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This issue's letters and comments.


How intrigued I was to find the article (“Hints of Grandeur,” Issue 12) about my home village, Chislehurst, England. I am a member of the ancient Parish Church of St. Nicholas (Church of England) that is located a short walk across Chislehurst Common from the Roman Catholic Church of St. Mary, where Napoleon III and his son the Prince Imperial were originally laid to rest. I think we must be one of the few villages in England that is home to well-established congregations that worship according to the 1662 Book of Common Prayer and the Tridentine Mass every Sunday.

I would like to add a few observations to Neil Jopson’s well-timed piece—it coming shortly before Chislehurst is about to commemorate the one hundred fiftieth anniversary of the death of the last Emperor of the French on January 9th, 2023, with a series of talks and church services.

Firstly, contrary to Mr. Jopson’s characterisation, Chislehurst had long been a fashionable place to live prior to the arrival of the French Imperial family, evidenced by the fact that the house in which they lived, Camden Place, was named after the great historian William Camden, who lived and died in an early seventeenth century house on the same site.

With regards to the funeral of Napoleon III, the exiled Emperor died without having received absolution from Pope Pius IX, who never forgave him for withdrawing French troops during the Capture of Rome two-and-a-half years earlier. This meant Monsignor Isaac Goddard, the parish priest of St. Mary’s, would not officiate at the Emperor’s funeral, despite being on good terms with the exiled family. The Right Reverend James Danell, second Bishop of Southwark, did so instead but only after seeking approval from the Vatican.

Finally, Mr. Jopson mentions that the remains of Napoleon III and the Prince Imperial were moved from Chislehurst to the purpose-built Abbey of St. Michael in Farnborough, Hampshire. The reason for this is the bereaved Empress Eugenie was prevented from extending the side-chapel at Chislehurst to accommodate the remains of her son after his death in British uniform in Itelezi. The chapel in which Mr. Jopson’s daughter was christened was designed by Henry Clutton to house the sarcophagus of Napoleon III (and dedicated to the Sacred Heart of Jesus) and naturally they had not planned for any other family members due to their relative ages. After the tragedy in Zululand, the Empress had Hippolyte Destailleur design an ambitious extension that would have transformed not just the chapel but the entire church into an extravagant monastic church, not too dissimilar to the eventual flamboyant gothic edifice at Farnborough. The plans however met firm opposition, firstly in the aforementioned Msgr. Goddard, who was already alarmed by the number of French visitors disturbing the Mass in his church but more importantly in Frederick J. Edlmann, the freeholder of the land surrounding the churchyard, who steadfastly refused to sell to her on account of his Protestant beliefs. Thus, the congregation of St. Mary’s, Chislehurst are now left with this rather curious chapel for the Sacrament of Baptism and Chislehurst itself deprived of its place as the resting place of members of the Bonaparte dynasty.

Yours Faithfully,
Charles Clark

The author replies: 

As with all history, there are many loose ends to tie off and interesting byways to be explored in the story of Empress Eugenie and Chislehurst. The relationship between Father Goddard and the Imperial Family is one particularly interesting area. Father Goddard would often say Mass at Camden Place for Napoleon III and his family, and it was of course Father Goddard who was summoned to administer the Last Rites as the Emperor lay on his deathbed. Yet, after Eugenie moved the bodies of her husband and son from the chapel, she is believed to have never returned to Saint Mary’s, despite repeated requests from Father Goddard for her to do so. Regarding the funeral, Napoleon III was never excommunicated by the Pope, so the story of the politics surrounding the funeral is certainly an interesting one. 

It is a delight to hear that Chislehurst is host to not only the ancient form of the Mass which I love so much, but also for the 1662 Book of Common Prayer. This seems a fitting situation for a village that holds fast to its heritage as the modern world ebbs and flows all around it.  

Neil Jopson

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