Joanne Watson

Sep 12, 2022

Empress Eugenie: A Footnote History

A Footnote History, 1826-1920

Grosvenor House 2022

Empress Eugenie: A Footnote History, 1826-1920 (Grosvenor House, 2022) is the story of the glamorous French Empress who escaped from a vengeful mob in 1870 and spent the next fifty years in exile in England. With a broad brush approach to the political events, it shows her life and times from a different angle, exploring subjects often relegated to mere footnotes. Aided by the increased digitalization of sources which produced many new and interesting discoveries, the book features 53 images of important people and places.

Eugenie was born in a makeshift tent during an earthquake in Southern Spain but this impetuous and beautiful young woman's life changed dramatically when she married Napoleon III in 1853. She was to become a worldwide fashion icon but was much more than a trophy wife even though she suffered from a philandering husband. An early feminist with a social conscience, her achievements were negated by many because she wasn't French, becoming the inevitable scapegoat for the ills of the Empire. Yet in November 1869 when Eugenie opened the Suez Canal she was the most famous woman in the world. Less than a year later she made a dramatic escape from those who blamed her for a disastrous war that caused the collapse of the Second Empire. Helped by her American dentist, Eugenie was smuggled out of Paris en route to England and exile. The early death of her husband was followed a few years later by that of her son whilst with the British army in South Africa.

A close friend of Queen Victoria, Eugenie lived in Farnborough, a small Hampshire town for 4 decades, building an Imperial Mausoleum for her husband and son and dressing in black for the rest of her days. Condemned in her own mind to live for a hundred years she then recovered her zest for life. Always keen to move with the times she embraced new technology, traveled extensively, and maintained her links with the European royal circle whilst becoming a familiar and much-respected figure in her neighborhood. Eugenie remained remarkably loyal to France and never relinquished her sense of duty, giving up part of her home to be an army hospital during World War 1.

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