29th January 1853 was the wedding day of Emperor Napoleon III of France and Princess Eugenie. It was hardly a love-match, but it fitted the bill as a dynastic marriage.
Prince Louis Napoleon was the nephew of Napoleon Bonaparte. He had been elected to the office of President of the French Republic in 1848 but staged a coup d’etat in 1851 that abolished the republic and established a new Napoleonic empire. As Emperor he sought a suitable Empress to produce his heirs and to stand by his side on public occasions.
Eugenia Maria De Montijo De Guzman came from an aristocratic Spanish family that boasted a string of long-established titles. She was therefore highly suitable as a candidate for Empress, although the temperaments of the partners were somewhat different. She was a strict Catholic, aged 26, with a highly-developed sense of morality, whereas Napoleon, aged 44, was a typical French aristocrat who had no intention of remaining faithful to his new bride.
The marriage was a civil ceremony followed by a church service the following day. Eugenie (the French form of her name by which she was subsequently known) insisted that the union would not be consummated until after it had been blessed by the Church.
It would appear that Eugenie tolerated the marriage for the sake of appearances, although she was repulsed by her overweight, sweaty husband who attracted women more by his family name than his prowess as a lover. She did, however, bear him a son who turned out to be their only child and was given the title of Prince Imperial.
The Second Empire only lasted until 1870 when the French were defeated in the Franco-Prussian War and the imperial family was exiled to Great Britain. Napoleon died there in 1873 and the Prince Imperial was killed in South Africa fighting for the British during the Zulu War of 1879.
Eugenie continued to live in England but also had a house in the south of France where she spent much of her time in retirement. She died in 1920 at the age of 94.
© John Welford