To find the most wanted woman from Andalusia on Wikipedia, you have to go back to the 19th century. Specifically to May 5, 1826 in Granada, the birthplace of what would become one of the most admired and powerful aristocrats in Europe at the time. Her name: Eugenia de Palafox Portocarrero y Kirkpatrick or María Eugenia de Guzmán y Portocarrero (Granada, 1826 – Madrid, 1920), better known in society (and on Wikipedia, of course) as Eugenia de Montijo, Empress of France.
Her story is not far from that of a young woman from a wealthy family who manages to secure a brilliant social position thanks to strategic moves, in the case of her mother, Maria Manuela Kirkpatrick, from Malaga, who will go down in the chronicles of time as a of the best suitors for her two daughters. Yes, you read that right. María Manuela, also of good birth but with wealth diminished after her marriage to her “second son”, Cipriano Palafox y Portocarrero, conspired so that her two daughters, Francisca (better known as Paca) and Eugenia, would come to power door to the European aristocracy through marriage. And what if she succeeded: the first married the Duke of Alba and Eugenia, the main character of this story (and Wikipedia searches), with Napoleon III.
Settled in Paris after Paca’s marriage – and thereby clearing one of their goals – Maria Manuela and Eugenia began visiting the most exclusive salons in the French capital. There, his young daughter met Louis Napoleon Bonaparte, who would become Emperor of France. His intense courtship, devoted to the charms of Eugenia, was not long in coming, although the marriage proposal did not take place until after his proclamation as emperor. The wedding, one of the most lavish in memory, took place in Paris: in January 1853 the civil marriage was celebrated at the Tuileries, and a few days later Notre Dame Cathedral was to be the scene of the religious marriage.
Eugenia’s life at court had much brightness, but also many shadows, which she compensated by her wide acceptance in those circles into which she and her mother so desired to enter. She soon comes face to face with her husband’s constant infidelities and the problems of providing an heir not only to the emperor but also to the French. The wish was fulfilled in 1856 with the birth of Napoleon Louis Eugene John Joseph Bonaparte, Prince Imperial and, for her, his beloved son Louis.
Admired and praised for her refined taste in dress, the empress influenced the fashions of the time to such an extent that even today there is a hat that bears her name: the “Eugene’s hat”, slanted and falling to the eye, with a folded brim and an ornament underneath the shape of an ostrich feather. He was also a great philanthropist.
Personally, Empress Eugenia had to face complicated relationships with her mother – in some writings she describes her as “cold and pragmatic” – and with her husband, as well as a time marked by deep political turbulence: shortly after the birth of their son, the emperors survived a frustrated attack; and in 1870, after the disaster of the Battle of Sedan, which ended the Franco-Prussian War, the Emperor Napoleon III was imprisoned and, on his release, dethroned.
The death of his only son
This event marks the life of the empress, who sees her trusted circle turn their backs on her and who also faces the pain of exile in England. After her husband’s death, she retired from social and political life to a villa in Biarritz. But exile was not the worst blow, for nine years after this escape to England his only son, aged 23, died in dramatic circumstances in what is known as the second Anglo-Zulu War. He did so, pierced by the Zulus.
From that moment on, the former empress of all the French always dressed in mourning. And he still had 40 years left to live. He also outlived his sister Paca, Duchess of Alba, who died prematurely at the age of 35, although he did not lose his connection to the House of Alba. In fact, Eugenia de Montijo died at the age of 94 in the Liria Palace, Los Alba’s residence, when she was visiting Madrid for treatment of health problems.
His life and that of his sister Paka have been the subject of hundreds of books and historical studies; but also couplets. The most important and mythical, the one composed by the masters Leon and Quiroga to be sung by the great Concha Picker and with a title for the protagonist of this story and of an entire era: “Maria Eugenia”.