Augusta was only 8 years old when her mother died. After a year, her father found another wife, the 21-year-old Princess Caroline of Baden, and the family was finally able to move and settle in Munich. Caroline, despite the age difference between her and her husband, proved to be a devoted and supportive wife. She also immediately got along with her younger step-children, Charlotte and Karl Theodore, but not with the older ones, Ludwig and Augusta. Augusta especially had a hard time after her mother's death, and she was not keen to welcome her new stepmother. But Caroline was a strong and determined woman; once Augusta reached her teenage years, her relationship with Caroline had greatly improved.
Augusta was only 17 when Napoleon came to Munich and saw her himself. Upon seeing her, he was immediately captivated by her appearance. Mlle. Avrillon, lady-in-waiting to the Empress Josephine, wrote about Augusta: "The Princess Augusta was very gentle and very amiable, and, what was more, remarkably handsome. An indescribable charm emanated from this sweet young girl who was not yet eighteen years of age. She was very tall, well-shaped and as slender as a nymph. She was gifted with a natural dignity which made everybody respect her; her face was more handsome than pretty, and her complexion was remarkably fresh, although perhaps a trifle highly-coloured. But the most pleasing thing about her was the air of kindness which won the love of everybody who had the honour of her acquaintance. These advantages were not all natural; education had done much for her; she had been brought up with extreme simplicity, and she always dressed remarkably plainly." For Napoleon, Augusta was equal to perfection, and was even more convinced that this "pretty creature" - as he described her in his letter to his brother Jerome - was the only one suited for Eugene.
"Could I see the slightest chance of your marrying Karl, Prince of Baden, I would not go down upon my knees, my dear, beloved Augusta, and beg you to give him up. Still less would I urge you, my dear one, to bestow your hand upon the future King of Italy if this crown were not guaranteed by all the European powers by the conclusion of the Treaty of Presburg and if I were not convinced that Prince Eugene possesses sterling good qualities and that he can make you happy. Remember, my dear child, that you will not only make your father happy, but your brothers and Bavaria also will rejoice to see this union. It grieves me to wound your feelings, my dear, but I count upon your affection and upon the attachment you have always shown towards your father, and I am sure you do not wish to poison his last remaining days. Remember, dear Augusta, that a refusal would make the Emperor quite as bitter an enemy as he has hitherto been a kind friend to our house. Write me your reply, or else tell your brother your decision. You may be sure, dear friend, that it is very painful to me to have to write to you in this manner; but our more than desperate position and my duty towards the country which Providence has given me to govern force me to act thus. God knows that I only desire your welfare and that nobody in the world loves you more than your faithful father and best friend. "Upon reading her father's letter, Augusta burst into tears. She only wanted to marry Prince Karl, but her duty as a daughter and to her country was foremost in her mind, and she was capable of giving up her happiness for the sake of her country. She wrote a reply letter to her father, telling him that it cost her too much to break her promise to Prince Karl:
"My very dear and affectionate father, they force me to break the promise I had given to Prince Karl. I will consent, though it costs me much to do so, if the repose of a beloved parent and the happiness of a nation are dependent thereon. I put my fate into your hands; though my lot may seem cruel to me, it will be softened by the knowledge that I have sacrificed myself for my father, my family and my country. I ask your blessing on my bended knees; it will help me to bear my sad fate with resignation."
Augusta agreed to marry Eugene, and the preparations for the wedding were immediately arranged. Napoleon and his wife Josephine hastened to Munich to oversee the preparations. Despite the rejoicing and apparent satisfaction in the part of the groom's family, the bride's stepmother was not delighted about upcoming wedding. Queen Caroline was obviously against the match - she didn't like the French emperor and hated his policies.
|Eugene de Beauharnais |
by Andrea Appiani, 1810.
Eugene and Augusta were married on 14 January 1806 in Munich. It was a grand and spectacular wedding, and the celebrations lasted for a week. Napoleon formally adopted Eugene and gave him the name Eugene Napoleon of France. Two days after their marriage, the newly married couple started on their journey to their new home, Italy.
Napoleon immediately took a fancy to Augusta and in his letters to her, he affectionately addressed her as "my daughter". In one of his letters, he wrote to Augusta that his affection for her only increases as time passes, and that he was happy to be assured that she was contented and happy with her husband. He added: "Believe me, Augusta, I love you as a father loves his daughter, and I expect you to love me as a daughter ought to love her father."
|The wedding of Eugene de Beauharnais|
and Princess Augusta of Bavaria in
Eugene was a gentle, retiring and sensible young man, an able soldier, and an efficient ruler. He was also a popular ruler, and Augusta contributed more to her husband's popularity. Mme. de Remusat wrote: "The vice-reine also helped to win the people to her husband's side. Beautiful, eminently virtuous and charitable, she delighted everybody who came near her."
Year 1809 would prove to be a difficult year for Eugene, Augusta, and their family. Eugene was put in command of the Italian Army during the War of the Fifth Coalition. Although the battles they fought started promisingly, Eugene would experience his first defeat. It was a bitter and disappointing defeat for him. He was constantly writing to Augusta throughout their separation, telling her the progress of the war, and in one particular letter, he poured out all his grief, disappointment and despair about his defeat to his wife.
Augusta proved to be a sympathetic, understanding and devoted wife, but she also possessed a strong character that helped her endure the separation from Eugene and the effects of war to the Italian populace. She proved to be a capable regent, and when there were news of discontent among the people, her display of firmness helped to restore order and avert any revolution.
Again and again, Eugene wrote to Augusta about his affection for her and how much he wanted to be home with her and their daughters. "I think constantly of you. ... My very dear Augusta, I hope that we shall not be parted much longer. I send you a thousand kisses to share between yourself and our little darlings... I love you with all my heart." Once Augusta received news that the war was over and Eugene was coming home, she was extremely happy: "You tell me that you will soon be back; these words have eased my grief. I am longing to see you again. Do not imagine that I shall allow myself to be downhearted. No, my Eugene, my courage is equal to yours, and I wish to prove to you that I am worthy to be your wife. Adieu, dear friend; continue to love me, and trust in the love with which I have sworn to cherish you until the last moment of my life."
Augusta gave birth to their third child and much-desired son, Auguste-Charles-Eugene-Napoleon (later the husband of Queen Maria II of Portugal) on 8 December 1810. It was a joyful event for the family, but Augusta's health was undermined by her childbearing, and she became constantly ill with rheumatism. Two years later, she gave birth to another daughter, Amalie, the future empress of Brazil.
|Augusta's malachite parure.|
In 1814, Napoleon abdicated as Emperor of France, and Milan was plagued by an uprising. Eugene desperately tried to save his throne, but his efforts were useless. He renounced his Italian possessions and finally left Italy with his wife and children, and arrived in Munich where they were kindly received by Augusta's father, King Maximilian. During their exile, Augusta gave birth to another child, Theodelinde.
Eugene and Augusta settled for a peaceful and happy family in Munich. They were treated with great kindness by Augusta's family, and they were held in high esteem by European sovereigns. In 1817, they were given the state of Eichstatt, and the titles Duke and Duchess of Leuchtenberg. A few months later, they had another son, Maximilian. A new palace was also built for them, the Leuchtenberg Palace, where the happy couple devoted their time in bringing up their children.
Meanwhile, Augusta's eldest daughter, Josephine, was married to the Crown Prince of Sweden in 1823. After wedding, Eugene was seized by an attack of apoplexy. He was confined to bed, but soon made a recovery. But a month later, he had a more serious attack, and his health gradually decline after that. Augusta stayed by his side and took care of him, until his death in 1824.
|Princess Augusta of Bavaria, |
Duchess of Leuchtenberg,
by Joseph Karl Stieler, c.1820.
Augusta survived Eugene for more than 20 years; it was said that her grief for her husband remained so fresh that she would burst into tears every time she remembers her husband's smile. In 1851, the "best of women", as Napoleon called her, died in Munich.
When she was ordered to marry Eugene, Augusta's initial thought was that she was sacrificing herself and her happiness for the sake of her father, country and people. This only proved her selflessness and high sense of duty, traits that would endear her not only with her husband and his family, but also with her people. Her marriage to Eugene brought her the kind of happiness which she initially never dreamt of. Their love and devotion to each other never wavered, and it can be say that her sacrifice was all worth it.