Eugenie - Empress of the French - George Upton

Birth of the Prince Imperial

Early on the morning of the sixteenth of March, 1856, a son was born to the imperial pair, and a salute of a hundred and one guns proclaimed the great news to the public, who received it with the wildest enthusiasm. The whole city was decorated with flags, garlands, and portraits of the Emperor and Empress, and ablaze with illuminations at night; while the City Council granted a sum of two hundred thousand francs for a feast for the poor. Greater still was the joy of the royal parents. The Emperor took the little Prince in his arms and carried him out to show to the assembled court, with tears of pride and happiness. He at once ordered a million francs to be distributed in charity to celebrate the event; had it publicly proclaimed that he and the Empress would act as sponsors to all legitimate children born on that day within the borders of his Empire, and issued a decree permitting all political exiles to return to France on condition that they would swear to uphold the Government and obey the laws of the country.

Soon after the birth of the Prince Imperial a congress met to determine the articles of peace which concluded the Crimean War and restored the peace of Europe, and Napoleon was appointed arbiter. At the zenith of his power and with the future of his dynasty seemingly secured, it did not appear altogether presumptuous when in replying to the congratulations of the Assembly he expressed a hope in the brightness of his son's future as heir to the throne of France.

Eugenie's position was greatly strengthened by this happy event, for now, should she survive her husband (as seemed probable from the difference in their ages), as mother of Napoleon the Fourth she would have still greater influence in public affairs. Her marriage to Napoleon the Third had revived memories of Josephine. Like the wife of the great Emperor she had been born under a southern sky; like her she had seemed destined from the cradle to wear a crown; and as long as she remained childless there were not lacking hints that a similar fate might be in store for her. But Providence had ordained otherwise. As a mother Eugenie was seated more firmly than ever on the throne of France, and universally regarded with respect, almost with reverence. Gifts flowed in from all sides. No less than twenty-eight orders were bestowed on the baby Prince. Messages of congratulation came from all parts of the Empire. Even the fishwives of the Halle came to offer their good wishes, and engravings of the Empress and her child were scattered by hundreds of thousands throughout the country.

In the early Summer of 1856, terrific floods caused much suffering and distress in many parts of France, in consequence of which there was some talk of having the Prince Imperial's christening celebrated quietly. Unwilling, however, to lose an opportunity of showing the world that his dynasty, though young in years was inferior to none of the older monarchies in wealth and splendor, Napoleon determined to send the flood victims one half of the sum which would originally have been devoted to the christening festivities, and with the other half he still managed to make an impressive display.

Not for many years had there been such excitement in Paris as on that summer day, which was to witness the baptism of the heir of Napoleon the Third. At six o'clock in the morning the pealing of bells and the thunder of cannon proclaimed that the great day had come, and at the first sound, swarms of eager spectators poured into the streets. All the boulevards and squares were filled in a few hours, and by the time incoming trains had deposited their freight of strangers and provincials, the crowds were so dense it was impossible to cross the Seine. A deafening shout greeted the appearance of the gilded state coach bearing the little Prince with his governess and nurse; nor was the enthusiasm lessened when close behind followed the happy parents with their suite. No less a person than the Holy Father at Rome was godfather to the Spaniard's child, while Queen Josephine of Norway and Sweden acted as godmother. The ceremony at Notre Dame was most striking and impressive. All the clergy of France were present; on entering the great shadowy Cathedral, dimly lighted by the myriad wax tapers on the altar, one might easily have imagined himself suddenly transported to a scene in the Middle Ages.

That evening the city of Paris gave a magnificent banquet in honor of the imperial family, at which the whole court and many foreign guests were present. It was held in the great hall of the Hotel de Ville, lit up by eighteen thousand wax candles. The silver service used was made expressly for the occasion at a cost of two hundred and fifty thousand francs and the flowers alone came to twenty thousand francs. Two orchestras alternated in furnishing music; and at the close all present rose and sang "rive l'Empereur!" The popularity of the Empress was proven by a surprise that had been prepared for her in the form of a diorama representing the various places with which she had some special association:—Granada her birthplace; Madrid, with the Prado; the forest of Compiegne; Fontainebleau, where the Emperor had confessed his love for her; the chamber which she had occupied in the Elysee before her marriage; the wedding of the imperial pair at Notre Dame; the Prince Imperial's apartment at the Tuileries; the palace of St. Cloud; and the cascade in the Bois de Boulogne. At the conclusion of the banquet Napoleon and Eugenie appeared on one of the balconies of the Hotel de Ville and were greeted with the wildest enthusiasm by the crowds that had gathered to admire the fireworks and the illuminations. All were charmed with the Emperor's graciousness and the beauty of the Empress, but most of all with the little Prince Imperial whom the people affectionately nicknamed "Lulu."