“Lulu” Napoleon and the Zulus

20 June 1879, 134 years ago, Prince Imperial and grandnephew of Napoléon “Lulu”, Napoléon Eugène Louis Jean Joseph Bonaparte, serving as lieutenant with the British Army invading Natal during the Anglo-Zulu War, was killed on a reconnaissance mission near a tributary of the Umfolozi River.

“...a plucky young man, and he died a soldier's death. What on earth could he have done better?" (Field Marshal Garnet Joseph Wolseley)

A painting by Paul Jamin (1882), showing the last moments of the Prince’s life.

“Lulu” lived with his parents, the former Emperor Napoleon III and his wife Eugénie de Montijo in the United Kingdom since the fall of the Second Empire in 1871 and joined the Royal Military Academy at Woolwich, gaining a commission as a lieutenant of artillery, like his famous granduncle did roughly a 100 years before.

When some of his former classmates joined Chelmsford’s invasion force in South Africa, the 22 years old heir apparent of a possible third French empire was eager to come along and was allowed to by special permission of his godmother Queen Victoria. Actually ordered to stay far away from actual fighting with the staff of Chelmsford, carrying the sword Napoleon wore at Austerlitz, “Lulu” volunteered for dangerous mission as soon as he arrived in Natal.

James Tissot (1836 -1902): "The Empress Eugénie and her son" (1878)

While reconnoitring for Col Redvers Buller’s vanguard en route to the Zulu capital of Ulundi, his party of seven was caught off guard by 40 Zulu warriors, the British patrol mounted and fled except Napoléon Eugène whose horse shied away, dashed off, breaking the prince’s arm while he tried to cling to the saddle. The Zulu’s caught and slaughtered him with 18 stabs of their assegais. He was ritually disemboweled to prevent his spirit from wandering, his body later recovered by his comrades, carried back to England and Lulu was finally buried alongside of his father at the Imperial Crypt in Farnborough, Hampshire.

Contemporary military artist Brian Palmer's imagination of Prince Lulu's regiment, the 17th Lancers, charging at Ulundi

The Anglo-Zulu War ended four weeks later with the decisive Battle of Ulundi where the leader of the Zulu party that got Napoléon Eugène fell, allegedly the warriors later claimed that they wouldn’t have killed the prince if they had known who he was – the hopes of French royalists to crown a heir of Napoleon as third emperor were dashed.

More on: