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Archive for the ‘Second Empire’ Category

It takes a lot of effort to become an emperor. First, you have to believe in yourself and your star, which is easy when you are a nephew of the Great Corsican and the heir to his fallen throne. But you also need an endless persistence: the strength to overcome failure, to dust yourself off after a hard fall, and to pursue your goal with renewed energy. Next, you need a lack of moral scruples, the ability to handle people and, finally, a serious heap of money. Louis-Napoleon Bonaparte checked off every item on this list except for the last one.

louis napoleon president

Louis-Napoleon Bonaparte

When we meet Louis-Napoleon in London, he is an errant prince with a busy past. He had staged two attempts at seizing power in France, was exiled to America for the first one, and imprisoned for life for the second attempt. He has recently escaped from a fortress, where he was supposed to rot, and now he is in London with only his name for a capital. He is thirty-eight years old.

What would you do at this stage of your life had you had these experiences? You and I would be glad to be alive and free, and we would be cured of our mad ambitions. Louis-Napoleon, on the contrary, was incurable and more than able to function in dire circumstances.

Although many unsavory rumors were later fabricated by his enemies, there is sufficient evidence that the prince behaved extremely badly during his American exile, where he was sent with the provision of fifteen thousand francs coming from the French taxpayers’ pockets. Indeed, King Louis-Philippe, who then reigned in France, chose to reduce Louis-Napoleon’s first attempt at a coup d’état to a childish prank and he put some hush money into the youth’s pocket. After all, the Bonapartist feeling in France was still strong, and a political trial could rock the boat.

Louis-Napoleon, still in his twenties, managed to squander the money on New York’s whores. After being thrown out of three brothels for misbehaving and out of his hotel for “forgetting” to pay, he lodged with a prostitute and proceeded to live out of her earnings. If the woman’s clients complained about the price, Loulou was there to change their opinion with his fists. He thus ended in detention for assault and robbery. A good lawyer managed to set him free. The same lawyer, after Louis-Napoleon’s ascension to the throne, complained in a newspaper interview that he had never been paid for his effort.

Despite all this, one must not form an image of a lazy and brutal sex-addict. Louis-Napoleon had many intellectual qualities that later helped him in governing a nation. He was attentive and curious, pragmatic, and always willing to learn. During his imprisonment in the fortress of Ham, after the second botched coup d’état, he kept busy producing socio-economic pamphlets filled with progressive ideas that he realized later in life. He also managed to father two male children with the local washerwoman.

Women were not only his strongest interest, they were also the vehicles of his political ideas. Whether they fell in love with his legendary name and title, his romantic charisma, or with the man himself, is difficult to say but Louis-Napoleon never lacked a sweetheart willing to sacrifice herself for his political success. In London, after his escape from prison, that post was filled with Miss Harriet Howard.

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Miss Harriet Howard

 

The daughter of a Brighton shoemaker, Harriet, then aged twenty-three, was a beautiful and refined courtesan, who had amassed a fortune, which she laid at Louis-Napoleon’s feet. Being supported by a woman was nothing new for the prince.  Harriet dumped her current rich keeper for him and begun to earn a fat income from attracting clients to a gambling club.  For good measure, she also took in Louis-Napoleon’s two small sons whom he had to leave behind at Ham.

Thanks to Harriet’s industry, Louis-Napoleon was able to lead a comfortable life. Again, he kept busy writing. This time, he was correcting his manuscript The History and the Future of Artillery and producing a study on an economically profitable canal in Nicaragua. He also kept current on the news from France.  On February 26, 1848, he learned that there was a revolution in Paris.

 

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The 1848 revolution painted by Alphonse de Lamartine

 

There had been nothing drastically wrong with King Louis-Philippe’s government but, since the First Revolution, the French people became accustomed to uprising for real or imagined wrongs. This time, some clumsy government actions and a couple of moral scandals resulted in a riot which accidentally turned into a revolution. Not knowing what was wrong, and therefore unable to do something about it, Louis-Philippe gave up and, while the revolutionary mob ransacked the royal palace of Tuileries, he bought a boat ticket for England.

Crossing the Channel in the opposite direction was Prince Louis-Napoleon with Harriet’s fortune. He would need it to finance his candidacy in the first electoral campaign in the French history. This time, everything went well for the prince. His name worked magic, and his innovative social and economic ideas spoke for him. He was elected to be the first president of the Second Republic. He would also be the last one. At the end of his four-year mandate, he would stage his third and successful coup d’état to put the imperial crown on his head under the name of Napoleon III. The Second Empire would last for eighteen prosperous years.  Until the next revolution. . .

And Miss Harriet Howard in all this? After having financed an enormous electoral campaign, Harriet was often seen in the Prince-President’s company but she was never invited to the Elysée Palace where the official business took place. The post of the First Lady was occupied by Louis-Napoleon’s cousin, Princess Mathilde. Still, Harriet kept hoping that her day would come when her lover would carry the imperial crown. Four years later, when no invitation came from the Tuileries Palace, the seat of the newly-formed imperial court, Harriet decided that she would wait no longer. She went there uninvited. It was the first, and the last time she appeared publicly in the emperor’s presence.

What happened next would have happened anyway but Harriet’s unfortunate initiative did speed up the process.  The next day, her dear Loulou came to visit her, which was not unusual as they maintained a warm relationship, but this time he offered her an official mission to England. He provided her with a list of persons whom she should visit in order to establish a good relationship between England and France. Thrilled to be named a goodwill ambassador, Harriet accepted to leave at once. When she and her escort reached the seashore, the bad weather prevented them from boarding their ship. While waiting for the weather to clear, Harriet purchased a newspaper where she read the announcement of the emperor’s engagement to Eugenie de Montijo. She returned to Paris at once.

Back home, she found her apartment in disorder, with the upholstery slashed open and her desk taken apart. All compromising correspondence was missing. In the end, Harriet fared better than the unpaid New York lawyer. She received a hereditary title, becoming the Countess de Beauregard, and retired to her country chateau of the same name. At her request, she continued to care for the washerwoman’s little boys.

 

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Harriet’s château

 

Related posts:

Eugenie, the Tragic Empress

Loulou and the Zulus: The Life and Death of Napoleon IV

Mark Twain on Napoleon III

 

 

 

 

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Napoleon III and his family

 

Napoleon the Fourth? Was there ever such an emperor? Strangely enough, the Zulus in South Africa can tell you more about this personage than an average Frenchman. The Zulus know him as Prince Imperial and, each year, they celebrate his anniversary with the local version of pomp and circumstance. And why wouldn’t they if there is good tourist money in it?

 

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pi road signFollow the road sign and you can visit the Prince Imperial’s museum, his memorial financed by Queen Victoria, and the battlefields of the Zulu War. You’ll be retracing Empress Eugenie’s pilgrimage the year after her son’s death. If you happen to be on this road the first Sunday in June, you can participate in a mass for his soul celebrated in French, English, and Latin.

Except for a few die-hard Bonapartists, Napoleon the Fourth may be forgotten in his homeland. For most of his short life, he was known as Prince Imperial, the heir to the French throne. In his childhood, he was the darling of the nation and, as he grew into a handsome young man, he became the treasured secret of many a young girl’s heart. He was to the French what John Kennedy Jr. was to the Americans and it is easy to understand that his premature death at the age of twenty-three caused consternation and grief for the whole nation.

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Marie Bashkirtsheff, a Russian art student in Paris, tells us about this somber day in her diary:

As I was about to leave the studio at noon yesterday, Julian called to the servant through the speaking tube; she put her ear to the tube, and she said to us with some emotion:

“Ladies, M. Julian desires me to tell you that the Prince Imperial is dead.”

I gave a cry and sat down on the coal-box. Then, as everyone began to talk at once, Rosalie said:

“A moment of silence, if you please, ladies. The news is official; a telegram has just been received. He has been killed by the Zulus; this is was M. Julian says.”

The news had already begun to spread; so that when they brought me the Estafette with the words in capital letters, “Death Of Prince Imperial,” I cannot express how much I was shocked.

And then, no matter to what party one may belong, whether one be a Frenchman or a foreigner, it is impossible to avoid sharing in the feeling o consternation with which the news has been everywhere received.

One thing I will say, however, which none of the papers has said, and that is that the English are cowards and assassins. There is something mysterious about this death: there must be both treachery and crime at the bottom of it. Was it natural that a prince on whom all the hopes of his party were fixed should be thus exposed to danger, an only son?

I think there is no one devoid of feeling as not to be moved at the thought of his mother’s anguish. The most dire misfortune, the crudest of losses, may still leave some gleam of hope in the future, some possibility of consolation. This leaves none. One may say with truth that this is a grief like no other. It was because of her [Empress Eugenie] that he went; she gave him no peace; she tormented him; she allowed him no more than five hundred francs a month, a sum upon which he could hardly contrive to live. The mother and son parted on bad terms with each other. Do you perceive the horror of the thing? Can you understand how his mother must feel?

England has treated the Bonapartes shamefully on every occasion when they were so blind as to ask the help of that ignoble country, and it fills me with rage and hatred when I think of it.”

Thus spoke Marie in her youthful grief. That she seemed well-informed of the tensions between mother and son, tells us that she was an avid reader of the gossipy newspapers which began to bloom in that era. As for England’s bad treatment of the exiled Bonapartes, she could not be more wrong. There was a solid friendship between the British royalty and the Bonapartes that was born during Victoria and Albert’s visit to France in 1855. You can read about it in The Prince of Wales in Paris: Please Adopt Me! published here. Queen Victoria figured in Prince Imperial’s life on many occasions. To begin with, when Eugenie complained about the difficulty with getting pregnant, it was her good friend Victoria, mother of a large family, who gave her a valid advice which resulted in the prince’s birth.

Several sources reveal that Victoria reserved for him her youngest daughter Beatrice as a spouse regardless of the fact that after the Second Empire’s collapse in 1870 he became an heir without a throne. Like the Bonapartes, Victoria believed that her dear Loulou would reconquer his lost empire. So did the still strong Bonapartist party in the now Republican  France. Upon his father’s death in 1873, the young prince became Emperor Napoleon IV by the Bonapartists’ acclamation. It was—they hoped—only a question of time for the rightful ruler to claim his throne.

pi berceauNapoléon Eugène Louis Jean Joseph Bonaparte, or Loulou to his family, was born March 16, 1856, and spent his early days in this splendid crib donated by the City of Paris. His godparents were Queen Victoria and Pope Pius IX. As the only child, he had no one to play with and his main entertainment was watching the guard manoeuvering in front of the palace windows. His love for the military was born there. Sometimes, he would also play at governing. Sitting at his father’s desk, he would seize important documents and fold them into animal forms. His adoring father would not dare to protest. As an aside, had he lived and cultivated his talent for sculpture, Loulou could have become a brilliant artist. There were many promises in the boy’s life, all of them unfulfilled.

The following video records the young man’s life from birth to death. We see the delightful child growing into a Prince Charming, we follow him to the exile in England, and from there to South Africa, and witness his heroic death at the hand of the Zulu warriors. We assist at his funeral in England and see his mother’s grief. The old empress then remembers happier times. All of it in six and a half minutes.

 

 

Marie was also wrong about the conspiracy regarding the prince’s death in South Africa. On the contrary, the British Army and the government freaked out at the idea of taking responsibility for the young man’s life. They wanted nothing to do with him and it took the joined effort of Eugenie and Victoria, with the special order from the latter, for him to be enlisted for the war in Zululand. Even at that, he was scrupulously kept away from the real action. Both women believed that the prince needed to cover himself with glory in order to succeed in his crown conquest.  As for the man himself, he did not need any encouragement. Eager to become a worthy heir of his famous great-uncle, Napoleon I, he studiously sought danger to the chagrin of his British “baby-sitters”.  He found his death in a seemingly deserted kraal where he decided it was time for a coffee break during a recognition ride. In the video that follows, the event is reconstructed based on the statements given the following day by the members of the patrol.

 

 

prince imperialThere remain many what-could-have-been questions.  What would have happened had the uncrowned Napoleon IV not lost his life that day? Would he have recovered his throne and brought back the Empire? How would that change France’s and, to some degree, Europe’s destiny? Queen Victoria might have hoped to establish her youngest daughter as the Empress of France, but would the French go for it? That remains doubtful. Would they have unanimously accepted an emperor who had been schooled in England, served in the British army and married a British Protestant princess? Questions, questions…

 

Related posts:

Eugenie, the Tragic Empress

Mark Twain on Napoleon III

 

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commune

 

When you take a guided tour in France—whether it is a Loire château, or any other building erected before 1789—inevitably, there comes the time when the guide says: “Unfortunately, during the Revolution…,” and there follows a list of damaged or destroyed artifacts. The French were fond of revolutions – when they were happening. Afterward, seeing what they had done in moments of passion, they wept.

The 1789 revolution, the very first one, is well known. The guillotine, the years of terror, the king Louis XVI and the queen Marie-Antoinette executed. Having gotten the taste of it, the French people became serial revolutionaries. March 18 marks the anniversary of the Commune of Paris, one of the three revolutions that shook the city in the 19th century and, decidedly, the bloodiest of all. The sixty-two days of its duration caused up to thirty thousand deaths (the number varies according to different sources).

What led to this bloodbath? Why did the prosperous France of the Second Empire wake up as an impoverished Third Republic? Why was Paris in ruins?

In July 1870, the French declare war on Prussia, or, rather, are tricked to do it. The crafty Chancellor Bismarck needs the conflict to unify a collection of small German-speaking countries into one powerful nation. Ill-prepared, the French army is defeated by the Prussians in the battle of Sedan and the emperor Napoleon III made prisoner. Riots in Paris follow the bad news and the next day, September 4th, the empire is overthrown. A Republican government moves into the City Hall, while the Prussians close in on Paris.

 

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During the siege, dogs, cats, and rats were sold at high prices. The rich dined on exotic meat provided by the zoo animals

 

Paris is besieged during the winter months. The weather is cruel and the city suffers from a severe famine. Hunger and typhoid fever ravage Paris from within, while the Prussians shell it from the outside. Starved and ill, the Parisians learn that a new humiliation had visited the country: the German Empire was proclaimed in Versailles and an armistice has been signed.

 

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The Empire of Germany, a new European power, is proclaimed in the Versailles palace

 

This does not sit well with the Parisians, who do not consider themselves defeated. The German boots desecrating the exquisite beauty of the Hall of Mirrors? Ce n’est pas acceptable! Anger is rising when they learn the terms of peace.  The Germans demand a two-day entry to Paris, the surrender of two provinces (Alsace and Lorraine) and war reparations amounting to one billion gold coins. Their army would occupy the country until the debt is paid off.

 

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The German victory parade in the streets of Paris

 

Aware that a revolt is brewing, the government moves its headquarters from Paris to Versailles.  The spark ignites when the government tries to disarm Paris by confiscating 248 cannons from Montmartre and other working-class neighborhoods on the periphery. The cannons belong to the city; they were paid for by war subscription. The people rise to defend their property and the soldiers’ loyalty shifts. Two generals are seized and shot. There is no way back. The insurgents erect barricades and the Commune of Paris is proclaimed.

 

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800 barricades went up in the city

 

Elected on March 26th, the Commune is in direct opposition to the conservative national government. The core, like in all revolutions, are intellectuals, students, writers, artists, and artisans with egalitarian ideas and the vision of justice for all. Outraged as they are by the government’s betrayal, many Parisians of the middle class join in the insurrection. The main muscle of the revolution is the impressionable working class which, when excited, easily turns into a mob.

 

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Women were heavily engaged in the insurrection, both as nurses and combatants. The 1789 revolution had its tricoteuses (women who took their knitting to the guillotine to keep their hands busy during the executions). The Commune of Paris gives birth to the pétroleuses. “The women behaved like tigresses, throwing petroleum everywhere and distinguishing themselves by the fury with which they fought”. (Edwin Child, a young Londoner working in Paris.)

 

The basic ideas of the revolution are modern and positive: reform of the working conditions, good children education, separation of the church and the state, women’s equality. Their application is awkward, to say the least. “Property is theft,” the revolutionaries declare as they seize the Bank of France. All religious institutions are invaded, their material goods confiscated, the churches turned into social clubs for the people. On April 23, George Sand, the famous novelist and, herself a Republican, writes to Gustav Flaubert, author of Madame Bovary:  “The horrible adventure continues. They ransom, they threaten, they arrest, they judge. They have taken over all the city halls, all the public establishments, they’re pillaging the munitions and the food supplies.” 

 

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Churches became social clubs for the people

 

Without a clear program and with no political experience, the feeling of brotherhood, with which the Commune started, changes into quarrel and resentment. Valuable time is lost in endless debates and little is achieved. Like George Sand, Parisians become tired of this bizarre social experiment. They long for peace and quiet; the poorer ones want to return to their familiar misery with its own reassuring habits. Others, the ardent supporters, are determined to fight. “The Commune or death!” they chant.

 

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The Versailles troops approach the walls of Paris

 

Meanwhile, in Versailles, the government has reconstituted the army with war prisoners released by the Germans. The Germans hold their position northwest of the city while the Versailles troops approach from the southeast. Paris is surrounded again. The insurgents attempt several attacks outside the city walls, each time with no success. They send emissaries to Versailles, who are killed. The Commune, in turn, captures hostages, chiefly among the clergy.  On May 21st, the Versailles troops break in and the infamous Bloody Week begins.

 

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Barricades are reinforced and new ones added as the combat rages street by street. The soldiers break into houses and pierce the walls to avoid confrontation with the barricades

 

The army takes no prisoners. Every adversary is shot dead. Unarmed civilians caught with gunpowder traces on their hands are executed as well. The Communards take revenge by killing the hostages. The Archbishop of Paris is among the victims.

 

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The massacre of hostages

 

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The execution of the Archbishop of Paris

 

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Paris burning. In the foreground is the imperial palace

Paris is shelled again, this time by the French army. The Ministry of Finance is destroyed in the process. Fires break out in many prestigious locations. These are later explained by the partisans of the Commune as the result of the shelling. However, most of the gutted buildings bore no traces of shelling. They were deliberately set on fire. The legend of the pétroleuses, if it is a legend, started here. As a result, working-class women caught carrying a suspicious container were summarily executed.

 

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The City Hall on fire

 

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The imperial palace after the fire

 

Government and police offices are consumed by the fire, their archives destroyed. The air, already unbreathable, is filled with whirling charred paper remains that settle on the roofs and sidewalks. The Tuileries palace is a total loss. The stones will be sold, piece by piece, as construction material. A wing of the Louvre also suffered fire damage.

The novelist Emile Zola was one of the first reporters to enter the city during the Bloody Week. He wrote: “Never in civilized times has such a terrible crime-ravaged a great city […] The men of the Hotel de Ville could not be other than assassins and arsonists. They were beaten and fled like robbers from the regular army, and took vengeance upon the monuments and houses […] The fires of Paris have pushed over the limit the exasperation of the army. […] Those who burn and who massacre merit no other justice than the gunshot of a soldier.”

 

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The end of the Commune

 

The revenge is atrocious and out of proportion. The Commune killed 64 hostages yet the insurgents are now butchered by the thousands. Nobody is spared, even the injured patients in an ambulance along with the doctors and nurses. Women are shot with children in their arms.

 

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Many innocents were shot along with the rebels

 

Four days after the battle is over, Emile Zola reports in a softened tone: “The court martials are still meeting and the summary executions continue, less numerous, it’s true. The sound of firing squads, which one still hears in the mournful city, atrociously prolongs the nightmare […] Paris is sick of executions. It seems to Paris that they’re shooting everyone. Paris is not complaining about the shooting of the members of the Commune, but of innocent people. It believes that, among the pile, there are innocent people, and that it’s time that each execution is preceded by at least an attempt at a serious inquiry […] When the echoes of the last shots have ceased, it will take a great deal of gentleness to heal the million people suffering nightmares, those who have emerged, shivering from the fire and massacre.”

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G. Sand

Emerging, shivering from the fire, is also George Sand. She writes:” I come from Paris, and I do not know whom to speak to. I am suffocated. I am quite upset, or rather out of heart. The sight of the ruins is nothing compared to the great Parisian insanity. With very rare exceptions, everybody seemed to me only fit for the strait-jacket. One-half of the population longs to hang the other half, which returns the compliment. That is clearly to be read in the eyes of the passers-by.”

 

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Prisoners being taken to Versailles

 

The surviving rebels are marched twenty miles to Versailles. They suffer insults along the way. One of the gossipy Goncourt brothers later recalled that he saw society ladies, who had never raised their voice, vomit their hatred using invectives that would make a sailor blush.

 

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Female prisoners awaiting interrogations

 

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The trials were of short duration, with the execution soon after

 

The prisoners, who were not condemned to death, were shipped to New Caledonia, an island in the Pacific Ocean.  Forty-three thousand were sent there in crowded conditions and with little food. A handful came back after the amnesty twenty years later.

In all, with thirty thousand dead, not counting the injured, and another forty thousand deported, it took over ten years to restore the Paris working force. Those people were not only the manual laborers. They were also highly skilled workers and artisans of superior training. Even today, 146 years after the event, there are fresh flowers laid at the wall where the last Communards were executed. The working class keeps paying respect to the victims of this Parisian calamity.

Related posts:

How Germany was Born in France (The Shah of Persia, on his 1873 visit to Europe, comments on the post-Commune Paris)

Paris of the 1870s: Risen from the Ashes

12 Events That Influenced 19th Century Paris

 

 

 

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winterhalterEver since she became an empress, Eugenie de Montijo feared Queen Marie-Antoinette’s fate. She was right to feel uneasy. Eighteen years into the reign and some eighty years after Marie-Antoinette’s head was severed under the guillotine, Eugenie ran in terror through the streets of Paris with a mob at her heels. The year was 1870 and the only friend the French empress found in her distress was her American dentist.

Eugenie doesn’t deserve her lack of fame. Who doesn’t know Marie-Antoinette and her horrible end? Who has never heard of Empress Josephine, the wife of Napoleon I? Both are legendary figures of the French history. One was executed; the other had to agree to a divorce. That the French had two more empresses, Marie-Louise and Eugenie, is a lesser known fact. Marie-Louise’s contribution to the French history was reduced to giving Napoleon his only legitimate heir, an heir that Josephine was unable to provide.  After the fall of the First Empire, Marie-Louise and her little son (who might have ruled as Napoleon II had he not died in the exile) went to live in her native Austria and neither saw France again.

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Napoleon III

With the Bonaparte family banished from the country, France went through two Bourbon kings and two revolutions to become, again, a republic. After 34 years in the exile, the Bonapartes were back, this time headed by Louis Napoleon Bonaparte, the nephew of Napoleon I. His four-year stint as an elected French president ended in 1852 with a coup d’état when he took what he considered rightfully his: the imperial crown. Henceforth, he was known as Napoleon III.

Generally, the French don’t like Napoleon III. They call him Napoleon le Petit and they say that he did nothing for the glory of France. They seem not to notice that their glorious Napoleon I turned Europe into a battlefield where he sacrificed an entire generation of Frenchmen and caused untold misery to people all over the continent from Spain to Russia. His nephew, on the contrary, was an achiever of another sort. Under his 18-year rule, France conquered the world with her culture and industry. He was the builder of Paris as we know it today, with the wide avenues and sanitary underbelly. He was a modern man in every sense and he truly cared for his people’s well-being.

Fortunately, the new emperor was a bachelor and he could hope to find a bride of royal blood to solidify his lofty position.  Unfortunately, he was also the slave of his hormones. While his emissaries were shopping for a suitable bride among the reluctant royal families of Europe—they all still smarted from the consequences of his uncle’s conquests—Napoleon III met the woman of his life and she was not a royal.

Even though Eugenie de Montijo was a stunning beauty, she would never have made the history books had she been only one of Louis Napoleon’s easy conquests. Let’s say it right here:  the man had a long list of bedroom adventures although he wasn’t averse to having sex in any other room, in any stationary or moving vehicle, or even in a haystack –  standing, sitting or laying down.  His sexual appetite was legendary and sometimes embarrassingly noticeable. His Majesty the Empereur was renamed by his sneering courtiers His Majesty the Ampleur.

In Eugenie he found a fortress to be conquered. The rules were laid down very early after the two met.  He was still the Prince-President of the French Republic, she the 26-year-old daughter of a widowed Spanish countess. He invited the two women for a weekend in a country chateau. As he was returning from a horse ride, he spotted Eugenie at one of the numerous windows. Not knowing the exact layout of the building, he called: “How do I get to you?” “Through the chapel, Sire,” she answered.

The siege of Eugenie lasted eleven months before her would-be-conqueror declared defeat. By that time France had, once again, become an empire with Louis Napoleon on the throne. Everyone, especially his family, expected him to do his duty by marrying a virginal princess. Instead, he presented them with a Spanish adventuress of dubious virtue. They were furious.  “But I love her,” he said simply.

Eugenie’s extraordinary resistance to seduction was explained during the wedding night.  She had no appetite for physical love. “Sex? Quelle saleté!” (Sex? What filth!) she was heard saying the next morning. Despite his wife’s attitude, the emperor remained faithful to her for a period of six months before he returned to his old habits. That did not sit well with the empress. She was very particular about her possessions and she would make an issue of a displaced pillow let alone of a displaced husband. The household was soon aware of her displeasure, most of all the emperor, who was forbidden access to the marital bed. But the pair had to produce an heir. A truce followed during which the task was accomplished. A lovely baby boy was born and given the title Prince Impérial. There were no other children. For the rest of the Napoleon III’s reign, the frigid Eugenie presided over one of the most debauched courts in history, a court where adultery was the norm and a one-night stand with the emperor a badge of honor.

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The Second Empire court at its zenith. A soiree at the Tuileries, 1867

By now the reader has reached the opinion that Eugenie was a gold-digger with a block of ice where her heart ought to have been. That is incorrect. Most of her life was spent in serious charitable endeavors. An early feminist, she was pushing for female education and advocating the recognition of women’s achievements in literature, arts, and education. That her efforts were largely unsuccessful was the fault of the society she lived in. The reforms she championed came too early.

As an empress, Eugenie was without reproach. Always courteous and elegant, she represented her country admirably, whether at home or abroad. Queen Victoria, favorably impressed, quickly became Eugenie’s intimate friend. Politically, Eugenie certainly had an influence on the emperor, especially when he was weakened by a disease in the last years of his reign.  The Bonapartes had many enemies; the most influential among them was the ultra-Republican Victor Hugo, author of Les Misérables. Acting from his exile, he bombarded the imperial pair with insulting pamphlets.  The mud stuck and Eugenie was blamed for everything that went wrong. Like Marie Antoinette, she was foreign and foreign queens were suspected of spying for their homeland and generally wishing ill to the French people.

The declaration of war on Prussia and the consequent debacle were entirely laid at her feet. While her husband, suffering from a debilitating pain, eagerly sought honorable death on the battlefield before surrendering to Bismarck, Eugenie refused to shoot into an angry mob that surrounded the imperial palace.  She chose to flee.  Alone, she tried several addresses before help was offered.  Her savior was Dr. Evans, her American dentist. The pair sneaked off to the coast where the empress, in strict incognito, boarded a ship for England.  As for Dr. Evans, he dined on the story for the rest of his life.

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The widowed Eugenie and her son in a Tissot’s painting, 1878

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Napoléon, Prince Imperial

After the emperor’s comfortable imprisonment in the newly formed German Empire, the family is reunited in Camden Place, Chislehurst, southeast of London, to begin a life in the exile.  A plan for regaining his throne is certainly in the making when the emperor dies. From then on, Eugenie lives entirely for her son’s future. Not long after, tragedy strikes again: the prince, engaged in the war with the Zulus in South Africa, is slain by the savages.

The news makes the round of the planet. That his mother is devastated is understandable. oldBut the prince’s death crushed the hopes of numerous Bonapartists. It was generally understood that should the handsome prince claim the imperial crown it would be his for the taking. The grief in France could be compared to the one felt by the British when Princess Diana succumbed after the car accident. Husbandless and childless, Eugenie drags her sorrow through the rest of her long life. She dies in 1920 at the age of ninety-four.

 

Royal Collection

The memorial of Prince Imperial in Zululand

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André-Adolphe-Eugène Disdéri (1819 -1899)

André-Adolphe-Eugène Disdéri (1819 -1899)

Photographic portraiture in the mid 19th century was a slow and expensive process until a clever man invented the carte de visite format. The inventor, André-Adolphe-Eugène Disdéri, juxtaposed multiple shots on the same negative, forming a mosaic comparable to that of the photo booth camera. The process, patented in 1854, reduced the cost of production of each photograph and made this kind of portraiture more popular. The visit card took its final shape when each image was pasted on a slightly larger rigid cardboard bearing the name and address of the photographer.

A plate with eight portraits of Princess Lizaveta Trubetzkaya with different fashion accessories, 1858

A plate with eight portraits of Princess Lizaveta Trubetzkaya posing with different fashion accessories, 1858

At first, the portrait card was limited to the narrow circle of the aristocracy and the business in the studio was slow. Then, in 1858, the emperor Napoleon III dropped in on his way to a military campaign in Italy. His portrait was immediately sold by the hundreds throughout Paris. The celebrities, who instantly understood the value of the process, wanted in turn to see their image immortalized in the form of a portrait-card and displayed behind the windows of the souvenir shops on the main boulevards. Political leaders, men of letters, stars of the theater and opera, clowns and acrobats, dancers and women of the demimonde, all joined in. The phenomenon, far from being confined to the capital, quickly won major provincial cities. It spread throughout France, Europe, and later the United States. The images of Queen Victoria, President Lincoln, or Sarah Bernhardt were sold by hundreds of thousands. Following the lead, the bourgeois, too, got on board. Smaller studios opened their doors to produce family portraits.

The emperor became a loyal customer along with his son, wife, and numerous mistresses

The emperor became a  loyal customer along with his son, wife, and numerous mistresses

Queen Victoria, too, sat for several portraits

Queen Victoria, too, posed for several portraits

So did Cora Pearl, the most rapacious of all leading courtesans

So did Cora Pearl, one of the most rapacious of all leading courtesans

Monsieur Léotard with his trapeze, checking his plimsole, c.1865

Performers considered the visit card an essential self-promoting tool. Here is Monsieur Léotard with his trapeze c.1865

The evolution of photography brought social changes. The living room now contained a heavy album with portraits of family members, to which were added others containing collections of now immediately identifiable celebrities, of art, curiosities, and faraway places.  Hidden in secret drawers were new gentlemen’s treasures: the first pornographic photographs.

Was it Disdéri;s assistant or the Master himself who spent considerable time creating this photomontage of ballerina's legs?

Was it Disdéri’s assistant or the Master himself who spent considerable time creating this photo montage of ballerinas’ legs? It was, no doubt, a bestseller. A woman’s ankle was rarely seen, let alone a knee!

Emilie Ellis showing almost all. As you have noticed on the previous photos, fashionable ballerina's legs were eather on the heavy side. Thin wasn't in

Emilie Ellis showing almost all. Fashionable legs were rather on the heavy side. Thin wasn’t in

Disdéri’s carte de visite offered a direct view of society, of its rulers, artists, and other personalities of the Second Empire. It helped to forge new connections between people and enriched the social and cultural knowledge.

To visit a 19th century photography studio, click on the image below. It will take you to the Camera Museum.

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Cocottes and Cocodettes: Two faces of the same morality

maquette

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bertieThe year is 1855. An enthusiastic crowd lining the boulevards greets Queen Victoria with her husband Prince Albert and the French imperial couple, Napoleon III and Empress Eugenie, as their open carriages progress across Paris. It is the first visit of a British ruler since 1431 and it has been a tremendous success on several levels. Both monarchs have become firm allies in the Crimean War, the term “entente cordiale” was coined between them, and lasting personal friendships have been born.

Albert is much taken with the elegant Eugenie. “Altogether I’m delighted to see how much he likes her and admires her,” the queen notes in her diary, “as it is so seldom that I see him do so with any woman.” Victoria herself is experiencing a pleasant electric current each time Napoleon whispers endearments into her ear, compliments her on her dress or tickles the back of her hand with his mustache. No man had ever dared flirt with her and it is all so very French!

If the 10-day visit made such a good impression on the parents, the two children Victoria and Albert brought along were quite smitten. Vicky, the Princess Royal, broke into tears and pleaded for more time in France. Her 13-year old brother Bertie, the future King Edward VII, took a more direct action. The day he found himself alone with the emperor, he said: “You have a nice country and I would like to be your son.” When his proposal met with no success, he tried again, this time with Eugenie. “You parents cannot do without you,” she replied. “Not do without us?” Bertie exclaimed. “Don’t fancy that, for there are six more of us, and they don’t want us.”

The unloved Bertie grew up into a playboy. The Prince de Galles, as he was known in France, returned many times, enthusiastically sampling all the pleasures Paris could offer.

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The two terms are often confused. In the 19th century Paris, especially during the Second Empire, cocottes were high-ranking prostitutes; their rank was determined by the number of ruined men they left in their wake. They were mostly of low origin and socially unacceptable outside their circle. Even La Païva, the richest cocotte in France and wife of a Portuguese aristocrat, was turned out when she attempted to appear at Court.

Cocodettes, on the other hand, were well-born spirited women in the entourage of Empress Eugénie. Duchesses, countesses, and wives of foreign ambassadors aspired to be members of the club. However, as far as virtue was concerned, cocottes and cocodettes often stood on the same moral level. In fact, the imperial court was an upscale brothel where sex was exchanged for favors. Napoleon III, a notorious sex-addict, cruised the in-crowd for easy conquests. To an experienced courtier, a twirl of the emperor’s moustache was a sure sign that the object of his interest would soon find herself in a horizontal position. To be tumbled by the emperor was considered a badge of honor. During a ball given at the court, “Madame de X.,” recalled Baron Haussmann, “was loudly enthusiastic after what had just happened to her. I had to snatch her away for a waltz to prevent her from bragging about it to her husband.”

Cocottes and cocodettes – two faces of the moral decadence that characterized the exuberant Second Empire. It all came to an end in 1870 when France provoked a war with Prussia and suffered a defeat. The Third Republic, built on the Second Empire’s ruins, proclaimed the return to middle-class morality.

Franz Winterhalter: The Empress Eugenie Surrounded by her Ladies in Waiting, 1855

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