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on 4 May 2007
I don't know how I missed this book when it first came out, but the publication of a new edition paperback put me on a search for a hard copy edition (Thank you, Amazon - love you guys!!).

The book is an excellent read. Got more information than ever on Eugenie. Really got to know the Empress and the Lady so much better than any book I've read before - and there aren't many. This woman was an exception to her times. SHE should have ruled France - they would have been a whole lot better off. But this wasn't to be. I highly recommend this book. I loved it.
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on 16 February 2015
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on 14 January 2016
Starts well and finishes well, especially from the 1870 war onwards, but in between Mr Seward falls into the trap of so many biographers, he falls in love with his subject. Not particularly surprising given that Eugenie was such a strident, passionate but difficult woman

Louis Napoleon was the least worst option in 1848 and the fear of a repeat of 1789 (and 1792) drove the bourgeois to support his coup of 1851, allowing him to become emperor and live off the myth of his uncle. In the event he never quite lived up to that myth but, to the relief of the bourgeois, he kept the socialists out of power. However, throughout his reign there was a certain political tension, particularly in Paris, fuelled by censorship and repression. Napoleon stifled political debate.

Eugenie, as a woman, as a foreigner, as the wife of the Emperor, tended to amplify that political tension rather than defuse it. It seems, with the benefit of hindsight, she may have been the wrong woman for the job.

The air of political tension pervading during the empire doesn't really materialise in Mr Seward's book. Eugenie is just too good, it always seems to be someone else's fault and if her volatile character is mentioned in another biography, it apparently becomes 'suspect'.

Nevertheless, well written and the sections on the Franco-Prussian war and the exile are excellent. They save the book.
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VINE VOICEon 4 February 2009
In 1853, Emperor Napoleon IIII announced his marriageto Eugénie de Montijo with the words "I have preferred a woman whom I love and respect to a woman unknown to me, with whom an alliance would have had advantages mixed with sacrifices.". So it sounded like a great love match, but in reality the Emperor was turned down proper royal princesses as he and his Emprire were regarded as parvenu. In a funny way it set the tone for much of her life and the Empire she presided over.

Born Doña María Eugenia Ignacia Augustina de Palafox de Guzmán Portocarrero y Kirkpatrick, Marchioness of Ardales, Marchioness of Moya, Countess of Teba, Countess of Montijo and Countess of Ablitas, she was the daughter of the Duke of Peñaranda, a Spanish Grandee, and his half Scotish, half Flemish wife. Her sister became the Duchess of Alba. As grand as these titles were, they were not far grand enough to be Empress. But Napoleon III chose her.

Eugenie became by her beauty, elegance, and charm of manner the center of elegance of the Court and contributed greatly to the brilliance of the imperial regime so well documented in innumerable paintings, especially by her favourite portraitist, Winterhalter.Her dress sense dominated European fashion. Queen Victoria described her with the words "grace, elegance, sweetness and nature". And as strange as it seems the dmall, dumy and plain Victoria and the willowy, graceful and stylish Eugenie became great friends. What Queen Victoria lost in the fashion department, she made up with regal authority, true majesty. A nice story told illustrate taht very much: during the state visit of the Imperial couple there was a performance. When the royal couples entered their box, Queen Victoria sat down without looking whether a chair was behind her, while the Empress checked.

But Eugenie was far more than merely a cloth horse. She was an intelligent woman and her political influence increased over the years, especially as the Emperor started fading. However, her influence was not always good and well thought through. The Empress survived the Emprire and lived with husband and her only son in exile in England. Here the Emperor died and her son served in the British army and was killed in action in South Africa. She died 1920 when the world of Second Empire had been forgotten and with this she.

Desmond Seward revives her and her world. It is a beautiful written book, written with elegance and style. One learns a lot about the Empress. It is very symapthetic to her and I feel it is a bit too much. Especially the Empress political work and influence has to be viewed in a more critical light. Inspite of all her glamour she could not prevent the collapse of the Empire. But all in all it is a book worthwhile reading. I enjoyed it very much.
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on 25 June 2014
Born in 1826 the daughter of a somewhat impoverished Spanish nobleman and his nouveau riche wife, Eugénie de Montijo married Napoleon III, nephew of his more famous namesake, in 1853, and became the last Empress of France.

This book, a biography of her life, was something of a mixed bag for me. On the one hand, keeping in mind that I was a newcomer to the topic, I was rarely bored. The first portion of the book, which tells of Eugénie’s background and upbringing, was written in a lucid, lively manner which for me really helped bring her unique character back to life. The middle portion covers Eugénie’s time as empress, but is arranged by theme rather than chronologically as the first part is, and for me as a newcomer this was a little confusing as it made it a little more difficult to place events and understand where they all fit in relation to one another. Also I must admit I wasn’t that interested in how Eugénie set the fashion of her day or had a passion for decorating her residences. The final section covers the dramatic deposition of the Empire and how Eugénie lived out her days in England as a close friend of Queen Victoria. This final section returns to a more coherent chronological structure, and contains some fascinating anecdotes and commentary from Eugénie herself and those who knew her about her time as Empress and the last decades of her life.

Seward is careful throughout to point out questionable or biased sources, providing some analysis about the likeliest version of events. However, the text is mostly narrative, and although I’m a newcomer to this topic my historian’s sense tells me this book probably doesn’t add anything new to the table and isn’t an authoritative work on the subject; it lacks the extensive referencing and in-depth critical analysis that I would expect of an academic publication. In that respect, as a popular history, it is probably better suited to newcomers to the topic, and as one of the few biographies of Eugénie is a good choice, despite its shortcomings.

What grabbed my attention though was just how perceptive and ahead of her time Eugénie was. Not only did Eugénie see great change over the almost century of her lifetime, but her razor sharp political intelligence predicted many of the key events of the 20th century. I must admit, that whilst the book itself is only so-so on in-depth analysis, it did succeed spectacularly at engaging my interest in this fascinating woman.
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on 11 October 2011
I was disappointed with this. Very dry and after the opening chapters a bit boring. I have a lot of biographies but donated this after I'd read it as I didn't think I would read it again
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on 5 July 2010
This is a highly readable book, with lots of insights. It really took me back to the Second Empire.
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on 20 July 2015
Very informative book
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on 14 January 2015
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