In his work " Eugenie, with tears in her eyes ”, Nicole Descours tells us the story of Napoleon III, first President of the Second Republic and Eugenie de Montijo, First Lady already well in her functions. We discover a very European President and a First Lady very attentive to education and various works ... Time passes, but traditions persist ..
President Louis Napoleon
Napoleon III, brought up to follow in the footsteps of his uncle Bonaparte, was rather dissipated in his youth; seducer from the age of 12, he attended military school in Switzerland, received a European education and wanted to help Italy regain its freedom. At the death of his brother and his cousin, he is the only one able to restore the Empire. Captain and Swiss citizen at 26, he failed to win in Alsace, his first coup de force was missed. During his four years of exile in America, he was fascinated by the evolution of this great country and his encounter with great people.
Shortly before the death of his mother Hortense in 1837, he returned to Europe, but never saw her again, the Bonapartes were banned in France. Installed in London, his knowledge pushes him to disembark in Boulogne for a coup, which fails once again, despite the financial means implemented.
Imprisoned at Fort Ham in the Somme, he is a "ladies' man", his conquests are numerous: a laundress who will give birth in Paris with a friend of Louis Napoleon; Miss O'hara with whom he will have a son and who will be adopted by a prison neighbor. At the announcement of his dying father, he prepares an escape with a worker nicknamed "Badinguet", as well as a friend who offers him her husband's passport. He headed for Belgium then England. While his new conquest is the actress Rachel, the poor French economic situation worries him: entering France as his uncle did tempt him greatly!
Louis Philippe exiled, Louis Napoléon campaigns to be elected to the Legislative Assembly, proposing solutions to reduce unemployment “I am the first to want to give work to everyone; idleness is the worst ferment of agitation ”. Elected in December 1848, he wanted to apply "what is good in England"; he helps the Pope in Italy; it pushes for freedom of education; he wanted to avoid popular movements, but could not prevent a serious economic crisis and therefore failed to impose himself, lacking the support of the Republicans and little support from the Assembly.
For his re-election, he left across France, confronting the peasants and the deputies who demanded a reform of the Constitution. Insufficient votes blocked him from running for a second term. Helped by his friends putting their fortunes at his disposal, he attempted a new coup de force and set up a device to take power during the night of December 1 to 2, 1851: guards at the Tuileries, occupation of printing works, arrest of militants, palace of justice busy but unfortunately soldiers lacking in composure shoot at the crowd. Not knowing if the rest of France follows, he must wait until the end of December for the confirmation of the takeover. A year later, when he was crowned Emperor Napoleon III on December 2, 1852 in Saint Cloud, he still blames himself for having forced the French people, but this coup d'état was essential. She also needs an heir: Eugenie de Montijo, met on the eve of her first coup d'etat, has still not given in; he will wait another 2 years ... by consoling himself elsewhere.
The "First Lady" Eugénie de Montijo
Eugenie was educated to marry an aristocrat; perfect rider, very good at the sword, almost professional swimmer, practicing and uncompromising Catholic, with a lively intelligence, she quickly understands her role once the couple is civilly united. She doesn't have a preference for a residence (Tuileries, Saint-Cloud, Fontainebleau, Compiègne), but she loves Biarritz. Pregnant, she loses her first child following a fall from a horse.
The presidential couple
Married on January 29, 1853, the couple personally paid the ceremony costs, Napoleon offered 3,000 pardons to prisoners and Eugenie refused the diamond set offered by the City of Paris, which she intended for the construction of an orphanage. Napoleon III governs with the faithful, but to counter Tsar Nicolas I, he wishes to ally himself with England. Thanks to Queen Victoria, Eugenie finally gave birth to an heir on March 16, 1856, while her husband resumed his habits as Don Juan, especially when Italy sent a beautiful creature to ask for help from France.
With each prank, Eugenie is made aware: it is one too many, she refuses him; but for France, she keeps abreast of ideas and political projects, believing that the Emperor is indispensable to the country. Among the projects, Napoleon does a lot for the Church, pushed and helped by Eugenie. He aspires to make life more comfortable for the workers and grants a right of coalition for their representatives where the unions must be taken into account. He also has an idea of modern and new Europe with Belgium, Poland, Greece, he is present in almost all conflicts, he wants to be the arbiter of Europe, without gaining anything except prestige; but his health is declining, he has physical weaknesses and has to face the attacks.
Eugenie continued her role of First Lady, she created a boarding school for young girls of the Legion of Honor, encouraged high levels of education for girls at the Sorbonne and assumed her role of competent Empress when her husband left for Italy in 1859 in order to restore independence to this country. But war broke out with all its horrors, serving at least for the creation of a relief service for the wounded and the development of mutual aid societies.
Once peace is maintained in Europe, the next major project is the development of Paris to become the most beautiful city: enlargement of the streets, creation of major axes, renovation of buildings, large stores, the Hôtel Dieu preserved , rehousing of the people whose houses were demolished, creation of parks with 30,000 planted trees, construction of the Opera by Charles Garnier, all under the leadership of Haussmann. Napoleon III also endeavored to create a pension fund for civil servants, to constitute an assembly of Prud'hommes, to increase maritime trade and railways so that trains served all the major French cities, to install the electric telegraph and to launch banks such as Crédit Mobilier, CIC and Crédit Lyonnais.
Eugenie is committed to the creation of schools for girls, establishes a certificate of studies, launches the construction of stores like the Samaritaine, decorates the apartments of the Louvre and Tuileries and organizes receptions proving that Paris is the center of knowledge -make in various materials; she helps her cousin to get the construction of the Suez Canal accepted; it encourages the development of certain regions such as Sologne, Landes, Champagne and Provence. And in 1870, French social laws will be ahead of European countries.
The end of the Empire
But the disease of the stone is declared with the Emperor in 1865 and the elections will be fatal to him in 1869. In the meantime, Eugenie asks Napoleon III to help Mexico, which will finally turn to the catastrophe and which will cause the disenchantment of Eugenie nicknamed "the Spaniard". In addition, she discovers it with a certain Marguerite! The Empress changes tactics, no longer has fits of jealousy and is seriously preparing for the regency due to the aggravated illness of her husband and the roaring clamors of the streets. The press is not tender, the satirical left-wing newspapers have an enormous success, Prussia moves too much, the Emperor does not want to abdicate and declares war in July 1870 when he would have preferred to convene a European congress to discuss.
After the debacle of Sedan, Napoleon III prisoner and exiled to Germany, must sign the conditions of abdication and peace while the Parisian people invade the Palais Bourbon; the Empire is dead, the Republic is proclaimed; Eugenie leaves Paris for England where she finds her son there.
The end of Napoleon III and the actions of Eugenie
She quickly formed a small court of the faithful, sent letters asking for a little more humanity for her husband and organized his life for him in a little more pleasant way. During peace talks, she made proposals until the signing of the Treaty of Frankfurt in May 1871, involving the annexation of two French provinces. During this time, Napoleon III was stripped of his rights in January 1871 then released, he went to England in March 1871. Before his health deteriorated completely, he plans to return to France ... like his uncle ... but despite the operation of the calculations, he died in January 1873.
He was a man of too modern ideas, at the cutting edge of progress who had supported Louis Pasteur in his inventions and experiments and the instigator of workers' rights.
Eugenie then loses her son in Africa and before the end of her life, she begins traveling: Basque countries, Italy, Cap Martin, Marseille where she offers the city the Pharo palace which belonged to her, Compiègne, cruise in the Adriatic; but the war of 1914 breaks out. She tries to negotiate with the Emperor of Austria for peace: a waste of time. Persona non grata in France, under assumed names, she organized a military hospital which she handed over to the Red Cross and offered her yacht to the Royal Navy.
At the end of the war, while passing through Madrid, she was decorated as a Knight of the British Empire. Almost blind, she died in July 1920 while receiving English honors when the French Embassy refused them. In England, the abbey church now houses the three burials of this family: Napoleon III on the left, the Crown Prince on the right, Eugenie in the middle. The crypt is open and can be visited on Saturdays, few English people gather there, even less French people!
Eugenie, tears in her eyes, by Nicole Descours Editions Michel de Maule, June 2016.