A kind visitor has assisted me to identify this miniature portrait, by an unknown artist, as representing Empress Eugenie of France (5 May 1826 – 11 July 1920). As can be seen, it is a miniature copy of a famous portrait by Winterhalter. The background has unfortunately been over-painted, so restoration will be needed at some point.
Her full name was Doña María Eugenia Ignacia Augustina de Palafox-Portocarrero de Guzmán y Kirkpatrick, 16th Countess of Teba and 15th Marquise of Ardales. She was known as Eugénie de Montijo and was the last Empress consort of the French from 1853 to 1871 as the wife of Napoleon III.
Eugénie de Montijo, as she became known in France, was educated in Paris, at the fashionable Convent of the Sacré Cœur. When Prince Louis Napoléon became president of the Second Republic, she appeared with her mother at several balls given by the "prince-president" at the Elysée Palace; it was there that she met the future emperor. In a speech from the throne on 22 January, Napoleon III formally announced his engagement, 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 match was looked upon dubiously in the United Kingdom. The Times editorialized: "We learn with some amusement that this romantic event in the annals of the French Empire has called forth the strongest opposition, and provoked the utmost irritation. The Imperial family, the Council of Ministers, and even the lower coteries of the palace or its purlieus, all affect to regard this marriage as an amazing humiliation..."
Napoleon III married countess Eugenie in 1853, and it was in anticipation of this marriage that he ordered the court jewellers Gabriel Lemonnier and Francois Kramer to create an entirely new parure using the pearls previously used by Marie Louise and Marie Therese. The Empress Eugenie Pearl and Diamond Tiara, the subject of this miniature, was an important component of this pearl parure. Other components include a six-stranded pearl necklace, pearl bracelets and a diamond stomacher incorporating the "Perle Napoleon." When Eugenie had access to the crown jewels of France, she set about transforming most of the old pieces, into new settings, to suit her own taste and the fashion trends of the period. Apart from re-setting old pieces, she also added several new pieces to the crown jewels of France, and commissioned a Greek diadem incorporating the famous Regent diamond, once mounted on the hilt of Napoleon's sword. In 1855, when Eugenie accompanied Napoleon III on a state visit to Britain, she wore the Pearl and Diamond Tiara, on two consecutive nights for dinner at Windsor Castle, held on April 17 and 18, 1855.
On 16 March 1856, the empress gave birth to an only son, Napoléon Eugène Louis Jean Joseph Bonaparte, styled Prince Impérial. Her husband often consulted her on important questions, and she acted as Regent during his absences in 1859, 1865 and 1870. A Catholic and a conservative, her influence countered any liberal tendencies in the emperor's policies. She was a staunch defender of papal temporal powers in Italy and of ultramontanism. She was blamed for the fiasco of the French intervention in Mexico and the eventual death of Emperor Maximilian I of Mexico.
When the Second French Empire was overthrown after France's defeat in the Franco-Prussian War (1870–71), the empress and her husband took refuge in England, and settled at Chislehurst, Kent. After his death in 1873, and that of her son in 1879, she moved in 1885 ,alternating between Farnborough, Hampshire and her villa "Cyrnos" (ancient Greek name of Corsica), which was built at Cape Martin, between Menton and Nice, where she lived in retirement, abstaining from politics. Her house in Farnborough is now an independent Roman Catholic girls' school, Farnborough Hill.
After the deaths of her husband and son her health started to deteriorate. Her physician recommended she visit Bournemouth which was, in Victorian times, famed as a health spa resort. During her visit in 1896, a groundskeeper lit hundreds of little tea candles in the municipal Bournemouth Gardens to light her way to the sea at night. This event is still commemorated in the same gardens every September in an elaborate public display, set to music, of both static and floating lighted candles.
The former empress died in July 1920, aged 94, during a visit to her relatives, the Dukes of Alba in Madrid, in her native Spain, and she is interred in the Imperial Crypt at St Michael's Abbey, Farnborough, with her husband and her son, who had died in 1879 fighting in the Zulu War in South Africa. 1447