Empress of France
1826 – 1920 A.D.
Eugénie-Marie de Montijo, Empress of France, wife of Napoleon III. She was born at Granada, Spain, and was the daughter of the Count of Montijo. Her mother was Maria Fitzpatrick, whose father had been U.S. Consul at Malaga, a Scotsman by birth and an American by nationality.
Eugénie was educated in Paris and when she appeared in society there in 1851 she fascinated everyone by her charm and amiability. In November, 1852, she and her mother were invited to Fountainbleau, and in the picturesque hunting parties the beautiful young Spaniard, who showed herself an expert horsewoman, was greatly admired by all present and by the host in particular.
On New Year’s Eve, at a ball at the Tuileries, Mlle. de Motijo, who had necessarily excited much jealousy and hostility in the female world, had reason to complain that she had been insulted by the wife of an official personage. On hearing it the emperor said to her: “I will avenge you,” and within three days he made a proposal of marriage. In a speech from the throne he formally announced his engagement, and justified that some people considered a mesalliance, “I have preferred,” he said, “a woman whom I love and respect to a woman unknown to me, with whom an alliance would have had advantages mixed with sacrifices. Endowed with all the qualities of the soul, she will be the ornament of the throne, and in the days of danger she will become one of its courageous supports.”
The marriage was celebrated with great pomp at Notre Dame on January 30, 1853. Her wedding present of 600,000 francs, bestowed by the municipality of Paris, was expended, at her request, in founding a female college.
On the 16th of March, 1856, the empress gave birth to a son, who received the title of Prince Imperial.
The emperor’s prediction regarding her was not belied by events. By her beauty, elegance and charm of the manner she contributed largely to the brilliancy of the imperial régime, and when the end came, she was one of the very few who showed calmness and courage in face of the rising tide of revolution. The empress acted three times as regent during the absence of the emperor, and she was generally consulted on important questions, usually urging the bolder course of action.
On the collapse of the Empire, after the decisive battle of Sedan, in which her husband was taken prisoner, she was urged to fly from Paris, as the Tuileries was surrounded by a howling mob, who were indulging in execrations against the emperor. Plainly attired, she managed to escape notice, entered a common cab and drove to the residence of Dr. Thomas W. Evans, an American dentist, with whom the royal family for years had been on intimate terms. By a ruse on his part, she was conveyed by him that night secretly through the lines of German sentries surrounding Paris, who, on stopping his carriage for a moment, failed to recognise [sic] a human form covered by a rug at his feet.
She accompanied Dr. Evans to England, where she met her son. They took up their abode at Chiselhurst, the emperor joining her later, and after the emperor’s death in 1873 she removed to Farnborough, where she built a mausoleum to his memory.
The great sorry of Eugénie’s life occurred in June, 1879, when the Prince Imperial, who had joined the English troops against the Zulus in South Africa, was slain by savages. The following year she visited the spot and brought back the body to be interred beside his father.
After that the ex-empress lived in retirement, following closely the course of events, but abstaining from all interference in French politics. She was a close friend of Queen Victoria, and a frequent visitor at the palace in the latter years of the queen’s reign.
At her death, in 1820, aged ninety-four, Eugénie had lived to witness the downfall of the German power that in 1870 deprived her of her throne and country.
Reference: Famous Women; An Outline of Feminine Achievement Through the Ages With Life Stories of Five Hundred Noted Women By Joseph Adelman. Copyright, 1926 by Ellis M. Lonow Company.