The Farnborough Explorer
Interesting Things Around Farnborough

St Michael's Abbey

Farnborough is famous for hosting three bodies from the French Imperial family:

Louis-Napoléon Bonaparte (20 April 1808  – 9 January 1873)

Empress Eugénie (5 May 1826 – 11 July 1920)

Louis Napoléon, Prince Imperial (16 March 1856, – 1 June 1879)

Napoleon III was made President of the Second French Republic on the 10th December 1848,  pronounced himself 'Emperor' on the 2nd December 1852 and was deposed on the 4th September 1870. He fled with his family to England and lived at Campden Place Chislehurst with his family until his death. Empress Eugénie moved to her villa in Farnborough a few years later, where she founded St Michael's Abbey.

Eugénie's son Louis felt that he needed military training and enrolled at the Royal Military Academy in Woolwich and after the pleading of his mother and the intervention of Queen Victoria, was allowed to go to South Africa as an observer during the Zulu War. In spite of the British military's attempts to keep him out of the way and out of trouble, he was assegaied to death.

Empress Eugénie lived for another 41 years, walking five times a week by foot to St Michael's Abbey to pray for the souls of her husband and son.

All three are entombed in the imperial crypt of St Michael's Abbey. Napoleon III dressed in French imperial military uniform, Prince Louis dressed in British military uniform and although Eugénie had been married, because of her devout nature, she was granted dispensation by Pope Benedict XV and was entombed dressed as a nun.

St Michael's Abbey Website


Two Interesting Oddities:

1) Queen Victoria was a regular visitor of Empress Eugénie at Farnborough, but she would never go to Aldershot due to her husband Prince Albert having contracted Typhoid there. The two widows got on very well together and it is said that Eugénie was the only person who was able to reduce Queen Victoria to uncontrollable fits of giggling.

Queen Victoria always travelled to Farnborough by train in a specially constructed carriage (now at the national railway museum in York). Empress Eugénie's horse drawn carriage was required to collect Queen Victoria, whenever she arrived, from Farnborough Main Station. Eugénie's carriage was so large it did not turn very easily. As a consequence, Farnborough Main station has an extremely large approach (now a transport interchange), purely so that there was enough space for Eugénie's coach to turn. Eugénie was one of the first members of the aristocracy to adopt the petrol driven car as her main mode of transport.

2) Eugénie's wine mearchant was Wheatley's and the proprietor used to take his son Dennis whenever he visited the villa in Farnborough. Eugénie used to enjoy treating him to cake and regaling him with stories of the French imperial court. Dennis took over the wine mearchant business, but found fame as an author. His hero the Duke De Richleau was concieved thanks to the the stories Eugénie told him. Dennis Wheatley died in 1977 and his ashes are in Brookwood Cemetary.