Prince Impérial Commemorative Route

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Napoleon Eugène Louis Jean Joseph, only son of the Emperor Napoleon III and the Empress Eugénie, met his death in South Africa in 1879 in tragic circumstances. In commemoration of this event, the province of KwaZulu created in 1995, a 'Napoleonic route' dedicated to the Prince Impérial.

After the disaster at Sedan, the Imperial family was driven into exile in England where they settled in Chislehurst, and the Prince Impérial continued his studies at the Military Academy in Woolwich. He left the academy in 1875 promoted to the rank of Lieutenant. Although the Bonaparte pretender to the throne, the Prince had only limited potential for action given the family's state of exile, and the life of leisure which appeared before him in no way matched his aspirations. Indeed, he had remarked to a fellow student at the military school 'I long for the smell of gunpowder'. And it was this desire for action which explains why the Prince, on the
announcement of the disaster of Isandlawana (where 800 British army officers and soldiers were wiped out in the Zulu revolt in January 1879), was so determined to join the reinforcements sent out to South Africa to quell the revolt. He had to use all his powers of persuasion to convince his mother and also to gain Queen Victoria's permission. And so he left England the following month, on 27 February, to join the Lord Chelmsford's division in Pietermatitzburg near Durban. He was detailed to the staff as Assistant Officer. At the end of April the troops set out for Zululand. On 1 June, the Prince was sent on a reconnaissance mission at the foot of Mount Itelezi. His group was ambushed there by some Zulus. In the general flight, a strap on the saddle gave way and Louis came off his horse to face his pursuers alone. That he faced them bravely was testified to by some subsequently captured Zulus. 'He was like a lion' they later said. His body, lacerated by 17 asegai blows, was found the
following day, embalmed and brought back to England where it was given full military honours in the presence of Queen Victoria. The Prince's tomb is today at Farnborough.

The Prince Impérial Commemoration Route is presented as homage to his tragic destiny and it passes via monuments and places known to the Prince, from his arrival on South African soil to his death on 1 June. The Prince was welcomed to the governor of Natal's residence in Pietermaritzburg in April 1879, as was the Empress when she came on her pilgrimage to South Africa in 1880. The chapelle Sainte-Marie built in 1852 by some French missionaries was where the body lay on 8-9 June 1879. He also went to his last Mass here before leaving on his last fatal mission. The Fondation Napoleon contributed to the restoration of the building, which today is dedicated to reconciliation. There are various items on show at the Natal Museum in Pietermaritzburg and the Voortrekker Museum. Outside the town the route on the Greytown road to Dundeed or Le Vryhen – a stopping point is the Prince Imperial's villa. From Dundee, passing via Nqutu and Nondweni, you reach the fateful spot in the Jojosi valley (see inset). Here in these desolate surroundings there is a commemorative tumulus topped with a white-marble cross bearing an inscription recounting the Prince's death.

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