The name “Eugenie” and its royal connections

Tomorrow, October 12, will be the day HRH Princess Eugenie of York marries Mr. Jack Brooksbank at St. George’s Chapel, Windsor Castle. The 28-year-old bride is the second daughter of Prince Andrew, Duke of York, and his former wife, Sarah, Duchess of York. Eugenie and her elder sister, Beatrice, are the only granddaughters of Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh, who are Royal Highnesses and hold the title of Princess. Being that their father is the monarch’s second son, there has been considerably less public focus on Eugenie and her sister, especially compared to the attention given their cousins, the Duke of Cambridge and the Duke of Sussex, as the sons of the future king and, in the case of the Duke of Cambridge, the future king himself. Princess Eugenie’s wedding tomorrow will likely be the most public event of her life (even the births of any future children will not carry as much significance, because they will be the great-grandchildren of the Queen and will not hold any royal titles of their own).

In honor of tomorrow’s royal wedding, we will briefly look back in history at the ways in which the name Eugenie has connected with past royals. Eugenie of York is not the only royal to have borne the name, and she is also not the only Eugenie in the history of the British royal family.

Eugénie de Montijo, Empress of the French

In May 1826, Maria Eugenia Ignacia Augustina de Palafox y Kirkpatrick was born in Granada, Spain. She was the second daughter of Cipriano de Palafox and Maria Manuela Enriqueta Kirkpatrick. Her father was Duke of Peñaranda and Count of Montijo, while her mother was the daughter of a Scottish merchant and a Belgian aristocrat. Although she inherited the title Countess of Teba in her own right upon her father’s death, Eugenia is known to history as “Eugenia de Montijo” (French: Eugénie).

Eugenia met the acquaintance of Louis-Napoleon Bonaparte in 1849. He was the heir to the deposed Bonaparte dynasty and a nephew of the first Napoleon, Emperor of the French. At the time they met, Louis-Napoleon was the first president in France’s history. Four years after they first met, Louis-Napoleon had transformed himself from president to emperor as Napoleon III, and Eugenia became his bride. Before they had become engaged, Napoleon, a notorious womanizer, had tried to seduce her, but Eugenia refused to give in. When he asked her “What is the way to your heart?” she replied, “Through the chapel, Sire”. They married in 1853 at the Notre Dame cathedral in Paris, and Eugenia became Empress Eugénie of the French.

Empress Eugénie bore her husband one son, Louis-Napoleon, the Prince Imperial of France and heir to his father’s throne. Over the years, she became an increasingly dominant figure in her husband’s political life and he came to rely heavily upon her. The empire of Napoleon III collapsed in 1870 during the Franco-Prussian War. France had been goaded into war by Herbert von Bismarck, Prime Minister of Prussia, and suffered a devastating loss in the end. Emperor Napoleon unwisely took personal command of his armies and led his troops into battle despite suffering from a debilitating bout of kidney stones. He was captured by the Prussian army at the Battle of Sedan. When she received word that he had been taken prisoner, the indomitable Eugénie cried out “An Emperor does not capitulate! Why didn’t he kill himself?! Doesn’t he know he has dishonored himself?!” France’s defeat in the war and the emperor’s humiliating capture fanned Paris into revolution, and Empress Eugénie was forced to escape from the Tuileries Palace to the home of her dentist, who arranged for her to flee to the coast and take a ship over to Great Britain. Her husband and son joined her in exile and they lived in a mansion in Farnborough, England. 

She became a widow in 1873 after Napoleon III’s death, and she lost her only son in 1879 when he was killed in the Zulu War in Africa at the age of 23. She was shattered by her son’s death and spent the rest of her life in mourning. Her life of exile was made easier thanks to the friendship of Queen Victoria and other members of the British royal family. In 1887, she was asked to be a godmother to Queen Victoria’s granddaughter, Princess Victoria Eugenie of Battenberg, who was named in honor of the French empress. Empress Eugénie died in 1920 at the age of 94.

Victoria Eugenie of Battenberg, Queen of Spain

Princess Victoria Eugenie of Battenberg was born at Balmoral Castle in Scotland, the daughter of Henry of Battenberg, a minor-ranking German prince, and Princess Beatrice of the United Kingdom. Through her mother, Victoria Eugenie was a granddaughter of Queen Victoria. She was named Victoria after her grandmother and Eugenie after her godmother, the exiled Empress Eugénie of France.

Victoria Eugenie, who was called “Ena” by her family, grew up with her brothers in the various homes of Queen Victoria. Princess Beatrice spent most of her life acting as an unofficial private secretary to her mother, and especially after Victoria Eugenie’s father died, Queen Victoria served as a dominating influence over the family’s life.

In 1905, the young King Alfonso XIII of Spain came to London for a state visit. He had been king since the day of his birth, and since reaching his majority had been on the search for a suitable royal bride. He hoped to try his luck with a princess from the British royal family, and while he was unsuccessful in wooing Princess Patricia of Connaught, he was more successful in obtaining the interest of Patricia’s cousin, Princess Victoria Eugenie. Victoria Eugenie fell in love with the Spanish king, and they were married in May 1906 in Madrid.
The wedding day of King Alfonso and the new Queen Victoria Eugenie of Spain proved to be a sad and tragic harbinger of the troubles which would plague their marriage. While riding in the carriage through the streets of Madrid on their way back to the Royal Palace after the wedding ceremony, a man threw a bomb at the royal procession. The king and queen narrowly escaped a horrific death, though dozens of bystanders were killed and Queen Victoria Eugenie’s wedding dress was splattered with the blood of a guardsman who had been decapitated in the blast.

The carriage procession quickly made its way back to the palace after the explosion, and Victoria Eugenie, determined to display bravery and self-control in the way her grandmother Queen Victoria would have expected, maintained her composure in the face of the chaos. Her behavior did not receive the reaction she had hoped for. An author later wrote “the English would have been dumbstruck in admiration at her fortitude. But in a country that expects mayhem when something like this happens, ordinary people took her composure as a very bad sign…Alfonso, who had indeed been courageous throughout the entire ordeal, was supposed to act becomingly brave. [Victoria Eugenie] wasn’t.”

Queen Victoria Eugenie bore her husband four sons and two daughters. Two of the sons were hemophiliac, which Victoria Eugenie had transmitted to them and herself had inherited the genes for from her grandmother, Queen Victoria. King Alfonso never forgave his wife for bearing him unfit sons and the marriage never recovered. After the exile of the Spanish royal family in 1931, Victoria Eugenie lived separately from her husband and died in Switzerland at the age of 81. Her grandson, Juan Carlos, became king of Spain in 1975 when the monarchy was restored, and the present Spanish king, Felipe VI, is her great-grandson.


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