Monday, October 29, 2012

"A Sacrifice for My Country" - Princess Augusta of Bavaria

Princess Augusta Amalia Ludovika Georgia of Bavaria was the wife of Eugene de Beauharnais, stepson of Napoleon Bonaparte. She was born in Strasbourg in 1788, the eldest daughter of the future King Maximilian I of Bavaria and his first wife, Princess Auguste Wilhelmine of Hesse-Darmstadt. Augusta's childhood was marked by many unhappy events. Before the French Revolution, Augusta's father was serving in the French army, but after its outbreak, he changed sides, choosing to serve under the Austrian army in order for him to be able to take part at the French Revolutionary Wars. Maximilian became the Duke of Zweibrucken after the death of his older brother, and decided to return to Germany to oversee his new duchy. But upon his return, he saw his duchy being occupied by the French army. Riots broke out, and the situation became so tense and dangerous that he and his family were forced to flee to his wife's homeland, Darmstadt. Then they moved to Mannheim, where they lived in modest circumstances for the next five years.When the French started attacking Mannheim, the family was forced to flee once again. They seek refuge in Ansbach, but Princess Auguste-Wilhelmine's health was greatly undermine by the stresses of war and five pregnancies. After giving birth to her fifth child, she died in Castle Heidelberg.

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 said to be a very beautiful child with a gentle temperament. At an early age, she was engaged to be married to Prince Karl of Baden, her stepmother's youngest brother. The young couple were very fond of each other and eager to get married, however, the engagement was hastily broken off at the behest of Napoleon Bonaparte. Napoleon was in search for a royal wife for his stepson, Eugene de Beauharnais, Viceroy of Italy, and his search drew him to Bavaria and its many unmarried princesses. He approached Augusta's father, but Maximilian was initially very hesitant to break the engagement. But after much negotiations and Napoleon's promise of making Bavaria a kingdom and Maximilian a king, he finally consented.

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.

Augusta must have sensed that her future was being decided. On Christmas Day, 1805, she received a letter from her father, begging her to give up Prince Karl of Baden and marry Eugene instead. His letter says:
"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." 
After writing this letter to her father, she wrote an emotional farewell letter to Prince Karl. Her words perfectly described her feelings and her sense of duty: "My pain is indescribably great, but I must obey the command of my father, and the will of my country.."

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.
Meanwhile, Eugene, who was staying in Milan, received summons from Napoleon, ordering him to immediately go to Munich and meet his bride for the first time. Napoleon's letter to Eugene says: "I have arranged your marriage to Princess Augusta. ... The princess paid me a visit this morning, when we had a long conversation together. She is very pretty. You will find her portrait on the cup which I now send you; however, she is much prettier than her portrait." Days after receiving this letter, Eugene arrived in Munich, where he was immediately received by Napoleon and was asked to shave off his whiskers so as to make a charming impression on Augusta. When he and Augusta finally met, it was a love at first sight, that would soon develop into a deeper kind of love and devotion.

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 was very fond of Augusta and in his letters to her, he affectionately addressed her as "my daughter". In one of his letters, he wrote to her 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 Eugene. 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
Munich, 1808.
Almost immediately after their arrival in Italy, Eugene and Augusta conducted a tour of inspection, and they were moved by the warm and joyful welcome they received from the people once they reached Milan. Augusta, now the Vicereine of Italy, was introduced to her new subjects, and everyone agreed that she was a charming, affable, cultured, and kind-hearted person.

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."

A year after the couple's wedding, Augusta gave birth to their first child, a daughter they named Josephine after Eugene's mother. She was given the title Princess of Bologna. In 1808, another daughter was born to the couple, Hortense Eugenie. The gender of the child was a disappointment to the parents as they were greatly hoping for a son. But they were able to quickly overcome their disappointment; they loved their daughters, and were a devoted parents to this two little princesses.

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. 

Princess Augusta
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 life 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 the 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. 


Christina said...

Gem, your site is filled with such wonderful accounts - thank you for such lovely and interesting posts!

Gem said...

Thank you for your kind comment, Christina!

Mira said...

Augusta seemed such a sweet girl!

Unknown said...

Loved this & the fact that your history is spot on.

Gem said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Michael de Villiers said...

Your assessment of Eugene's and Augusta's marriage was historically correct. They were devoted to each other. Eugene never strayed and remained in love with his Bavarian princess all his life. Their children married European royalties. Eugene de Beauharnais was a very able military commander and one of Napoleon's most faithful supporter. He died prematurely aged 42.

Gem said...

@Michael de Villiers

Their marriage, although an arranged one, turned out to be happy. It's something quite rare among arranged marriages, especially among royals.

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