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Tuesday, 23 April 2013


Legend says that that Eugenia was born in the middle of an earthquake, and that she was brought up among bohemian, prostitutes, lenders, bandits, dukes and beggars. Eugenia was born in Granada, where she spent the first four years of her life, then moved with her family to Madrid.

Maria Eugenia was actually Baroness Countess of Teba and her older sister, Francisca de Sales, the real Countess of Montijo. Francisca was a brown-haired person whose sweet nature and spiritual calm contrasted with that of her sister, one-year younger, reddish hair, vivacious and confident. Both sisters were very beautiful. If the goal of the two daughters of Count de Montijo had been marrying well, they both got indeed. The eldest daughter married the Duke of Alba and the youngest became Empress of France.

After a few years, their mother Maria Manuela Kirkpatrick (of Scottish descent), decided to move with her children to Paris, alternating with brief stays in Madrid, England and Granada. By the way, it is said that Prosper Merimée wrote the famous opera “Carmen” based upon Manuela.

The Duke of Alba for some time was torn between Francisca and Eugenia, but finally settled on the first. It was written that Eugenia was so upset by the election, that she poisoned the milk diluted with matches to kill herself. It was her first love disappointment of her life and shortly after this disappointment would be followed by another, perhaps not so impetuous, but appeared to leave a deeper mark. Since then, in love relationships Eugenia ruled a coldness and prevention feeling. She was not going back to trust any man. Not even her future husband.

It seems that the meeting between Eugenia and Napoleon III was not casual. According to sources, they met through her mother, who wanted a good match for her two daughters. At 27 Eugenia had a reputation of being adventurous, ambitious and unscrupulous. The beauty of the young grenadine aristocrat enchanted the future emperor of France, Louis Napoleon.

It is said that Napoleon went crazy about Eugenia, who to inflame him, used a tactic as old as effective: to deny him her virginity. The courtship lasted two years.

In addition, if it is true the story that is told, the future emperor had to be stopped in their carnal cravings by young Andalusian. In one of the first meetings, he asked her where the way to her bedroom was and she replied him emphatically, but with her best smile: “through the Church”. Whether this story is or it is not certain, the situation would explain fully the moral behaviour of each of them. Louis Napoleon, after his marriage, kept public infidelities with several lovers, while Eugenia, quite a conservative Catholic, had close relations with Rome and financially protected several religious communities.

Although the desire for Eugenia was extinguished after a wedding night as wild as disappointing, Napoleon the Little, as Victor Hugo called him, was diagnosed by his doctor as "a tortured man in the flesh." They say that he slept with so many women who had to design for him a special chair to have sex.

He was unfaithful just right from the wedding trip, although it seems that it did not affect Eugenia  too much, since she did not love him. She married him only to be empress. And his love affairs suited her in order to let her to take active part in politics, giving ideas to turn Paris into the City of Light, supporting the establishment of an empire in Mexico, financing the opening of the Suez Canal, whose pomp on this occasion were very important, including representation for the first time on the banks of the Nile, Verdi's famous opera “Aida”.

She was the first woman to be granted with the Legion of Honour; in fact, she was the most decorated person in all France, with 20 medals and many titles.

She advocated for women's suffrage and humanistic ideas, but also invented the decorative style Napoleon III, discovered the great couturier Worth and dictated fashion for decades, devised crinoline, perfume, large mounted stones, necklaces.... She invented colours, furniture, food and makeup tried. Her dresses were imitated throughout Europe.

She was a great traveller who spoke several languages ​​and chatted with intellectuals and Gypsies. She was the first woman who went to a gym and learned boxing.

In addition, thanks to her, summers in Biarritz became very popular and the centre of European nobility. She and her husband built the palace on the beach now known as Hotel du Palais.

She had a rebellious, energetic and eccentric character, and also she was smart, intriguing, cocky and ambitious.

In 1879, her only son, the Prince Imperial, died in the war against the Zulus. Afterwards, Eugenia de Montijo, widowed and alone, lived in England, thought making frequent trips to Spain. On one of these trips, in 1920, at the age of 94 years, she died in Madrid. She was buried in the imperial crypt of the Abbey of Saint Michael in Farnborough (England), next to her husband and her son.

There is a story, told by Eugenia herself, which must have left her a deep shock. It happened in Granada, an evening that she went up to Sacromonte, some gypsies harassed her and several of her companions for  begging. One of the gypsies wanted to read the hand to her. Her nurse did not let her but she insisted by saying: "Although you don’t show me your hand, I know that this child will be more than a queen." These words were engraved in her mind.

And some years later, at a party in Paris, Abbe Boudinet, a renowned palm reader, insisted on reading the lines of Eugenia’s hand and then he said, amazed: "I saw in her right hand one imperial crown!".

An exciting life, not very happy, but very exciting, no doubt .......

Book “Pasión Imperial”, written by Pilar Eyre

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