My maternal family, the House of Orléans, hated Napoleon III. One of his first acts upon coming into power was to confiscate their fortune, to which the journalist Henri de Rochefort remarked, “C’est le premier vol de l’aigle.” (The play on words here cannot be translated into English, vol means both flight and theft in French) Queen Victoria, who liked the Orléans, tried in vain to intervene in their favor. To make things even more unjust, it should be remembered that Napoleon III followed the policies, both economic and cultural, of our ancestor Louis-Philippe. His predecessor is responsible for all that is attributed to him.
The Empress Eugenie was beautiful, elegant, and glamorous. She brought a radiance to the Second Empire, neither royal nor imperial, but social. In a certain way, she created a desire for fashion, and witnessed a proliferation of designers and dressmakers that did not exist before her. Frankly, she was not very intelligent, and her political ideas proved to be rather disastrous.
It cannot be denied that Princess Mathilde Bonaparte was a true Bonaparte; she is the spitting image of Napoleon I. She was the daughter of Jerome Bonaparte, the youngest brother of Napoleon. Intelligent and cultivated, she was the queen of Parisian society, more so under the Third Republic than during the preceding reign of her cousin, Napoleon III. She married a wealthy Russian who had recently been made a prince owing to his fortune who beat her.
The rise of Empress Eugenie was dizzying, a minor Spanish aristocrat becoming the Empress of France. Her fall was tragic; she witnessed her empire collapse, her country defeated, her husband die, and her only son, the apple of her eye, killed at war. Eugenie survived these disasters and more, until finally dying after World War I.
The Imperial Prince Napoleon was the only child of Napoleon III and Eugene. Exiled from France, he dreamed of becoming a soldier. After enlisting in the English army, he was soon found himself engaged in the Anglo Zulu War, against the objects of his mother. During battle, his English military companions disappeared; the Imperial Prince fought alone against the Zulus until he was killed. Many years later, Empress Eugene traveled to the site of the battle, and found the exact spot where her son had been killed; she could smell his violet perfume that was still lingering in the air.
As much as my maternal French family did not want to hear about Empress Eugene, my paternal Greek family could not be more sympathetic to her. The Empress often came to Greece on cruises, usually stopping at the Piraeus. My grandmother, Queen Olga, and many members of the family would go and welcome her. My father often recalled how much he had liked her, and teased my mother about this without mercy.