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Eugénie de Montijo, Empress of the French (1853-1871)


Eugenie de Montijo, last Empress of the French, reminds Marie-Antoinette a lot. When one was the "Austrian" the other will be the "Spanish". They are world famous for their taste in jewelry, "dresses", adornment and pageantry. Both gave life to a style: the style "Marie Antoinette" and that "Louis XVI - Empress". Unfairly accused of incompetence and nullity, she has too often been described as stupid, uncompromising Catholic, bad advisor and even "casserole". Was it true?

Eugénie de Montijo, a "Grande" from Spain

Born in Spain to a Spanish father and an American mother, Eugenia María de Montijo de Guzmán was raised in Paris at the Convent of the Sacred Heart.

To the French, she is obviously only an intriguing, a "casserole" who succeeded in achieving her ends by being married by an Emperor who met only polite but firm refusals from European courts. Even his uncle the “King” Jérôme had refused him the hand of his daughter, Princess Mathilde. With a solid religious education, she is an accomplished young aristocrat. Add to this a dazzling beauty, an unassailable virtue, and also an ambitious and cunning personality. Mondaine, her mother loves to show off her resplendent daughter in order to find her a promising union. If there is no shortage of suitors, the young girl seems to expect better. Coquette yes, but light no. She very quickly became a regular at the Elysée evenings offered by the Prince President and was quickly noticed from 1851.

Emperor Napoleon III loves women and gets what he wants without too much difficulty. Used to courtesans, "large horizontals", married women of the world, with Eugenie everything is different. Already her name and her titles which link her to the Greats of Spain. And finally the young girl is not so ingenuous and naive as that. She knows the reputation of Louis Napoleon and refuses to be the conquest of a night. From there will come the legend of the marriage of 1853 more or less forced by Eugenie. For Victor Hugo, if “ the Eagle marries a Cocotte ", English Ambassador Lord Cowley gives the European feeling" the great adventurer fell prey to an adventurer ».

Empress of fashion and the arts

Eugenie takes her new status as Empress very seriously. Since Marie Antoinette, the wives of French monarchs have always struggled to settle into this role. According to her, Josephine "unfairly" occupied the Queen's place. Marie Louise will always have in mind the image of her great beheaded aunt. Marie Amélie will try to live the opposite of the queen to ward off fate. Eugenie will choose to follow in the footsteps of Marie Antoinette. The last queen is for her a model and she dedicates a true worship to him. Doesn't she go so far as to be portrayed as Marie Antoinette? Like Marie Antoinette, she has strength of character, femininity and a sensual and bewitching charm.

She likes to adorn herself. Crinolines, ornaments and trinkets earned him the nickname of "Falbala 1time ". She is eager for distractions, stays and resorts in cure in Plombières for example, in Biarritz and Eugénie les Bains. She is passionate about the work of Haussmann and is interested in the plans for what will be the Opéra Garnier. Her receptions are sumptuous and she earns the recognition of her foreign counterparts by taking care of her image. Queen Victoria, François Joseph, Ali Pasha… all succumb to its charm. Her beauty rivals that of the legendary Elisabeth of Austria. Visconti creates for Bordeaux a Fountain of the 3 graces ... we find Victoria, Eugenie and Isabelle of Spain ...

"Badinguette" between criticism and forgetfulness

His generosity is matched only by his expense. A good Catholic, she is very generous and anxious to relieve the unfortunate. Louis Napoléon Bonaparte, her son and only child, was born on March 16, 1856, and on this occasion she founded an orphanage and a company to help settle small artisans. By decree, it obtains the control of asylums and nurseries. In 1866, she courageously faced the risks of contagion of cholera by going to the victims.

Yet we only remember his worst interventions. She takes a dim view of the French intervention in favor of Italian unity. Why criticize her because, like all Catholics in France, she supports the Pope and is worried about the future of the papal states. She actively supports the Mexico case and the disaster that followed. However if the critics fuse, Napoleon III and his ministers trust him by entrusting him the regency twice. Napoleon knows her character and her steadfastness ... won't she put her different mistresses back in place herself? The ministers appreciate his strength and energy and campaign for his presence on the boards. His presence for the inauguration of the Suez Canal was a success. The coming Franco-German conflict will condemn her to be like her husband responsible for the defeat.

His last fight for France

On July 19, 1870, Napoleon III took the lead in operations and went to the Franco-Prussian front. Eugenie urges him to do so and recommends that he return to Paris only victorious and not defeated. She knew Napoleon III was ill and therefore acted like Anne of Austria, ready to do anything to save the interests of the Prince Imperial. She left the Palais de Saint Cloud on August 7, 1870 to return to Paris and the Tuileries as soon as the successive setbacks of the French army were announced. On September 2, news of Sedan's defeat reached the Tuileries. Napoleon III is a prisoner and the ephemeral regent of the empire finds himself alone at the helm of a regime ready to explode. On September 4, the emperor's downfall is demanded and the crowd throngs to the Tuileries gates. Eugenie must go through the entire Louvre in order to leave the Palace and escape the people. She found refuge in England where she died in exile in July 1920 at the age of 94.

Empress Eugenie was a victim of the black legend that attaches to some of our historical figures. Frivolous, spendthrift, light ... From her arrival in France to her hasty departure for exile, she fell prey to detractors who understood that the easiest way to attack a regime and the imperial family was to choose a scapegoat. With the fall of the Second Empire, they even went so far as to establish a far-fetched inventory of their so-called jewels in order to darken the line.

Yet she was thinner than you think. On October 23, 1870, she sent a letter to the King of Prussia asking him not to proceed with a territorial dismemberment of France. Eugenie transmitted the King's response to Clémenceau in 1918. The King's reasoned refusal in 1918 was to constitute the ultimate argument which would allow France to recover its lost territory.

Non-exhaustive bibliography

- The Empress Eugénie, from Suez to Sedan, by Christophe Pincemaille, Payot edition, 2000.

- Eugenie, the last Empress or the tears of glory, by Jean Des Cars. Perrin Edition, 2008.


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