Monday, May 30, 2011

June 1, 1879 --- Death of the Prince Imperial

The 23-year old Prince Imperial, Napoléon Eugène Louis Jean Joseph, only son of the late Napoleon III and last hope of the Bonapartists, is slain while serving with British forces in Zululand.

The Prince, with a deserved reputation for impetuosity, left camp with a small reconnaissance party, commanded by Lt. Jahleel Brenton Carey. While dismounted, the unit is attacked by some 40 Zulus. The Prince's horse bolts, dragging him by a stirrup. Falling free, he fights bravely but vainly. His body was found with 18 assegai wounds. Two others are killed but Carey and the rest return to camp. A fellow officer greets him with, "Well, Carey, you're late for dinner." The stricken Carey answers, "I'm fine, but I'm afraid the Prince has been killed."

When word reached London, Prime Minister Disraeli could only grumble, "Now this is bad news." While living in exile in England with his mother, the Prince had volunteered for African duty but it took the Queen's intervention with Disraeli (who dismissed the young Frenchman as "that little abortion") to get it approved. Naturally, Victoria is badly shaken by his death. She writes, "It is too, too awful," and complains of nightmares featuring "those horrid Zulus." In a rare event, which Disraeli correctly predicted would upset the French government, the Queen attended the Prince's funeral at Chislehurst, with his mother, the Empress Eugenie.

As for Lt. Carey, the Duke of Cambridge, Commander-in-Chief, demanded "the most searching investigation to satisfy the world, both at home and abroad, that [the Prince] was not abandoned to his fate by the officer and men who were with him." Carey was at first treated sympathetically, but eventually court-martialed and found guilty of misbehavior in the face of the enemy. A damning piece of evidence was his own letter to his wife, written shortly after the attack: "I am a ruined man I fear ... but it might have been my fate." The Empress asked that the charges be dropped, which they were, but Carey was indeed ruined. Shunned by most, he yet remained in uniform, serving in India until his death in 1885.

No comments:

Post a Comment