JANUARY SALE Subscribe for just £5 today CLICK HERE

History Scrapbook: Sir Francis Drake and the Chatham Chest

PUBLISHED: 12:56 16 January 2017 | UPDATED: 12:56 16 January 2017

Napoleon's tomb, Chislehurst

Napoleon's tomb, Chislehurst

Archant

From Chislehurst the choice of royalty to Sir Francis Drake and the Chatham Chest and Kent's first tourist, Kent Life's history sleuth delves back into Januarys past in Kent. Words by: Rachael Hale

The 'Chatham Chest'. Chatham Historic Dockyard Trust, photo credit Raymond FothergillThe 'Chatham Chest'. Chatham Historic Dockyard Trust, photo credit Raymond Fothergill

Falling out with your neighbours is not uncommon but when you have the power of an army at your disposal, heated discussions can quickly get out of hand and wars are started.

And so it was that in 1870 Louis-Napoleon Bonaparte (Napoleon III) declared war on the German Kingdom of Prussia. The battle didn’t go the Frenchman’s way, however, and he soon found himself needing a place of safety. With that in mind and the entire world to choose from, the deposed Emperor of France decided to relocate his family to… Chislehurst.

It wasn’t the first-time Louis-Napoleon had fled to safety. Following the defeat of his uncle, Napoleon Bonaparte at the Battle of Waterloo, the entire family had been exiled and young Louis-Napoleon subsequently spent a lot of time in England, particularly Chislehurst. He’d formed an attachment to a young lady named Emily Rowles whose father owned Camden Place, now the home of Chislehurst Golf Club.

Louis-Napoleon became a frequent visitor and became as attached to Camden Place as he was to Emily as, when it later changed hands, he became friends with its next owner. A man named Nathaniel Strode who just happened to spend a lot of, perhaps French, money transforming it into a French château.

KentKent

So when, in 1871, the now-deposed French Emperor arrived in England with Princess Eugenie and the young Prince Imperial in tow they found, certainly to Princess Eugenie’s’ surprise, their newly rented home at Camden Place perfectly suited for their purposes.

Sadly, Louis Napoleon wasn’t to enjoy the areas charms for long and he died on 9 January 1873 following several operations to remove kidney stones. Chislehurst was flooded with thousands of visitors wanting to pay their respects. Behind the scenes, however, a diplomatic drama was unfolding, as how exactly do you treat a deposed Roman Catholic emperor living on foreign soil?

Especially one waiting absolution from the Pope for leaving Rome undefended, despite promising to do otherwise. The predicament must have caused Princess Eugenie and Bishop Danell, who had been asked to officiate the funeral, several sleepless nights.

Ultimately, the Pope granted permission for the service to go ahead and on 15 January 1873, Louis Napoleon was laid to rest in the nave of St Mary’s, Chislehurst. Enormous piles of wreaths, violets and immortelles surrounded the church and one witness described ‘the sweet voices of the children chanting the Agnus Dei and the rolling strophes of the Miserere as ‘deeply thrilling’.

Wanting her husband’s achievements and not his constant womanising to be remembered, Princess Eugenie immediately began planning an extension to the church to act as his permanent burial chamber.

The new chapel was completed by the end of the year and Louis Napoleon was re-laid to rest inside the Scottish granite sarcophagus received as a gift from Queen Victoria.

Just like its incumbent, the tomb wasn’t to stay in Chislehurst long, however. Just six years later, the Prince Imperial died while acting as an observer in Zululand and Princess Eugenie expressed her wishes to build a much larger mausoleum within the church grounds.

However, the Edlmann family who owned the land on which the church stood were Protestant and didn’t want a Roman Catholic structure of this nature on their land. So Princess Eugenie, bought 257 acres of land in Farnborough and moved her loved ones to the purpose-built St Michael’s Abbey instead.

The chapel at St Mary’s Church in Chislehurst where Louis-Napoleon once lay remains open to the public and the position his tomb originally stood is marked by a stone.

More from Kent Life

Friday, January 24, 2020

The season of romance is in the air and with fairytale castles, literary tales and iconic White Cliffs, where better to pop the question than in the Garden of England? Here are 10 of Kent's perfect places to propose

Read more

When funds are low and the family is going stir-crazy stuck indoors, here is some fun, free stuff to get you through

Read more
Monday, January 20, 2020

The beautiful Hever Castle will launch snowdrop season with a talk followed by a woodland walk

Read more
Tuesday, January 14, 2020

A lawyer from Canterbury has launched a new Sunday afternoon tea party for senior citizens in the city who live alone

Read more

Regularly voted one of Kent's best places to live, and with easy access to London, let's celebrate Sevenoaks

Read more
Tuesday, January 14, 2020

Greensand Ridge, the craft distillery near Shipbourne in the Weald of Kent, has been recognised in the annual Spirits Business awards with the 2019 Distillery Sustainability Award

Read more
Friday, January 10, 2020

Your 2020 holiday sorted!

Read more
Wednesday, January 8, 2020

We've teamed up with Sandy Acres to offer you the chance to win a luxurious stay in one of their Scandi-style lodges in Hayle,

Read more
Tuesday, January 7, 2020

The elusive snowdrop can be hard to find and before you know it, they're gone again, so we saved you the trouble and found some beautiful spots in Kent to go for a walk among the snowdrops

Read more

Want to get fitter, feed your brain or start a new hobby? The National Trust can help kickstart your 2020 plans

Read more
Kent Life Food & Drink awards. Open for entries.

Subscribe or buy a mag today


subscription ad


Follow us on Twitter


Like us on Facebook


Local Business Directory

Search For a Car In Your Area

Property Search

Most Read

Latest from the Kent Life