The story behind the photo
I wrote a post in May about an antique photograph in my collection which I called “The Executioner’s Granddaughter”, a small CDV which led me to the fascinating story of the Royal Executioner of France, Charles Henri Sanson, who didn’t want to kill people—he wanted to be a doctor—but in the end he introduced the guillotine as a more humane way of execution, decapitated King Louis XVI and nearly 3,000 other victims.
That photo motivated me to hunt for another small CDV (carte de visite) I remembered in my collection -- a young boy in what appeared to be a uniform. On the back was the name of the photographer-- H. Tournier, 57 Rue de Seine, Paris. Someone had written in pencil “Prince Imperial.”
I vaguely thought this must be another reference to the French Revolution—maybe some aristocratic child who had been forced to flee. But thanks to Google, which didn’t exist when I started collecting and researching photos, I learned that the handsome and resolute little boy was Napoleon IV—or would have been if he had lived long enough. He died at age 23 and, according to Wikipedia, “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.”
Born in Paris in March 1856 to Emperor Napoleon III of France and Eugenie de Montijo, the boy eagerly accompanied his father to the front during the Franco-Prussian War of 1870-1871 when he was only 14. Eventually his family had to flee to England where Bonapartists proclaimed him Napoleon IV on his father’s death. There were rumors he would marry Queen Victoria’s youngest daughter Princess Beatrice
The Prince Imperial attended the Royal Military Academy in England, joined the Royal Artillery and, when the Zulu War broke out in 1879, he insisted on taking part in the conflict. His mother, Empress Eugenie, and Queen Victoria arranged for him to go only as an observer and, though he was keen to take part in the action, his superiors were told the Prince must be at all times protected by a strong escort of bodyguards. Special charge went to Lieutenant Jahleel Brenton Carey.
On the morning of June 1, 1879, his troop set out to scout in a forward party that left earlier than intended and without the full escort, due to the Prince’s impatience. As they rode deep into Zululand, the Prince took over command from Carey, who had seniority. At noon they stopped at a deserted kraal, lit a fire and then about 40 Zulus fired upon them and rushed toward them.
painting by Paul Jamin
According to Wikipedia, “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. The Prince was speared in the thigh but pulled the assegai [spear] from his wound. As he turned and fired on his pursuers, another assegai struck his left shoulder. The Prince tried to fight on, using the spear 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 and [he was] stabbed through the right eye which had burst and [it] penetrated his brain. Two of his escorts had been killed and another was missing.”
Age 14 (1870)
The body of the prince was ritually disemboweled by his killers, “a common Zulu practice to prevent his spirit seeking revenge.” The man charged with protecting him, Lt. Carey, survived—he and four other men fled and did not fire a single shot at the Zulus. After a court martial, Carey lived the rest of his life in disgrace. The Prince’s mother Eugenie made a pilgrimage to the spot where her son died. His death was an international sensation. And the rule of the Bonapartes was over.
Age 22, 1878
When I looked on line for images of the Prince Imperial I found several of him later in life, but no image identical to the one I own. This small photo of a brave little boy may be rare and valuable, or it may not, but it’s still another antique photo that led me to a story out of the past that I would have never discovered otherwise.