The Emperor Entertains: Napoleon III at Compiègne

Christopher Sykes revisits Compiègne during the hunting season, the scene of some of the most splendid and ostentatious diversions of the Second Empire.

The failure of Napoleon III can be measured by the affection which surrounds his memory. It was no part of his great design that he should figure in history as the lovable little man at the centre of a court irresistible for its charm and frivolity. It was not for this that he risked all at Strasbourg and Boulogne, or plotted in the prison fortress of Ham. Nor was the impression which he made on his contemporaries of this un-imperially tame order; to do him justice we should acknowledge that he was very successful as a true Bonaparte for a considerable time. “This French god, this child of Hell,” Tennyson described him, and when his own people called him “L’Homme de Decembre,” the words evoked a wintry picture of a massacre and a ruthless hunger for power. He was “the man of blood,” and his armies, so it seemed, were being raised for a war on the terrible scale of fifty years earlier. People laughed at him, but for all that they were almost as afraid of him as they had been of his uncle. They had laughed at his uncle.

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