Learn about memorable moments in the evolution of Eugénie de Montijo
The former empress died in July 1920, aged 94, during a visit to her relative the Duke of Alba, at the Liria Palace in Madrid in her native Spain, and she is interred in the Imperial Crypt at St Michael's Abbey, Farnborough, with her husband and her son, who had died in 1879 fighting in the Zulu War in South Africa.
More DetailsHide DetailsEugenie lived long enough to see the collapse of other European monarchies after WWI, such as those of Russia, Germany and Austria-Hungary. She left her possessions to various relatives: her Spanish estates went to the grandsons of her sister, the Fitz-Jameses (Dukes of Berwick and Alba), the house in Farnborough with all collections to the heir of her son, Prince Victor Bonaparte, Villa Cyrnos to his sister, Princess Laetitia of Aosta. Liquid assets were divided into three parts and given to the above relatives, except the sum of 100,000 francs bequeathed to the Committee for Rebuilding the Cathedral of Reims.
The Empress has also been commemorated in space; the asteroid 45 Eugenia was named after her, and its moon, Petit-Prince, after the Prince Imperial.
She had an extensive and unique jewelry collection, most of which were later owned by the Brazilian socialite Aimée de Heeren. De Heeren collected jewelry and was fond of the Empress as both were considered to be the "Queens of Biarritz"; both would spend summers on the Côte Basque. Impressed by the elegance, style and design of the jewelry of the neo classical era, in 1858 she had a boutique in the Royal Palace under the name ‘Royale Collections’.
Aged 88, the Empress visited Portsmouth on 6 November 1914 to inspect the gunboat HMS Thistle fitting out there during the early months of World War I.
More DetailsHide DetailsShe was later awarded by Britain an honorary Dame Grand Cross of the Order of the British Empire (GBE) (founded 1917).
She was also close to Empress Alexandra Feodorovna of Russia, who last visited her, along with Tsar Nicholas II, in 1909.
Her deposed family's friendly association with the United Kingdom was commemorated in 1887 when she became the godmother of Victoria Eugenie of Battenberg (1887–1969), daughter of Princess Beatrice, who later became Queen consort of Alfonso XIII of Spain.
When the Second Empire was overthrown after France's defeat in the Franco-Prussian War, the empress and her husband took permanent refuge in England, and settled at Chislehurst, Kent. After his death in 1873, and that of her son in 1879, she moved in 1885 to Farnborough, Hampshire and to the Villa Cyrnos (named after the ancient Greek for Corsica), which was built for her at Cape Martin, between Menton and Nice, where she lived in retirement, abstaining from politics.
More DetailsHide DetailsHer house in Farnborough is now an independent Roman Catholic girls' school, Farnborough Hill.
After the deaths of her husband and son, as her health started to deteriorate, she spent some time at Osborne House on the Isle of Wight; her physician recommended she visit Bournemouth which was, in Victorian times, famed as a health spa resort.
In 1868, Empress Eugénie visited the Dolmabahçe Palace in Constantinople, the home to Sultana Pertevniyal Sultan, mother of Abdülaziz, 32nd sultan of the Ottoman Empire.
More DetailsHide DetailsPertevniyal became outraged by the forwardness of Eugénie taking the arm of one of her sons while he gave a tour of the palace garden, and she gave the Empress a slap on the stomach as a possibly more subtly intended than often represented reminder that they were not in France. According to another account, Pertevniyal perceived the presence of a foreign woman within her quarters of the seraglio as an insult. She reportedly slapped Eugénie across the face, almost resulting in an international incident.
In 1854, the emperor Napoleon III and his wife Eugénie bought several acres of dunes in Biarritz and gave the engineer Dagueret the task of establishing a summer home surrounded by gardens, woods, meadows, a pond and outbuildings. Napoleon III chose the location near Spain so his wife would not get homesick for her native country. The house was called Villa Eugénie, today the Hôtel du Palais. The presence of the imperial couple attracted other European royalty like the British monarchs Queen Victoria and the Spanish king Alfonso XIII and made Biarritz become known.
In 1860, she visited Algiers with Napoleon.
More DetailsHide DetailsA Catholic and a conservative, her influence countered any liberal tendencies in the emperor's policies.
She was a staunch defender of papal temporal powers in Italy and of ultramontanism. She was blamed for the fiasco of the French intervention in Mexico and the eventual death of Emperor Maximilian I of Mexico. However, the assertion of her clericalism and influence on the side of conservatism is often countered by other authors.
Her husband often consulted her on important questions, and she acted as regent during his absences in 1859, 1865 and 1870.
On 16 March 1856, after a two-day labor that endangered mother and child and from which Eugénie made a very slow recovery, the empress gave birth to an only son, Napoléon Eugène Louis Jean Joseph Bonaparte, styled Prince Impérial.
More DetailsHide DetailsAfter marriage, it took not long for her husband to stray as Eugénie found sex with him "disgusting". It is doubtful that she allowed further approaches by her husband once she had given him an heir. He subsequently resumed his "petites distractions" with other women.
Eugénie faithfully performed the duties of an Empress, entertaining guests and accompanying the Emperor to balls, opera, and theater. After her marriage, she was given a ladies-in-waiting consisting of six (later twelve) dame du palais, most of whom were chosen from among the acquaintances to the empress prior to her marriage, headed by the Grand-Maitresse Anne Debelle, Princesse d'Essling, and the dame d'honneur, Pauline de Bassano.
She traveled to Egypt to open the Suez Canal and officially represented him whenever he traveled outside France. She strongly advocated equality for women; she pressured the Ministry of National Education to give the first baccalaureate diploma to a woman and tried unsuccessfully to induce the Académie française to elect the writer George Sand as its first female member.
In a speech on 22 January 1853, Napoleon III, after having become emperor, formally announced his engagement, saying, "I have preferred a woman whom I love and respect to a woman unknown to me, with whom an alliance would have had advantages mixed with sacrifices". They were wed, on 29 January 1853, in a civil ceremony at the Tuileries, and on the 30th there was a much grander religious ceremony at Notre Dame.
More DetailsHide DetailsThe marriage had come after considerable activity with regard to who would make a suitable match, often toward titled royals and with an eye to foreign policy. The final choice was opposed in many quarters and Eugénie considered of too little social standing by some. In the United Kingdom The Times made light of the latter concern, emphasizing that the parvenu Bonapartes were at least marrying into established Spanish nobility: "We learn with some amusement that this romantic event in the annals of the French Empire has called forth the strongest opposition, and provoked the utmost irritation. The Imperial family, the Council of Ministers, and even the lower coteries of the palace or its purlieus, all affect to regard this marriage as an amazing humiliation "
Eugénie found childbearing extraordinarily difficult. An initial miscarriage in 1853, after a three-month pregnancy, frightened and soured her.
Until her own marriage in 1853, Eugénie variously used the titles of Countess of Teba or Countess of Montijo, but some family titles were legally inherited by her elder sister, through which they passed to the House of Alba.
More DetailsHide DetailsAfter the death of her father, Eugenia became the 9th Countess of Teba, and is named as such in the Almanach de Gotha (1901 edition). After Eugenia's demise all titles of the Montijo family came to the Fitz-Jameses (the Dukes of Alba and Berwick).
She first met Prince Louis Napoléon after he had become president of the Second Republic, with her mother, at a reception given by the "prince-president" at the Elysée Palace on April 12, 1849.
More DetailsHide DetailsHer beauty attracted Louis Napoleon, who, as was his custom, tried to seduce her, but Eugénie told him to wait for marriage. "What is the road to your heart?" Napoleon demanded to know. "Through the chapel, Sire", she answered.
A short, disastrous stay, in 1837, in a boarding school near Bristol, England - where she was known as "Carrots", for her auburn hair, and from which she tried to run away, to India - completed Eugénie's formal schooling.
More DetailsHide DetailsHowever, most of her education took place at home, under the tutelage of English governesses Miss Cole and Miss Flowers, and family friends such as Prosper Mérimée and Henri Beyle.
A more compatible school was the progressive Gymnase Normal, Civil et Orthosomatique, from 1836 to 1837, which appealed to her athletic side (a school report praised her strong liking for athletic exercise, and although an indifferent student, that her character was "good, generous, active and firm").
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