Viet Nam. 

After abdicating, Napoleon III took his wife and son to live in England, spending the rest of his life as a wealthy country squire in Kent—the kind of life that Napoleon I thought England was offering him when he agreed to abdicate, only to sadly learn he was being sent as close to Antartica as the English could manage.

Which brings us to Napoleon IV.  After an exhaustingly thorough scientific survey, it appears that no one remembers Napoleon IV today.  Actually, I only asked students in my classes and several beer buddies at the bowling alley, but the results fall into two predictable patterns.  

“Who?  Will he be on the test?”

“Who?  Does he bowl in this league?  It's your turn to buy a round."  The latter is the same answer you would get if you asked most bowlers if they remembered their mother's name.

Evidently, the only people who remember these guys are the French, which is kind of strange, since the first Napoleon was Corsican and spoke French with an outrageous Italian accent.  The second one was born in France, but spent most of his life in Austria.  And the third one, well it's kind of hard to figure out, since the longest serving French emperor lived everywhere (including America briefly-he was even a constable in London for a while) and spoke French with a German accent.  

Okay, back to Napoleon IV (and I guess I should confess that you really shouldn't call him Napoleon IV, since he never actually was the titular head of a country, but I can't resist).  At any rate, when his father died, the crazy die-hard Bonapartists in France proclaimed him emperor while hiding in their wine cellars.  The son of Napoleon III, his real name was Napoléon Eugène Louis Jean Joseph Bonaparte, The Prince Imperial (Evidently, his friends called him LouLou).  

So what does the descendant of the most famous French general do when he grows up?  He serves in the British Army.

Napoleon I would have been turning in his grave if the British hadn't been afraid of his body's becoming a rallying point for those silly French royalists and had him cremated. 

Despite the fact that his great-uncle had lost his empire while fighting the British at Waterloo, LouLou studied at the Royal Military Academy, graduating 7th in a class of 34, and accepted a commission as a Lieutenant in the Royal Artillery.

Strangely, even though during the reign of Napoleon I, the British monarchy referred to Napoleon as the "Beast", Queen Victoria thought returning a Bonaparte to the throne of France would help stabilize Europe.  She had already married off most of her children to every inbred Prince or Princess in Europe, and was quietly arranging for her youngest daughter, Beatrice, to marry Napoleon IV.  Evidently, the old queen was trying to homestead Europe.

Note:  The Queen had a plan, indeed: If the head of every European nation were a member of the same family, this would prevent war, right?  During the First World War, the Russian Czar, the German Kaiser, and the King of England were all first cousins, and despite sharing a royal grandmother, they still took the world to war.  

Everything was all set, until the Zulu War sprang up in 1879.  (I can just imagine you saying, "Zulus?  Aren't they in Africa?")

England wanted to build a federation of territories in Africa, sort of like another Canada, but with elephants and giraffes instead of moose and caribou.  One of the many problems with this idea was the area known as Zululand.  The refusal of the Zulu King to join the federation led to the Anglo-Zulu War.  And, of course, young Napoleon just had to go to war and prove himself.  Queen Victoria agreed, as long as his commanding officers understood that he was NOT to ever actually be in any real danger.

The Prince, of course had other ideas.  It did not take him long to find a little excitement.  When a small patrol was mapping a position, they were suddenly attacked by forty Zulu warriors.  The prince's horse, spooked by the screaming warriors, began galloping before he could fully mount the saddle.  He was clinging to a holster on the saddle as the horse carried him a hundred yards before a strap broke and the young lieutenant fell under the horse's hooves, suffering an injury to his right arm.

Jumping up, he drew his revolver with his left hand, and attempted to fight the Zulu warriors.  The first assegai spear hit him in the right leg, the second pierced his left shoulder.  Napoleon drew the assegai from his thigh and continued to fight for his life.  When his body was found, he had eighteen spear wounds, including the fatal one that punctured his left eye and pierced his brain.

So, Napoleon IV, whose Corsican great-uncle had damn near ruled all of Europe as the Emperor of France until the British defeated him in Belgium, died as a British Lieutenant in Africa, fighting the Zulus.

Who needs fiction when you have history?

1 comment:

  1. Oops. It seems that the accounts of Napoleon's remains being returned to France labeled them 'ashes', leading the reader to the assumption that Napoleon had been cremated. He hadn't. Those present said his body was well preserved. Though there are plenty of lunatic theories about a body switch, or various parts of his anatomy being cut off, most likely Napoleon I is resting in Les Invalides in Paris.