Hortense de Beauharnais

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Hortense de Beauharnais
Duchess of Saint-Leu
Reine de Hollande et son fils.jpg
Queen consort of Holland
Tenure5 June 1806 – 1 July 1810
Born10 April 1783
Paris, France
Died5 October 1837 (aged 54)
Arenenberg, Thurgau, Switzerland
St Pierre-St Paul Church,
Rueil-Malmaison, France
Spouse Louis I of Holland
Issue Napoléon Charles, Prince Royal of Holland
Louis II of Holland
Napoléon III
The 1st Duc de Morny (illegitimate)
House Beauharnais
Father Alexandre de Beauharnais
Mother Joséphine Tascher de la Pagerie
Religion Roman Catholicism
Royal styles of
Queen Hortense of Holland
Blason d'Hortense de Beauharnais, reine de Hollande.svg
Reference style Her Majesty
Spoken styleYour Majesty

Hortense Eugénie Cécile Bonaparte (French pronunciation: [ɔʁtɑ̃s øʒeni sesil bɔnɑpaʁt]; née de Beauharnais, pronounced [də boaʁnɛ]; 10 April 1783 – 5 October 1837) was Queen consort of Holland. She was the stepdaughter of Emperor Napoléon I as the daughter of his first wife, Joséphine de Beauharnais. Hortense later married Napoléon I’s brother, Louis Bonaparte, who has been made King of Holland, making her the sister-in-law to her step-father. She was the mother of Napoléon III, Emperor of the French; Louis II of Holland; and Napoléon Louis Charles Bonaparte who died at the age of four. She had also an illegitimate son, Charle, Duke of Morny, by her lover, the Comte de Flahaut.


Early life

Hortense was born in Paris, France, on 10 April 1783, the daughter of Alexandre François Marie, Vicomte de Beauharnais and Joséphine Tascher de la Pagerie. Her parents separated when she was five years old, and between the ages of five and ten she was sent to live in Martinique. [1] Her father was executed on 23 July 1794, at the time of the French Revolution, a few days before the end of the Reign of Terror. Her mother was imprisoned in the Carmelites prison, from which she was released on 6 August 1794, thanks to the intervention of her best friend Thérèse Tallien. Two years later, her mother married Napoléon Bonaparte.

Hortense was described as having been an amusing and pretty child with long, pale golden-blonde hair and blue eyes. She received her education at the school of Madame Jeanne Campanin St-Germain-en-Laye together with Napoléon's youngest sister Caroline Bonaparte, who later married Joachim Murat. She was sent to boarding school when her mother, Josephine, decided that she did not have enough time to raise children. [1] There, she developed a love for fine art and music. [2] Hortense was an accomplished amateur musical composer and supplied the army of her stepfather with rousing marches, including Partant pour la Syrie. She also enjoyed playing games and particularly excelled at billiards.

In 1802, at Napoléon's request, Hortense married his brother Louis Bonaparte. Hortense was reluctant to marry at first, but her mother persuaded her to accept for the political wellbeing/prosperity of the family.

Queen of Holland

In 1806 Napoléon appointed his brother Louis as King of Holland, and Hortense accompanied her husband to The Hague. Hortense's negativity towards being appointed Queen of Holland was twofold. First, it was necessary for her to move there with Louis, with whom she did not get along, and second, she had to leave her life as a celebrated member of Parisian society.[3] She had hoped to be "a Queen of Holland in Paris", but Napoléon did not agree. [3] She was eventually forced to depart with Louis to the Netherlands, where she arrived on 18 June 1806.

Queen Hortense was pleasantly surprised [3] when the Dutch public welcomed her warmly. She quickly became accustomed to life in the Netherlands and came to like the country. She attended official celebrations and ceremonies, visited the market-places where she made large purchases, and was much liked by the public, which annoyed her husband. [3] She learned water-colour painting and made trips around the countryside. Nevertheless, she hated her stay there because of her relationship with King Louis. The couple lived in different parts of the palace and avoided each other at every opportunity, with Hortense describing herself as a prisoner. [3] She also refused to give up her French citizenship and declare herself Dutch as Louis had done.

In 1807 her first son died; she was subsequently allowed to stay in France, as the climate there was considered better for raising her other son Louis-Napoléon. [3] She remained in France, again pleased by her status as a queen at the French court, until 1810, when Napoléon remarried to Marie Louise of Austria.

This forced Hortense return to the Netherlands and reconcile with her husband. When Napoleon married Marie Louise, Hortense returned temporarily to the Netherlands, but found that the Dutch did not welcome her. She considered this the end of her marriage, and left for France shortly before her husband abdicated the throne to their oldest living son, Napoleon-Louis Bonaparte, making him Louis II of Holland. [2]

Personal life

Portrait of Hortense painted by Anne-Louis Girodet de Roussy-Trioson, 1808 Portret van Hortense de Beauharnais, koningin van Holland Rijksmuseum SK-A-4943.jpeg
Portrait of Hortense painted by Anne-Louis Girodet de Roussy-Trioson, 1808

Hortense was now free to respond to the romantic overtures of the man whom she had long admired, Colonel Charles Joseph, Comte de Flahaut, a sophisticated, handsome man rumoured to be the illegitimate son of Talleyrand. [2] They soon became lovers. In 1811, at an unspecified inn in Switzerland, close to Lake Geneva, Hortense secretly gave birth to a son by de Flahaut, Charles Auguste Louis Joseph ( 21 October 1811 - 10 March 1865), created Duke of Morny by his half-brother, Napoléon III, in 1862. [3]

Only her brother Eugène, her closest companions, and Adélaïde Filleul de Souza (Charles de Flahaut's mother) were aware of her pregnancy and the subsequent birth. She had used poor health to explain her prolonged visit to Switzerland, the journey having been arranged by Adélaïde. Hortense cleverly disguised her pregnancy (she was, by then, in her sixth month) during the baptism of Napoléon's son, Napoléon II, when she was chosen to be one of the child's godmothers, an honour she shared with Madame Mère, mother of the Emperor.

In 1814 Flahaut had an affair with the Comédie-Française actress Mademoiselle Mars. When Hortense read the "passionate outpourings" of this actress in one of her letters to Charles his affair with Hortense was brought to an end. Although still deeply attached to Charles, and remaining in correspondence with him, she then made up her mind to release him. When, months later, he had mentioned that he had met "a rich young woman who seemed to like him", Hortense begged him to forget the promises he had made to her. [4] In October that year she went on a pilgrimage to the Benedictine shrine of Our Lady of the Hermits at Einsiedeln Abbey in the Swiss canton of Schwyz. After renouncing her claims on Charles, she presented a bouquet of diamond hydrangeas to the Virgin and a ring for the abbot, having been blessed, she wrote, with "so many consolations, such happiness at Einsiedeln not to wish that my memory remain there after I had left." [5]


Hortense de Beauharnais found love for music during her time in boarding school and there she became a self-acclaimed amateur composer (Beaucour, 2007) Though she did not have any known education in composition, it is said that she was a very talented singer and pianist. Fétis, who wrote about her in his article, Biographie Universelle des Musiciens, wrote the followed lines about her:

“Plantade was Queen Hortense’s singing-master when she was at Mad. Campan’s school; what her Majesty gained more especially from her lessons was a great capability of stint, she composed several pieces of this kind, among which is the one beginning with the words: ‘Partant pour la Syrie.’ This romance, which enjoyed a great vogue about 1810, again became popular in France after 1852.” [6] While her step-father, Napoleon, ruled over France, she wrote marches and some of her songs were sung by the French Troops. [7]

Hortense was banished when Napoleon was defeated and there she wrote numerous pieces, mostly notably her 12 Romances she wrote for her brother Eugene. Although she was banished, Hortense’s home exemplified the spirit of French art culture. There she presented her arts for her many visitors. Famous artists of the time such as Franz Liszt, Alexandre Dumas, and Lord Byron came to visit and listened to her piano performances. Hortense’s most famous composition ‘Partant pour la Syrie’ became the national hymn of France after her son Emperor Napoleon III instated it as such. (Last FM, 2010). French composer Camille Saint-Saens quotes “Partant pour la Syrie” in “Fossils” from his Carnival of the Animals.

A collection of some of her writing, art, and compositions can be found in her “Livre d’art de la reine Hortense.” [8]

Later years

Arenenberg Labhardt2.JPG

At the Bourbon Restoration in 1814, Hortense received the protection of Alexander I of Russia. At his instigation, she was granted the title of Duchess of Saint-Leu (duchesse de Saint-Leu) by King Louis XVIII on 30 May 1814. [9] During the Hundred Days, however, Hortense supported her stepfather and brother-in-law Napoléon. This led to her banishment from France after his final defeat.

During her banishment, Hortense began to focus on writing her memoirs, composing and publishing her musical works, as well as drawing and painting. [10] Her home became a center for French art and culture. Established artists, composers, and writers were all fascinated by the banished queen in Switzerland. [9] Despite her residence in Switzerland, Hortense remained involved in her sons’ lives. When one of her sons, Napoleon-Louis (Louis II of Holland) , died in the Italian revolt against Austrian rule, she helped the other, Charles-Louis Napoleon , escape to Paris. [9]

She traveled in Germany and Italy before purchasing the Château of Arenenberg in the Swiss canton of Thurgau in 1817. She lived there until she died of cancer on 5 October 1837, at the age of fifty-four. She is buried next to her mother Joséphine in the Saint-Pierre-Saint-Paul church in Rueil-Malmaison. After her death, her remaining legitimate son Charles-Louis Napoleon returned to Paris where he became Emperor Napoleon III. With his newly instated power, Napoleon III made one of his mother’s most popular compositions, “Partant pour la Syrie” a national hymn of France [9]

A portrait of Hortense hangs at James Monroe’s Highland, the Virginia plantation home of James Monroe, fifth President of the United States. It was one of three portraits given by Hortense to Monroe's daughter Eliza, who went to school with Hortense in France. (The other two portraits are of Hortense's brother Eugène de Beauharnais and of Jeanne-Louise-Henriette Campan, the headmistress of the school attended by Hortense and Eliza.) Eliza's daughter, Hortensia Monroe Hay, was named in honour of Hortense.


With Louis Bonaparte she had three sons:

With Charles Joseph, Comte de Flahaut, she had one son:

See also

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  1. 1 2 Beaucour, Fernand (October 2007). "Beauharnais, Hortense de". Napoleon.
  2. 1 2 3 Mossiker, Frances (1964). Napoleon and Josephine: The Biography of a Marriage . New York: Simon & Schuster. p.  347.
  3. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 Chisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). "Morny, Charles Auguste Louis Joseph, Duc de"  . Encyclopædia Britannica . 18 (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press. p. 849.
  4. Margaret Mercer Elphinstone, see Scarisbrick, p. 55.
  5. Scarisbrick, pp. 53–55.
  6. (Novello, 1874)
  7. (Jackson, 1999)
  8. de Beauharnais, Hortense (1853). "Livre d'art de la Reine Hortense". History of Royal Women.
  9. 1 2 3 4 Gulland, Sandra (23 February 2018). "On Hortense's Creative Process and How "Partant pour la Syri". Sandra Gulland.
  10. Baldassarre, A. (1998). "Music, Painting, and Domestic Life: Hortense de Beauharnais in Arenenberg". Music in Art. (23)1/2: 49–61 via www.jstor.org/stable/41561903.

Further reading

Hortense de Beauharnais
Born: 10 April 1783 Died: 5 October 1837
Dutch royalty
Title last held by
Maria Theresa of Naples and Sicily
as Consort of the Austrian Netherlands
Queen consort of Holland
5 June 1806 – 1 July 1810
Title next held by
Wilhelmine of Prussia
as Queen of the Netherlands