CHAPTER IX. THE EMPEROR'S MARRIAGE.
A plebiscite - Louis Napoleon's political panacea - was ordered Dec. 20, 1851, two weeks after the coup d'etat, to say if the people of France approved or disapproved the usurpation of the prince president. The national approval as expressed in this plebiscite was overwhelming. Each peasant and artisan seemed to fancy he was voting to revive the past glories of France, when expressing his approval of a Prince Napoleon. The more thoughtful voters, like M. de Montalembert, considered that the coup d'etat was a crushing blow struck at Red Republicanism, Communism, the International Society, and disorder generally.
For a while the prince president governed by decrees; then a new legislative body was assembled. Its first duty was to revise the constitution. The republican constitution of 1850 was in the main re-adopted, but with one important alteration. The prince president was to be turned into the Emperor Napoleon III., and the throne was to be hereditary in his family.
After the passage of this measure it was submitted by another plebiscite to the people. The plebiscite is a universal suffrage vote of yes or no, in answer to some question put by the Government to the nation. The question this time was: Shall the prince president become emperor? There were 7,800,000 ayes, and 224,000 noes.
When the news of this overwhelming success reached the Elysee, Louis Napoleon sat so still and unmoved, smoking his cigar, that his cousin, Madame Baiocchi, rushing up to him, shook him, and exclaimed: "Is it possible that you are made of stone?"
Having thus secured his elevation by the almost universal consent of Frenchmen, the new emperor's next step was to insure his dynasty by a marriage that might probably give heirs to the throne. He chose the title Napoleon III. because the son of the Great Napoleon had been Napoleon II. for a few days after his father's abdication at Fontainebleau in 1814. The next heir to the imperial dignities (Lucien Bonaparte having refused anything of the kind for himself or for his family) was Jerome Napoleon, familiarly called Plon-Plon. He was the only son of Jerome Bonaparte and the Princess Catherine of Wuertemberg. But Prince Napoleon, though clever, was wilful and eccentric, and made a boast of being a Red Republican; moreover, his father's Baltimore marriage had made his legitimacy more than doubtful, - at any rate, Louis Napoleon was by no means desirous of passing on to him the succession to the empire; and being now forty-four years old, he was desirous of marrying as soon as possible.
When a boy, it had been proposed to marry him to his cousin Mathilde, and something like an attachment had sprung up between them; but after his fiasco at Strasburg he was no longer considered an eligible suitor either for Princess Mathilde or another cousin who had been named for him, a princess of Baden. Princess Mathilde was married to the Russian banker, Prince Demidorff; but when Louis Napoleon became prince president, he requested her to preside at the Elysee.
The new emperor, or his advisers, looked round at the various marriageable princesses belonging to the smaller courts of Germany. The sister of that Prince Leopold of Hohenzollern whose selection for the throne of Spain led afterwards to the Franco-Prussian war, was spoken of; but the lady most seriously considered was the Princess Adelaide of Hohenlohe. She was daughter of Queen Victoria's half-sister Feodora; and to Queen Victoria and Prince Albert, as heads of the family, the matter was referred. A recent memoir-writer tells us of seeing the queen at Windsor when the matter was under discussion. The queen and her husband were apparently not averse to the alliance, hesitating only on the grounds of religion and morals; but it is doubtful how far the new emperor went personally in the affair. His inclination had for some time pointed to the reigning beauty of Paris, Mademoiselle Eugenie de Montijo.
This young lady's grandfather was Captain Fitzpatrick, of a good old Scottish family, which had in past times married with the Stuarts. Captain Fitzpatrick had been American consul at a port in southern Spain. He had a particularly charming daughter, who made a brilliant Spanish marriage, her husband being the Count de Teba (or Marquis de Montijo, for he bore both titles). The Montijos were connected with the grandest ducal families in Spain and Portugal, and even with the royal families of those nations.
The Count de Teba died while his two daughters were young, and they were left under the guardianship of their very charming mother. The elder married the Duke of Alva; the younger became the Empress Eugenie.
Eugenie was for some time at school in England at Clifton. She was described by those who knew her there as a pretty, sprightly little girl, much given to independence, and something of a tom boy, - a character there is reason to think she preserved until it was modified by the exigencies of her position.
Mr. George Ticknor, of Boston, frequently mentioned Madame de Teba to his friends as a singularly charming woman. In 1818 he wrote home to a friend in America: