Eugenia de Montijo
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Eugenia de Montijo

For many years the Spanish had a special fascination with the figure of the archetype of the tragic queen. For example, Joanna of Castile (the famous Joanna the Mad, or Juana La Loca, who we've spoken about already) or the one we will talk about now: Eugenia (Eugenie) de Montijo, Empress of France and the wife of Napoleon III.

Born in Granada (May 6, 1826) to Cipriano Palafox y Portocarrero, Count of Teba and Maria Manuela Kirkpatrick, a noblewoman from a Scottish family that traded in wine, Eugenia's position was privileged but her home wasn't happy. The Count and Maria Manuela didn't get along well, so her mother Maria packed hers and her daughters' bags and went to Paris. Eugenia and her sister, Maria Francisca, would study in Paris in the best schools and enter the most exclusive circles. While in Paris they had the opportunity to meet Prosper Merimée, author of Carmen and Stendhal, who helped them gain access to the highest levels of French society.

Maria Manuela as determined to have her daughters "marry well" and was able to arrange the marriage of Maria Francisca with the future Duke of Alba. Eugenia, for her part, fell madly in love with a marquis, the Marquis of Alcañices. Unfortunately, this ended badly, so much so that she was prepared to spend the rest of her life in a convent.

Eugenia de Montijo

In 1849 and at 23 years of age, she met another disillusioned lover: Napoleon III, the president of the French Republic. He had recently been turned down by Princess Adelaide, niece of Queen Victoria of England. At the time of their meeting, they got along well but never got beyond light conversation. But in 1853 came a big surprise. In his first reception as French Emperor, Napoleon III asked Eugenia's mother for her daughter's hand in marriage.

Eugenia became Empress at 27 years of age. She acted as Regent in 1859, 1865 and 1870 immersing herself completely in imperial politics, many times differing in opinion with her husband; for example, she supported those who were against French intervention in Italy. Nevertheless, she was a firm defender of the French invasion of Mexico and completely against the Prussian candidate to the Spanish crown. This last point was something that helped precipitate the Franco-Prussian War in 1870.

The Franco-Prussian War ended with the fall of the Second French Empire and Eugenia and her family had to flee, first to Belgium and later to Great Britain. Napoleon III was captured by the Prussians so Eugenia was forced to negotiate his release.

Napoleon would die in 1873 and the French government permitted the return of Eugenia and her son to French soil allowing them to live in Biarritz. Unfortunately her return to France was marked by tragedy because in 1879, Eugenio, her son, would die in South Africa at the hands of the Zulus.

For Eugenia, her country and remaining family was all that was left and she spent long periods of time with her sister Maria Francisca, the Duchess of Alba. Eugenia died in 1920 in Madrid at the Liria Palace, property of the Duchess, during one of her stays there.

The life of Eugenia is one that many would call "old-style romanticism", it has also inspired screenplays, books and even astronomers! As a curiosity, Asteroid 45 Eugenia, discovered in 1857, was named in her honor. As you can see, she was a woman that left her mark on an era.

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