NAPOLEON III (1808-1873)
Plaque erected in 1867 by (Royal) Society of Arts at 1c King Street, St James's, London, SW1Y 6QG, City of Westminster
Politics and Administration
NAPOLEON III LIVED HERE 1848
Encaustic, manufactured by Minton Hollins & Co.
The scheme's earliest surviving blue plaque
Napoleon III was the nephew and heir of Napoleon I and the last Emperor of the French. His former residence at 1C (formerly 3A) King Street in St James’s is particularly noteworthy for bearing London’s earliest surviving blue plaque.
EARLY YEARS IN EXILE
Prince Louis Napoleon Bonaparte was born in Paris and, like other members of his family, was exiled from France after the Battle of Waterloo (1815). He spent the years that followed in Switzerland, Germany, Italy, America and London, where he resided briefly at 1 Carlton Gardens – also in St James’s. On his return to France in 1840, Louis Napoleon was imprisoned for life, but six years later he managed to escape and fled to England.
In February 1847 he took a lease on a newly built house in King Street and transformed its interior into a shrine to the Bonapartes, installing a portrait of Napoleon I by Delaroche, uniforms worn by his uncle and other relics that survived the first Emperor’s fall.
The Prince became a leading figure in London society. He was given honorary membership of some of the most celebrated clubs in St James’s, and enrolled as a special constable during the Chartist riots of 1848. Greater disturbances across the Channel in this year of revolutions led to the overthrow of the French Bourbon monarchy, and in September 1848 he departed for France. Louis Napoleon seems to have left King Street in some haste, as his landlord found ‘the Prince’s bed unmade and his marble bath still full of water’.
The blue plaque commemorating the stay of Louis Napoleon in King Street is the earliest surviving plaque in London. Manufactured by Minton Hollins & Co. and put up by the Society of Arts in 1867, it is the only plaque to have been installed during a recipient’s lifetime. It is also notable for bearing the imperial eagle, used as a symbol of empire by both Napoleon I and Napoleon III.
THE LAST EMPEROR
Back in Paris, Louis Napoleon was elected first President of the Second Republic in December 1848. He remained President until 1852 when, on the restoration of the French Empire, he took his place as Emperor.
As Napoleon III, he was noted for his industrial modernisation of France and his rebuilding of Paris – inspired in part by his observations of London – though his foreign policy was less successful. In 1870 he embarked on the Franco-Prussian War, and the following year was captured by the enemy at the Battle of Sedan. Exiled once again to England, Napoleon moved with his wife and son to Camden Place in Chislehurst, Kent, where he died two years later.