two of Boney’s babes

Louis-Napoléon Bonaparte (1808 – 1873), as Napoleon III, was the ruler of the Second French Empire. Dissolute and muddleheaded, he clashed constantly with his frigid wife, Empress Eugenie, who combined a vast ignorance of the world with decided opinions on every facet of foreign policy.

He has a historical reputation as a womanizer, yet he referred to his behaviour in the following manner: “It is usually the man who attacks. As for me, I defend myself, and I often capitulate.”

Among his numerous love affairs and mistresses were:

Mathilde Bonaparte found here

his cousin Mathilde Bonaparte, Maria Anna Schiess, Alexandrine Éléonore Vergeot, laundress at the prison at Ham, mother of two of his sonsElisa Rachel Felix, the “most famous actress in Europe“, Harriet Howard, wealthy and a major financial backer, Virginia Oldoini, Countess di Castiglione – spy, artist and famous beauty, sent by Camillo Cavour to influence the Emperor’s politics, Marie-Anne Waleska, Justine Marie Le Boeuf, also known as Marguerite Bellanger, actress and acrobatic dancer. Bellanger was falsely rumoured to be the illegitimate daughter of a hangman, and was the most universally loathed of the mistresses (though perhaps his favorite) and Countess Louise de Mercy-Argenteau, likely a platonic relationship, author of The Last Love of an Emperor, her reminiscences of her association with the emperor.

Marguerite Bellanger found here

Harriet Howard was his mistress and financial backer for many years. Born Elizabeth Ann Haryett, at the age of fifteen she ran off with Jem Mason, a well-known jockey, to live with him in London. As his red-headed mistress and an aspiring actress she renamed herself Harriet Howard.

Harriet Howard found here

Into Lady Blessington’s London salon one evening in 1846 marched “a little man, four and a half feet high . . . with huge moustaches and pigs’ eyes.” He was Prince Louis Napoleon, pretender to the French throne and newly escaped from the French fortress of Ham, where he had been dumped  for trying to nab the throne. Exiled Louis was in search of a treasure chest from which to subsidize a fresh coup. One of Lady Blessington’s guests, a beautiful “tenth rate” Shakespearean actress known as Miss Howard, had just the chest Louis was after.

Napoleon found here

The destined pair exchanged confidences. Blushing Miss Howard confessed that her life was not free from stain: an evil man had taken advantage of her sweet nature—with the result that, though only 23, she had an illegitimate son in the fashionable London district of St. John’s Wood and at least £1,000,000 in the kitty. His eyes sparkling, Prince Louis forgave Miss Howard. He himself, he confessed, was not without sin. While incarcerated at Ham, he had fathered two sons of the jailer’s daughter—”the fruits of captivity,” he murmured. Then he threw himself at Miss Howard’s feet and knocked her off her bank balance.

more money origami here

For two idyllic years Miss Howard sheltered Louis in her London house, financed his exile’s finaglings and plottings. When Louis Philippe was deposed and France became a republic again, Miss Howard followed her lover to Paris and backed his successful campaign to make himself President. In 1852 her Louis was proclaimed Emperor.

Miss Howard waited patiently for fulfillment of the imperial promises. Instead, one day the Emperor begged his “dear and faithful Harriet” to undertake a special embassy to England. She got as far as Le Havre where, stormbound overnight, she opened a newspaper and read an official announcement of Louis’ betrothal to Spain’s Eugénie de Montijo, Countess of Teba. Bounding furiously back to Paris, poor Miss Howard got a second blow. All the locks in her boudoir had been smashed, the contents of her wardrobe thrown on the floor, her desk’s drawers torn out. The secret police had done such a thorough job that she “no longer possessed a single letter from Emperor Napoleon III.”

Empress Eugenie found here

Virginia Oldoini, Countess of Castiglione (1837 – 1899), was an Italian courtesan who achieved notoriety as another of  Napoleon’s mistresses. She was also a significant figure in the early history of photography.

The Countess was known for her beauty and her flamboyant entrances in elaborate dress at the imperial court. One of her most infamous outfits was a “Queen of Hearts” costume. George Frederic Watts painted her portrait in 1857. She was described as having long, wavy blonde hair, pale skin, a delicate oval face, and eyes that constantly changed colour from green to an extraordinary blue-violet.

Virginia Oldoini found here

n 1856 she began sitting for Pierre-Louis Pierson who helped her create 700 different photographs in which she relived the signature moments of her life for the camera. Most of the photographs depict the Countess in her theatrical outfits though a number depict her in poses risqué for the era — notably, images that expose her bare legs and feet. In these photos, her head is cropped out.

Virginia’s legs found here

Virginia spent her declining years in an apartment in the Place Vendôme, where she had the rooms decorated in funereal black, the blinds kept drawn, and mirrors banished—apparently so she would not have to confront her advancing age and loss of beauty. The Countess’s life was depicted in a 1942 Italian film La contessa Castiglione and a 1954 Italian-French film La Contessa di Castiglione that starred Yvonne de Carlo.

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36 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. Yvonne certainly passes the “pencil test”.
    All the Napoleons were strange in some degree or other. Anyone would think they were a European Monarchy of the old school.

    • Was there ever a monarch in Europe who wasn’t slightly strange?

  2. Ha, “knocked her off her bank balance.”

    • Did you click on the link back to the original article? It’s quite an amusing book review from Time magazine

  3. Poor old Miss Howard, it’s seems to be a name synonymous with disaster…

    Lovely treasure chest tonight NM.

    The King

    • Are you referring to Catherine Howard? That’s the only one I can think of…

      • Perhaps His Majesty had a politician in mind?

  4. LMAO @ bank balance …

  5. … and what would we have known about all this if super injunctions had been in existence?

    Not sure about the pencil test with arms to the side young Archie – *does careful study*

    • I agree daddyp. Not many of us could pass the pencil test with arms by our sides

  6. Ah…
    the early history of photography… be still, my heart! Speaking of which, have I mentioned how much I appreciate all the time and effort you put into selecting images, N.M.? Because I always do!

    • Thank you Siggy. It’s my favourite part of posting. And I thought of you and Syncy when I read about Virginia’s connection to photography

  7. If Virginia had banished mirrors, how did she manage her personal grooming? Or did she not bother? Or did someone else do it for her? Yours, puzzled.

    • I think she’d completely lost interest. There are plenty of mornings when I wake up, clean my teeth and put my hair in a ponytail rather than face a mirror

  8. I see that Howard became Napoleon’s mistress again for a while, he repaid his financial obligations and she got a title.

    Once again a great little sordid tale, the sort that you do best!

    • Thanks for clicking the link Jams.

  9. I could lose a whole pencil case these days. Quite depressing really.

    • hahahahaha…. great to have you back Madame

  10. It’s amazing that these emperors could ever find the time to run their countries.

    • They had minions. and they didn’t spend too long mulling over decisions.

  11. “a vast ignorance of the world with decided opinions on every facet of foreign policy.”

    You’ve just described any number of people of my acquaintance, there Nursie!

    I know I’m a sheila, but Lily Munster had great knockers, that’s for sure. Wow. Those are at least a double D. I’ll bet she didn’t breastfeed.

    • I beg to differ. I think they’re a single D

  12. Wait, are images that expose bare legs and feet no longer risque? I was under the impression showing your calves was still unacceptable.

    • not in my town 🙂

  13. Yes!! By a Frenchman’s own words they are cheese eating surrender monkeys… “As for me, I defend myself, and I often capitulate”

    • Don’t knock the cheese!

  14. The kids always screw everything up, I can’t wait to see what William and Kate do

    • you think they will be the screwups or their children?

  15. “Who combined a vast ignorance of the world with decided opinions on every facet of foreign policy” – this sounds like our last president. Or my mother-in-law.

    • I don’t know your mother in law but I agree about your last president

      • But Nursie, he did come all the way to visit us here in Austria.

  16. Yay! Yvonne de Carlo!

    Oh yes, Napoleon… poor devil thought he was being sent to St. Helens.

  17. for a short man, he did well for himself i must say.

  18. I, too, am in search of a treasure chest. Yvonne de Carlo’s is quite nice.

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