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.