17 April – On this day in 1880, France’s Empress Euégnie arrived in Cape Town, following in the footsteps of her son, Louis Napoléon, Prince Imperial of France, who had died in an ambush in the Anglo-Zulu War on 1 June 1870.
The Empress was the guest of the Governor General, Sir Bartle Frere, at Government House, where she occupied the same suite used by her son a decade previously. In Birds of Passage: Distinguished Travellers to the Cape of Good Hope from 1710-1896, Madeleine Masson wrote:
“Towards evening, the Empress sat at the window looking out upon the tranquil gardens. In her lap was a little volume of À Kempis, which she had given to the Prince Imperial and which he had had with him in Zululand. On the fly-leaf she had written: ‘Que Dieu protégé la France, et te donne tard, bien tarde, une mort Chretienne.’ [May God protect France and give you later, much later, a Christian death.] She sat there, quietly, tearlessly, holding the little book. Her grief was terrible.
Aline, her devoted maid, tiptoed into the room, carrying a bottle of wine and a glass on a silver salver. The Empress turned her head. ‘What is it, Aline, what do you want?’
‘His Excellency thought your Majesty might like to taste this wine which, it appears, was much appreciated by the Emperor, Napoleon the First, when he was at St Helena.’
In spite of her grief, the Empress smiled at Aline’s expression and when she smiled, the exquisite beauty that had once made her the loveliest woman of her day was still apparent in a face worn by tears and suffering.”
Clearly she appreciated the Vin de Constance…
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