Eugenie - Empress of the French - George Upton

The Empress in Exile

Early on the morning of the eighth of September, the landlord of the Hotel York in Ryde was awakened by a loud knocking, and found a man and two women standing outside the door. They had gone first to another inn, but had been refused admittance, their appearance was so bedraggled and forlorn. Yet worn and travel-stained as they were, the doors of the York were opened to them without hesitation, and here the Empress and her companions were able to rest for a few hours after their exhausting journey. That same afternoon, however, they went on to Brighton, where the Empress heard that the Prince Imperial had escaped through Belgium and landed at Dover the preceding day. Through all her own danger and distress she had been tortured by constant suspense as to the fate of her son. Now, therefore, she hurried at once to Hastings where she hoped to meet him; and that day witnessed the reunion of mother and child. But how different, alas, was this meeting from that of which Eugenie had dreamed, when the Prince—hailed with cheers from the troops and the people, and followed by a mother's proud hopes—had departed "a Berlin" under his father's care!

There could have been no greater contrast than that of the life that now began for Eugenie in Hastings, with her brilliant career as Empress, or even with that troubled war-time and the dangers and excitements through which she had passed. Torn by alternations of hope, fear, and disappointment, she had scarcely had time during the past month to think of herself, much less give way to her feelings. Here, at the Marine Hotel, for the first time she found leisure to look back on what had happened and to review her past life—that inevitable time of reckoning from which no life is wholly free. Hitherto she had known nothing but gratified desires, glittering triumphs, and realized ambitions. She had had no cause to distrust friends or doubt their loyalty, no experience of ingratitude. Rarely forgetful of a service done her, and incapable of falsehood herself, she had preserved an almost childlike faith in human nature. Now, for the first time, fate was to make her thoroughly familiar with this bitterest chapter in the book of experience. Scarcely had she turned her back on the Tuileries before her own servants rifled her apartments. Later, when news came that the rabble had broken into the palace and wrought havoc there, Eugenie's first thought was "Poor Trochu!"

"Why do you pity him?" asked her companion, in surprise.

"Because he has sworn so often to me that only over his dead body should any assailant enter my palace, that I feel sure he must be dead," was the reply.

That this General, who so basely deserted his sovereign in the hour of danger, was on the contrary quite well and enjoying life in his self-appointed position as head of the Government is only a single instance of how those who in time of prosperity bowed lowest before the Empress were the first to desert her in misfortune. Every newspaper that she saw showed her the meaning of adversity. Those who had received the most signal marks of favor were the loudest now to denounce the defenceless woman. With petty spite, the Government of National Defence had destroyed all the emblems of imperialism and done everything in its power to represent the dynasty, which for nearly twenty years had upheld the welfare and prosperity of France, as a curse to the country. Anxious to discover, if possible, something derogatory to the character of the Empress, it had caused the palace to be searched for any private papers she might have left behind, but without success. Even the few letters that were published for the purpose of exposing her disclosed nothing in the least compromising.

Her jewels and dresses, with some ready money that was found in the Tuileries after her flight, were sent to her in England. Yet although she was forced to dispose of her diamonds to defray necessary expenses; and although Napoleon, to provide himself with funds, sold his private estate in Rome. the "Palazzo dei Cesari," for a few hundred thousand francs, it was persistently asserted in Paris that the imperial family were in possession of millions or francs with which they had enriched themselves at the people's expense; also that Napoleon had made enormous sums in foreign speculation and owned capital in Dutch, English, and American bonds.

Filled with anger and despair at these lies and petty persecutions, Eugenie found life at Hastings unendurable. The prying curiosity of the towns-people and of the crowds of strangers that flocked thither was a torment to her. Even the sea air she so loved did her no good; the magnificent view only served to rouse bitter memories of the happy days at Biarritz. The King of Prussia had offered her and her son a residence in Wilhelmshohe, but she would accept no hospitality from France's enemy. At length, through Dr. Evans, she rented Camden House at Chiselhurst, whither she moved toward the end of September.

But even though dethroned and an exile, Eugenie did not altogether cease to concern herself with politics. While she was at Hastings, and the situation following her flight was so new as still to warrant recognition of her authority as Regent, Bismarck sent an envoy to her to discuss terms of peace. She replied that so long as there remained a single enemy on French soil, or there was question of even the smallest cession of territory, she would enter into no negotiations with him.

Bismarck was not the only one who tried to induce her to intervene in this matter. There was still one post in France that held out against the Germans, still one general at least who was loyal to the Empire. Marshal Bazaine was in Metz with a force of 170,000 men, all picked troops, including the Imperial guard which had so often filled the Parisian populace with pride at state reviews. Believing himself strong enough to exert some influence over the question of peace or a continuation of hostilities, he sent General Bourbaki to Chiselhurst, with the consent of the King of Prussia, to inform the Empress that he was in favor of concluding peace if she would so authorize him. Tempting as this opportunity of again wielding power was to Eugenie's active nature, she prudently forbore, realizing that her best plan was to withdraw entirely from the field of politics at present and await a more favorable opportunity, when she might work with redoubled energy for the restoration of her family. This course was also in accordance with the wishes of Napoleon, to whom she made a secret visit in October in order to consult with him, while General Bourbaki was at Chiselhurst awaiting an answer.

In spite of Eugenie's continued refusal to mix in any public affairs, the "salon at Chiselhurst" was persistently reported to be the centre of political intrigue; and Prince Jerome Napoleon, who in the absence of the Emperor wished to appear as head of the imperial family, presented himself at Camden House one day to demand of the Empress an explanation. A stormy scene followed between these two bitter enemies, and the "red Prince" was careful that a properly distorted account of the interview should be made public.

After an imprisonment of about seven months, Napoleon was at last free to return to his wife and son at the little home in Chiselhurst, where the imperial family continued to live in the simplest manner; for although Camden House did not lack comfort and even elegance, it was so limited as to space that it was impossible to accommodate more than one or two guests at a time. Yet the joys of family life compensated in a measure for all the luxury and state of which they had been deprived by fortune, and in this smaller sphere Eugenie lost none of the dignity and charm of manner for which she had been so conspicuous. It was the more easy for her to adapt herself to these new conditions as gradually a circle of their old friends began to gather about the exiles, and expressions of loyalty and devotion arrived nearly every day from France, with many proofs of friendship from Queen Victoria and other royalties.

The Empress-Widow


A great task still lay before her—to provide for the future of her son. She had always been a wise as well as devoted mother, and had not failed to impress on the young Prince that more would be required of him than of others, in order properly to fit himself for the high position he would one day be called upon to occupy. Now that the throne must be won back again, it was doubly important that he should receive a thorough military education. This son was now her only thought. She centred in him all her hopes and expectations, for the Emperor's health—which had been poor for years—was now rapidly failing. She could never count on Napoleon the Third's return to the throne; but as the mother of Napoleon the Fourth she saw herself in fancy once again in France, more highly honored, even prouder and happier if possible, than before.

The chronic ailment from which the Emperor had always suffered threatened, toward the close of 1872, to take a fatal turn and his physicians advised an operation. Personally, Napoleon was strongly opposed to it; but the Empress, not realizing the danger, and perhaps with the secret hope that it might enable her husband to become once more a power in French politics, urged him to yield to the physician's advice. He submitted accordingly to the operation, but had not strength enough to recover from the shock; and on the ninth of January, 1873, the "dreamer" passed quietly away without a word or a sign.