François d’Orléans, Prince of Joinville: Artist & Sailor

François d’Orléans, Prince of Joinville, 1843

François d’Orléans, Prince of Joinville, 1843

François d’Orléans, Prince of Joinville, is perhaps best known to Napoleon fans as the commander of La Belle Poule, the ship that returned Napoleon’s remains to France in 1840.  The Prince of Joinville – the son of a French king – had a storied naval career, was a notable painter of watercolours, and wrote some delightful memoirs. You might remember him from my post about vintage photos of French royalty, in which he stood out as one of the princes who served in the American Civil War. Here’s a closer look at his life and his art.

A royal birth

François d’Orléans, Prince of Joinville, was born at the Château de Neuilly on August 14, 1818. He was the seventh of his parents’ ten children, eight of whom lived to adulthood. His father, Louis Philippe, Duke of Orléans, was a member of the junior branch of the reigning House of Bourbon of France (the junior branch was in line to succeed to the French throne if the senior branch died out). His mother, Maria Amalia of Naples and Sicily, was a niece of Marie Antoinette (the queen who was executed in the French Revolution) and a first cousin of Austrian Emperor Francis I. Thus Joinville was a second cousin of Napoleon’s second wife, Marie Louise.

Family dinner at the Tuilieries

La viande du roi, by François d’Orléans, Prince of Joinville

La viande du roi, by François d’Orléans, Prince of Joinville. The Prince included himself in this illustration of a visit to Louis XVIII’s banquet at the Tuileries in 1824. He’s the little boy in the red shirt on the lower right of the stairs. The other boy is his oldest brother, Ferdinand Philippe, Duke of Chartres. The girl is his sister Clémentine.

Although Louis-Philippe’s family was related to King Louis XVIII and his family, there was rivalry between them. The relationship was not helped when Louis-Philippe’s father (Philippe Égalité) voted in favour of putting Louis XVI – Louis XVIII’s elder brother – to death during the French Revolution. The families reconciled while they were in exile from 1791-1814, but there remained some friction, and Louis Philippe was thought to be sympathetic to France’s liberal opposition.

To the young Prince of Joinville, none of this mattered. He regarded his reigning cousins fondly, as indicated in the following passage from his memoirs.

[T]he first event that really is exceedingly clear in my recollection is a family dinner given by Louis XVIII at the Tuileries on Twelfth Night, 1824…. I can see every detail of that party, as if it had been yesterday. Our arrival in the courtyard of the Tuileries, under the salute of the Swiss Guard at the Pavillon Marsan and the King’s Guard at the Pavillon de Flore. Our getting out of the carriage under the porch of the stone staircase to the deafening rattle of the drums of the Cent Suisses. Then my huge astonishment when we had to stand aside halfway up the stairs, to let ‘La viande du Roi,’ in other words, his Majesty’s dinner, pass by, as it was being carried up from the kitchen to the first floor, escorted by his bodyguard.

At the head of the stairs we were received by a red-coated Steward of the Household…and, crossing the Salle des Gardes, we were ushered into the drawing-room, where the whole family soon assembled: to wit, Monsieur, who afterwards became Charles X, the Duc and Duchesse d’Angoulême, the Duchesse de Berri, my father and mother, my aunt Adélaïde, my two elder brothers, Chartres and Nemours, my three sisters, Louise, Marie and Clémentine, and last and youngest of all, myself. … Presently the door of the King’s study opened, and Louis XVIII appeared, in his wheeled chair, with that handsome white head and in the blue uniform with epaulettes which the pictures of him have rendered so familiar. He kissed each of us in our turn, without speaking to any of us except my brother Nemours, whom he questioned about his Latin lessons. Nemours began to stammer, and was only saved from disgrace by the opportune entrance of the Prince de Carignan.

At dinner the Twelfth Night customs were duly observed, and when I broke my cake I found the bean within it. I must confess the fact had not been altogether unforeseen, and my mother had consequently primed me as to my behavior. This did not prevent me from feeling heartily shy when I saw every eye fixed on me. I got up from the table, and carried the bean on a salver to the Duchesse d’Angoulême. I loved her dearly even then, that good kind Duchess! for she had always been so good to us, ever since we were babies, and never failed to give us the most beautiful New Year’s gifts. My respectful affection deepened as I grew old enough to realize her sorrows and the nobility of her nature, and I was always glad, after we were separated by the events of 1830, to take every opportunity of letting her know how unalterable my feelings for her were. She broke the ice by being the first to raise her glass to her lips, when I had made her my queen, and Louis XVIII was the first to exclaim, ‘The Queen drinks.’ A few months later the king was dead and I watched his funeral procession from the windows of the Fire Brigade Station in the Rue de la Paix, as it passed on its way to Saint-Denis.” (1)

Louis XVIII was succeeded by his brother, Charles X.

Tedious schooldays

Au lycée Henri IV, by François d’Orléans, Prince of Joinville

Au lycée Henri IV, by François d’Orléans, Prince of Joinville

François d’Orléans, Prince of Joinville, enjoyed his early years with his large, boisterous family, spending summers at Neuilly, and winters at the Palais-Royal in Paris. He was tutored at home with his siblings until the age of 10, when he entered the Collège Henri IV.

Ay di me! as the Spanish lament has it. When I pass by…the great walls of that learned prison in which I spent three years, the memories that come back to me are not pleasant – far from it. My life there was mortally tedious, and I did no good whatsoever. My whole education has been gained by reading…, by observation, and by listening to those people who know how to hold my attention. … But Greek and Latin, and hours spent over an exercise or a translation with a fat dictionary to keep me company! Oh, mercy on me! From the scholastic point of view I was simply a dunce…. [M]y greatest joy was to go out by [the porter’s] door, after evening school, and go down the Rue de la Montagne or the Rue des Sept-Voies, playing a thousand pranks as I went, and…my grief used to be keen indeed when I had to go back the next morning. Yet some good comrades I had whom I dearly loved, and amongst whom I improved in playing various games, and learned the art of both giving and receiving kicks and cuffs. (2)

The Revolution of 1830

The revolution of 1830, July 31st, by François d’Orléans, Prince of Joinville

The revolution of 1830, July 31st, by François d’Orléans, Prince of Joinville

Charles X was deposed in the Revolution of 1830. On August 9, 1830, Joinville’s father, Louis Philippe, became the new constitutional monarch of France. The Prince of Joinville was with his mother and siblings at Neuilly when the revolution happened.

[Our father’s] movements were rigorously concealed from us, and I never learnt what they really were even in later days… We were soon aware of the bare fact that he was in Paris, exercising public functions which were somewhat ill-defined as yet; and on the evening of [July] 31st my mother informed us that we were going to join him at the Palais-Royal.

We started about eight o’clock at night, my mother, my aunt Adélaïde, and we children, in an omnibus, so as not to attract notice. We began to come to barricades at the Barrière de l’Étoile, but openings had been made in them already, large enough for carriages to pass through, all which openings were watched by guards of armed people – I beg their pardons, I was mistaken – armed citizens, playing at soldiers and police, who stopped and cross-questioned everybody in the most childish fashion. The omnibus could not get beyond the Place Louis XV, so many obstacles did we find in the way. We got out, and my mother divided us into twos, and told us to scatter and meet again at the Palais-Royal. …

In the centre of a great crowd on the Place du Palais-Royal there was one of the Laffitte et Caillard diligences, which had been used as a barricade, and set up again. It was full of people inside, and they clustered on the roof like bees, all of them singing in chorus. Between the choruses, sharp volleys of musketry rang out, and the vehicle, drawn by three or four hundred people holding on to ropes, tore round the square, amid a concert of varied yells. Though it was very late when we reached the palace, it was all lighted up, and every door stood open. Anybody who chose could go in, and when we went up the stairs we found many people already settled on the steps, prepared to spend the night there. We saw my father in his study, and then we were sent to bed, or rather to camp out in the rooms we usually slept in. The next day the firing slackened, but the general idleness continued; everybody was walking about. Soon the question of food began to press, for all supplies and trade were stopped by universal barricades. Everybody asked everybody else what was going on, a subject upon which every one except the leaders was profoundly ignorant. The multitude was just like an immense flock of sheep, whose shepherds had been driven away, and who seemed to wonder why the new dogs who were to herd them did not make their appearance. There was no bad feeling; now and then there would be a panic, everybody taking to their heels, nobody knew why, and then stopping again and bursting out laughing. Sometimes a noise arose and swelled as it drew nearer. It was some popular leader going to the Hôtel de Ville or the Palais-Royal, with two or three claqueurs before him, to stir up an enthusiasm in which everybody shared, without having a notion of the name of the hero they were acclaiming, yet glad to be able thus to show off their civic rights. Then there would be a fit of general tenderness. Everybody kissed everybody else vehemently. In some cases transport of patriotism thus calmed itself; in others perhaps it was the effect of the extreme heat, and the consequent thirst, which had not gone unquenched, and in others, again, it was merely the relaxation of morals an era of universal brotherhood brought with it. The hero of this general and infectious kissing match was Lafayette. Everybody wanted to kiss him….

One evening…we heard a great noise coming from the staircase. … A crowd of armed men, with lighted torches were coming up, shouting loudly and waving flags. At their head came five or six pupils of the École Polytechnique, with their three-cornered hats cocked and swords drawn. Behind them a woman in man’s attire, red belt and close-fitting pantaloons, was being borne in triumph. She was a heroine of the barricades, whom the yelling crowd desired to introduce to my father, and he had to receive her. This scene filled me with disgust. (3)

Sailor and artist

In 1831, the Prince of Joinville left school and embarked as a pilot’s apprentice on a frigate, as preparation for a naval career. On his first voyage, he stopped in Corsica.

At Ajaccio I came upon more public functions, and was the hero of a Bonapartist demonstration. I was borne as though in triumph to the house where Napoleon was born, where I was received by a very old Signor Ramolino, brother to Madame Letitia. In common with my sisters, who drew pictures of Napoleon all over the place, I professed the greatest admiration for the great warrior. So I asked his uncle for some souvenir of him, and he presented me with a red armchair, out of the room in which he was born. (4)

Visits to Florence, Pisa and Pistoia sparked a deep interest in art in the thirteen-year-old Joinville. After his return to Paris, while studying the technical information necessary to become a naval officer, he began to learn how to draw and paint. His primary instructor was the Dutch-French romantic painter Ary Scheffer.

Joinville passed his naval exams at Brest, became a lieutenant in the French navy, and continued to develop his artistic talent and interests. These did not necessarily correspond with those of his father, the king.

The winter season of 1836 found me back in Paris where I began my classes again and gave myself up in particular to my passion for the fine arts. This taste of mine was the cause of a terrible blowing up I got from my father. The jury of the Salon of 1836 refused a picture of Marilhat’s…. Some of the artists who had seen the young painter’s work thought this decision unjust. They grumbled and their grumbling got as far as the newspapers. I was curious enough to go and see the picture…. It was a view of Rome by twilight, seen between great umbrella pines. I thought it a splendid picture, and spurred somewhat, I confess, by a spirit of contradiction, I was seized with an eager desire to acquire it. But I had not a halfpenny of my own, there was my difficulty! To overcome it, I laid siege to my aunt Adélaïde, who doted on her brother’s children as if they had been her own, and who never (and well the rogues knew it!) could resist their wheedling. I succeeded, as I had hoped, and Marilhat’s picture became my property. But certain of the jury went and complained to the King, and I was greeted with, ‘Oho! So you are going to set yourself up in opposition! I’ve trouble enough already with those artists! It’s the Civil List (that means it’s me) that takes them in at the Louvre. I can’t be the only judge as to what is accepted and what isn’t. I have to have a jury, the Institute is good enough to undertake the job – all its members are dying of fright, and I shield them under my own responsibility, just as I do my ministers, although it’s contrary to the letter of the law – and it’s you, one of my own sons, who comes and sets an example of insubordination! Much obliged to you, sir!’ (5)

Voyage to the Levant

In the Levant, 1836

In the Levant, 1836, by François d’Orléans, Prince of Joinville

In 1836, the Prince of Joinville sailed for the Levant. Among other places, he visited Jerusalem, where he received permission from the governor to visit the Mosque of Omar.

We entered the mosque, which is really very beautiful and went all over it. The Imaums and Softas, the priests and students, had cast horrified glances upon us from the moment of our entry. Suddenly one of them began to intone in a falsetto voice a sort of Litany, to which the crowd replied in chorus. Soon the Litany turned into angry shouts, and the crowd, led by an old Negro Imaum, in a yellow robe, who seemed to have worked himself into a perfect paroxysm of fury, rushed at us with threatening gestures. … Seizing me by the arm, [the governor] put me behind him, with Bruat and the other gentlemen grouped round me. Then he ordered a dozen Kavasses he had brought with him to charge, which they did, laying out heavily with their sticks. Not content with that, he had the most turbulent of the Softas seized, thrown down at his feet, and beaten without mercy. The blows hailed down on the poor wretch as if they had been beating a carpet. This determined attitude cowed the crowd, which fell back to the far end of the mosque, grumbling. (6)

Voyage to the Americas

In 1837-38, the Prince of Joinville made his first voyage to the Americas, as a lieutenant on the Hercule. In Brazil he met the royal family, to whom he was related. Emperor Pedro I’s wife, Maria Leopoldina, was the daughter of Francis I of Austria, and thus Joinville’s second cousin. Joinville had a good time.

To finish up our stay at Rio, we gave the emperor and his family, and the whole of society both foreign and Brazilian, a ball on board our ship. Towards the end of the evening, I turned a young lion I had been given in Senegal loose in the ball-room, and his appearance somewhat disturbed the figures of the cotillion. (7)

In Jamaica, he acquired a barrel of rum, at the request of his father.

It was brought back to France and duly placed in the cellars at Neuilly, and had been forgotten for ever so long, when one fine day the King, recollecting it, ordered some of the contents to be handed round at the end of dinner. All the guests smacked their lips beforehand; but disappointment awaited them, and the first taste was followed by a general grimace of horror. It was simply beastly. Enquiries were set on foot and here is their result! A distinguished mental specialist, who had been ordered to take a sea voyage for the benefit of his health, which had broken down, had got leave from the Minister for Naval Affairs to sail on board the Hercule. Deeply interested as he was in his own special subject, he had occupied himself during all our stays in port in collecting brains, both human and animal, which he immediately labelled and shut up in a barrel of alcohol, which was exactly like my barrel of rum. The two barrels had gotten mixed and my father and his guests had been drinking rum flavoured with brains! (8)

While in the United States, he met Senators John C. Calhoun, Henry Clay and Daniel Webster. He liked the Americans, but did not think much of Washington, DC.

[B]its of town, scattered about in an ocean of dust, which later on I knew as an ocean of mud; hotels crowded with canvassers, all devouring so hurriedly at table d’hôte time that the first arrivals were rising from the table when the last ones were sitting down, and all this amidst a noise of jaws that reminded me of dogs being fed in a kennel; the whole population, whether politicians or canvassers, chewing and spitting everywhere; little society or none at all, save that formed by the foreign diplomats, most of them clever men, but bored by their isolation, and consequently disposed to see everything around them with unfavouring eyes. (9)

Philadelphia delighted him, as did Niagara Falls, although he found New York City “utterly commonplace.” (10)

War in Mexico

Combat of Veracruz, 1838

Combat of Veracruz, 1838, by François d’Orléans, Prince of Joinville

Within six weeks of returning to France in 1838, the Prince of Joinville was at sea again, as commander of the corvette Créole. His ship was part of a squadron that sailed to Mexico to settle a dispute over the rights of French residents, among other things (this was known as the Pastry War). When diplomacy failed, the French bombarded the fort of San Juan de Ulúa, off the coast of Veracruz. This was followed by a raid on Veracruz itself. Joinville’s company formed the advance guard of a column that had orders to land on the mole, blow up the sea gate, and march on the headquarters of General Antonio López de Santa Anna and try to seize his person.

We started then, with our oars muffled to deaden the noise. We could hardly find our way in the twilight and had to strain our eyes to see the mole through the mist. The great gate of the city was closed, no sentry outside it. Everything was asleep. We landed in dead silence, and the column formed up. The sappers ran on ahead, laid the powder bag, and masked it, then a sergeant of sappers lighted the match and shrank back behind a projecting bit of wall. Bang! The mask of the petard just grazed our heads, and one side of the gate lay on the ground…. Led by a guide we passed at a swinging pace down a street which brought us to the Mexico gate. … A few shots and bayonet thrusts got rid of the guard at the gate. ….

We then received a heavy discharge of musketry from about a hundred and fifty soldiers who forthwith disappeared down a side street. They were the headquarters guard. Off we tore after them, and were just in time to see the last of them go into a big house which my guide informed me was the headquarters of the military governor…. A sharp fire poured from the first floor the instant we appeared in the courtyard. Hesitation would be fatal. We must get upstairs and bring those folk to their senses. A narrow stairway was the only road. Well, every man must own to some weakness! When I saw that staircase, up which I should have to go first, and receive the first volley alone when I got to the top, I wavered for a moment, and waving my sword, I shouted, ‘Volunteers to the front!’ My quartermaster, a Parisian, rushed to the staircase, and the sight brought me back to a sense of duty. I rushed after him. We raced against each other, and I had the satisfaction of getting to the top a good first, followed indeed by my whole company. There was nothing so very terrible about it after all.

At first we found ourselves in a sort of vestibule; an ill-directed fire, which wounded two of our officers only, pouring on us through the doors and windows. Then each of us set to work on his own account. A second boatswain…and I threw ourselves against a door and broke it in with our shoulders. When it gave, I was shot forward by my men pushing on behind me, and hurled into a room full of smoke and Mexican soldiers. One of them, in a white uniform and red epaulettes…was aiming at me with the barrel of his musket close to my face. I had just time to say to myself, ‘I’m done for.’ But no, there was no shot, the gun fell on my feet, and I saw my gentleman roll under a sofa carrying the sword with which Penaud, my lieutenant, had run him through as quick as lightning, stuck between his ribs.

I believe I rid myself of another great big fellow next, and then, the first start having been given, there was a general rout, and I found myself in another room at the end of which I saw several officers, one a general, standing together very calmly with their swords sheathed. I rushed forward with the boatswain Jadot, to protect them from my men, who were somewhat excited, and the fight was over. The name of the general, a tall fair handsome fellow, was [Mariano] Arista. In later days he became President of the Mexican Republic. He surrendered his sword to me…. As for Santa Anna, we could not find him, though his bed was still warm. (11)

Santa Anna was severely wounded during the battle. His left leg had to be amputated as a result.

After returning to France in 1839, Joinville was made a knight of the Legion of Honour. He was also promoted to captain and given command of the frigate Belle Poule.

Return of Napoleon’s remains

Return of Napoleon’s remains, 1840

Return of Napoleon’s remains, St. Helena, 1840, by François d’Orléans, Prince of Joinville

In 1840, Joinville was told by his father to go to St. Helena and bring Napoleon’s coffin back to France.

[A]t the first blush I felt nowise flattered when I compared the warlike campaign my brothers were on with the undertaker’s job I was being sent to perform in the other hemisphere. But I served my country and I had no right to discuss my orders. And there were two sides to the question, besides. Above Napoleon, the enemy of my house, the murderer of the Duc d’Enghien, who at his fall had left that dangerous game of chance wherein the ignorant herd is so often the dupe of the political croupier – universal suffrage – as his legacy to ruined and dismembered France, there was the matchless warrior whose genius, even in defeat, had shed immortal glory on our arms. To fetch his ashes from a foreign land was in a manner to wave the flag of vanquished France aloft once more – that at least was what we hoped for – and this view of the case reconciled me to my mission….

The only request I made [of the British governor of St. Helena] and obtained was, that the coffin should be opened before it was handed over to us, so as to be sure that we were taking neither a hotbed of infection nor an imaginary corpse on board….

When all was ready the exhumation took place, and very imposing it was. Everybody felt impressed when the coffin was seen coming slowly down the mountain side, to the firing of cannon, escorted by British infantry with arms reversed, the band playing, to the dull rolling accompaniment of the drums, that splendid funeral march which English people call The Dead March in Saul, but which is really no other than the ancient Catholic chant of Adeste Fideles. [Governor] General Middlemore, dropping with fatigue, formally handed over the body to me; and the coffin was lowered into the long-boat of the Belle Poule, which then started for the ship. … A magnificent sunset had been succeeded by a twilight of the deepest calm. The British authorities and the troops stood motionless on the beach, while our ship’s guns fired a royal salute. I stood in the stern of my long-boat, over which floated a magnificent Tricolour flag worked by the ladies of St. Helena. Beside me were the generals and superior officers…. The pick of my topmen, all in white, with crape on their arms, and bareheaded like ourselves, rowed the boat in silence, and with the most admirable precision. We advanced with majestic slowness, escorted by the boats bearing the staff. It was very touching, and a deep national sentiment seemed to hover over the whole scene. (12)

America, Africa and marriage

In 1841, Joinville was back in the Americas, visiting Newfoundland, Nova Scotia, and the United States.

In the very first train I got into I found myself opposite a big man wearing a moustache and imperial, with a huge walking stick between his legs, and was told he was the King, or rather Prince, Murat. Next we passed a fine country property belonging to King Joseph Buonaparte, and involuntarily I thought of a certain passage in the works of Voltaire, where Candide meets all the dethroned kings at Venice. (13)

He travelled into the interior as far west as Wisconsin and as far south as St. Louis. At Washington, he visited President John Tyler at the White House.

A melomaniac king, Gabon

A melomaniac king, Gabon, by François d’Orléans, Prince of Joinville

In 1843, Joinville sailed along the west coast of Africa. In Gabon, near Libreville, he was visited by King Denis of the Mpongwe people.

He came to call on me in great state, dressed in the handsome uniform of a general of the French Republic, the cast-off garments of some performer at the Cirque Olympique. He had a tri-colour plume in his hat, a gold laced coat with lapels turned back on the chest, white breeches, and top boots. He wore the decoration of the Legion of Honour, which he had been given for some service or other he had done our fleet in those waters; and a large gold medal of Queen Victoria, given him by the English, hung down on a thick chain between his knees. … We gave the royal family the best welcome at our command. My bandmaster, M. Paulus, entertained them with the noisiest tunes; but whenever the band stopped the king cried, ‘Encore! Encore!’ When the bandsmen got tired out I shut his majesty up in a little cabin with the three ship’s drummers, and told them to keep rolling till he had enough of it. But the drummers gave out in their turn, and I had to send the insatiable melomaniac and his family on shore at last, whether he would or no. (14)

On May 1, 1843, in Rio de Janeiro, François d’Orléans, Prince of Joinville, married Princess Francisca of Brazil, the daughter of Emperor Pedro I and Empress Maria Leopoldina. The two had become acquainted on his first voyage to Brazil, when she was 16 years old. Joinville received as dowry an area of 580 square kilometres in the south of Brazil. The couple returned to France after the wedding. They had two children: Princess Françoise (August 14, 1844 – October 28, 1925); and Pierre, Duke of Penthièvre (November 4, 1845 – July 17, 1919). A third child was stillborn on October 30, 1849.

A deaf prince

On August 22-23, 1843, François d’Orléans, Prince of Joinville, paid a brief visit to Queen Victoria at Windsor Castle (he had already met Prince Albert several times in Paris). He wrote of the queen:

Bright and witty, with an arch and pleasant smile not always quite devoid of mischief, the young sovereign was in all the freshness and brilliance of her youth and the radiance of her happiness. (15)

The queen wrote of her guest:

Joinville is not so handsome as I expected, but very pleasing & amiable & good, and I can easily imagine that he is a gt. favourite with his family & indeed with all who know him, but he is grown thin, & looks rather fagged & shd. not overfatigue himself; he is very deaf but understands me very well. (16)

Joinville’s deafness began to show itself when he was in his early 20s. A painful surgery aimed at curing his hearing loss was unsuccessful, so he had to reconcile himself to the condition. In 1847, Victor Hugo wrote:

The Prince de Joinville’s deafness increases. Sometimes it saddens him, sometimes he makes light of it. One day he said to me: ‘Speak louder, I am as deaf as a post.’ On another occasion he bent towards me and said with a laugh: ‘J’abaisse le pavillon de l’oreille.’ [I lower the standard of the ear.] ‘It is the only one your highness will ever lower,’ I replied. …

Since he cannot talk as he wants to, he keeps his thoughts to himself, and this sours him. He has spoken more than once, however, and bravely. He was not listened to and he was not heeded. ‘They needn’t talk about me,’ he said to me one day, ‘it is they who are deaf!’ (17)

War in Morocco

Shipwreck: Loss of the Groenland in Morocco, 1844

Shipwreck: Loss of the Groenland in Morocco, 1844, by François d’Orléans, Prince of Joinville

In August 1844, the Prince of Joinville (by now a rear-admiral) commanded a French fleet that conducted a naval bombardment of several places in Morocco, including Tangiers, Essaouira and Mogador, as part of the First Franco-Moroccan War. On the return from Mogador, the frigate Groenland was wrecked on the Moroccan coast.

By some miscalculation or other she ran aground, going nine knots an hour, at high water, on a spring tide, at the foot of a cliff as high as those of the English Channel. When the fog cleared, some Arabs, very few fortunately, on the top of the rocks, saw her, and poured their fire into her with perfect impunity. …

I was passing by, out at sea, on board the Pluton, on my way to Cadiz when the sound of the guns, which was very unexpected thereabouts, attracted my attention and steering towards the noise I soon caught sight of the unlucky Groenland lying close ashore, while the rifle-shots flashed from the top of the cliff. It was just getting dark when I reached the spot. I boarded the ship at once, no easy matter, for a heavy surf was breaking on her stern, the only part of her which was at all accessible. But they threw me a rope and hoisted me on board.

The unlucky officer in command, Captain Besson, had done everything in his power after the vessel had gone ashore. He had laid out anchors, lightened the ship, and cut down her masts and spars. Then, in the pluckiest way, he had tried to go about, under the full fire of the Arabs. Fourteen of his men had been killed or wounded at the capstan bars. But the cables gave way, and the only result of lightening the ship was that the swell carried her closer in shore. I went down to the engine-room, which was full of water. It was clear to my mind that her side was stove in. It was out of the question to make any attempt to float such a large vessel – a difficult enough job on a friendly coast – under the rifle fire of the thousands of Arabs who were sure to gather on the cliff at daybreak.

If the sea rose, the ship would not only go to pieces, but it would be impossible to rescue her passengers and crew. I therefore settled to proceed at once to the removal of the wounded, in the first place, and then of the rest of the soldiers and sailors on board. This was carried out without any accident. Captain Besson was the last man to leave his ship, having first, at my request, set her on fire, so as to leave nothing in the way of a trophy in the enemy’s hands. (18)

For his service, Joinville was promoted to vice-admiral. Joinville later did another tour in Africa. Between postings, he seemed at loose ends. Hugo wrote:

At the Tuileries the Prince de Joinville passes his time doing all sorts of wild things. One day he turned on all the taps and flooded the apartments. Another day he cut all the bell ropes. A sign that he is bored and does not know what to do with himself. …

[H]e has no princely coquettishness, which is such a victorious grace, and has no desire to appear agreeable. He rarely seeks to please individuals. He loves the nation, the country, his profession, the sea. His manner is frank, he has a taste for noisy pleasures, a fine appearance, a handsome face, with a kind heart, and a few feats of arms to his credit that have been exaggerated; he is popular. (19)

Exile of the Prince of Joinville

In February 1848, King Louis Philippe was removed from his throne by a revolution. The Prince of Joinville was in Algiers at the time. Like the rest of his family, he lost his properties and lands in France. He also lost his position in the French navy. Joinville and his wife and children went into exile with his parents in England. They stayed at Claremont, in Surrey. Joinville still had his lands in Brazil, which he decided to partially sell off to German-speaking immigrants.

In 1851, Joinville announced that he would be a candidate for the French presidential election to be held in 1852. He hoped this would leave to the eventual restoration of the monarchy. However in December 1851, Louis-Napoleon Bonaparte, the son of Napoleon’s brother Louis, staged a coup d’état, so the election never took place. Instead, Louis-Napoleon became Emperor Napoleon III.

American Civil War

In the Army of the Potomac, the Tent of the Duke of Chartres in America

In the Army of the Potomac, the Tent of the Duke of Chartres in America, by François d’Orléans, Prince of Joinville

When the American Civil War broke out in 1861, the Prince of Joinville went to Washington, DC, with his son and two of his nephews to place their service at the disposal of President Abraham Lincoln. In October, Lincoln appointed Joinville and his nephews to the staff of General George B. McClellan. McClellan wrote to his wife: “[Joinville] bears adversity so well & so uncomplainingly. I admire him more than almost any one I have ever met with – he is true as steel – like all deaf men very reflective – says but little & that always to the point.” (20)

Joinville accompanied McClellan in the Peninsular Campaign in southeastern Virginia in early 1862.

His excessive deafness sometimes exposed him unconsciously to fire, and when his horse comprehended the state of affairs the Prince would quietly jog along out of the fire with a quiet, pleasant smile, which showed that he moved more out of regard for the horse than himself. But whenever there was any occasion for remaining exposed, the horse was obliged to sacrifice his own preferences for those of the prince.

He possesses remarkable power with the pencil and brush, — is a true artist, — and constantly employed this power during the campaign, so that his sketch-book made a complete and interesting history of the serious and ludicrous events of the war. (21)

Many of these sketches were later published in A Civil War Album of Paintings by the Prince de Joinville (New York, 1964).

In June 1862, disagreements between France and the United States over Mexico led Joinville and his nephews to withdraw from the Union forces and return to Europe. Joinville’s son, Pierre, who entered the US Naval Academy, received an honorary appointment as an ensign in the US Navy on May 18, 1863; he remained until 1864.

During his exile Joinville wrote several essays and pamphlets on naval affairs and other matters. These were not published under his own name until after the fall of Napoleon III.

Return to France

Photograph of François d’Orléans, Prince of Joinville

Photograph of François d’Orléans, Prince of Joinville in the United States, Mathew Brady’s studio, circa 1862. Source: National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution; Fredrick Hill Meserve Collection

When Napoleon III was overthrown in 1870, Joinville returned to France. He was promptly expelled, so he returned incognito and joined the French army under the assumed name of “Colonel Lutherod.”

In 1871, the prince was elected to sit in the French National Assembly as a deputy for the Haute-Marne. His naval grade was reinstated. Joinville retired from public life in 1875. In 1886, he lost his rank of admiral as a result of a new law that prohibited pretenders to the throne from being part of the French armed forces. In 1898, his wife died.

François d’Orléans, Prince of Joinville, died at his home in Paris on June 16, 1900, at the age of 81. Upon learning of his death, Queen Victoria wrote in her journal: “Joinville, whom we first knew in 43, was quite charming & then very handsome. Till the last few years, he never failed to write to me for New Year, such whitty [sic], amusing letters & always sent me some pretty water colour painting by some good artist. He was an excellent artist himself.” (22)

The Prince of Joinville’s tomb is in the Royal Chapel of Dreux in France. One of his descendants, Jean, Count of Paris, is the Orléanist claimant to the French throne.

You can see more of the Prince of Joinville’s paintings on Wikimedia Commons.

You might also enjoy:

Photos of 19th-Century French Royalty

Louis XVIII of France: Oyster Louis

The Count of Artois: Charles X of France

The Duke and Duchess of Angoulême

What happened to Napoleon’s body?

Napoleon’s Funeral in Paris in 1840

The Tuileries Palace Under Napoleon I and Louis XVIII

  1. François d’Orléans, Memoirs (Vieux Souvenirs) of the Prince de Joinville, translated by Mary Lloyd (London, 1895), pp. 2-3.
  2. Ibid., pp. 26-27.
  3. Ibid., pp. 34-38.
  4. Ibid., p. 46.
  5. Ibid., p. 69.
  6. Ibid., pp. 76-77.
  7. Ibid., pp. 92-93.
  8. Ibid., p. 98.
  9. Ibid., pp. 104-105.
  10. Ibid., p. 107.
  11. Ibid., pp. 122-124.
  12. Ibid., pp. 156, 163-164.
  13. Ibid., pp. 188-189.
  14. Ibid., pp. 266-267.
  15. Ibid., p. 280.
  16. “François, Prince de Joinville (1818-190?),” Royal Collection Trust, https://www.rct.uk/collection/422193/francois-prince-de-joinville-1818-190, accessed October 14, 2021.
  17. Victor Hugo, The Memoirs of Victor Hugo, translated by John W. Harding (New York, 1899), p. 152.
  18. Memoirs (Vieux Souvenirs) of the Prince de Joinville, pp. 299-300.
  19. The Memoirs of Victor Hugo, pp. 150, 153.
  20. Harry G. Lang, “A Deaf Prince in Art and War,” Military Images, Vol. 35, No.3 (Summer 2017), p. 74.
  21. “The Princes of the House of Orleans,” The Century Illustrated Monthly Magazine, Vol. XXVIII, (New York, 1883-1884), p. 621.
  22. “François, Prince de Joinville (1818-190?),” Royal Collection Trust.

6 commments on “François d’Orléans, Prince of Joinville: Artist & Sailor”

  • John F. MacMichael says:

    Another excellent article. I have to admire the Prince’s candor in describing his natural hesitation at the prospect of leading a charge up a narrow staircase in the face of enemy musket fire. It reminds me of a scene in George MacDonald Fraser’s “Flashman’s Lady”. Flashman is (very reluctantly) serving under James Brooke, the White Rajah, in a desperate expedition against pirates in Borneo. Brooke orders Flashman to lead a charge against a pirate stronghold.

    “I inquired tactfully if he was b—–y mad, but he was ten yards away by then,…
    Well, whatever you may say of me, I know my duty, and if there was one thing Afghanistan had taught me, it was the art of leadership. In a trice I had seized a cutlass, thrust it aloft, and turned to the maddened crew behind me. “Ha, ha, you fellows!” I bellowed. “Here we go, then! Who’ll be first after me into yonder fort?” I sprang to the bank, waved my cutlass again, and bawled, “Follow me!”
    They came tumbling out of the boat on my heels, yelling and cheering, brandishing their weapons, and as I stood shouting, “On! On! Rule, Britannia!” they went pouring up the shore, scattering the embers of the stockade. I advanced with them, of course, pausing only to encourage those in the rear with manly cries, until I reckoned there were about a score in front of me; then I lit out in pursuit of the vanguard, not leading from behind, exactly–more from the middle, really, which is the safest place to be unless you’re up against civilized artillery.”

    Though I compare him to a fictional character it is clear that the Prince of Joinville was both a brave man and a gentleman, neither of which could be said about Harry Flashman.

  • Shannon Selin says:

    Thanks, John. Leading “more from the middle, really” – I love it!

  • John F. MacMichael says:

    Interestingly, Fraser had personal experience of the danger enemy artillery posed to those in the middle of an assault formation. In “Quartered Safe Out Here”, his memoir of his WW II service in Burma (which I highly recommend), he describes how his section was assigned as part of the second wave of attack on Japanese lines. His much more experienced comrades immediately began to complain bitterly and loudly that they would all be killed because they would be the prime targets for the Japanese artillery. Nevertheless, they attacked. Fortunately for his future readers Fraser survived.

  • James Fisher says:

    Such interesting reading again Shannon, thank you. Plenty for me to learn here too. It’s amazing, I have read a lot about the American Civil War and the Peninsula Campaign, seen the name of Joinville (I think been told that he was a former French officer or such), but never looked deeper.
    He had an amazing life didn’t he? Equal parts privileged, adaptable, brave and tenacious. Not ‘sheltered’ in any way though, as one might think. In parts, however, you get the sense of ‘superiority’ of the Europeans of the time with regards to ‘the colonies’.
    He seems to have grown up rapidly if his recollections/assessments of his thirteen-year old self are anywhere near the mark. D@mned fine painter too!
    Picking up on John’s comment above, the honesty of his description regarding his hesitancy on the staircase is matched by the matter-of-fact recollection of his part in saving the crew of the Groenland and his un-blaming treatment of Besson. He makes it sound like a simple procedure!
    Regards, James

    • Shannon Selin says:

      Thanks, James. He did have quite the life, and could easily have developed quite the ego, so it is refreshing to see the candour and modesty in his memoirs (albeit tinged with a European superiority complex, as you note). I didn’t know much about him either, until I started investigating. It was actually his art that drew me into the research. I came across his watercolours when I was searching for paintings of Louis XVIII in the Tuileries; recognized his name from the “retour des cendres” and from the Civil War photos, and concluded I really should learn more about Joinville.

  • Shannon Selin says:

    Thanks, John. I will look for Fraser’s memoir.

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Joinville is not so handsome as I expected, but very pleasing & amiable & good...he is very deaf but understands me very well.

Queen Victoria