Napoleon III – the Journey to Chislehurst

Charles Louis Napoléon was the last Emperor to reign over France. Having been forced into exile, he arrived at Camden Place in Chislehurst on 20 March 1871. He died in an upstairs bedroom there less than two years later. 

Back then, Camden Place was a private residence in a quiet village, likely chosen for its seclusion and proximity to London. Napoléon III joined his wife, the Empress Eugénie and their son, the Prince Imperial, who had arrived in Chislehurst the year before. 

Camden Place is now home to Chislehurst Golf Club, which this weekend was flying a French flag to celebrate the anniversary of its most prestigious former resident. 

Local historians, Angela Hatton and Joanna Friel, marked the occasion with a talk about Napoleon III’s eventful life and the journey that led him to Chislehurst. 

Over 350 people from both England and France attended the online event on Saturday evening. The evening opened with an introduction from Sir Bob Neill MP, who is a social member of Chislehurst Golf Club. 

“England was a safe haven for the Emperor and Empress and their presence was hugely significant for this area. The couple were friends with Queen Victoria who visited them in Chislehurst on several occasions. Tsar Alexander II was also a visitor,” said Angela Hatton, a member of the golf club’s heritage committee. 

Camden Place was originally built in 1715. After Empress Eugénie left in 1881, it was bought by William Willett, a local builder who first came up with the idea of daylight saving. 

Willett built houses on the Camden estate, but under pressure to preserve green spaces, he retained some of the land for a golf course. Chislehurst Golf club first opened in 1894. 

“Camden Place has a fascinating history and is the jewel in the Chislehurst crown,” said Joanna Friel, local historian and Chair of the Chislehurst Society. 

Napoleon III was the nephew of Napoléon Bonaparte, the iconic military leader defeated at the Battle of Waterloo. He was a known philanderer with several mistresses and illegitimate children. 

The golf club retains many of the architectural features from Napoleon’s time, including some original panelling that has been described by experts as being of international significance. 

Several roads in Chislehurst have been named in honour of the royal connection, including Prince Imperial Road and Royal Parade. 

Napoleon III died at Camden Place in 1873 following surgery to remove kidney stones. His death certificate hangs on the wall at the golf club. He was buried at St Mary’s church in Chislehurst with crowds of several thousand turning out to witness the funeral. 

Joanna Friel and Angela Hatton recently presented a virtual talk “live” to over 250 passionate listeners.

Historical Talk Recording:

You can watch a recording of the talk here.
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