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Maria Eugenia Ignacia Augustina Palafox de Guzmán Portocarrero y Kirkpatrick, 9th Countess de Teba, popularly known as Eugénie de Montijo (May 5, 1826July 11, 1920) was Empress Consort of France (1853-1871), the wife of Napoléon III.

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Empress Eugénie

The last Empress of France was born in Granada, Spain to Don Cipriano Palafox de Guzmán y Portocarrero, Count de Teba, subsequently Count de Montijo, and his half-Scottish, half-Spanish wife, Maria Manuela Kirkpatrick, a daughter of the Scots-born William Kirkpatrick, who became U. S. Consul to Malaga and later operated a wine bar. Her sister, Maria Francisca de Sales, a.k.a. Paca, who inherited the Montijo title as well as other subsidiary family titles, married the Duke of Alba, and died in 1860. According to some sources, Don Cipriano was not the biological father of his daughters, and rumor had it that Eugénie's father was actually a British diplomat, George William Frederick Villiers (1800-1870), later 4th Earl of Clarendon, who gained fame as British Foreign Secretary.

The Countess de Teba, as Eugenia/Eugénie was known before her marriage, was educated in Paris at the fashionable convent of Sacré Cœur, where she received an indelibly Catholic training. When Prince Louis Napoléon became president of the Second Republic she appeared with her mother at the balls given by the prince-president at the Elysée, and it was there that she met the future emperor, whom she wed on January 30, 1853, not long after he had been rebuffed in his eager attempts to marry Queen Victoria's teenage niece Princess Adelaide von Hohenlohe-Langenburg.

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Empress Eugénie

In a speech from the throne on January 22 he formally announced his engagement, saying, "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." The so-called love match was looked upon with some sarcastic comment in Britain. The Times wrote, "We learn with some amusement that this romantic event in the annals of the French Empire has called forth the strongest opposition, and provoked the utmost irritation. The Imperial family, the Council of Ministers, and even the lower coteries of the palace or its purlieus, all affect to regard this marriage as an amazing humiliation..." A 26-year-old Spanish countess, of legitimate title and ancient lineage, the British newspaper implied with ill-concealed mirth, was not considered good enough by the Bonaparte family, only two generations removed from obscurity in Corsica.

On March 16, 1856, the empress gave birth to a son, Napoléon Eugène Louis Jean Joseph Bonaparte, style Prince Imperial. By her beauty, elegance, and charm of manner she contributed largely to the brilliance of the imperial regime. When she wore the new cage crinolines in 1855, European fashion followed suit, and when she abandoned vast skirts at the end of the 1860s, at the encouragement of her couturier, Charles Worth, the silhouette of women's dress followed her lead again. Her interest in the life of Queen Marie Antoinette sparked a fashion for furniture and interior design in the neoclassical style popular during the reign of Louis XVI.

As she was educated and very intelligent, Eugénie's husband usually consulted her on important questions, and she acted as Regent during his absences, in 1859, 1865 and 1870. Eugénie's influence countered any liberal tendencies in the emperor's policies. She was a staunch defender of papal temporal powers in Italy.

When the Second Empire was overthrown after France's defeat in the Franco-Prussian War (1870-71), the empress and her husband took refuge in England, and settled at Chislehurst, Kent. After his death in 1873 she moved to Farnborough, Hampshire and to a villa she built at Cap Martin on the French Riviera, where lived in retirement, abstaining from all interference in French politics.

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Empress Eugénie

The former empress died in July 1920 at the age of 94, during a visit to her native Spain, and she is interred in the Imperial Crypt at Saint Michael's Abbey, Farnborough, with her husband and her son, who died in 1879 while fighting in the Zulu War in Africa.

Her deposed family's friendly association with England was commemorated when she became the godmother of the daughter of Princess Beatrice, was born in 1887, Princess Victoria Eugenie of Battenberg (1887-1969), later Queen of Spain. A century later, the second daughter of the present Duke of York, born in 1990, was named Princess Eugenie.

The Empress has also been commemorated in space; the asteroid 45 Eugenia was named after her, and its moon, Petit-Prince, after the Prince Imperial.de:Eugénie de Montijo es:Eugenia de Montijo fr:Eugénie de Montijo hu:Eugénia császárnő ru:Императрица Евгения

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