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Empress Eugenie

"Empress Eugenie" redirects here. For other uses, see Empress Eugenie (disambiguation).

Eugénie de Montijo
Countess of Teba and Marquise of Ardales

The empress' official portrait
Empress consort of the French
Tenure 30 January 1853 – 11 January 1871
Spouse Napoleon III of France
Napoléon Eugène, Prince Imperial
Full name
María Eugenia Ignacia Augustina de Palafox Portocarrero de Guzmán y Kirkpatrick
House House of Bonaparte
Father Cipriano de Palafox y Portocarrero
Mother María Manuela Enriqueta Kirkpatrick de Closbourn y de Grevigné
Born (1826-05-05)5 May 1826
Granada, Spain
Died 11 July 1920(1920-07-11) (aged 94)
Madrid, Spain
Burial Saint Michael's Abbey, Farnborough
Religion Roman Catholicism

Doña María Eugenia Ignacia Augustina de Palafox-Portocarrero de Guzmán y Kirkpatrick, 16th Countess of Teba and 15th Marquise of Ardales (5 May 1826 – 11 July 1920), known as Eugénie de Montijo (French: [øʒeni də montiʒo]), was the last Empress consort of the French from 1853 to 1871 as the wife of Napoleon III, Emperor of the French.


The last Empress of the French was born in Granada, Spain, to Don Cipriano de Palafox y Portocarrero (1785–1839), Grandee, whose titles included Count of Ablitas, 9th Count of Montijo, 15th Count of Teba, 8th Count of Fuentidueña, 14th Marquis of Ardales, 17th Marquess of Moya and 13th Marquis of la Algaba. and his half-Scottish, quarter-Belgian, quarter-Spanish wife (whom he married on 15 December 1817), María Manuela Enriqueta Kirkpatrick de Closbourn y de Grevigné (24 February 1794 – 22 November 1879), a daughter of the Scots-born William Kirkpatrick of Closbourn (1764–1837), who became United States consul to Málaga, and later was a wholesale wine merchant, and his wife, Marie Françoise de Grevignée (born 1769), daughter of Liège-born Henri, Baron de Grevignée and wife Doña Francisca Antonia Gallegos (1751–1853).

Eugenia's older sister, María Francisca de Sales de Palafox Portocarrero y Kirkpatrick, nicknamed "Paca" (24 January 1825 – 16 September 1860), who inherited most of the family honours and was 12th Duchess of Peñaranda Grandee of Spain and 9th Countess of Montijo, title later ceded to her sister, married the Duke of Alba in 1849. 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. After 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).

Eugénie de Montijo, as she became known in France, was formally educated in Paris, at the fashionable, traditionalist Convent of the Sacré Cœur from 1835 to 1836. A more compatible school was the progressive Gymnase Normale, Civile 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"). 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.[1] However, most of her education took place at home, under the tutelage of English governesses Miss Cole and Miss Flowers,[2] and family friends such as Prosper Mérimée[3] and Henri Beyle.[4]

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 12th, 1849.[5] 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".[6] 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.[7]

The 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, and the final choice was opposed in many quarters and Eugénie considered of too-little social standing by some.[8][9] 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.[10] 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.[11][12]

Her husband often consulted her on important questions, and she acted as Regent during his absences in 1859, 1865 and 1870. In 1860, she visited Algiers with Napoleon.[13] A 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.[14] However, the assertion of her clericalism and influence on the side of conservatism is often countered by other authors.[15][16]

According to events depicted in both the book and film The Song of Bernadette, Eugénie believed that her son had been miraculously cured from a fever after being sprinkled with water from the spring at Massabielle.

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. Pertevniyal 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.[17]

After the Franco-Prussian War

When the Second French Empire was overthrown after France's defeat in the Franco-Prussian War (1870–71), the empress and her husband took 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 her villa "Cyrnos" (ancient Greek name of Corsica), which was built at Cape Martin, between Menton and Nice, where she lived in retirement, abstaining from politics. Her house in Farnborough is now an independent Roman Catholic girls' school, Farnborough Hill.[18]

After the deaths of her husband and son, as her health started to deteriorate, she spent some time at Osbourne House on the Isle of Wight; her physician recommended she visit Bournemouth which was, in Victorian times, famed as a health spa resort. During her afternoon visit in 1881, she called on the Queen of Sweden, at her residence 'Crag Head'.[19] Then aged 88, the Empress visited Portsmouth on 6 November 1914 to inspect the gunboat HMS Thistle fitting out there. [20] The former empress died in July 1920, aged 94, during a visit to her relative the Duke of Alba, 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. 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.

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. This baptism was an early example of ecumenism as Victoria Eugenie was baptised in the (Protestant) Church of Scotland.


The Empress has also been commemorated in space; the asteroid 45 Eugenia was named after her,[21] and its moon, Petit-Prince, after the Prince Imperial.[22]

She had an extensive and unique jewelry collection, most of them were later owned by the Brazilian socialite Aimée de Heeren. [23][24] 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 Jewellery of the neo classical era, in 1858 she had a boutique in the Royal Palace under the name ‘Royale Collections’.

She was honoured by John Gould who named the White-headed Fruit Dove Ptilinopus eugeniae

In popular culture

Named for the Empress, the Eugénie hat is a style of women's chapeau worn dramatically tilted and drooped over one eye; its brim is folded up sharply at both sides in the style of a riding topper, often with one long ostrich plume streaming behind it.[25] The hat was popularized by film star Greta Garbo and enjoyed a vogue in the 1930s that was "hysterically popular".[26] More redolent of the Empress' actual apparel, however, was the late nineteenth-century fashion of the Eugénie paletot, a women's greatcoat with bell sleeves and a single button enclosure at the neck.[27]

Titles from birth to death

  • Doña María Eugenia Ignacia Augustina Palafox de Guzmán Portocarrero y Kirkpatrick (May 5, 1826, from birth until her father's death)
  • Her Excellency Doña María Eugenia Ignacia Augustina Palafox de Guzmán Portocarrero y Kirkpatrick, 19th Countess of Teba (1839, from her father's death till her wedding)
  • Her Imperial Majesty The Empress of the French (1853–1870) as well as Her Imperial Majesty The Empress-Regent during several periods (including the Italian, Crimean and Franco-Prussian wars)
  • Her Imperial Majesty Empress Eugénie of France (1870–1920)


  • 475th Dame of the Royal Order of Queen María Luisa of Spain
  • Honorary Dame Grand Cross of the Order of the British Empire (Hon. GBE)
  • Grand Cross of the Order of Saint Charles (Mexico)


Film portrayals

See also

  • Eugénie Archipelago




Eugénie de Montijo
Born: 5 May 1826 Died: 11 July 1920
French royalty
Title last held by
Marie Amalie of the Two Sicilies
as Queen of the French
Empress of the French
30 January 1853–11 January 1871
Monarchy abolished
Titles in pretence
Title last held by
Marie Louise of Austria
Empress of the French
11 January 1871 – 9 January 1873
Reason for succession failure:
Empire replaced by Republic
Title next held by
Clémentine of Belgium
Spanish nobility
Preceded by
Cipriano de Palafox y Portocarrero
Countess of Teba
Succeeded by
Eugenia María Fitz-James Stuart
Marquise of Ardales
Succeeded by
Jacobo Fitz-James Stuart

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