Eugenie - Empress of the French - George Upton




State Visit to England

However the young Empress may have been regarded in other countries, it was generally agreed that she understood better than any of her predecessors how to hold the favor of the fickle Parisians. It was not public homage, however, that Eugenie craved so much as recognition from those princes and princesses who had scorned Mlle. Montijo, the parvenue. It rankled deeply in her mind that she was not of royal birth; and the most insignificant princess who could lay claim to the sovereignty which she adored became an object of envy to her. Since she could never hope to attain this or escape a past that must always serve as a weapon against her, she centred all her desires on being accepted as an equal by other reigning sovereigns and received as a guest in their palaces. Thus for a short time, at least, her origin might be forgotten.

To achieve this was by no means an easy task. All the crowned heads carefully avoided Paris, nor with all her efforts could she even win over the old aristocracy of France. Unable to comprehend that the devotion of the Legitimists to le Roy and his heir was a sacred principle, linked with precious memories of the old kingly race, she nevertheless admired their loyalty and resorted to every possible device to lure the grandes dames  of the Faubourg St. Germain to her newly established court. But willingly as they had borne the yoke of the Bourbons, they were too proud to bend the knee before the Spaniard, and made it plain that any overtures from the usurper of their rightful sovereign's throne would be rejected with contempt.

Compared with the sorrows of her after life, these humiliations were a small matter; but galling as they were to her vanity, they were one of the sharpest thorns in her new crown. In spite of her failure to win over the old French nobility, she was not long in earning the respect of the sovereigns of Europe. Her first opportunity was unexpectedly offered by the Crimean War (185456) in which France's victories restored the country to its old place as foremost military power of Europe, and greatly increased the importance of Napoleon. England had reaped material advantage from the war and was loud in praise of the new Empire, and Victoria was finally forced to invite the usurper and his wife to visit her at Windsor. A personal acquaintance with the Queen of England had long been Eugenie's most ardent wish, and this invitation afforded her the greatest satisfaction. Victoria had hitherto ignored her in a very marked manner, while at the time of her marriage the English journals had not only cast slurs upon her origin, but boldly criticised her life and conduct. Thus it was doubly desirable for her to be received at the court of England and to make a good impression there, for could she but accomplish this, her position among other sovereigns would be greatly strengthened. By no means certain as to the reception that awaited her, she persuaded Napoleon to send over one of his ministers in advance, ostensibly to arrange articles of peace with the other powers, but charged at the same time to settle all questions of etiquette concerning the impending visit.

The event itself, however, was of a kind to gratify the most susceptible vanity and the most aspiring ambition. Toward evening of the sixteenth of April, 1855, Napoleon and Eugenie with their suite landed on the shores of England, and on the following day set out on their journey to London, accompanied by the Prince Consort. Every town and village on their route was gaily decorated. They were greeted everywhere with the greatest enthusiasm. As they passed through Hyde Park, a long line of aristocratic equipages and equestrians was drawn up on either side. At Windsor triumphal arches had been erected. Shops were closed, houses decorated, and the whole town was on foot to greet Their Majesties. Amid the shouts and cheers of the populace they entered the old castle, where Victoria welcomed them most cordially, having personally seen to all the arrangements for her guests' comfort.

The day after their arrival the Queen bestowed the Order of the Garter on Napoleon. Following this impressive ceremony was a state banquet at which the famous Windsor gold service made its appearance; and at the gala performance in the court theatre that evening a verse in honor of Napoleon was interpolated in the English National hymn. The next day London held a grand celebration. The Emperor and Empress were lauded in the most flattering songs and speeches; and the people who had been the deadly enemies of Napoleon the First, the country in which Prince Louis Napoleon had lived as a refugee, ill, friendless, often in dire need, now hailed Napoleon the Third as its friend and ally.

The results of this visit to Great Britain were most gratifying to the imperial pair. The enthusiasm of the British made an excellent impression in France and strengthened public confidence in Napoleon's wisdom and prudence, while the friendship of the English royal family added importance to the young dynasty in Germany, and left no excuse for other sovereign houses to hold aloof from the Tuileries. Lastly, not only were Eugenie's fondest hopes realized, but she had also made a lifelong friend. At their very first meeting Eugenie's charm completely won the Queen's heart. This beautiful woman with her ease and dignity of manner bore little resemblance to the notorious belle of gay resorts as she had been described; and forgetting all these unpleasant rumors, she succumbed at once to the Empress's attractions. The friendship thus begun grew closer with subsequent meetings and continued unbroken for many years.

A few months later, the Queen of England with her husband and two eldest children came to Paris to return her new friend's visit. For more than four hundred years no English sovereign had visited the French capital, so it was an event of great importance. The Queen, who writes with enthusiasm in her diary of the journey to France, describes their reception as follows:

"On the eighteenth of August we left Osborne about five o'clock in the morning on our yacht, the Victoria and Albert, reaching Boulogne about two, where we were greeted with shouts of welcome from the people and troops drawn up along the shore. The Emperor, with his staff, stood waiting in the sun till the gangplank was thrown out, when he stepped aboard. I went forward to meet him, and he kissed my hand. We four, that is, the Prince, the Prince of Wales, Princess Victoria, and myself, then entered a coach and drove through the streets, everywhere crowded with people and beautifully decorated with flags, to the railway station, the Emperor accompanying us on horseback."

In the capital great preparations had been made for their reception, Napoleon having ridden about everywhere in person to see that all was complete. At the railway station, which was covered with floral decorations, eighty beautiful young girls were waiting to present the Queen with bouquets. Through a sea of light from lamps and torches, amid the strains of music, the rolling of drums, and incessant cheering, the royal party made its way through the Bois to St. Cloud, where the Empress, Princess Mathilde, and all the ladies of the court were waiting to receive it.

The World's Exposition had just been opened in Paris at that time, and the week spent by the English guests at the French court was devoted to seeing that, as well as the sights of the city itself. Besides this, a number of state entertainments were given in their honor, concluding with a ball at Versailles that exceeded in magnificence any given since the time of Louis the Fourteenth. Three thousand invitations were issued for this, and all the elite of France were present, with many distinguished foreigners. The gay uniforms and court dresses of the men and the gorgeous costumes of the ladies, who vied with one another in their display of jewels, laces, and brocades, made a scene of surpassing brilliancy.

The Empress, who appeared at this ball in all her radiant loveliness, was taken ill during the supper and obliged to retire to her own apartments. On several other occasions also she was indisposed and forced to excuse herself. Yet though unable to take an active part in public festivities, Eugenie and Victoria became all the more intimate in their own private circle. Napoleon and the Prince Consort sang duets together. Victoria made several sketches of the country about St. Cloud and often visited Eugenie in her own apartments where the two princesses sat for hours together in confidential talk. A friendship so close and lasting between such widely different natures must have been founded on more than physical attraction. A mutual appreciation of each other's best qualities drew them together. Eugenie was bolder and more independent than her friend, and freer from prejudice; but Victoria had the strength and repose that come from an inherited consciousness of power, while they were united by a common devotion to their own families, and pride in the nations over which they ruled.