Story of Modern France - Helene Guerber

Second Funeral of Napoleon

Having distinguished himself in Mexico, the Prince of Joinville was rewarded by being appointed (1840) to convey the remains of Napoleon from St. Helena to France.

Although nineteen years had then passed by since "the Little Corporal" had breathed his last, there were still many veterans in France who continually talked about him, and the flood of literature in his honor had made every one familiar with his doings. The French, remembering how they had reached the highest point of their power during Napoleon's reign, now felt it fitting that his last wish should be fulfilled. So permission was secured from the English government, and all was prepared, not only for the long journey, but for a grand public funeral on the arrival of the body in France.

While the papers kept publishing Imperial reminiscences, Louis Napoleon, who had been living in London for some time, suddenly landed at Boulogne, with a few friends and a tame eagle, to repeat his rash Strassburg performance. But this time the soldiers, not carried away by his name or eloquence, promptly arrested him. Instead of being merely exiled, this prince was now locked up in the fortress of Ham, where he spent the next five years in solitary confinement.

On first hearing that he was not to be exiled, Louis Napoleon exclaimed, "At least, I shall die in France!" and when informed that he was condemned to perpetual imprisonment, he shrewdly inquired, "How long does perpetual last in France?" To pass the time he studied a great deal and wrote a book; later on he therefore often playfully referred to his advanced course in the "University of Ham." At the end of five years, taking advantage of the fact that many workmen were passing in and out while repairing the fortress where he was imprisoned, Louis Napoleon, with his servant's aid, cleverly disguised himself as a workman, and, carrying a plank, marched out of prison under the very noses of the sentinels!

Meanwhile, on the day that Louis Napoleon was arrested at Boulogne, the Prince of Joinville landed at St. Helena, where Napoleon's tomb was opened and the coffin lid unscrewed, so that some of those who had laid the emperor to rest could identify the body. To their amazement they still plainly recognized the features they had once loved so well, the body being remarkably well preserved. Conveyed to the waiting frigate, Napoleon's body was then borne to France, where it was enthusiastically welcomed, and taken in state along the Seine, under the great Arch of Triumph, down the thronged Champs Elysees, and across the bridge, to find a final resting place under the great dome of the Invalides. The funeral ceremony was most awe-inspiring, as is also the place where Napoleon now rests, surrounded by tokens of his glory, with his brothers Joseph and Jerome and some of his faithful marshals sleeping their last sleep only a few feet away from his sarcophagus.

Here Napoleon's remains were guarded by rapidly diminishing numbers of his veterans, who delighted in relating to visitors all they knew about "the Little Corporal," "Gray Coat," "the Eagle" some of the many nicknames affectionately bestowed upon him. In the church beyond his grave still hang many of the flags he won as trophies, fast falling to pieces, it is true, yet honored as the old tattered, blood-stained, bullet-riddled flags of the glorious First Empire!

[Illustration] from The Story of Modern France by Helene Guerber


The fact that France nearly came to warfare with England, Russia, and Turkey over the Eastern Question, helped to determine Louis Philippe in 1840 to provide proper defenses for the city of Paris. Within the next few years, at the cost of some $30,000,000, the capital was inclosed—for the eighth time—in a new and more extensive belt of ramparts, a circle of forts further serving to strengthen its position.

While the younger sons of the king were distinguishing themselves in the army and navy, the eldest, most talented, and best-beloved, the Prince of Orleans, was making many friends at home, so that the French looked eagerly forward to the reign of so promising a prince, and took great pride in his beautiful wife and young son, the little Count of Paris, who had been publicly baptized in Notre Dame. But the object of these hopes, while driving out of the city one day to join his wife and children in the country, saw his horses suddenly take fright and run away. In their mad rush, the prince was thrown out on the pavement, and so seriously injured that he died a few hours later. On the spot where this talented young man thus perished, now stands the Chapel St. Ferdinand, containing his tomb, one of whose statues is the work of his artistic sister Marie; but his body rests in the Orleans mausoleum (at Dreux).

By the early death of the Prince of Orleans, a small child became the direct heir of Louis Philippe, and as it seemed likely that the king would die before this boy could attain years of discretion, the French began to dread a long regency. Besides, the deceased prince had named as guardian and regent for his son one of his brothers (the Duke of Nemours) who was so greatly disliked that this child and his cause became unpopular in France.

The country, however, continued peaceful for some years, both at home and abroad, excepting the war in Algeria. The pleasant relations with England were marked by Queen Victoria's visit to France,—the first time an English sovereign had landed in the country since the old days of Henry VIII. and the Field of the Cloth of Gold (1520),—and by a return visit of Louis Philippe and his Queen Marie Amelie to London. The friendship thus formed between the royal families of France and England was to continue even in adversity, when Louis Philippe sought refuge in Great Britain.