by Anna Kathryn Lanier
On January 29, 1853, Louis, Napoleon III, the new Emperor of France and the great Napoleon I’s nephew, wed Spanish aristocrat Eugénia in a civil ceremony. She was 22 and he was 44. She refused to consummate the marriage until after they were married in the church the following day.
According to 365 GREAT STORIES FROM HISTORY: ONE FOR EVERY DAY OF THE, she was probably grateful for having one more day of her life go by without having been bed by her husband. Though a great and powerful man, from a great and historically famous family, Louis was not known for his seductive prowess. The Marquise de Taisy-Chatenoy remarked that her encounter with Louis was brief, unsatisfying and that his heavy breathing melted the wax on his mustache.
Napoleon was not faithful to his wife, but according to the website www.empresseugenie.com, Eugénia was in love with another man at the time of her marriage and during most of her life. As a young woman, she fell in love with the Duke of Sesto, who flirted with her, but the duke was enticed by her more lovely sister, Paca. Eugénia, though married to Napoleon, followed Sesto’s life from France and does what she can to help him in later years.
Surprisingly, the marriage with Louis produced a son, but it seems Eugénia wasn’t happy with conjugal visit from her husband. Napoleon was unaffected by his wife’s lack of ardor and found satisfaction elsewhere throughout the marriage. Though they did not seem to find mutual enjoyment from each other, Napoleon trusted Eugénia enough to make her Regent while he went off to war in Italy.
As Regent, Eugénia was able to help Queen Isabel when she is forced off the Spanish throne. Duke of Sesto, who by this time is living in France, too, as husband to Eugénia’s widowed sister-in-law, also helped the queen and heir apparent Alphonso to set up a household in exile. Napoleon comes to their defense when the Spanish General Juan Prim invites a Prussian prince to become Spain’s new king, instead of Aphonso. France declares war on Prussia and a war is on.
However, Bismark defeats France at Sedan in 1870, and Eugénia and Napoleon were forced into exile in Britain, where Eugénia is good friends with Queen Victoria. Napoleon died in 1873, but Eugénia lived until 1920, playing the role of Great Dame until her death.
Anna Kathryn Lanier