On 14 January 1806, Eugène de Beauharnais, Viceroy of Naples and Empress Josephine’s son, married Princess Augusta of Bavaria, daughter of Maximilian by his first wife; Maximilian had been king of Bavaria since the beginning of the year at Napoleon’s initiative, one condition of which was that the princess had had to break off an earlier engagement in order to marry Eugène.
While Napoleon was engaged in combat with the Russo-Austrian army under Alexander I at the Battle of Austerlitz, which on 2 December 1805 ended the Third Coalition against the French Empire, Josephine herself was on her way to Munich, where she arrived on 5 December 1805. Walter Geer’s chapter “1805–1806: Marriage of Eugene,” in Napoleon and Josephine: The Rise of the Empire (New York 1924), 187–94, explains the reason for her visit, prompted by Napoleon himself; enumerates the persons involved; and echoes much of what Caroline relates in her letter to Beate Gross from January 1806 (letter 400a).
On the last day of December , at one-forty-five in the morning, Napoleon entered Munich under a triumphal arch.
(Here the French army’s entrance into Munich from the west during the military operations associated with the Third Coalition during August–December 1805; Caroline and Schelling later resided in this same building complex:)
The following day the Elector was proclaimed King of Bavaria. The Treaty of Pressburg, signed on the 26 December, gave to Bavaria, Würtemberg and Baden considerable increases of territory, also to the two electors the title of king, and Napoleon had determined that these aggrandizements should be paid for by three marriages: that of his step-son Eugène with the Princess Augusta of Bavaria; that of Prince Charles of Baden with Joséphine’s cousin Stéphanie de Beauharnais; and finally that of his brother Jérome with the Princess Catherine of Würtemberg.
(Central Europe Wars of the Third Coalition 1805–7, map 92 in the Cambridge Modern History Atlas , Perry-Castañeda Library Map Collection, University of Texas Libraries)
Augusta was the only daughter of Maximilian, the new King of Bavaria, by his first wife. After her death, he had married Caroline, the sister of Charles of Baden, to whom Augusta was now betrothed. The Wittelsbach family, one of the oldest and most distinguished in Europe, had ruled in Bavaria for eight centuries. But Maximilian had become Elector only a few years before, upon the extinction of the senior ruling lines of the family. Belonging to the cadet branch, and having no fortune, in his youth, before the Revolution, he had served in the French army, and commanded the Regiment of Alsace. The happiest days of his life had been passed in France, and he was very French in his sympathies. During the Austrian war his troops had fought with the Grand Army, and the Emperor now repaid his loyalty by raising him to the royal dignity.
The Margrave of Baden, then seventy-seven years of age, had lost his only son [in 1801], and his heir was his grandson, Charles, a youth of twenty-two. One of the sisters of this young prince had married Alexander, the Czar of Russia, with whom Napoleon was still at war; another was the second wife of Maximilian, of whose daughter, Augusta, Prince Charles was himself the fiancé. Here indeed was a matrimonial tangle which it required all of the skill of Napoleon to unravel.
For some time past the Emperor had begun to lay plans for alliances with the reigning houses of Europe. With no children of his own, three of his brothers already married, and Jérôme for the moment unavailable, he had been obliged to fall back on the family of Joséphine. As early as the month of July 1804 he had charged his minister in Bavaria to make inquiries about the young daughter of the Elector, and let him know if there were any projects for her marriage. At that time Napoleon’s plans were all in the air, but a year later they were definitely fixed. At Boulogne, in September 1805, he gave instructions to M. de Thiard, one of his chamberlains, to proceed to Munich and open negotiations.
At the very outset Thiard encountered the obstacles already mentioned. The Elector, with all his French sympathies, could not undertake lightly to offend so many powerful dames, among whom the Emperor had few friends. To break alliances already projected, in order to conclude one with the “Corsican adventurer,” was a difficult proposition. Another serious obstacle was the attachment which the young Princesse Augusta had formed for her fiancé.
Talleyrand, tired of seeing the negotiations drag along, and realizing the powerful effect of the Emperor’s victories, now ordered Thiard to go directly to the Elector, and officially demand the alliance. “The Emperor,” he wrote, “has no prince of his name available. Young Beauharnais is free. . . . Brother-in-law of an imperial prince, uncle of the one who will probably be called to the succession, step-son of the reigning Emperor, only son of the Empress, there is dignity for you! ” Then he drives home his argument with the words: “It is not necessary for me to analyze the consequences, and to apply them, in order to be understood by the Elector of Bavaria.”
It was not necessary, however, for Thiard to use these instructions, as the Elector had already reached a decision and sent his minister to see the Emperor at Linz, where all the arrangements were made on the 5 November.
But Napoleon was well aware that it was one thing to convince men, and quite another to win women to his cause: for this he counted on Joséphine. Ten days later he sent the Empress instructions to leave her brilliant Court at Strasbourg and proceed to Munich.
When Joséphine reached Munich the first week in December, she found the young princesse far from ready to carry out the agreements which her father had made for her at Linz a month before. In spite of all the charms of Joséphine, she continued to refuse to break her engagement to Charles. Affairs were in this state when Duroc arrived from Vienna on the 21 December, to present the official demand. In his letter to the Elector, the Emperor insisted that the arrangements made at Linz should be carried out, and expressed his wish “to see the marriage celebrated at the same moment as the conclusion of the general peace, which will certainly be signed within a fortnight.”
On Christmas day, the eve of the conclusion of the treaty at Presburg, the Elector, to avoid a “painful explanation,” writes his daughter:
“If there were a glimmer of hope, my dear Augusta, that you could ever wed Charles, I should not beg you on my knees to give him up; still less should I insist that you give your hand to the future King of Italy if this crown were not to be guaranteed by the Powers at the conclusion of the peace, and if I were not convinced of all the good qualities of Prince Eugène, who has everything to render you happy. . . . Reflect, dear Augusta, that a refusal will make the Emperor as much our enemy as he has been until now the friend of our House.”
“My very dear and tender Father,” Augusta replied, “I am forced to break the pledge which I have given to Prince Charles of Baden: I consent, as much as that costs me, if the repose of a dear father and the happiness of a people depend upon it; but I am not willing to give my hand to Prince Eugène if peace is not concluded and if he is not recognized as King of Italy.”
The Emperor had not yet informed the Viceroy of his plans, but Eugène had no doubt been notified by his mother, and had raised no objections. The day after his arrival at Munich Napoleon had a long talk with Augusta, and flattered himself that she was reconciled to the marriage. He therefore wrote Eugène that the matter was all arranged. Affairs of State urgently demanded the presence of the Emperor at Paris, and he wanted to set out as soon as the contract was signed, leaving Joséphine to represent him at the wedding. But three days passed, and nothing was done about the contract.
On the night of the third the Emperor called Duroc and told him that the contract must be signed at noon the next day, and that it must provide for the marriage on the fifteenth. Accordingly the papers were signed. At the same time the Emperor wrote Eugène to make haste to arrive as soon as possible so as to be certain to find him at Munich. Napoleon had learned that the Queen of Bavaria was trying to delay matters, with the idea of breaking off the marriage as soon as he left for Paris. Augusta was doing her part by pretending a sudden indisposition, but was quickly cured when the Emperor sent his personal physician to see her.
Napoleon made up his mind that it was necessary for him to remain at Munich until after the ceremony. In the meantime he left nothing undone to remove the petty obstacles to the marriage. He ordered from Paris, as a wedding present, magnificent jewels, costing over two hundred thousand francs; and directed each of his brothers and sisters to send gifts to the value of at least fifteen or twenty thousand francs.
The opposition of the Queen was the most difficult thing to overcome, for she had two special grievances: the execution of the Duc d’Enghien [in 1804] and the breaking of the engagement with Prince Charles. Napoleon was assiduous in his attentions to the Queen, and was so devoted that he even aroused the jealousy of Joséphine. The Queen was not over thirty; she had beautiful eyes, a countenance full of life, and a fine figure. What woman could resist the attentions of a man as fascinating as Napoleon, when he wished to please!
Meanwhile Eugène had made haste. Leaving Padua on the sixth, the day he received the Emperor’s letter, he crossed the mountains on the eighth, and reached Munich two days later. At this time Eugène was twenty-four years of age. Without being in any way remarkable, his face was pleasing; he was well built, with a good figure, of medium height. He excelled in all physical exercises, and like his father was a beautiful dancer. Kind, frank, simple in his manners, without hauteur, he was affable with everybody. He had a sunny disposition and was always gay. Napoleon was very fond of him and treated him like a son. As soon as he saw Eugène, the Emperor ordered him to shave off his moustache, which might displease the princesse.
At the time of her marriage, Augusta was only seventeen. She was tall, well formed, with a sylph-like figure, and a countenance in which kindness was mingled with dignity. She had received an excellent education, and had a good head for affairs, as plainly appears in her letter to her father.
Eugène showed all of his mother’s savoir faire [Fr., “knowing how to act in social situations”] in his attentions to his future wife, and courted her as warmly as if their marriage were not already arranged. The fears of the young princesse soon turned to joy, and what was to have been a mariage de convenance [Fr., “marriage of convenience”] became a real love-match.
The contract was signed on the 13 January in the grand gallery of the Royal Palace. The exact terms never have become public, as the contract was not read as usual, and the copy which Napoleon sent Joseph for deposit in the archives of the Empire was afterwards withdrawn by order of the Emperor. It is known, however, that Napoleon refused absolutely to appoint Eugène King of Italy, or even to name him as heir to the throne except in case of failure of his own “children, natural and legitimate.” Eugène henceforth was termed by the Emperor mon fils [Fr., “my son”], instead of mon cousin [Fr., “my cousin”]; he had the qualification of Imperial and Royal Highness; he passed the first after the Emperor, before Joseph and Louis. In the Imperial Almanac he was called the “adopted son of the Emperor.”
After the contract was signed, Maret, the Secretary of State, performed the civil marriage, which he really was not legally qualified to do. The following day, the 14 January 1806, the religious ceremony was celebrated in the Royal Chapel.
[Wedding of Eugène Beauharnais and Princess Augusta of Bavaria; painting by François-Guillaume Ménageot:]
Thus Napoleon has forced his entrance into the family of European sovereigns, by an alliance with the ancient House of Wittelsbach, which claims Charlemagne for its founder, and so, through his adopted son, becomes related to most of the reigning families.
This first attempt of Napoleon as a match-maker was a great success. Eugène and Augusta lived very happily together, and after the fall of the Empire she resisted all the entreaties of her family to abandon her husband. Their six children all made distinguished marriages. . . .
A week after the wedding Prince Eugène and his wife left Munich for Milan. Napoleon and Joséphine were already on their way to Paris, where they arrived on the night of the 26 January.