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Napoleon III’s remains will not return to France

France is marking a special royal anniversary this year.

In light of the anniversary, a year-long debate has also flared up at a high political level in recent months. Several senior French politicians want to attempt to have the Emperor’s remains returned to France.

Roger Karoutchi, a member of the French Republican Party and Deputy Speaker of the French Senate, has formally made the demand. He calls for the repatriation of Napoleon III’s remains from Farnborough in Hampshire, where they have been since 1888, to France. Karoutchi’s complaint that the Emperor is the only French reigning sovereign buried abroad.

However, the request to move the Emperor has been refused by those who guard the former monarch’s remains.

The body of Emperor Napoleon III is guarded by Benedictine monks who are still profoundly affected by the murder of Carmelite nuns by French revolutionaries in 1794. The Emperor lies in the crypt that the Emperor shares with his wife, Eugénie de Montijo, and their son, Napoleon Eugene, Prince Imperial. They have stated that it is unlikely that they will ever agree to move the Emperor despite the efforts of French senators.

Napoleon III’s remains were initially interred at St Mary’s, a Catholic church in Chislehurst.

However, after the death of their son, who served as an officer in the British Army and was killed in a battle against the Zulus in South Africa in 1879, Empress Eugénie decided to construct a monastery and a chapel to house the remains of both Napoleon III and their son. The bodies were relocated to the Imperial Crypt at St Michael’s Abbey in Farnborough, Hampshire, England, in 1888.

Napoleon III’s grave is not a major tourist attraction. The monks only allow visitors once a month, and only a handful of people request to view the tomb.

The Second French Empire has been largely erased from French historiography, but it remains influential.

After being defeated in the war against Prussia in 1870, Napoleon III was forced to abdicate as Emperor of France. He was captured and imprisoned in Germany before being released and exiled to Britain. He spent the rest of his life as a private person and lived in Chislehurst, Kent, where he died in 1873. Although Napoleon III was deposed and forced to live in exile, he still greatly influenced France’s politics and later inspired political movements.

As part of the commemorations of 150 years since the death of Napoleon III on 9 January 1873, several events are being organised across Europe, including a symposium, conferences, re-enactments, and dance performances.

About author

Senior Europe Correspondent Oskar Aanmoen has a master in military and political history of the Nordic countries. He has written six books on historical subjects and more than 1.500 articles for Royal Central. He has also interview both Serbian and Norwegian royals. Aanmoen is based in Oslo, Norway.