Tuesday 3 September 2013

Marriage, War and Living up to Napoleon: Eugène de Beauharnais

Eugène Rose de Beauharnais (Paris, France, 3rd September 1781 – Munich, Bavaria, 21st February 1824)
Eugène de Beauharnais by Andrea Appiani, 1810
Eugène de Beauharnais  by Andrea Appiani, 1810
We met a lady by the name of de Beauharnais just a few days ago and now it's time to meet a gentleman by the same name. We're staying in France and not straying too far from Napoleon as we say happy birthday to Eugène Rose de Beauharnais.

Eugène was the eldest child of Alexandre de Beauharnais, later to die on the revolutionary guillotine, and Joséphine Tascher de la Pagerie, better known to history as the wife of Napoleon Bonaparte. When his mother and father were incarcerated during the Reign of Terror, Eugène's time was devoted to his military education,  initially under General Lazare Hoche and then at the Collège Irlandais.

Eugène de Beauharnais by Henry Scheffer, 1906
Eugène de Beauharnais  by Henry Scheffer, 1906

Eugène first encountered Napoleon when he requested an audience to demand the return of Alexandre's sword, taken from him at his arrest. The young man was thoroughly was unimpressed with Napoleon at that meeting but the feeling was far from mutual. Impressed with Eugène's loyalty and courage, Napoleon duly saw to it that the sword was returned.

Already making a name for himself as a soldier, following his mother's marriage to Napoleon, Eugène's career improved in leaps and bounds. Although he initially disliked his new stepfather, he went on to fight alongside Napoleon in Egypt, where he was wounded at the Siege of Acre in 1799. The young man's injuries caused him to return to Paris where he found his mother and Napoleon at odds, each furious at the infidelities of the other. Proving himself a shrewd negotiator on the domestic front Eugène brought the couple back together, though their relationship would continue to be rocky.

The Marriage of Eugene de Beauharnais and Princess Augusta by Francois Guillaume Menageot
The Marriage of Eugene de Beauharnais and Princess Augusta by Francois Guillaume Menageot

With his injuries healed, Eugène returned to active service and was given command of the Army of Italy, eventually earning himself the title of Viceroy of Italy in 1805, one in a growing pile of honours. The following year would prove eventful for our hero as he was legally adopted by Napoleon and subsequently given the title, Prince de Venise. He also married Princess Augusta of Bavaria in a union arranged between Napoleon and her father, Maximilian I Joseph of Bavaria, Their politically astute marriage was to mature into a contented and happy bond, with the couple eventually having seven children together.

Princess Augusta of Bavaria by Joseph Karl Stieler
Princess Augusta of Bavaria by Joseph Karl Stieler

Eugène proved himself a popular leader in Italy, taking an interest in the country's constitutional reform and defending his territory against Austrian forces during the 1809 War of the Fifth Coalition. It was here that he experienced his first significant defeat in battle at the Battle of Sacile. Following this failure he regrouped, returned to the strategy table and went on to win a series of victories, securing his position and reputation.

Eugène's glittering career would come to a juddering halt with the fall of Napoleon. Seeking advice from his father-in-law, Maximilian I Joseph of Bavaria, he retired with his family to Munich and remained there until his death, his reputation as a fearless soldier and gifted military strategist secure.

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Unknown said...

This chap smacks so familiar as such military geniuses as Patton, Rommel and Montgomery, all of whom were able to revise their military strategies with stunning and crushing effect. It's no mean task that he was a popular leader in Italy. They're not know for their acceptance of foreigners, let alone an imposed Viceroy!

Catherine Curzon said...

And a Bonaparte too - albeit an adopted one!

Antoine Vanner said...

He seems to have been a genuinely good man, as well as a courageous one. His family was to marry into the Romanovs - and amazing fact when one considers that he was one of the heroes of the Retreat from Moscow in 18112!

Catherine Curzon said...

Quite so! I do have a lot of time for him, he seems like a good chap to know.

Josefa said...

I'm not sure if the Italians truely liked him all that much. As a matter of fact they chucked him out rather violently as soon as Napoleon had abdicated. And while in English and german sources he usually has a reputation as loyal, warm-hearted and kind, in Italy he seems to be remembered mostly as a fop and a womanizer, and being way "too french", even accused of arrogance. The attitude of the French towards him seems to be rather ambivalent, too.
In Munich he was very well-loved by the popularion and by the king but he faced lots opposition frpom the nobility and particularly from the crown-prince, his brother-in-law. He's mostly forgotten now, which, in my opinion, he really does not deserve.

Catherine Curzon said...

Thank you for that very interesting perspective; "too French" can be taken any number of ways. :-)