Getting away from cheap political jibes about who beat who in previous bloody European wars, l am grateful to a follower of Bath Newseum for a story of unlikely links between himself and a former French leader called Napoleon.
This wasn’t the one who was finally defeated by the Duke of Wellington’s international army at Waterloo but his nephew, Napoleon the Third – the first President of the French Republic and later – after a coup detat – self-proclaimed Emperor of France.
Now, many Bathonians – both privately and publicly – get the chance to look around the Mayor’s Parlour in the Guildhall.
That was something local resident Fred Edwards was doing and he took a particular interest in a medal on display.
It was presented by the former French Emperor to the Corporation of Bath as a thank you for loaning the city regalia to the Paris Universal Exposition of 1867.
Napoleon had started his reign determined to rebuild Paris. He launched a series of enormous public works which included everything from new sewers, parks and grand avenues, to railway stations, completing the Les Halles market and building the Paris Opera – the largest theatre in the world.
His international world fair gave him a chance to show off his city – just three years before war with Prussia brought about his downfall.
Eventually, Napoleon and his wife and son went into exile in England – during which time he visited Bath. There is a bronze plaque outside number 55 Great Pulteney Street to show where father and son are believed to have stayed.
His son Prince Louis – an officer in the British Army – was killed in 1879 fighting in the South African Zulu Wars.
This is where our man Fred can claim a connection – after learning that the Emperor’s son had died in that conflict – during a conversation while making his Guildhall visit.
He todd Bath Newseum that his great great grandfather had fought in the Zulu war as well and his visit to the Mayor’s Parlour had prompted him to revisit correspondence his great great grandfather – Private Ellis Edwards – had written to his parents the year the prince died.
“I’ve found a copy of the letter which he wrote to his parents on 1879 which shows what a small world we live in!
From Private Ellis Edwards of Cefn Mawr, near Wrexham to his family.
8 July 1879
I wish to express my opinion of the great battle, which we had on the 4th day of July whilst taking the capital of Zululand. The scene was horrible. The fight lasted for one hour and ten minutes and was extremely hard. The strength of the enemy was 25,000 whilst our strength was only 4,500.
After hard fighting we repulsed the enemy with the loss of 3000 killed and 500 wounded; our loss was 10 killed and 40 wounded. I can assure you that the Zulus are a lot of fearless men. They poured upon us like a number of lions. The burning of Ulundi—their main support—was the greatest fire I ever saw. It continued burning for four days.
I am very much pleased to tell you that I really think the war is close at an end now. We captured 800. Head of cattle. I am very sorry to tell you that it is rumoured in this camp that we are going to India after this affair is settled. At the same time I hope it is wrong, as we have had plenty of foreign climates.
I can assure you that the hardships which I have gone through are beyond measure. I have got to wash all my clothes and bake the bread, which we eat. We have to march fourteen miles a day and, after arriving in a strange camp, we have to dig trenches before we get any food.
If this regiment does not go to India I shall be at home by Christmas…. I am very sorry to tell you of the sad misfortune, which befell the young Prince Napoleon whilst scouting out in the wilds of Zululand. After the Zulus had killed him they stabbed him in fourteen different places. I was one of the men who removed his body in the van in order to send it home to England….
It is very hard to get any paper or stamps in this part of the world. I have been forced to steal out of the way every time I want to write because we haven’t got one moment as we can call our own … Wood is very scarce here at present. We cook our food with dried cow dung…. “
Prince Napoleon was to be buried with his father in the Imperial Crypt at St Michael’s Abbey in Farnborough, Hampshire.
Fascinating story Fred – and thanks for sharing it with Bath Newseum fans.