“The washerwoman’s squat figure in its familiar cotton print seemed a passport for every barred door and grim gateway…”*

*from Chapter 8 of “The Wind in the Willows”(1908), by Kenneth Grahame: Toad escapes from the castle, disguised as the official washerwoman.

From the website of English Heritage:

Napoleon III was the nephew and heir of Napoleon I and the last Emperor of the French. His former residence at 1C (formerly 3A) King Street in St James’s is particularly noteworthy for bearing London’s earliest surviving blue plaque (see image).

Prince Louis Napoleon Bonaparte was born in Paris and, like other members of his family, was exiled from France after the Battle of Waterloo (1815). He spent the years that followed in Switzerland, Germany, Italy, America and London, where he resided briefly at 1 Carlton Gardens – also in St James’s. On his return to France in 1840, Louis Napoleon was imprisoned for life, but six years later he managed to escape and fled to England.

In February 1847 he took a lease on a newly built house in King Street and transformed its interior into a shrine to the Bonapartes, installing a portrait of Napoleon I by Delaroche, uniforms worn by his uncle and other relics that survived the first Emperor’s fall.

The Prince became a leading figure in London society. He was given honorary membership of some of the most celebrated clubs in St James’s, and enrolled as a special constable during the Chartist riots of 1848. Greater disturbances across the Channel in this year of revolutions led to the overthrow of the French Bourbon monarchy, and in September 1848 he departed for France. Louis Napoleon seems to have left King Street in some haste, as his landlord found ‘the Prince’s bed unmade and his marble bath still full of water’.

The blue plaque commemorating the stay of Louis Napoleon in King Street is the earliest surviving plaque in London. Manufactured by Minton Hollins & Co. and put up by the Society of Arts in 1867, it is the only plaque to have been installed during a recipient’s lifetime. It is also notable for bearing the imperial eagle, used as a symbol of empire by both Napoleon I and Napoleon III.”

From Wikipedia:

“…Louis Napoleon returned to London for a new period of exile in October 1838. He had inherited a large fortune from his mother and took a house with seventeen servants and several of his old friends and fellow conspirators. He was received by London society and met the political and scientific leaders of the day, including Benjamin Disraeli and Michael Faraday. He also did considerable research into the economy of Britain. He strolled in Hyde Park, which he later used as a model when he created the Bois de Boulogne in Paris…

Living in the comfort of London, he had not given up the dream of returning to France to seize power. In the summer of 1840 he bought weapons and uniforms and had proclamations printed, gathered a contingent of about sixty armed men, hired a ship called the Edinburgh-Castle, and on 6 August 1840, sailed across the Channel to the port of Boulogne. The attempted coup turned into an even greater fiasco than the Strasbourg mutiny…

He was busy in prison, but also unhappy and impatient. He was aware that the popularity of Napoleon Bonaparte was steadily increasing in France; the Emperor was the subject of heroic poems, books and plays. Huge crowds had gathered in Paris on 15 December 1840 when the remains of Napoleon Bonaparte were returned with great ceremony to Paris and handed over to Louis Napoleon’s old enemy, King Louis-Philippe, while Louis Napoleon could only read about it in prison.

On 25 May 1846, with the assistance of his doctor and other friends on the outside, he disguised himself as a laborer carrying lumber, and walked out of the prison. His enemies later derisively called him “Badinguet”, the name of the laborer whose identity he had assumed. A carriage was waiting to take him to the coast and then by boat to England. A month after his escape, his father Louis died, making Louis Napoleon the clear heir to the Bonaparte dynasty…

He quickly resumed his place in British society. He lived on King Street in St James’s, London, went to the theatre and hunted, renewed his acquaintance with Benjamin Disraeli, and met Charles Dickens. He went back to his studies at the British Museum. He had an affair with the actress Rachel, the most famous French actress of the period, during her tours to Britain. More important for his future career, he had an affair with the wealthy heiress Harriet Howard (1823–1865). They met in 1846, soon after his return to Britain. They began to live together, she took in his two illegitimate children and raised them with her own son, and she provided financing for his political plans so that, when the moment came, he could return to France…”

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