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Archive for the ‘Second Republic’ 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.

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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 gold francs. 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 that, 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 in France.

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 was ransacking 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 . . .

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Napoleon III (same man, improved wardrobe)

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 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 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, 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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