The military career of the young Prince Imperial began at the age of 12 during the year of 1823 when he was appointed an army cadet by his grandfather. This appointment entitled the young majesty of twelve years to wear a uniform which gave him great delight. As cadet, the prince held a rank of non-commissioned officer. His tutors began to notice that the military training began distracting from his learning. As one of his tutors wrote “…he could hear the bugle and drum announcing the changing of the guards. And he would at once jump to his feet…the sight of soldiers drawn up in file…the swift, spirited drill, the transmission of the password to the sentinels were an unfailing attracting to him.”
With his military career just beginning, the Prince Imperial was thrust into the spotlight of European politics with the death of the heirless King Louis XVIII, who had returned to the throne after the abdication of the young majesty’s father. In the spring of 1824, Louis XVIII, who was suffering from obesity, gout and gangrene died. The Bonapartists, a strong political force within France, wished to see the return of the House of Bonaparte to the French throne, with the Prince Imperial at its head. However; the wishes of the Bonapartiists was not to be satisfied as Count Metternich would not allow the now teenage boy to leave Austria. Instead of a Bonaparte on the throne, France would now be ruled by Charles X, the brother of Louis XVIII.
A painting of the Prince Imperial (Franz) as a young twelve year old.
By the age of 15 (1826), the growing Prince was openly allowed to read extracts of writings produced by members of staff who had served with his father during his lifetime and exile at St. Helena. The writings of Charles Tristan, Marquis de Montholon, Gaspard Gourgaud and Emmanuel Las Cases began to heavily influence the young prince’s thoughts about his father. The writings shared a message to the Prince, that his father had greatly said: “I envy that boy. Glory is waiting there for him; I had to run after Her. I will have been Phillip; he will be Alexander. He only has to extend an arm, and the world is his.”
Unable to currently control his fate outside of the palace, the teenage prince waited for his moment where he would escape the palace and somehow return to the land of his father. As the years passed, his mother Marie-Louise visited the palace during the summer of 1828, to find her son had turned into an absolute giant, nearly six feet tall; and mannerisms similar to his father; which was an embarrassing reminder to many of the Austrians. He walked like his father, his hands behind his back when thinking, walking in a circle with his head down.
While his mother was visiting, the now 17 year old was appointed by Emperor Franz I as captain of a light infantry company. As a present, his mother awarded her son with a curved saber that had belonged to his father while he was in Egypt. The sword would become part of a large collection of weapons and military books proudly displayed in his bedroom. It is often noted that “symbols of what he most desired…but over books and weapons brooded the spirit of Napoleon. The legend of his father was a power-house which held everything to which his youth stretched out.” Soon the Prince’s moment would come.
The Prince Imperial at the age of 15 years old.