Désirée Clary
Queen of Sweden and Norway
Désirée Clary
Bernardine Eugénie Désirée Clary, one-time fiancée of Napoleon Bonaparte, was a Frenchwoman who became Queen of Sweden and Norway as the consort of King Charles XIV John, a former French General. She officially changed her name there to Desideria, a Latin version of her original name. Désirée herself, however, did not like the name Desideria and never used it.
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  • 1860
    On the last day of her life, she entered her box at the Royal Swedish Opera just after the performance had ended. Désirée died in Stockholm on 17 December 1860.
    More Details Hide Details Her paternal grandparents were Joseph Clary (Marseille, 22 November 1693 – Marseille, 30 August 1748), son of Jacques Clary and his wife Catherine Barosse, paternal grandson of Antoine Clary and wife Marguerite Canolle, and maternal grandson of Angelin Barosse and his wife Jeanne Pélissière, and wife (m. in Marseille, 27 February 1724) Françoise Agnès Ammoric (Marseille, 6 March 1705 – Marseille, 21 December 1776), daughter of François Ammoric and his wife Jeanne Boisson. Her maternal grandparents were Joseph Ignace Somis (c. 1710 – Marseille, 29 April 1750), son of Jean Louis Somis and his wife Françoise Bouchard, and wife (m. in Marseille, 27 May 1736) Catherine Rose Soucheiron (Marseille, 11 January 1696 – Marseille, 18 February 1776), daughter of François Soucheiron and his wife Anne Cautier. Désirée Clary has been the subject of several novels and movies.
  • 1853
    In May 1853, after Napoleon III had made himself French emperor, she made preparations to return to Paris.
    More Details Hide Details Everything was ready, and she was escorted to her ship in Karlskrona by her grandson Oscar. Her fear of sea travels, however, made it impossible for her to leave. During her last years, she was worried about her house in Paris because of the plans of the city architect Haussmann, but Napoleon III made an exception for her and allowed for her house to stand, which it did until one year after her death. Désirée had a fairly harmonious relationship with her daughter-in-law, and felt sympathy for her grandson's bride, Louise of the Netherlands. After becoming a widow, she grew more and more eccentric. She went to bed in the morning, got up in the evening, ate breakfast at night, and drove around in a carriage through the streets, in the courtyard, or wandered around the corridors of the sleeping castle with a light. An anecdote illustrates this: in 1843, a palace guard saw the Queen fully dressed on the palace balcony in the middle of the night. When he came home to his wife, he told her that she was lazy in comparison to the Queen, who had gotten up hours before sunrise. He thought the Queen Dowager was up earlier than anyone else in town, but in fact, she had not yet gone to bed—she would eventually get up from bed at three or four in the afternoon.
  • 1828
    In Norway, she is most known as the protector of Eugenia stiftelse Eugenia Foundation for poor girls in Oslo of Maria Schandorff, which she protected and often visited from 1828 until 1847.
    More Details Hide Details In 1844, Charles XIV John died and Desideria became Queen Dowager. Her son, the new King Oscar I, allowed her to keep her usual quarters in the Royal Palace as well as her entire court, so she would not have to change her habits. When her daughter-in-law Queen Josephine tried to convince her to reduce her court of her own free will, saying she no longer needed such a big court as a queen dowager, she answered: "It is true that I no longer need them all, but all of them still need me." She was a considerate and well liked employer among her staff. One notable member of her court was Countess Clara Bonde, who was described as a personal friend and served the queen from her return to Sweden until her death. Désirée did engage in charity but it was discreet, and it has been said: "Her charity was considerable but took place in silence". One example was that she supported poor upper-class women by giving them sewing work. She also acted as official protector of charitable institutions, such as the Women's Society Girl School. The same year she became a widow, she was described by the French diplomat Bacourt: "Royalty has not altered her—unfortunately, for the reputation of the Crown. She have always been and will always remain an ordinary merchant woman, surprised over her position, and surprisingly to find upon a throne."
  • 1825
    Désirée was also Queen of Norway. She visited Norway a couple of times, the first being time in 1825.
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  • 1823
    Désirée and Josephine arrived in Stockholm 13 June 1823.
    More Details Hide Details Three days later, the royal court and the government was presented to Désirée, and 19 June, she participated in the official welcoming of Josephine and witnessed the wedding. - A well-known story is that after her return to Sweden there was a warm and dry period, so the peasants turning up to see her were coaxed into greeting her with "Vi vill ha regn!" ("We want rain!" in Swedish), which sounds very similar to the French "Vive la Reine!" ("Long live the Queen!"). On 21 August 1829, she was crowned Queen of Sweden in Storkyrkan in Stockholm. Her coronation had been suggested upon her return, but her consort had postponed it because he feared there could be religious difficulties. There was actually a suggestion that she should convert to the Lutheran faith before her coronation, but in the end, the question was not considered important enough to press, and she was crowned all the same. She was crowned at her own request after having pressed Charles John with a wish that she should be crowned: "otherwise she would be no proper Queen". A reason for this is believed to have been that she regarded it as protection against divorce. Later in life she described how impressed she had been during her coronation. She was, however, never crowned in Norway because of her status as a Catholic. Desiree had asked to be crowned Queen of Norway as well, and funds had been set aside to finance a coronation in Norway in 1830, but in the end this was not possible.
    In 1823, Désirée returned to Sweden together with her son's bride, Josephine of Leuchtenberg.
    More Details Hide Details It was intended to be a visit, but she was to remain in Sweden for the rest of her life.
  • 1822
    During the summer of 1822, her son Oscar made a trip in Europe to inspect prospective brides, and it was decided they should meet.
    More Details Hide Details As France was deemed unsuitable, they met in Aachen and a second time in Switzerland.
    She followed him around until his death in 1822.
    More Details Hide Details Another version of her behavior toward him was, that her consort had given her the task to make contact with Richelieu for political reasons, but that his attitude had made her too embarrassed to do so.
  • 1818
    In 1818, her husband became King of Sweden, which made Désirée Queen.
    More Details Hide Details However, she remained in France, officially for health reasons, which caused speculations in the press in Paris and by her visitors. After she became Queen, the Swedish Queen Dowager wrote to her and suggested that she should have Swedish ladies-in-waiting, but she replied that it was unnecessary for her to have a court as she still resided incognito. Désirée officially kept herself incognito and did not host any court, but she kept in contact with the Swedish embassy, regularly visited the court of Louis XVIII and often saw Swedes at her receptions, which she hosted on Thursdays and Sundays, unofficially in her role as Queen, though she still used the title of Countess. During this period, she fell in love with the French prime minister, the Duc de Richelieu, which attracted attention. According to one version, she fell in love with him after Louis XVIII had given him the task to deny her regular appeal for her sister Julie in the most charming way possible. True or not, she did fall in love with him, but the affection was not answered by Richelieu, who referred to her as his "crazy Queen". According to Laure Junot, she did not dare to speak to him or approach him, but she followed him wherever he went, tried to make contact with him, followed him on his trip to Spa and had flowers placed in his room.
  • 1817
    In 1817, Désirée's husband placed a Count de Montrichard in her household as his spy to report if she did anything which could affect him.
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  • 1816
    In 1816, she made plans to return to Sweden, but she wished to bring her sister, Julie, along with her.
    More Details Hide Details Her husband thought this unwise, as Julie was the wife of a Bonaparte and her presence might be taken as a sign that he sided with the deposed Napoleon. In the end, this came to nothing. At this point, she often spent time with Germaine de Stael and Juliette Récamier.
  • 1814
    On 14 May 1814, she was introduced to Louis XVIII of France, whose court she often visited the following years and whom she is said to have liked quite well.
    More Details Hide Details After the Hundred Days in 1815, the members of the Bonaparte family were exiled from France. This included her sister Julie, and when Louis XVIII expressed a wish to do her a favor, she regularly asked him to make an exception for Julie and allow her to live in Paris.
    The 31 March 1814, upon the arrival of the allied armies in Paris after the defeat of Napoleon, her house was a refuge for her sister Julie.
    More Details Hide Details She met her spouse, who was among the allied generals to arrive in Paris. She did not return with him to Sweden when he left, however, which attracted attention. When asked why by the Swedish Count Jacob De la Gardie at Mortefontaine, she answered that she was afraid that she would be divorced if she did.
  • 1813
    During the summer of 1813, she retired to the country estate of Julie, Mortefontaine, with Catharina of Württemberg to avoid attention before she returned to Paris New Year's Eve of 1814.
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    Before his attack on Russia, Napoleon asked Désirée to leave France. She made herself ready to leave, but managed to avoid it. As she officially lived incognito, she could avoid politics when Sweden and France declared war in 1813.
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  • 1812
    During the meeting between her consort and the Russian Tsar in Åbo in 1812, the Tsar suggested her consort to divorce her and marry one of his sisters, but her consort turned down the proposal.
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    In 1812, she acted as mediator when Napoleon negotiated with her consort through the Duke de Bassano.
    More Details Hide Details Her consort liked her to be placed in Paris, where she could calm Napoleon's rage over the politics of Sweden and keep him informed about the events in the center of European politics, but as their correspondence has been lost, it is not known how political it was.
  • 1811
    Désirée left Sweden in the summer of 1811 under the name of Countess of Gotland, officially because of her health, and returned to Paris, leaving her husband and her son behind.
    More Details Hide Details She herself said that the Swedish nobility had treated her as if they were made of ice: "Do not talk with me of Stockholm, I get a cold as soon as I hear the word." In Sweden, her husband took a mistress, the noble Mariana Koskull. Under the name Countess of Gotland, Désirée officially resided incognito in Paris, thereby avoiding politics. However, her house at rue d'Anjou was watched by the secret police, and her letters were read by them. She had no court, just her lady's companion Elise la Flotte to assist her as hostess at her receptions, and she mostly associated with a circle of close friends and family. Her receptions were frequented by Talleyrand and Fouché, who upon the mission of Napoleon tried to influence her consort through her.
  • 1810
    On 22 December 1810, Désirée arrived with her son Oscar in Helsingborg in Sweden, and the 6 January 1811, she was introduced to the Swedish royal court at the Royal Palace in Stockholm.
    More Details Hide Details She was met in Helsingborg by her appointed Mistress of the Robes Countess Caroline Lewenhaupt and the maid of honor Mariana Koskull. The Swedish climate was reportedly a shock for her: she arrived during the winter, and she hated the snow so much that she cried. Her spouse had converted upon his election as heir to the Swedish throne, and upon their arrival, her son was also to do so, as was required, and was taken from her to be brought up a Lutheran. There was, in accordance with the Tolerance Act, no demand that she should convert, and a Catholic chapel was arranged for her use. Désirée was not religious, but the Catholic masses served to remind her of France, and she celebrated the birth of the son of Napoleon, the King of Rome, by a Te Deum in her chapel.
  • 1807
    In 1807, she visited Bernadotte in Spandau and in Marienburg in East Prussia, where she nursed him during his illness. In August 1810, Bernadotte was elected heir to the throne of Sweden.
    More Details Hide Details Désirée initially thought this was to be similar to the position of Prince of Pontecorvo, and did not expect to have to visit Sweden more than she had been forced to visit Pontecorvo: "I thought, that it was at it had been with Ponte Corvo, a place from where we would have a title." She was later to admit, that she had never cared about any other country than France and knew nothing of foreign countries nor did she care about them, and that she was in despair when she was told that this time, she would be expected to leave Paris. Désirée delayed her departure and did not leave with her spouse. She was delighted with the position she had received at the French court after her elevation to crown princess (she had been invited to court events every week), and she was frightened by the stories of her reluctant French servants, who tried to discourage her from leaving by saying that Sweden was a country close to the North Pole filled with Polar bears. Finally, she left Paris and traveled by Hamburg and Kronborg in Denmark over the Öresund to Helsingborg in Sweden.
  • 1806
    When her spouse was made Prince of Pontecorvo in 1806, Désirée worriedly asked if she would be forced to leave Paris, but was happy when she was assured that she would not.
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    In 1806, she was forced to accompany Empress Josephine to Mainz.
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  • 1804
    At the Coronation of Napoleon on 2 December 1804, she followed Josephine, whose train was carried by her sisters-in-law, carrying the handkerchief and veil of Josephine on a pillow.
    More Details Hide Details Her spouse was a leading general in the French army under Napoleon, and normally absent from Paris. He liked her to be a member of high society, and had her take lessons in dance and etiquette from an instructor Montel. Désirée had a good relationship with the Bonaparte Imperial family. Upon the request of her spouse, she did not have to be a lady-in-waiting, and did not participate in court life. She lived in the circle of the Bonaparte and Clary family and also participated in high society, where she enjoyed music, theater and dance, while she spent her summers at spas or her country villas at La Grange and Auteuil. It is believed that she may have had a romantic relationship with the Corsican Ange Chaippe, who often acted as her escort. She is described as pretty and pleasing and a skillful dancer, but fairly anonymous. She lived mostly separated from her spouse in Paris during his absence. She informed him about political events in Paris by correspondence.
    On 19 May 1804, her spouse was made Marshal of France, which gave her the equivalent position.
    More Details Hide Details However, she was described as indifferent to social position, like her sister Julie. Napoleon gave her an allowance, and a house in Rue d'Anjou Saint-Honoré, where she resided for the rest of her life when in Paris.
  • 1801
    In 1801, Bernadotte had her interfere in favor of General Ernouf through Joseph.
    More Details Hide Details In 1802, a conspiracy against Napoleon was discovered. Napoleon suspected Bernadotte, and interrogated Désirée, who naively told him that her spouse had not been involved, though he had met Moreau in their home and mumbled his name as well as the word conspiracy in his sleep. After this, Napoleon appointed Bernadotte governor of Louisiana. The couple was ready to sail, when the appointment was retracted.
  • 1800
    In 1800, Désirée was present at a failed assassination attempt on Napoleon, when a bomb exploded between the carriage of Napoleon and the carriage where she and Caroline Bonaparte were sitting.
    More Details Hide Details Désirée was not interested in politics, but her good connections made her a puppet in the hands of her husband and Napoleon, who both used her to influence each other and to pass messages.
  • 1799
    During the coup of 1799, when Napoleon took power, Désirée was exposed to manipulation from both the Bonaparte family, who wanted Bernadotte to support Napoleon, and the Bernadotte faction, who wanted him to take action for himself.
    More Details Hide Details Both sides tried to use her to influence Bernadotte and extract information from him about his attitudes. Aware of this, he did not tell her of his plans, but he was later to say that it was because of family influence that he had been passive during the coup. During the coup, the couple were forced to take refuge in the country villa of General Sarrazin at Villeneuve St. Georges: Désirée apparently dressed as a man during the escape. She kept in contact with Julie all the time, and Napoleon accepted Bernadotte apparently because of her.
    On 4 July 1799, she gave birth to their only child, a son, Oscar.
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  • 1798
    They were married in a secular ceremony at Sceaux on 17 August 1798.
    More Details Hide Details In the marriage contract, Désirée was given economic independence.
  • 1797
    On 30 December 1797, on the eve of their marriage, Duphot was killed in an anti-French riot outside of their residence Palazzo Corsini in Rome.
    More Details Hide Details After her return to France, Désirée lived with Julie and Joseph in Paris. In Paris, she lived in the circle of the Bonaparte family, who sided with her against Josephine after Napoleon had broken off their engagement. She herself did not like Josephine either, as she has been quoted calling her an aged courtesan with a deservedly bad reputation, but she is not believed to have shown any hostility toward Josephine as did the members of the Bonaparte family. She received a proposal from General Junot, but turned it down because it was given through Marmont. Désirée eventually met her future spouse, Jean Baptiste Jules Bernadotte, another French general and politician.
    In 1797, Désirée went to live in Rome with her sister Julie and her brother-in-law Joseph, who was the French ambassador to the Papal States.
    More Details Hide Details Her relationship with Julie remained very intense and deep. She was briefly engaged to Mathurin-Léonard Duphot, a French general. The engagement was more or less arranged by Napoleon, who wished to compensate her with a marriage, and Duphot was attracted by her dowry and position as sister-in-law of Napoleon. She agreed to the engagement with some reluctance, because it was known that Duphot had a long-term partner and a son.
  • 1796
    He broke off his engagement with Désirée on 6 September, and he married Joséphine in 1796.
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  • 1795
    In 1795–1797, Désirée lived with her mother in Genoa in Italy, where her brother-in-law Joseph had a diplomatic mission; they were also joined by the Bonaparte family. In 1795, Napoleon became involved with Joséphine de Beauharnais.
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    Joseph married Julie, and Désirée became engaged to Napoleon Bonaparte on 21 April 1795.
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  • 1794
    In 1794, Désirée's father died.
    More Details Hide Details Shortly after, it was discovered that in the years before the revolution, he had made an appeal to be ennobled, a request that had been denied. Because of this, Désirée's brother Etienne, now the head of the family and her guardian, was arrested in his father's place by the revolutionary authorities. According to the traditional story, Desiree accompanied her sister-in-law Suzanne to the office of people commissar Albitte to appeal for her brother's release. In the waiting room, however, she fell asleep, and was forgotten by the exalted Suzanne, who succeeded in her mission. She was discovered by Joseph Bonaparte, who accompanied her home. Joseph was then introduced to her family. Joseph and Désirée were engaged, and the brother of Joseph, Napoleon Bonaparte, was also introduced to the family. Reportedly, it was Napoleon who suggested that Joseph should be engaged to her older sister Julie instead, while he should be engaged to Désirée; this suggestion had the approval of all four involved.
  • 1789
    As a child, Désirée received the convent schooling usually given to daughters of the upper classes in pre-revolutionary France. However, when she was barely eleven years old, the French Revolution of 1789 took place, and convents were closed.
    More Details Hide Details Désirée returned to live with her parents, and was perforce home-schooled thereafter. Later, her education would be described as shallow. It has been observed by several historians that Désirée was devoted to her birth-family her entire life.
  • 1777
    Born on November 8, 1777.
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