Hortense de Beauharnais

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Hortense de Beauharnais
Duchess of Saint-Leu
Reine de Hollande et son fils.jpg
Queen consort of Holland
Tenure5 June 1806 – 1 July 1810
Born10 April 1783
Paris, France
Died5 October 1837 (aged 54)
Arenenberg, Thurgau, Switzerland
St Pierre-St Paul Church,
Rueil-Malmaison, France
SpouseLouis I of Holland
IssueNapoléon Charles, Prince Royal of Holland
Louis II of Holland
Napoléon III
The 1st Duc de Morny (illegitimate)
FatherAlexandre de Beauharnais
MotherJoséphine Tascher de la Pagerie
ReligionRoman Catholicism
Royal styles of
Queen Hortense of Holland
Blason d'Hortense de Beauharnais, reine de Hollande.svg
Reference styleHer Majesty
Spoken styleYour Majesty

Hortense Eugénie Cécile Bonaparte (French pronunciation: ​[ɔʁtɑ̃s øʒeni sesil bɔnɑpaʁt]; née de Beauharnais, pronounced [də boaʁnɛ]; 10 April 1783 – 5 October 1837), Queen consort of Holland, was the stepdaughter of Emperor Napoléon I, being the daughter of his first wife, Joséphine de Beauharnais. She later became the wife of the former's brother, Louis Bonaparte, King of Holland, and the mother of Napoléon III, Emperor of the French. She had also an illegitimate son, The 1st Duc de Morny, by her lover, the Comte de Flahaut.

Early life[edit]

Hortense was born in Paris, France, on 10 April 1783, the daughter of Alexandre de Beauharnais and Joséphine Tascher de la Pagerie. Her parents separated shortly after her birth. Her father was executed on 23 July 1794, at the time of the French Revolution, a few days before the end of the Reign of Terror. Her mother was imprisoned in the Carmelites prison, from which she was released on 6 August 1794, thanks to the intervention of her best friend Thérèse Tallien. Two years later, her mother married Napoléon Bonaparte.

Hortense was described as having been an amusing and pretty child with long, pale golden-blonde hair and blue eyes.[1] She received her education at the school of Madame Jeanne Campan in St-Germain-en-Laye together with Napoléon's youngest sister Caroline Bonaparte, who later married Joachim Murat.[1] She had an elder brother, Eugène de Beauharnais. Hortense was an accomplished amateur musical composer and supplied the army of her stepfather with rousing marches, including Partant pour la Syrie. She also enjoyed playing games and particularly excelled at billiards.[2] In 1802, at Napoléon's request, Hortense married his brother Louis Bonaparte. Hortense was somewhat cool toward the marriage at first, but her mother persuaded her to accept for the good of the family.

Queen of Holland (1806–1810)[edit]

In 1806 Napoléon appointed his brother Louis as King of Holland, and Hortense accompanied her husband to The Hague. Hortense's negativity towards being appointed Queen of Holland was twofold. First, it was necessary for her to move there with Louis, with whom she did not get along, and second, she had to leave her life as a celebrated member of Parisian society.[3] She had hoped to be "a Queen of Holland in Paris", but Napoléon did not agree.[3] She was therefore forced to depart with Louis to the Netherlands, where she arrived on 18 June 1806.

Royal Monogram of Queen Hortense of Holland

Queen Hortense was pleasantly surprised[3] when the Dutch public welcomed her warmly. She quickly became accustomed to life in the Netherlands and came to like the country. She attended official celebrations and ceremonies, visited the market-places where she made large purchases, and was much liked by the public, which annoyed her husband.[3] She learned water-colour painting and made trips around the countryside. Nevertheless, she hated her stay there because of her bad relationship with King Louis. The couple lived in different parts of the palace and avoided each other at every opportunity, with Hortense describing herself as a prisoner.[3] She also refused to give up her French citizenship and declare herself Dutch rather than French, as Louis had done.

In 1807 her first son died; she was subsequently allowed to visit France, as the climate there was considered[3] better for her other son Louis-Napoléon. She remained in France, again pleased by her status as a queen at the French court, until 1810, when Napoléon forced her to return to the Netherlands. Napoleon married Marie Louise of Austria in April 1810, and did not consider it suitable to have the daughter of his former spouse at court.[3] Hortense returned temporarily to the Netherlands, but on 1 June 1810, she was allowed to leave again on the pretext of her health.

After Louis abdicated (1 July 1810) he went into exile in Austria and turned to writing and poetry. Louis wrote to Napoléon after the latter's 1812 defeat in Russia to request that the Dutch throne be restored to him. However, Napoléon refused. Louis finally returned to France in 1813. He spent much of his later life in Italy.

Personal life[edit]

Portrait of Hortense painted by Anne-Louis Girodet de Roussy-Trioson, 1808

Hortense was now free to respond to the romantic overtures of the man whom she had long admired, Colonel Charles Joseph, Comte de Flahaut, a sophisticated, handsome man rumoured to be the illegitimate son of Talleyrand.[4] They soon became lovers. In 1811, at an unspecified inn in Switzerland, close to Lake Geneva, Hortense secretly gave birth to a son by de Flahaut,

Only her brother Eugène, her closest companions, and Adélaïde Filleul de Souza (Charles de Flahaut's mother) were aware of her pregnancy and the subsequent birth. She had used poor health to explain her prolonged visit to Switzerland, the journey having been arranged by Adélaïde. Hortense cleverly disguised her pregnancy (she was, by then, in her sixth month) during the baptism of Napoléon's son, Napoléon II, when she was chosen to be one of the child's godmothers, an honour she shared with Madame Mère, mother of the Emperor.

In 1814 Flahaut had an affair with the Comédie-Française actress Mademoiselle Mars. When Hortense read the "passionate outpourings" of this actress in one or her letters to Charles his affair with Hortense was brought to an end. Although still deeply attached to Charles, and remaining in correspondence with him, she then made up her mind to release him. When, months later, he had mentioned that he had met "a rich young woman who seemed to like him", Hortense begged him to forget the promises he had made to her.[6] In October that year she went on a pilgrimage to the Benedictine shrine of Our Lady of the Hermits at Einsiedeln Abbey in the Swiss canton of Schwyz. After renouncing her claims on Charles, she presented a bouquet of diamond hydrangeas to the Virgin and a ring for the abbot, having been blessed, she wrote, with "so many consolations, such happiness at Einsiedeln not to wish that my memory remain there after I had left."[7]

Later years[edit]


At the Bourbon Restoration in 1814, Hortense received the protection of Alexander I of Russia. At his instigation, she was granted the title of Duchess of Saint-Leu (duchesse de Saint-Leu) by King Louis XVIII on 30 May 1814.[8][9] During the Hundred Days, however, Hortense supported her stepfather and brother-in-law Napoléon. This led to her banishment from France after his final defeat. She traveled in Germany and Italy before purchasing the Château of Arenenberg in the Swiss canton of Thurgau in 1817. She lived there until her death on 5 October 1837, at the age of fifty-four. She is buried next to her mother Joséphine in the Saint-Pierre-Saint-Paul church in Rueil-Malmaison.

A portrait of Hortense hangs at Ash Lawn-Highland, the Virginia plantation home of James Monroe, fifth President of the United States. It was one of three portraits given by Hortense to Monroe's daughter Eliza, who went to school with Hortense in France. (The other two portraits are of Hortense's brother Eugène de Beauharnais and of Jeanne-Louise-Henriette Campan, the headmistress of the school attended by Hortense and Eliza.) Eliza's daughter, Hortensia Monroe Hay, was named in honour of Hortense.


With Louis Bonaparte she had three sons:

With Charles Joseph, Comte de Flahaut, she had one son:


See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b Epton, Nina (1975). Josephine: The Empress and Her Children. New York: W. W. Norton & Company, Inc. p.51
  2. ^ Epton, pp.99-100
  3. ^ a b c d e f g "Hortense Eugénie de Beauharnais (1783-1837)" (in Dutch). Inghist.nl. 2013-10-16. Retrieved 2013-12-04.
  4. ^ Mossiker, Frances (1964). Napoleon and Josephine: The Biography of a Marriage. New York: Simon & Schuster. p. 347.
  5. ^ a b Chisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). "Morny, Charles Auguste Louis Joseph, Duc de" . Encyclopædia Britannica. 18 (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press. p. 849.
  6. ^ Margaret Mercer Elphinstone, see Scarisbrick, p. 55.
  7. ^ Scarisbrick, pp. 53–55.
  8. ^ Bonnet, Jules (1864). Mes souvenirs du barreau depuis 1804 (in French). Paris: Durand. p. 22.
  9. ^ van Scheelten, W. F. (1833). Mémoires sur la Reine Hortense, aujourd'hui Duchesse de Saint-Leu. Canel. p. 230.

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]

Hortense de Beauharnais
Born: 10 April 1783 Died: 5 October 1837
Dutch royalty
Title last held by
Maria Theresa of Naples and Sicily
as Consort of the Austrian Netherlands
Queen consort of Holland
5 June 1806 – 1 July 1810
Title next held by
Wilhelmine of Prussia
as Queen of the Netherlands