Eugenie - Empress of the French - George Upton

Eugenie's Marriage to Louis Napoleon

As a child, Eugenie was seldom seen without a knot of violets in her hair or in her belt; and when the scorching summer sun of Spain made these blossoms scarce, a shepherd boy was commissioned to bring them to her from the heights of the Sierra Nevada. Even when older, she still wore her favorite flowers on all occasions, for a gipsy had foretold that her fortune "would flourish with the violet." So on that memorable evening toward the end of the thirties, when at a Spanish watering-place Napoleon and Eugenie (she, then, almost a child) saw each other for the first time, she wore a wreath of violets in her hair.

"I shall never forget," said an eye-witness of the scene, "the way in which the Prince gazed at the young Countess when she was presented to him."

The acquaintance was renewed some years later during a winter residence in London (1847-48), and it was only natural that these two, brought together by chance, should be attracted to one another. Both were of noble rank; both had a longing for fame and splendor; both were unfaltering in the pursuit of their ambitions; both were rich in hopes, yet poor in worldly possessions; and though full of courage and faith in the future, both were in reality adventurers. They were soon on terms of intimacy, and Louis Napoleon could no doubt have won the hand of Eugenie at that time. But his future was still uncertain. He was poor and heavily in debt, with the reputation of leading a dissipated life; and although she returned his love, she was prudent enough to renounce for the time being the opportunity of becoming a princess. Convinced that her lover's aspiring dreams would be realized, however, and wishing to have a claim on his gratitude as well as his affections, she wrote him as follows, on their parting:—

"You want to go to Paris to begin the struggle for power; to become consul, president, dictator. But suppose these goals are attained, will you stop there? Will that satisfy your ambition? Without a doubt you will aim yet higher, and then how troublesome you would find a wife! An Emperor must keep the place beside him for an Empress. Should your plans fail, on the other hand, should France not offer what you expect, then and only then, come back to me and I will give you an answer to your proposal. Do not forget there is one heart ready to recompense you for any troubles—for all disappointed hopes."

On the news of the Revolution of February and Louis Philippe's flight, Napoleon hastened to Paris. At the first election for a constitutional National Assembly (April, 1848) his cause met with little support. Not until the supplementary election did the Prince's adherents appear as a party, but once in the field they spared no pains to win the victory. Bonapartist proclamations were distributed throughout Paris; and in the course of eight days no less than six of the principal organs of the press came out for him openly. Results showed the progress made by the party even in this short time, for the Prince was chosen representative of the capital of France; and similar faith was shown in him by three other Departments. His election aroused long and heated debates in the National Assembly, and his friends began to fear for his safety if he remained in Paris. Returning to London, therefore, he sent a letter to the legislature, stating that in consideration of the hostile attitude toward him taken by the executive power, he felt it his duty to renounce an honor it believed him to have won by fraud.

This politic withdrawal, together with the unceasing efforts of his friends, served to influence public opinion still more in his favor. At the new election following the June uprising the people of Paris chose Napoleon for the second time as their representative, and after an exile of thirty years, he hastened back to the capital to take his place in the Assembly, from which a few months later (December 20) he was elevated to the Presidency of the Republic.

About the time of Napoleon's departure Eugenie and her mother also left London, spending that summer at Spa and the following winter in Brussels, surrounded as usual by a swarm of admirers. But all this time, while the Prince was swiftly and surely approaching the throne of France, Eugenie's eyes were firmly fixed on Paris. With eager gaze she watched the rising of Napoleon's star, and shortly before the Empire was proclaimed, the Spanish Countesses appeared in the capital. At last Louis Napoleon was made Emperor. More than eight million Frenchmen had voted for the restoration of the dynasty, and on the first of December, 1852, the Senate, the legislative body, and the Council of State paid him homage at St. Cloud. Although formally assuming the title for the first time on this occasion, he had in reality ruled as absolute sovereign since the Coup d'Etat (December 25, 1851). His entry into Paris as Emperor, amid the thunder of cannon, the pealing of trumpets, and the shouts of the multitude, was merely the crowning of a work shrewdly planned and cleverly executed, denounced by his enemies as a crime and glorified by his friends as a heroic achievement.

The magnificent entertainments given by the Prince-President in the Elysee Palace, and the yet more splendid ones that followed at the Tuileries after he became Emperor, had been presided over with tact and grace by his cousin Mathilde, daughter of the ex-King of Westphalia. Fifteen or sixteen years before, during a visit which Mathilde de Montfort had paid to Arenenberg, the residence of Queen Hortense, there had been some talk of a marriage between her and Louis Napoleon. Hortense, who loved her niece with all a mother's tenderness, had looked forward with joy to a union so suitable in every respect, and it had been agreed upon in a family council of Bonapartes. But the Prince's first premature attempt to secure his uncle's throne put an end to the plan, and Mathilde was married, in 1841, to the millionaire Prince of San Donato, Anatole Demidoff. After a few years of childless and unhappy marriage they separated, the Princess retiring to a villa near Paris, whence she was summoned to the capital by her cousin when he became President. The youthful lovers had each led a stormy life since their last meeting, and the romantic attachment that had drawn them together at Arenenberg had long since evaporated. In its place a firm and quiet friendship had arisen, and for the second time Napoleon thought seriously of marrying his cousin. It was the dearest wish of all the Bonapartes; but again fate intervened, this time by the Church's refusal to annul the Princess's marriage with Demidoff. The Prince-President found himself forced therefore to seek elsewhere for a bride.

He sued in vain for the hand of a Russian Princess, and was refused in turn by a sister of the King of Spain, and the Portuguese Duchess of Braganza. However alluring may have been the chance of becoming sovereign of France, these princesses had little desire to trust their fate in the hands of an adventurer. Well-meaning friends next drew his attention to the poor but beautiful Carola de Wasa, a cousin of King Gustavus the Fourth of Sweden, afterwards Queen of Saxony. An envoy was sent to negotiate preliminaries, and her family requested time for consideration; but the Princess, who was most unfavorably impressed with Napoleon's portrait, protested with tears against the proposed marriage. Beside himself at these repeated rebuffs, the Prince swore to win the daughter of some royal house if forced to do it sword-in-hand, and continued in his quest. Through his friend Lord Malmesbury, he urged Queen Victoria to arrange an alliance between himself and her cousin, Princess Adelaide; and though some objections were raised by the Queen and Prince Consort, the matter was still under consideration when, on January 19, 1853, the world was amazed by the following paragraph which appeared in La Patrie, the semi-official organ of Paris, and was copied without comment in all the other journals:

"According to reliable report, a happy event, calculated to strengthen His Majesty's Government and ensure the future of his dynasty, is soon to take place. It is said that the Emperor is about to be married to Mlle. de Montijo de Teba. Official announcement of the approaching marriage will be made to the Legislature on Thursday, the twenty-second of January. The Countess belongs to one of the noblest families of Spain. She is a sister of the Duchess of Alva and is noted for her wit and cleverness, as well as her remarkable beauty."

Needless to say, Eugenie had gone to Paris solely for the purpose of meeting Napoleon, and after her arrival she had waited patiently for an opportunity of obtaining access to him. Introduced by Rothschild and his daughter, and accompanied by the Spanish Prince Camerata, she finally made her appearance in the court circle for the first time at Compiegne in 1852. It was at one of the hunts given by the Prince-President; and the grace and skill with which she managed her fiery Andalusian excited the admiration of all present. Napoleon himself was completely fascinated. Their former meetings at once recurred to him with a rush of youthful memories, and for the rest of the day he scarcely left her side. Nor did it end here; after the court had returned to Paris the Countess and her mother were never permitted to miss an entertainment at the Tuileries or the Elysee.

The flattering attentions paid to Mlle. Montijo by the sovereign could not remain long unnoticed or unremarked. It was now merely a question of improving the moment. No opportunity for bringing herself to his notice or of displaying her charms to the best advantage was neglected, and far outshining, as she did, all the women of Napoleon's circle at that time, Eugenie soon succeeded in arousing his old passion for her. His warm and ardent devotion was such a contrast to his usual calm self-possession that the whole court was astonished, although no one dreamed that the affair would end in marriage. It is doubtful whether the Emperor himself had any such idea in the beginning, having resolved in his days of poverty and exile to wed none but a royal princess. He only went so far as to intimate to Eugenie that he would esteem himself happy in being her lover.

Empress Eugenie


But she was no longer the innocent girl of sixteen, cherishing a romantic passion for an Alva and deeming no sacrifice too great for her love. Genuine as her affection doubtless was for Louis Napoleon, she would make no sacrifices without gaining something in return. At the height of his power and fame the man who had brought about a revolution and made himself sole ruler of France by his shrewdness and resolution seemed in her eyes the ideal of manly courage and heroism; yet none the less, the hot-blooded Andalusian showed herself in this case as cold as ice. Her experience of life had taught her that denial was the surest means of stimulating a passion. The Emperor was not easily caught, however. He despatched a confidential friend to the Countess de Montijo, not to ask for her daughter's hand, but to make it clear to the shrewd woman of the world that Eugenie could not count on being Empress. Reasons of state prevented his placing the crown on the head of his beloved, although such an event might not be an impossibility should he be free to follow his desires in the future. But the Countess, like her daughter, being well aware of the surest means of attaining her end, made short work of the Emperor's envoy. Repeated attempts at persuasion proved equally fruitless, and Eugenie finally sent Napoleon, with her respectful greetings, the message: "Caesar's wife should be above suspicion."

Goaded on by this reserve, the Emperor could no longer restrain himself, and the Countess's persistent refusals furnished him a welcome excuse for broaching the plan of a marriage with her. It met with violent opposition from all his relatives and friends, who did all in their power to dissuade him from it, imploring him to choose, in default of a royal princess, at least some French lady of rank or lineage known to the people. To divert him from his purpose a marriage was proposed with the Polish Princess Czartoryska. But completely absorbed by his passion for Eugenie their opposition only served to fan the flame, and at last, to end the painful subject, he asked one of his court ladies, the Princess Lieven, whether he should choose the Princess Czartoryska or Mlle. de Montijo. To which she cleverly replied, "If you leave it to me, Sire, I prefer the Cachucha to the Mazurka"—an answer which Napoleon accepted as the voice of fate. At the earliest opportunity he sent a formal request to the Countess Montijo for the hand of her daughter, and was of course welcomed by both with open arms.

The news of the betrothal excited endless wonder but little satisfaction. There was almost a panic in the Bourse, that political barometer, and the Emperor's intimate friends and family went about with gloomy faces. The proposed marriage was openly opposed in the ministerial council and regarded with great disfavor by the general public; in short, only three persons were really pleased—Eugenie, her mother, and Napoleon. As for the first, her wildest hopes were at last to be realized. From doubtful obscurity she was to rise to loftiest heights. Providence had chosen her for this position and she bowed to its decree. The week that intervened between the betrothal and the wedding ceremonies slipped by in an intoxication of happiness. She was greeted on all sides with respect and adulation, and overwhelmed with protestations of devotion from the courtiers. The proudest nobles of France paid homage to her. Her enemies were silent, while Napoleon's friends who had been most bitterly opposed to the match now fawned upon her, greedy for favors from their future Empress.

The civil marriage was celebrated quietly on the twenty-ninth of January; but the magnificence of the religious ceremony exceeded anything that had been seen in France since the days of the great Napoleon. From early morning a double row of troops lined the way from the Tuileries to Notre Dame. All Paris was on the alert to catch at least a glimpse of the spectacle. The railroads brought more than two hundred thousand people into the capital from the provinces, and a motley throng filled the streets, richly decorated with flags and banners bearing the names of Napoleon and Eugenie, and gay with the light toilettes of the ladies, and the gold embroidered uniforms of the soldiers glittering in the sun. Although midwinter, the sky was clear and the air mild as spring. About half-past eleven, Eugenie started from the Elysee for the Tuileries. Her mother was seated beside her, and opposite them the master of ceremonies, Count Tascher de la Pagerie. The natural beauty of the bride was enhanced still more by the magnificent gown she wore, a gift from the city of Liege. It was of white velvet with an overdress of costly lace woven in a pattern of violets. A jewelled girdle encircled the waist, and on her head was the diamond coronet worn by Marie Louise on her wedding day, attached to which were the lace veil and a wreath of orange blossoms. As the prospective Empress entered the gates of the Tuileries, Prince Napoleon and the Princess Mathilde appeared at the foot of the stair-case to receive her, while trumpets sounded and the troops presented arms.

Precisely at noon a salute of a hundred and one guns from the Hotel des Invalides proclaimed that Their Majesties were entering their coach. A huge vestibule had been erected in front of the Cathedral, adorned with paintings representing the saints and olden kings and queens of France. The church was brilliantly illuminated with thousands of wax tapers; and as the imperial pair emerged from the vestibule, the trumpets again sounded, all the bells of Paris rang out, the organ pealed, and the whole assembly arose while the Archbishop of Paris advanced and stood before Their Majesties. At the lower end of the church was a platform occupied by five hundred musicians, and everywhere a mass of gilding and floral decoration met the eye. Curtains embroidered with golden bees covered the great windows. From the galleries fell velvet hangings bearing the name of the Empress in raised embroidery. In the nave of the church stood the throne; above it, supported by a huge golden eagle, a canopy of red velvet bordered with ermine. The transepts, in which the highest dignitaries of the Empire were seated, were lined with superb paintings, and from the ceiling hung banners bearing the names of the principal cities of France. The court officials stationed themselves on one side, the ministers and deputies on the other, as the imperial pair took their places under the canopy surrounded by princes, princesses, ladies, and cavaliers.

About one o'clock the ceremony began. It was performed by the Archbishop of Paris. The Archbishop of Versailles spread a silver bridal veil over Their Majesties, who sank on their knees; and at the conclusion of the ceremony, during the singing of the Te Deum, Abbe Legran handed to them the imperial marriage contract. Shrouded in costly lace and sparkling with jewels, a glittering coronet upon her head, Eugenie passed out of the Cathedral, leaning on the arm of the Emperor and preceded by the archbishops and all the clergy. She had reached the summit of all her hopes. The world lay at her feet. Yet at this supreme moment it was less a feeling of gratified ambition that filled her bosom than one of humility and anxiety at the burden of responsibility laid upon her shoulders. At the zenith of her fortunes, surrounded by pomp and splendor, and greeted by the cheers of the populace, she was suddenly seized with a foreboding of her coming fate. It may have been owing to her overtaxed nerves or the excitement of these new experiences, but as she came out of the Cathedral she seemed to see the features of Marie Antoinette among the crowd. Wherever she looked this face rose up before her, and with a sinking of the heart she began to realize that all this coveted splendor might be indeed a heavy burden.