Hortense - John S. C. Abbott

The Sorrows of Exile


There probably never was a more tender, loving mother than Josephine. And it is not possible that any children could be more intensely devoted to a parent than were Eugene and Hortense to their mother. The grief of these bereaved children was heart-rending. Poor Hortense was led from the grave almost delirious with woe. Etiquette required that Eugene, passing through Paris, should pay his respects to Louis XVIII. The king had remarkable tact in paying compliments. Eugene announced himself simply as General Beauharnais. He thanked the king for the kind treatment extended by the allied monarchs to his mother and his sister. Hortense was also bound, by the laws of courtesy, to call upon the king in expression of gratitude. They were both received with so much cordiality as to expose the king to the accusation of having become a rank Bonapartist. On the other hand, Eugene and Hortense were censured by the partisan press for accepting any favors from the Allies. After the interview of Louis XVIII. with Hortense, in which she thanked him for the Duchy of St. Leu, the king said to the Duke de Duras: "Never have I seen a woman uniting such grace to such distinguished manners; and I am a judge of women."

It is very difficult to ascertain with accuracy the movements of Hortense during the indescribable tumult of the next few succeeding months. The Duke of Rovigo says that Hortense reproached the Emperor Alexander for turning against Napoleon, for whom he formerly had manifested so much friendship. But the Emperor replied: "I was compelled to yield to the wishes of the Allies. As for myself personally, I wash my hands of every thing which has been done."

The death of Josephine and the departure of Eugene left Hortense, bereaved and dejected, almost alone in Paris with her two children. Their intelligence and vivacity had deeply interested Alexander and other royal guests, who had cordially paid their tribute of respect and sympathy to their mother. Napoleon had taken a deep interest in the education of the two princes, as he was aware of the frailty of life, and as the death of the King of Rome would bring them in the direct line to the inheritance of the crown.

The Emperor generally breakfasted alone when at home, at a small table in his cabinet. The two sons of Hortense were frequently admitted, that they might interest him with their infant prattle. The Emperor would tell them a story, and have them repeat it after him, that he might ascertain the accuracy of their memory. Any indication of intellectual superiority excited in his mind the most lively satisfaction. Mademoiselle Cochelet, who was the companion and reader of Queen Hortense, relates the following anecdote of Louis Napoleon:

"The two princes were in intelligence quite in advance of their years. This proceeded from the care which their mother gave herself to form their characters and to develop their faculties. They were, however, too young to understand all the strange scenes which were transpiring around them. As they had always beheld in the members of their own family, in their uncles and aunts, kings and queens, when the Emperor of Russia and the King of Prussia were first introduced to them, the little Louis Napoleon asked if they were also their uncles, and if they were to be called so.

"'No,' was the reply; 'they are not your uncles. You will simply address them as sire.'

"'But are not all kings our uncles?' inquired the young prince.

"'Far from being your uncle,' was the reply, 'they have come, in their turn, as conquerors.'

"'Then they are the enemies,' said Louis Napoleon, 'of our uncle, the Emperor. Why, then, do they embrace us?'

"'Because the Emperor of Russia, whom you see, is a generous enemy. He wishes to be useful to you and to your mamma. But for him you would no longer have any thing; and the condition of your uncle, the Emperor, would be more unhappy.'

"'We ought, then, to love this Emperor, ought we?'

"'Yes, certainly,' was the reply; 'for you owe him your gratitude.'

"The next time the Emperor Alexander called upon Hortense, little Louis Napoleon, who was naturally very retiring and reticent, took a ring which his uncle Eugene had given him, and, stealing timidly over to Alexander, slipped the ring into his hand, and, half frightened, ran away with all speed. Hortense called the child to her, and asked him what he had done. Blushing deeply, the warm-hearted boy said:

"'I have nothing but the ring. I wanted to give it to the Emperor, because he is good to my mamma.'

"Alexander cordially embraced the prince, and, putting the ring upon his watch-chain, promised that he would always wear it."

The remains of Napoleon Charles, who had died in Holland, had been deposited, by direction of Napoleon, in the vaults of St. Denis, the ancient burial-place of the kings of France. So great was the jealousy of the Bourbons of the name of Napoleon, and so unwilling were they to recognize in any way the right of the people to elect their own sovereign, that the government of Louis XVIII. ordered the body to be immediately removed. Hortense transferred the remains of her child to the church of St. Leu.

Notwithstanding this jealousy, Alexander and the King of Prussia could not ignore the imperial character of Napoleon, whose government they had recognized, and with whom they had exchanged ambassadors and formed treaties: neither could they deny that the King of Holland had won a crown recognized by all Europe. They and the other crowned heads, who paid their respects to Hortense, in accordance with the etiquette of courts, invariably addressed each of the princes as Your Royal Highness. Hortense had not accustomed them to this homage. She had always addressed the eldest as Napoleon, the youngest as Louis. It was her endeavor to impress them with the idea that they could be nothing more than their characters entitled them to be. But after this, when the Bourbon Government assumed that Napoleon was an usurper, and that popular suffrage could give no validity to the crown, then did Hortense, in imitation of Napoleon at St. Helena, firmly resist the insolence. Then did she teach her children that they were princes, that they were entitled to the throne of France by the highest of all earthly authority—the almost unanimous voice of the French people—and that the Bourbons, trampling popular rights beneath their feet, and ascending the throne through the power of foreign bayonets, were usurpers.

Hortense and children


Madame Cochelet, the reader of Queen Hortense, writes, in her interesting memoirs: "I have often seen her take her two boys on her knees, and talk with them in order to form their ideas. It was a curious conversation to listen to, in those days of the splendors of the empire, when those children were the heirs of so many crowns, which the Emperor was distributing to his brothers, his officers, his allies. Having questioned them on every thing they knew already, she passed in review whatever they should know besides, if they were to rely upon their own resources for a livelihood.

"'Suppose you had no money,' said Hortense to the eldest, 'and were alone in the world, what would you do, Napoleon, to support yourself?'

"'I would become a soldier,' was the reply, 'and would fight so well that I should soon be made an officer.'

"'And Louis,' she inquired of the younger, 'how would you provide for yourself?'

"The little prince, who was then but about five years old, had listened very thoughtfully to all that was said. Knowing that the gun and the knapsack were altogether beyond his strength, he replied:

"'I would sell violet bouquets, like the little boy at the gate of the Tuileries, from whom we purchase them every day.'"

The boy is father of the man. Such has been Louis Napoleon from that hour to this; the quiet student—hating war, loving peace—all devoted to the arts of utility and of beauty. He has been the great pacificator of Europe. But for his unwearied efforts, the Continent would have been again and again in a blaze of war. As all present at this conversation smiled, in view of the unambitious projects of the prince, Hortense replied:

"This is one of my lessons. The misfortune of princes born on the throne is that they think every thing is their due; that they are formed of a different nature from other men, and therefore never feel under any obligations to them. They are ignorant of human miseries, or think themselves beyond their reach. Thus, when misfortunes come, they are surprised, terrified, and always remain sunk below their destinies."

The Allies retired, with their conquering armies. Hortense remained with her children in Paris. Louis Bonaparte, sick and dejected, took up his residence in Italy. He demanded the children. A mother's love clung to them with tenacity which could not be relaxed. There was an appeal to the courts. Hortense employed the most eminent counsel to plead her cause. Eleven months passed away from the time of the abdication; and upon the very day when the court rendered its decision, that the father should have the eldest child, and the mother the youngest, Napoleon landed at Cannes, and commenced his almost miraculous march to Paris. The sublime transactions of the "One Hundred Days" caused all other events, for a time, to be forgotten.

Hortense was at the Tuileries, one of the first to greet the Emperor as he was borne in triumph, upon the shoulders of the people, up the grand staircase. "Sire," said Hortense, "I had a presentiment that you would return, and I waited for you here." The Allies had robbed the Emperor of his son, and the child was a prisoner with his mother in the palaces of Vienna. Very cordially Napoleon received his two nephews, and kept them continually near him. With characteristic devotion to the principle of universal suffrage, Napoleon submitted the question of his re-election to the throne of the empire to the French people. More than a million of votes over all other parties responded in the affirmative.

On the first of June, 1815, the Emperor was reinaugurated on the field of Mars, and the eagles were restored to the banners. It was one of the most imposing pageants Paris had ever witnessed. Hundreds of thousands crowded that magnificent parade-ground. As the Emperor presented the eagles to the army, a roar as of reverberating thunder swept along the lines. By the side of the Emperor, upon the platform, sat his two young nephews. He presented them separately to the departments and the army as in the direct line of inheritance. This scene must have produced a profound impression upon the younger child, Louis Napoleon, who was so thoughtful, reflective, and pensive.

In the absence of Maria Louisa, who no longer had her liberty, Hortense presided at the Tuileries. Inheriting the spirit of her mother, she was unfailing in deeds of kindness to the many Royalists who were again ruined by the return of Napoleon. Her audience-chamber was ever crowded by those who, through her, sought to obtain access to the ear of the Emperor. Napoleon was overwhelmed by too many public cares to give much personal attention to private interests.

The evening before Napoleon left his cabinet for his last campaign, which resulted in the disaster at Waterloo, he was in his cabinet conversing with Marshal Soult. The door was gently opened, and little Louis Napoleon crept silently into the apartment. His features were swollen with an expression of the profoundest grief, which he seemed to be struggling in vain to repress. Tremblingly he approached the Emperor, and, throwing himself upon his knees, buried his face in his two hands in the Emperor's lap, and burst into a flood of tears.

"What is the matter, Louis?" said the Emperor, kindly; "why do you interrupt me, and why do you weep so?"

The young prince was so overcome with emotion that for some time he could not utter a syllable. At last, in words interrupted by sobs, he said,

"Sire, my governess has told me that you are going away to the war. Oh! do not go! do not go!"

The Emperor, much moved, passed his fingers through the clustering ringlets of the child, and said, tenderly,

"My child, this is not the first time that I have been to the war. Why are you so afflicted? Do not fear for me. I shall soon come back again."

"Oh! my dear uncle," exclaimed the child, weeping convulsively; "those wicked Allies wish to kill you. Let me go with you, dear uncle, let me go with you!"

The Emperor made no reply, but, taking Louis Napoleon upon his knee, pressed him to his heart with much apparent emotion. Then calling Hortense, the mother of the child, he said to her:

"Take away my nephew, Hortense, and reprimand his governess, who, by her inconsiderate words, has so deeply excited his sympathies."

Then, after a few affectionate words addressed to the young prince, he was about to hand him to his mother, when he perceived that Marshal Soult was much moved by the scene.

"Embrace the child, Marshal," said the Emperor; "he has a warm heart and a noble soul. Perhaps he is to be the hope of my race!"

Napoleon returned from the disaster at Waterloo with all his hopes blighted. Hortense hastened to meet him, and to unite her fate with his. "It is my duty," she said. "The Emperor has always treated me as his child, and I will try, in return, to be his devoted and grateful daughter." In conversation with Hortense, Napoleon remarked: "Give myself up to Austria! Never. She has seized upon my wife and my son. Give myself up to Russia! That would be to a single man. But to give myself up to England, that would be to throw myself upon a people." His friends assured him that, though he might rely upon the honor of the British people, he could not trust to the British Government. Hortense repaired to Malmaison with her two sons, where the Emperor soon rejoined her. "She restrained her own tears," writes Baron Fleury, "reminding us, with the wisdom of a philosopher and the sweetness of an angel, that we ought to surmount our sorrows and regrets, and submit with docility to the decrees of Providence."

It was necessary for Napoleon to come to a prompt decision. The Allies now nearly surrounded Paris. On the 29th of June the Emperor sat in his library at Malmaison, exhausted with care and grief. Hortense, though with swollen eyes and a heart throbbing with anguish, did every thing which a daughter's love could suggest to minister to the solace of her afflicted father. Just before his departure to Rochefort, where he intended to embark for some foreign land, he called for his nephews, to take leave of them. It was a very affecting scene. Both of the children wept bitterly. The soul of the little, pensive Louis Napoleon was stirred to its utmost depths. He clung frantically to his uncle, screaming and insisting that he should go and "fire off the cannon!" It was necessary to take him away by force.

The Emperor was departing almost without money. Hortense, after many entreaties, succeeded in making him accept her beautiful necklace, valued at eight hundred thousand francs. She sewed it up in a silk ribbon, which he concealed in his dress. He did not, however, find himself obliged to part with this jewel till on his death-bed, when he intrusted it to Count Montholon, with orders to restore it to Hortense. This devoted man acquitted himself successfully of this commission.

Upon the departure of Napoleon, Hortense, with her children, returned to Paris. She was entreated by her friends to seek refuge in the interior of France, as the Royalists were much exasperated against her in consequence of her reception of the Emperor. They assured her that the army and the people would rally around her and her children as the representatives of the Empire. But Hortense replied:

"I must now undergo whatever fortune has in store for me. I am nothing now. I can not pretend to make the people think that I rally the troops around me. If I had been Empress of France, I would have done every thing to prolong the defense. But now it does not become me to mingle my destinies with such great interests, and I must be resigned."

In a few days the allied armies were again in possession of Paris. The Royalists assumed so threatening an attitude towards her, that she felt great solicitude for the safety of her children. Many persons kindly offered to give them shelter. But she was unwilling to compromise her friends by receiving from them such marks of attention. A kind-hearted woman, by the name of Madame Tessier, kept a hose establishment on the Boulevard Montmartre. The children were intrusted to her care, where they would be concealed from observation, and where they would still be perfectly comfortable.

Hortense had her residence in a hotel on the Rue Cerutti. The Austrian Prince Schwartzenberg occupied the same hotel, and Hortense hoped that this circumstance would add to her security. But the Allies were now greatly exasperated against the French people, who had so cordially received the Emperor on his return from Elba. Even the Emperor Alexander treated Hortense with marked coldness. He called upon Prince Schwartzenberg without making any inquiries for her.

The hostility of the Allies towards this unfortunate lady was so great, that on the 19th of July Baron de Muffling, who commanded Paris for the Allies, received an order to notify the Duchess of St. Leu that she must leave Paris within two hours. An escort of troops was offered her, which amounted merely to an armed guard, to secure her departure and to mark her retreat. As Hortense left Paris for exile, she wrote a few hurried lines to a friend, in which she said:

"I have been obliged to quit Paris, having been positively expelled from it by the allied armies. So greatly am I, a feeble woman, with her two children, dreaded, that the enemy's troops are posted all along our route, as they say, to protect our passage, but in reality to insure our departure."

Prince Schwartzenberg, who felt much sympathy for Hortense, accompanied her, as a companion and a protector, on her journey to the frontiers of France. Little Louis Napoleon, though then but seven years of age, seemed fully to comprehend the disaster which had overwhelmed them, and that they were banished from their native land. With intelligence far above his years he conversed with his mother, and she found great difficulty in consoling him. It was through the influence of such terrible scenes as these that the character of that remarkable man has been formed.

It was nine o'clock in the evening when Hortense and her two little boys, accompanied by Prince Schwartzenberg, reached the Chateau de Bercy, where they passed the night. The next morning the journey was resumed towards the frontiers. It was the intention of Hortense to take refuge in a very retired country-seat which she owned at Pregny, in Switzerland, near Geneva. At some points on her journey the Royalists assailed her with reproaches. Again she was cheered by loudly-expressed manifestations of the sympathy and affection of the people. At Dijon the multitude crowding around her carriage, supposing that she was being conveyed into captivity, gallantly attempted a rescue. They were only appeased by the assurance of Hortense that she was under the protection of a friend.

Scarcely had this melancholy wanderer entered upon her residence at Pregny, with the title of the Duchess of St. Leu, ere the French minister in Switzerland commanded the Swiss government to issue an order expelling her from the Swiss territory. Switzerland could not safely disregard the mandate of the Bourbons of France, who were sustained in their enthronement by allied Europe. Thus pursued by the foes of the Empire, Hortense repaired to Aix, in Savoy. Here she met a cordial welcome. The people remembered her frequent visits to those celebrated springs, her multiplied charities, and here still stood, as an ever-during memorial of her kindness of heart, the hospital which she had founded and so munificently endowed. The magistrates at Aix formally invited her to remain at Aix so long as the Allied powers would allow her to make that place her residence.

It seemed as though Hortense were destined to drain the cup of sorrow to its dregs. Aix was the scene of the dreadful death of Madame Broc, which we have above described. Every thing around her reminded her of that terrible calamity, and oppressed her spirits with the deepest gloom. And, to add unutterably to her anguish, an agent arrived at Aix from her husband, Louis Bonaparte, furnished with all competent legal powers to take custody of the eldest child and convey him to his father in Italy. It will be remembered that the court had decided that the father should have the eldest and the mother the youngest child. The stormy events of the "Hundred Days" had interrupted all proceedings upon this matter.

This separation was a terrible trial not only to the mother, but to the two boys. The peculiarities of their dispositions and temperaments fitted them to assimilate admirably together. Napoleon Louis, the elder, was bold, resolute, high-spirited. Louis Napoleon, the younger, was gentle, thoughtful, and pensive. The parting was very affecting—Louis Napoleon throwing his arms around his elder brother, and weeping as though his heart would break. The thoughtful child, thus companionless, now turned to his mother with the full flow of his affectionate nature. A French writer, speaking of these scenes, says:

"The soul of Hortense had been already steeped in misfortune, but her power of endurance seemed at length exhausted. When she had embraced her son for the last time, and beheld the carriage depart which bore him away, a deep despondency overwhelmed her spirits. Her very existence became a dream; and it seemed a matter of indifference to her whether her lot was to enjoy or to suffer, to be persecuted, respected, or forgotten."

And now came another blow upon the bewildered brain and throbbing heart of Hortense. The Allies did not deem it safe to allow Hortense and her child to reside so near the frontiers of France. They knew that the French people detested the Bourbons. They knew that all France, upon the first favorable opportunity, would rise in the attempt to re-establish the Empire. The Sardinian government was accordingly ordered to expel Hortense from Savoy. Where should she go? It seemed as though all Europe would refuse a home to this bereaved, heart-broken lady and her child. She remembered her cousin, Stephanie Beauharnais, her schoolmate, whom her mother and Napoleon had so kindly sheltered and provided for in the days when the Royalists were in exile. Stephanie was the lady to whom her father had been so tenderly attached. She was now in prosperity and power, the wife of the Grand Duke of Baden. Hortense decided to seek a residence at Constance, in the territory of Baden, persuaded that the duke and duchess would not drive her, homeless and friendless, from their soil, out again into the stormy world.

To reach Baden it was necessary to pass through Switzerland. The Swiss government, awed by France, at first refused to give her permission to traverse their territory. But the Duke of Richelieu intervened in her favor, and, by remonstrating against such cruelty, obtained the necessary passport. It was now the month of November. Cold storms swept the snow-clad hills and the valleys. Hortense departed from Aix, taking with her her son Louis Napoleon, his private tutor, the Abb? Bertrand, her reader, Mademoiselle Cochelet, and an attendant. She wished to spend the first night at her own house, at Pregny; but even this slight gratification was forbidden her.

The police were instructed to watch her carefully all the way. At Morat she was even arrested, and detained a prisoner two days, until instructions should be received from the distant authorities. At last she reached the city of Constance. But even here she found that her sorrows had not yet terminated. Neither the Duke of Baden nor the Duchess ventured to welcome her. On the contrary, immediately upon her arrival, she received an official notification that, however anxious the grand duke and duchess might be to afford her hospitable shelter, they were under the control of higher powers, and they must therefore request her to leave the duchy without delay. It was now intimated that the only countries in Europe which would be allowed to afford her a shelter were Austria, Prussia, or Russia.

The storms of winter were sweeping those northern latitudes. The health of Hortense was extremely frail. She was fatherless and motherless, alienated from her husband, bereaved of one of her children, and all her family friends dispersed by the ban of exile. She had no kind friends to consult, and she knew not which way to turn. Thus distracted and crushed, she wrote an imploring letter to her cousins, the Duke and Duchess of Baden, stating the feeble condition of her health, the inclement weather, her utter friendlessness, and exhaustion from fatigue and sorrow, and begging permission to remain in Constance until the ensuing spring.

In reply she received a private letter from the grand duchess, her cousin Stephanie, assuring her of her sympathy, and of the cordiality with which she would openly receive and welcome her, if she did but dare to do so. In conclusion, the duchess wrote: "Have patience, and do not be uneasy. Perhaps all will be right by spring. By that time passions will be calmed, and many things will have been forgotten."

Though this letter did not give any positive permission to remain, it seemed at least to imply that soldiers would not be sent to transport her, by violence, out of the territory. Somewhat cheered by this assurance, she rented a small house, in a very retired situation upon the western shore of the Lake of Constance. Though in the disasters of the times she had lost much property, she still had an ample competence. Her beloved brother, Eugene, it will be remembered, had married a daughter of the King of Bavaria. He was one of the noblest of men and the best of brothers. As soon as possible, he took up his residence near his sister. He also was in the enjoyment of an ample fortune. Thus there seemed to be for a short time a lull in those angry storms which for so long had risen dark over the way of Hortense.

In this distant and secluded home, upon the borders of the lake, Hortense and her small harmonious household passed the winter of 1815. Though she mourned over the absence of her elder child, little Louis Napoleon cheered her by his bright intelligence and his intense affectionateness. Prince Eugene often visited his sister; and many of the illustrious generals and civilians, who during the glories of the Empire had filled Europe with their renown, were allured as occasional guests to the home of this lovely woman, who had shared with them in the favors and the rebuffs of fortune.

Hortense devoted herself assiduously to the education of her son. She understood thoroughly the political position of France. Foreigners, with immense armies, had invaded the kingdom, and forced upon the reluctant people a detested dynasty. Napoleon was Emperor by popular election. The people still, with almost entire unanimity, desired the Empire. And Hortense knew full well that, so soon as the French people could get strength to break the chains with which foreign armies had bound them, they would again drive out the Bourbons and re-establish the Empire.

Hortense consequently never allowed her son to forget the name he bore, or the political principles which his uncle, the Emperor, had borne upon his banners throughout Europe. The subsequent life of this child has proved how deep was the impression produced upon his mind, as pensively, silently he listened to the conversation of the statesmen and the generals who often visited his mother's parlor. Lady Blessington about this time visited Hortense, and she gives the following account of the impression which the visit produced upon her mind:

"Though prepared to meet in Hortense Bonaparte, ex-Queen of Holland, a woman possessed of no ordinary powers of captivation, she has, I confess, far exceeded my expectations. I have seen her frequently, and spent two hours yesterday in her society. Never did time fly away with greater rapidity than while listening to her conversation, and hearing her sing those charming little French romances, written and composed by herself, which, though I had often admired them, never previously struck me as being so expressive and graceful as they now proved to be.

"I know not that I ever encountered a person with so fine a tact or so quick an apprehension as the Duchess of St. Leu. These give her the power of rapidly forming an appreciation of those with whom she comes in contact, and of suiting the subjects of conversation to their tastes and comprehensions. Thus, with the grave she is serious, with the lively gay, and with the scientific she only permits just a sufficient extent of her savoir to be revealed to encourage the development of theirs.

"She is, in fact, all things to all men, without losing a single portion of her own natural character; a peculiarity of which seems to be the desire, as well as the power, of sending all away who approach her satisfied with themselves and delighted with her. Yet there is no unworthy concession of opinions made, or tacit acquiescence yielded, to conciliate popularity. She assents to or dissents from the sentiments of others with a mildness and good sense which gratifies those with whom she coincides, or disarms those from whom she differs."