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Friday, February 29, 2008


All the fuss about Prince Harry in Afghanistan sounds overblown since he will obviously have been well protected. However there is a precedent for a young Prince going off to war & in his enthusiasm getting himself killed.

Louis Napoleon, heir to the Emperorship of France, managed it a century ago during the Zulu war.

On the morning of 1 June the troop set out, earlier than intended, and without the full escort, largely owing to Louis' impatience. Led by Carey, the scouts rode deeper into Zululand. Without Harrison or Buller present to restrain him, the Prince took command from Carey, even though the latter had seniority. At noon the troop was halted at a temporarily deserted kraal while Louis and Carey made some sketches of the terrain, and used part of the thatch to make a fire. No lookout was posted. As they were preparing to leave, about 40 Zulus fired upon them and rushed screaming uSuthu! ("kill") towards them. The Prince's horse dashed off before he could mount, the Prince clinging to a holster on the saddle - after about a hundred yards a strap broke, and the Prince fell beneath his horse, trampling his right arm. He leapt up, drawing his revolver with his left hand, and started to run - but the Zulus could run faster.

The Prince was speared in the thigh, pulled the assegai from his wound, and turned and fired on his pursuers, another assegai struck his left shoulder. The Prince tried to fight on, using the assegai he had pulled from his leg, but weakened by his wounds, he sank to the ground and was overwhelmed. When recovered his body had 18 assegai wounds. Two of his escort had been killed, and another was missing.....

Louis Napoleon's death caused an international sensation, and in one slanderous account Queen Victoria was accused of deliberately arranging the whole thing. The Zulus later claimed that they would not have killed him if they had known who he was. Zabanga, his chief assailant, met his death in July at the Battle of Ulundi. Eugénie was later to make a pilgrimage to Sobuza's kraal, where her son died. The Prince, who had begged to be allowed to go to war, taking the sword carried by the first Napoleon at Austerlitz to war with him, and worried his commanders by his dash and daring, was described by Wolseley as "a plucky young man, and he died a soldier's death. What on earth could he have done better?".

I have considerable sympathy for Wolseley's remark. This is traditionally the role of both young men & kings. Prince Harry was not engaged in a risk free photo opportunity & I think the country is the better for it.

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