The Death of Prince Imperial Louis Napoleon during the Zulu War, 1879

On this day in 1879 the last direct claimant to the throne of France, Napoleon, Prince Imperial was killed in Zululand in an ambush by Zulu warriors. The only child of former emperor Napoleon III (1808-1873) the prince had lived comfortably in exile attending the Royal Military academy Woolwich and later using his mothers influence with Queen Victoria to earn a commission as a artillery officer.

Louis Napeolon, Prince Imperial 1856- June 1st, 1879

By all accounts Louis Napoleon was a charming and well liked 22 year old who received top marks in cavalry and fencing while at Woolwich. Despite the relative scandal of having a Frenchman, no less the last hope for Napoleonic succession, as an officer in the British army of engineers and artillery.

The Prince Imperial

The Prince arrived in Zululand well after the great succession of early battles between the British Army and Zulu warriors of King Cetshwayo, of which in several the British and had been surprised and defeated at the overall command of Lord Chelmsford. On top of trying to win the war quickly, Chelmsford and the officers of the Prince's entourage had to protect him whatever the cost.

On June 1, 1879 Prince Napoleons daring and dash caught up with him. With Louis Napoleon's death Chelmsford along with the annihilation of his army at Isandlwana had taken a serious blow to his pride as a gentlemen, officer and commanding General. He was replaced by the high command in theory by General Sir Garnet Wolseley (b.1833-1913) though he arrived too late in the war to command.

As Robert B. Edgerton describes the circumstances of the "daredevil" Prince's death are as follows, "Ignoring signs that Zulus were approaching, Louis refused to hurry away from a potential ambush. Twenty or so Zulus-burst out of 6-foot high grass, and before Napoleon could mount his terrified horse [Percy] he was speared. Everyone else, including the British officers [who were suppose to protect him] rode off pell-mell. Napoleon fought with his sword, and died with the hair of a Zulus head in one fist. There were seventeen wounds in his front, none in his back. He had not tried to run."

Mort du Prince Imperial

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