The majority of the Prince Imperial

The majority of the Prince Imperial

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Title: The majority of the Prince Imperial.

Author : APPERT Eugène (1831 - 1890)

Creation date : 1874

Date shown: 1874

Dimensions: Height 15.5 - Width 22.2

Technique and other indications: Photomontage with photograph on albumen paper

Storage location: National Museum of the Château de Compiègne website

Contact copyright: © Photo RMN-Grand Palais - F. Raux website

Picture reference: 04-506388 NU / IMP 4

The majority of the Prince Imperial.

© Photo RMN-Grand Palais - F. Raux

Publication date: May 2005

Historical context

In 1870, the defeat of imperial France against Prussia had totally discredited the Bonapartist party, but the republic, proclaimed on September 4, 1870 on the announcement of the disaster of Sedan, was far from being established on its foundations. They signified the comeback in force of the Legitimists, who embodied rural and ultramontane France, as well as of the Orleanists, heirs of the “bourgeois dynasties”. The Bonapartists had only won about twenty seats, which made any "return from Elba Island" very unlikely for Napoleon III, whose forfeiture had in fact been voted on on 1er March 1871, and quite hypothetical the restoration of the empire. With the death of the emperor on January 9, 1873, the Bonapartist party could now regard the son of Napoleon and Eugenie as the legitimate contender to the imperial throne.

Since 1872 the Prince Imperial had been enrolled in the Woolwich Military Academy. He was indeed intended for artillery, the weapon in which his great-uncle Napoleon I had starteder. He set to work hard, and in 1875 he came out of Woolwich ranked seventh out of 34 on the final exam.

On March 16, 1874, having reached the age of 18, the Prince Imperial was declared of full age according to the constitutions of the Empire, still in force since the plebiscite of 1870 had never been canceled. He could now devote himself fully to his role as pretender to the imperial throne.

Image Analysis

The partisans of the Prince Imperial were determined to celebrate with pomp his accession to the majority. The Duke of Padua had orchestrated the ceremony and had spent countless efforts to print and massively distribute biographies retracing the major stages in the life of the son of Napoleon III.

If the tent and the platform shown in this photograph are indeed those that were erected for the occasion in front of the manor of Camden Place, the participants who appear there are photographic additions, cut from negative on paper or on glass plate, cut out and reassembled in the workshop. So in reality, it is not a snapshot, but a photomontage intended to be widely distributed in identical or reduced formats. As such, it is a perfect example of propaganda photography, which does not hesitate to resort to special effects.


To celebrate the Prince Imperial’s birthday, 8,000 French and thousands of English people made the trip to Chislehurst, where a large demonstration was planned. They found there the most loyal supporters of the Empress and her son: the Duke of Bassano, the Conneau father and son, Marshal Canrobert, the Duchess of Malakoff… In Paris, Bonapartist propaganda redoubled. By the thousands were distributed images representing the prince and the emperor, or Napoleon IV carried on a shield supported by a worker, a peasant and a bourgeois in a frock coat, or even the prince holding the tricolor in one hand, l the other being placed on the ballot box for universal suffrage. Three million visiting cards of Napoleon IV, bearing the motto “Everything for the people and by the people”, were widely distributed. They were erased to be easily stuck on the walls. Photographs of the Prince Imperial and the Emperor were profusely spread throughout the countryside, appearing on the blurred faces of Napoleon Ier and the King of Rome. According to the Times, there was more talk than ever about the empire and the Prince Imperial in the French capital. On the morning of March 14, the Gare Saint-Lazare was swarming with travelers of all conditions who wore violets in their buttonholes - the violet is the flower symbol of Bonapartism - and who assaulted the train leaving for London. At the Gare du Nord, the entertainment was the same. When they arrived in England, the admirers of the Prince Imperial were transported to Chislehurst by special trains. In the major London stations were plastered bilingual blue, white and red posters proclaiming: "Monday March 16 - Majority of the Prince Imperial." Chislehurst station was adorned with tricolor flags. The church bells were ringing full blast.

The Prince Imperial’s speech after mass gave the participants the conviction that Napoleon IV was now ready for action. Politically, it was for him to reconcile the personal conceptions of a 20-year-old spirit open to the future with the Napoleonic imperatives which had given its structures to modern France. Thus, he was in favor of equality of all citizens in the face of military service and the abolition of drawing lots and replacement. He also wanted to continue the decentralization initiated by the liberal empire by creating eighteen regions, each voting its budget. As for the nascent Republic, he believed that it would collapse on its own and that the restoration of the empire through parliamentary channels was possible. Bonapartism indeed retained sympathies in the countryside, the army, the administration and the judiciary. After his long crossing of the desert following the defeat of 1870, he finally achieved electoral successes, for example, the election in the Nièvre, on May 24, 1874, of a former imperial squire, Baron de Bourgoing. From Orleanists to moderate republicans, opponents of the empire came together to curb the peril of reborn Bonapartism, in the famous "conjunction of centers" which led to the adoption of the constitutional laws of 1875, a true founding act of the IIIe Republic.

  • imperial dynasty
  • photography
  • Imperial prince
  • propaganda
  • Third Republic


Catalog of the exhibition The Prince Imperial, 1856-1879, Paris, Musée de la Légion d'honneur, 1979-1980. Jean-Marie MAYEUR, Les Débuts de la IIIe République (1871-1898), Paris, Le Seuil, 1973 The invitation to the museum: At the dawn of photography, the portraits of Napoleon III and the imperial family in the collections of the Château de Compiègne, Catalog of the exhibition at the Musée national du Château de Compiègne, 1998.

To cite this article

Alain GALOIN, "The majority of the Prince Imperial"

Video: Imperial Prince