Tag Archives: ghostly violets

Empress Eugenie and the Scent of Violets: 1880

It is Bastille Day, so Mrs Daffodil will share a strange French tale. Let us preface this story with a few words of historical background.

Napoléon Eugene, the Prince Imperial, son of the exiled French Emperor, Napoleon III and the Empress Eugenie, had enlisted in the British Army and, eager to see action, had managed to have himself posted to Zululand to fight in the Anglo-Zulu War. On 1 June 1879, the Prince Imperial was ambushed and killed. His body was returned to England for burial; a funeral was held on 12 July 1879. In 1880, the Empress made a pilgrimage to Zululand, wishing to see where her son fell.

SCENT FROM BEYOND

Of the many stories told of uncanny experiences, that related of the late Empress Eugenie is one of the most amazing.

After her son, the Prince Imperial, was killed in Zululand, the Empress, accompanied by the late Field Marshal Sir Evelyn Wood, paid a visit to his grave. This spot had been marked by a cairn of stones, but by the date of the visit the jungle had encroached so that even the Zulu guides, who had been among the Prince’s assailants, could not find it.

The Prince had a passion for violet scent; it was the only toilet accessory of the kind he used. Suddenly the Empress became aware of a strong smell of violets. “This is the way,” she cried, and went off on a line of her own.

She tore along, stumbling over dead wood and tussocks, her face beaten by the high grass that parted and closed behind her, until, with a loud cry, she fell upon her knees, crying, “C’est ici!” (It is here). And there, hidden in almost impenetrable brushwood, they found the cairn!

“The Empress told me,” said Sir Evelyn afterwards, “that the first whiff of perfume had been so overwhelming that she thought she was going to faint. But it seemed to drag her along with it; she felt no fatigue, and could have fought her way through the jungle for hours.”

News-Journal [Mansfield OH] 3 July 1921: p. 17

In addition, after the Empress had spent the night in prayer at the site,

Towards morning a strange thing happened. Although there was not a breath of air, the flames of the candles were suddenly deflected, as if someone wished to extinguish them, and I said to him: “Is it indeed you beside me’? Do you wish me to go away’?” Quoted in Featherstone. Captain Carey’s Blunder, pp. 21S-16.

Another version of the story of the scent is related by Dr Ethel Smyth, musician and friend to the Empress.

When these Recollections were first published, much interest was excited by a curious psychic experience of the Empress’s in Zululand, whither she went in 1880 to visit the spot where her son had fallen. When, she told me the story I remembered having heard something about it from Sir Evelyn Wood who was in command of the expedition, but in those days I kept no diary, and certain details had distorted themselves in my mind.

I will therefore collate my version with that given by my friend, Lucien Daudet—one of “les enfants de la maison”—in a Memoir [L’Imperatrice Eugenie, par Lucien Daudet (A. Fayard).] of which, before it finally appeared in book-form, the Empress herself corrected the proofs. She disliked being written about at all, but this particular work gave her great pleasure. And though her weaknesses find no mention here, (“inevitable, but a pity!” as she herself remarked) this is the most faithful and delicate portrait of her in later years that exists.

When, at length, after many days trekking across the veldt, the expedition was nearing the goal, the Empress begged that instead of pressing on they might pitch camp. The first sight of the Zulus in war panoply had produced a terrible impression on her, and she wished to brace herself for the last stage. Since many months it was only with the aid of chloral and by inducing physical fatigue that she could win a little sleep in the 24 hours, and at the close of that long sultry day she slipped out of her tent for her usual solitary walk.

It appears that the Prince had a passion for verveine, that to think of “mon petit gargon” was to think of that scent. Suddenly the air was full of it; so unexpected, so overwhelming was the perfume that the Empress told me she thought she should faint. But it seemed to drag her onwards, and presently, without sensation of fatigue, ever faster and faster, she was following it “comme un chien sur une piste,” passing over rough, broken ground, pushing through thickets, crossing hidden ravines without conscious effort. . . . Then, quite as suddenly, the perfume failed, and with it her strength. She found herself on a hill covered with curious flat stones and knew she could never retrace her path. Presently men sent after her by her alarmed suite appeared and led her back to the camp.

Next day, as they neared the spot where the Prince had fallen, no need to tell her the goal was at hand; she recognized the hill and the stones.

This story is doubly impressive since, as I have said, she was not imaginative, and to all appearance anything but psychic.

Streaks of life, Ethel Smyth, 1922: p. 56-60

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire:  There are several little inaccuracies in the newspaper story. The site where the Prince fell was not only well-known, but it had been tidied and gravelled over in the manner of an English church-yard. The Empress was distressed by this. She had been hoping to find the site as it was when her son had been cut down. Here is an admirable article describing some of the events of the Empress’s pilgrimage.

While the violets story is inexpressively poignant, Mrs Daffodil has not been able to find it in Sir Evelyn Woods’s several memoirs or in biographies of the Empress herself. And was the Prince’s favourite scent violet, the signature flower of Napoleon Bonaparte, or verbena?

At the start of the Empress’s pilgrimage, her aides had to deal with a odiously intrusive female journalist working for The New York Herald, calling herself “Lady Avonmore,” who claimed to be a dear friend of the Empress and who tried to intercept the Imperial party. One wonders if it was she who created the sensational narrative above for her American readers.

Mrs Daffodil will add one more curious anecdote about the Prince Imperial’s death:

On the day of the surrender of Napoleon III, after the Battle of Sedan, a frightful storm broke over Windsor, and during the tempest a tree which the Emperor had planted in the park, while he and the Empress Eugenie were visiting Queen Victoria in 1855, was struck by lightning. Still half the stricken tree remained standing, but on June 1, 1879, a similar terrific storm broke over and swept the park, and a further lightning stroke completed the destruction of the tree. On this date the Prince Imperial (son and heir of Napoleon III) was killed in action in Zululand.

Noted Prophecies, Predictions, Omens and Legends, The Countess Zalinski, 1917 pp. 97-98

Mrs Daffodil invites you to join her on the curiously named “Face-book,” where you will find a feast of fashion hints, fads and fancies, and historical anecdotes

You may read about a sentimental succubus, a vengeful seamstress’s ghost, Victorian mourning gone horribly wrong, and, of course, Mrs Daffodil’s efficient tidying up after a distasteful decapitation in A Spot of Bother: Four Macabre Tales.

 

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