Hampshire Cultural Trust

Farnborough and the Empress Eugenie

Maria Eugenia Ignacia Augustina de Guzman y Palafox was born on 5 May 1826 in Grenada, Spain, but spent much of her life in Farnborough, Hampshire. Her childhood was a mixture of luxury and strict education. In 1849 she met Napoleon III, the Emperor of France, and in 1853 they were married.

The Royal Marriage

Napoleon III had always been something of a ladies man and was used to having a string of ladies ready to be his mistress. Their first months were very happy however after only six months of marriage Louis returned to his old habits of infidelity. Eugenie suffered a miscarriage but eventually gave birth to a son in 1856 after a difficult labour lasting 22 hours. The baby was christened Napoleon Eugene Louis Jean Joseph - Prince Imperial and heir to the Napoleon Empire.

The Young Prince

As a young boy the Prince Imperial had strong military ties; at nine months old he was made an officer in the First Regiment of the Grenadiers of the Guard. In 1870 France declared war on Prussia and Louis went to war with his father. At the battle of Sedan Napoleon III was captured but Louis was helped to escape.

Following the war, there was a revolt in Paris and Eugenie was forced to flee. The Emperor was eventually released and joined his family at Camden Place in Kent. He had attended the Woolwich Military Academy and passed out in 1875.

On 9 January 1873 Napoleon III died and many Frenchmen believed Louis to be the new Emperor in exile.

Farnborough Abbey

Following a state funeral the body of Prince Louis was laid to rest in St Mary's Church, Chislehurst.

In 1887 the body was moved to St Michael's Abbey in Farnborough, which the Empress Eugenie had built as a memorial to her husband and son. She bought the house at Farnborough Hill in 1881 and although it had 23 rooms she added another wing of 18 rooms to display her vast Napoleonic collection.

Eugenie at Farnborough Hill

During World War I she agreed to part of the house being used as a hospital for wounded officers. Shortly before her death in July 1920, the Empress Eugenie travelled to Spain as she expressed the desire to see her home country once more.

She was finally laid to rest alongside her husband and son in the Imperial Crypt of the Abbey Church.

Eugenie with young baby prince

Young Prince in military uniform and his death mask Empress Eugenie in old age

The Empress Eugenie and Fashion

Considered a fashion icon in her day, find about clothing once belonging to Eugenie in the Hampshire Museums collections

Hampshire Papers

The Empress Eugenie and Farnborough
by William Smith (2001)