The French Second Empire: An Anatomy of Political Power

By Roger Price | Go to book overview

General conclusion

After Sedan, Napoleon remained a prisoner in Germany for over six months, until his release in March 1871. Subsequently he established his family in England, in a mansion at Camden Place, Chiselhurst. There he began to plan another coup d'état, but the continued deterioration of his health made this an unrealistic prospect. He died on 9 January 1873, following an operation to remove a stone from his bladder. This was not, however, the end of Bonapartism. The outbreak of the Paris Commune, within days of the deposed monarch's arrival in Britain, culminating in the slaughter of 20,000 men and women by the former Imperial army, released from its German prisoner-of-war camps for the purpose, revealed once more the intensity of social fear and the potential for conflict in French society. The death of the discredited Emperor left Bonapartists with an attractive candidate for the throne in the person of his son, born in 1856. By 1874, a propaganda campaign in favour of the Prince-Imperial supported by over seventy newspapers and an outpouring of pamphlets and prints was being organised by former pillars of the empire such as Rouher and Pietri. In the 1876 general election, some seventy-five Bonapartists were elected, notably in the south-west. At its peak in October 1877, there were 104 Bonapartist deputies. They were overwhelmingly conservative and clerical, wealthy and paternalistic, and enjoying solid local political bases — men like Granier de Cassagnac in the Gers, Echassériaux in Charente, and the Baron de Bourgoing in the Nièvre. Elsewhere, although much of the previous support for a democratic Bonapartism was draining away to the republicans, a latent sympathy survived. This continued to associate the Empire with prosperity and attracted support in regions as diverse as the cereal-cultivating plains of the Beauce in the Paris basin and the vineyards of the Hérault. There were also many sympathisers in the bureaucracy and the army. However, with the futile death of the Prince-Imperial in Africa, fighting the Zulus with the British army, the movement largely expired.

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