Imperial Family Connections

For more on the Emperor Napoleon III and his family in Chislehurst look here… The following comments and questions have been sent to us.

Q.  I listened to a talk recently about the Prince Imperial at Camden Place and was left wondering why we were so infatuated with the Napoleons.

Napoleon III (Louis) was defeated and deposed after the Battle of Sedan in 1870 and Princess Eugenie (and son) arrived at Camden Place in the same year. She was the daughter of a Spanish nobleman who fought on the French side during the Peninsular War! So, no friend of ours! The question still remains “Why did we love the Napoleons so much seeing as they fought against us and Uncle Boney nearly ruled us!?”

A. It is an intriguing question that you pose with only supposition for a response!

The legend around Boney is understandable – he did conquer a fair chunk of Europe after all but what I find so amusing is that Louis who so obviously fed off his uncle’s legacy was likely to have been illegitimate – actually blood related to Josephine but not the big (well not in stature) man himself!

I would also throw into the pot a personal attraction for Nap 3 – from Queen Victoria’s diary for state visits in 1850s it is clear he paid her lots of attention and she was flattered! Even amid high politics I am sure personality plays a big part, don’t you?  Victoria possibly fancied a marriage for her daughter Princess Beatrice and in general foreign royalty had a certain allure. Eugenie’s adoption of the Dior fashion house won her much admiration and the local populace of Chislehurst were not unhappy to have such a ‘star’ amidst them. Even the priest Monsenior Goddard seemed captivated by her.

Look how much we devour celebrity gossip today; it was no different in the 1870’s. I suppose the tragic twist of the mourning Empress who then also became a mourning mother added to her celebrity status. It did Chislehurst no harm to have the Imperial soubriquet. It all coincided with the arrival of the railway and subsequent housing boom. Property speculators were happy to have such ‘cachet’ connected with their developments.

The Brits have a reputation for taking in refugees, I haven’t looked into political diaries at the time but as they were not housed in the heart of London perhaps it was easier to overlook their political past. Louis had spent many years in England in his youth, he probably had friends in high places and Nathaniel Strode, his landlord and ally here was a canny solicitor, I suspect he paved the path carefully.

Everyone loves a Lord so how could we resist an Emperor!

Q. From France…..Making a research on the Chef de Cabinet of Napoléon III, Mocquard (1791-1864), I came across a certain Elisabeth Florence West, “ex-secrétaire de l’impératrice Eugénie”…

She was indeed the mistress of the grandson of the Chef de Cabinet, Félix Rainbeaux. The Rainbeaux family had remained very close to the Emperor and Eugenie during their stay in your country, Félix was not married, he was very rich and she inherited of all his wealth, before unfortunately dying in February 1937, in Paris.

My question is : would it be possible to obtain some information on this person?

A. We failed on this one and Farnborough History Society had no links either.  We received more details from the enquirer and together we pieced together this information.

Florence Elisabeth West was born in London, on 5 December 1878, daughter of Richard Thomas West and Elysa Fraser. She died on 16 February 1937 in Paris.

Elisabeth had a brother (Harry ?), she was living in Monte Carlo, Avenu de l’Annonciade, 26, though the main address was 32 Avenue Raphaël in Paris.  Felix left her this Hotel (Avenue Raphaël) and a flat in Paris and three “propriétés”, one in Le Mée, one in Antibes and one in Nice !!

At the end of 1936 she had sold a lot at Drouot Auction Room. Noting that among all which she sold were many souvenirs or former belongings of Eugénie, because Firmin Rainbeaux the father of Félix Rainbeaux – “the man” – was the correspondent in Paris of Eugenie in charge of the preservation of her own assets.  Therefore Eugenie had left quite a number of souvenirs to Firmin.

The Rainbeaux family owned coal mines in the North of France. Firmin had been the écuyer of Napoléon III, which is how he met the daughter of the Chef de Cabinet, Hortense Mocquard and became her husband.

Q. I would be grateful to know if there is any way to find out about the servants who were employed by Countess Eugenie and Napoleon whilst they were in residence at Camden Place.   I have been given to understand that my great grandfather acted as their coachman and I would be pleased to get this ratified.  My great-grandfather was George Maurice Gamble 1842 – 1886, born in Knaresborough, Yorkshire.   He ended his years as coachman to the Fellowes family of Kingston Mauward, Dorchester.  If he was a coachman at Camden Place, well I think he went on to Kingston Mauward from there.

A. Mr Gamble did not appear as a member of staff on the 1871 census nor in any street directories so on this occasion we drew a blank – for now……