Eugenie de Montijo, last Empress of the French, has long been decried, accused of all the misfortunes of France. She never wrote her Memoirs, having always refused to explain herself, even more so to justify herself. Genevieve Chauvel in " Iunforgettable Eugenie»Offers us the novel of the life of the Empress, in a way its posthumous Memoirs, but above all another vision of the Empress.
Eugenie Free and Independent
Eugenie de Montijo, coming from a noble family of the "Great of Spain" whose ancestor was adviser to Charles V, is brought up in respect, sacrifice in the name of the ideal and honor with a motto "my king rather than my blood ”and to the sound of three words“ Emperor, Grand Army, Napoleon ”. Hot-blooded like any Andalusian and independent, she participates in the hunts and sorting of the bulls planned for the arenas; strong character, she courageously endures the death of her father because “a Montijo does not hide”.
Adept like him of the only freedom which is that of the spirit, he often told her "" forge your ideas and follow them ", she learns courage during her difficult education at the Convent of the Sacred Heart or at the boarding school in England. Foreigner with red hair and blue eyes, forced to give up Spanish, the history of France can only be summed up in a few words, "the good uncle" Prosper Mérimée and Mr. Beyle "Stendhal" take care of the French language , museums and theater, his governess of English and Colonel Amoros, formerly of the Grande Armée, teaches him at the Gymnasium all the exercises of the body: fencing, horse riding, dance, handling of the dagger and the pistol.
"La belle Espagnole" stands out in salons for her taste for freedom and equality; determined, she does not yield to "Plon-Plon" the nephew; treated as an adventurer when she was invited to the Elysée Palace and to Saint Cloud, but presented to Louis Napoleon, Eugenie aspired only to simple happiness. "The schemer who wanted to be empress" is spied on, slandered, humiliated in public, but worthy in the face of adversity, always keeping her head held high until her marriage on January 30, 1853 with Louis Napoleon, the first emperor who married the woman he was married to. he likes.
Eugenie three times Regent
Regent three times, she will fulfill her mission of "mediator between those who suffer and the one who can remedy it", initiating reforms concerning juvenile delinquency with less harsh prisons and psychological assistance, by making them work instead. to leave them in prison; improvement in hospitals with more staff, more light; education by promoting public schooling and the allocation of scholarships to the disadvantaged, by offering secondary education for young girls; the attribution of a first legion of honor to a woman painter.
Eugenie is present on all fronts and resplendent in front of everyone during her travels as for the inauguration of the Suez Canal, despite the death of her dear sister, the illness of her husband, the negotiations in Mexico, the reshuffle of the government and the “distractions” of her husband.
"The Spanish responsible for the ruin of the Empire" will nevertheless do everything to save France and national honor, by addressing the people, by providing for the defense of Paris in the event of a siege, by enlarging the centers of help, by establishing an annex government in Tours, by begging her husband to stand firm and return victorious in 1870. Courageous and with coolness, Eugenie refuses to abdicate and desert in the name of honor "we can give in what we have, never what we received on deposit ”. Not feeling sorry for herself although stripped of everything, she refuses to sign a peace treaty where France would lose territory.
In England, when she had just found Louis Napoleon, she had the support of Queen Victoria during the funeral of her dear husband in January 1873 and worthy to the end, she thanked one by one the supporters and servants of the 'Empire, without wavering. Accused of having stolen the will of Napoleon III to seize his fortune to the detriment of their son and treated as a femme fatale, she refrains from any comment, not wanting to defend herself "preferring slander rather than s' lower to slanderers ”.
The washed honor of Napoleon III
Thanks to her strength of character in such difficult times and so that the young heir does not suffer the bitterness of the rest of the family, Eugenie decides to devote herself to her only son who goes to war in February 1879 in Cape Town under the English banner. . Abandoned by his captain who fled, he died in early June 1879, pierced by the Zulus. Despite Victoria's support, Plon-Plon, who was very dissatisfied with the young man's will (his son Victor inherited), once again made Eugenie responsible for the death of the heir, "left under a foreign body to gain some money ”in order to pay off his debts.
After the death of her mother in Spain in 1880, Eugenie felt really alone and wanted to go to Cape Town, immerse herself in the country which saw her son disappear, undertake a sort of pilgrimage, then return to England after a stopover in Sainte- Helen. In her new property in Farnborough in the south of England and between two trips to Europe, Morocco or Ceylon, she prepares the Memorial Center for Napoleon III and the Prince Imperial, while taking care of his works and enrichment of the memory of Bonaparte.
But at the end of the century when society was in turmoil, she was very touched by the disappearance of her acquaintances: Ferdinand de Lesseps, Metternich, Empress Elisabeth, Queen Victoria in 1901, her nephew Carlos, Princess Mathilde in 1904, the King of Denmark in 1909, King Edward in 1910. It still welcomes diplomats, men of letters (Lucien Daudet, Cocteau), men of science, historians, ministers, explorers for brilliant conversations, but the European Courts are getting younger. The new generation tells her about the development of their country, asks her for advice, shares their concerns: she is the Dean, she is so appreciated.
Asked by journalists or historians to leave her Memoirs, she always refuses. However, she wishes to speak to a diplomat, to explain to him the actions of her husband on specific points: Mexico, the Italian war, Sedan, in order to silence all slander, to make future generations understand that he does not was not cowardly during the defeat and loss of territories.
Tension mounts in Europe and war is declared. Eugenie, who felt herself coming back in 1870, organized her property accordingly: additional beds, medicines, food and above all words of comfort to the sick and wounded accommodated in Farnborough. Although she was 90 years old, hardly seeing it any more, she sent letters of supplication to foreign countries for mediation until the announcement of the armistice on November 11, 1918.
By a happy coincidence, and with the support of the illegitimate son of the Emperor, she can finally wash the honor of Napoleon III, by transmitting to Clémenceau the famous letter from the King of Prussia dating back 47 years. France thus recovers its two provinces Alsace and Lorraine without conditions. Before making a last trip to Spain, after having received the warm thanks of Clémenceau and the insignia of Lady Grand Cross of the British Empire, she wrote her will by bequeathing to the cathedral of Reims her most precious object "the Talisman of Charlemagne ”, received at his wedding.
Tributes worthy of sovereigns
In the spring of 1920, welcomed by her nephews and nieces in Gibraltar, all of Spain rushed to see "the Great of Spain become Empress of the French". She saw intense moments at balls, receptions at the Queen's, and bullfights in her honor, but Eugenie only saw shadows. Thanks to the great Madrid specialist, a week after her successful operation, she takes up the pen to write about her happiness and still plans many trips; but suddenly on July 11, 1920, seized with convulsions and after the last sacraments, Eugenie Montijo died in the country where she was born.
Alfonso XIII asks for a solemn homage as for a reigning sovereign. His remains are brought back to England, crossing all of France. After the ceremony of July 20 where the kings, the princes, the great names of the empire, the horsemen, the infantrymen, the Irish guard are present, she joins her two most dear beings, the soul in peace.
Geneviève Chauvel was not satisfied with a simple novel. Based on archival documents, testimonies from personalities who had worked with the Empress, letters from diplomats and ambassadors, letters from relatives and sincere friends, as well as certain interviews that Eugenie had agreed to give, the author brings to life this woman with a big heart, wrongly accused. It is a poignant story and of great sensitivity.
Unforgettable Eugenie: The Empress of the French, by Geneviève Chauvel. France empire, February 2014.