One of the things that studying royal weddings teaches you (very quickly!) is that romance often had very little to do with marriage, even among those monarchs who could choose their own spouse, and who claimed to marry for romance.
The best example of this is the “romance” and marriage of Napoleon III and Eugénie de Montijo.
Napoleon III was a notorious womaniser, and Eugénie was a notorious virgin – notorious for such because she refused to enter into affairs for reasons that were more strategically based than morally based.
Eugénie and Napoleon first met in the early 1850s when he was president of France. The Spanish Eugénie was in Paris on a husband-hunting tour of Europe, and was the toast of the town for her beauty and grace. Naturally, Napoleon was intrigued, and began to pursue Eugénie, to no avail. One didn’t catch a husband by becoming the mistress of the President of France. Even once Napoleon staged a coup and became Emperor, Eugénie was not swayed.
By all accounts the young Eugénie was what 1950s movies would call a ‘tease’. She loved to behave as provocatively as possible, often straying well beyond the bounds of propriety (there are accounts of dancing on tables with her skirt drawn up to her thighs), but when it came to actual action she refused even the smallest kiss.
Throughout the early 1850s Eugénie and Napoleon played cat and mouse. He tried to take her arm, she reminded him that her mother took precedence over her, and consigned her frustrated swain to escorting her mother on walks. She made it clear their was no action without marriage, he sent official emissaries to call on Dona Manuela and Eugénie to inform them that under no circumstances would he be marrying Eugénie. He sent her completely inappropriate gifts, the sort that men sent mistresses, not women they were courting, she accepted them, and reciprocated with…nothing! He invited Eugénie to events specifically engineered to tempt or trick her into an assignation, she stubbornly remained surrounded by chaperones and other men. At once house party Napoleon is reputed to have asked Eugénie the way to her room (some versions say ‘heart’), to which she coyly replied “through the chapel Sire.”
All this would have been unremarkable, the height of propriety even, if Eugénie had not made it clear to Napoleon that she wasn’t interested in him and only wanted him for his status and his family lineage. And he didn’t care.
In 1852 both parties reached an impasse, and Napoleon turned his attentions from wooing Eugénie to courting a ‘suitable’ princess.
First he offered marriage to Carola, Princess Vasa, but her father opposed the marriage, and 20 years later, when Napoleon’s dynasty failed he triumphantly stated “I foresaw that correctly!”
Immediately upon receiving Carola’s rejection he proposed (via a letter) to the 16 year old Princess Adelheid of Hohenlohe-Langenburg, Queen Victoria’s niece, whom he had never met. Adelheid was thrilled, Queen Victoria was scandalised (Napoleon III’s position being too shaky, and his lineage too murky for one of Victoria’s relatives), and Adelheid’s parents sided with their influential English relatives and turned Napoleon down flat.
Thank goodness, because the impulsive Napoleon had already succumbed and proposed to Eugenie without waiting for Adelheid’s response! He narrowly avoided having two fiancees and sparking a major international incident!
With disaster averted, Napoleon announced the engagement on 22 Jan 1853, saying:
“I have preferred a woman whom I love and respect to a woman unknown to me, with whom an alliance would have had advantages mixed with sacrifices”
The French elite expressed envy disguised as scandalised propriety and snobbery at the match – Eugénie was a mere countess marrying an emperor. But at least it was for love, how romantic, how French.
The rest of Europe expressed undisguised amusement, both at the elitism, and the claims of romance. Eugénie was, after all, descended from a long line of nobility – Napoleon III was only three generations from an unknown Corsican family, even if he wasn’t illegitimate. And no one believed the claims of love – everyone knew she was marrying him for his position, and he was marrying her because he couldn’t have her any other way.
Having finally put temptation above international alliances, Napoleon wasn’t going to let little things like propriety, political stability, and good sense stop him from marrying Eugénie as soon as possible.
Yeah, so they were married less than two weeks after getting engaged, on the 30th of January.
Romance isn’t everything though, despite all the odds, and in contrast to romantic marriages (like that of Elizabeth of Austria and Franz Joseph), the marriage was actually a success.
And Eugenie wore a fab wedding ensemble 😉
And notice that it is white, an idea she borrowed from Victoria to add a regal and proper touch to the wedding.