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The Emperor And Empress Of France Visit Windsor








The Queen's kind heart was really pained by the sudden death of the Czar,
her sometime friend and "brother"--whose visit to Windsor was brought by
the startling event vividly to her mind--yet she turned from his august
shade to welcome one of his living conquerors, the Emperor Napoleon, who,
with his beautiful wife, came this spring to visit her and the Prince.
She had had prepared for the visitors the most splendid suite of
apartments--among them the very bedroom once occupied by the Emperor
Nicholas. It was the best "spare room" of the Castle, and the one
generally allotted to first-class monarchs--Louis Philippe had occupied
it. What stuff for ghosts for the bedside of Louis Napoleon did he and
the Czar supply! A few days before the Emperor and Empress arrived, the
Queen had a visit from the poor ex-Queen, Marie Amélie. There is a
touching entry in Her Majesty's diary, regarding this visit. By the way,
I would state that whenever I quote from Her Majesty's diary, it is
through the medium of Sir Theodore Martin's book, and by his kind
permission.

The Queen wrote: "It made us both so sad to see her drive away in a plain
coach, with miserable post-horses, and to think that this was the Queen
of the French, and that six years ago her husband was surrounded by the
same pomp and grandeur which three days hence would surround his
successor."

There is something exquisitely tender and pitiful in this. Most people,
royal or republican, would "consider it not so deeply." The world has
grown so familiar with the see-saw of French royalty, that a fall or a
flight, exile or abdication moves it but little. In the old
guillotine times, there were sensations.

England's great ally, and his lovely wife, Eugénie,--every inch an
Empress,--were received with tremendous enthusiasm. Their passage through
London was one long ovation. The Times of that date gives allowing
account of the crowds and the excitement. It states also, that as they
were passing King Street, the Emperor "was observed to draw the attention
of the Empress to the house which he had occupied in former days,"--
respectable lodgings, doubtless, but how different from the Tuileries!

The Queen gives an interesting account of what seemed a long, and was an
impatient waiting for her guests, whom the Prince-Consort had gone to
meet. At length, they saw "the advanced guard of the escort--then the
cheers of the crowd broke forth. The outriders appeared--the doors
opened, I stepped out, the children close behind me; the band struck up
'Partant pour la Syrie,' the trumpets sounded, and the open carriage,
with the Emperor and Empress, Albert sitting opposite them, drove up and
they got out... I advanced and embraced the Emperor, who received two
salutes on either cheek from me--having first kissed my hand." The
English Queen did not do things by halves, any more than the English
people. She then embraced the Empress, whom she describes as "very gentle
and graceful, but evidently very nervous." The children were then
presented, "Vicky, with alarmed eyes, making very low curtsies," and
Bertie having the honor of an embrace from the Emperor. Then they all
went up-stairs, Prince. Albert conducting the Empress, who at first
modestly declined to precede the Queen. Her Majesty followed on the arm
of the Emperor, who proudly informed her that he had once been in her
service as special constable against those unstable enemies, the
Chartists.

The Queen and Prince soon came to greatly like the Emperor and admire the
Empress. The Queen wrote of the former: "He is very quiet and amiable,
and easy to get on with... Nothing can be more civil and well-bred than
the Emperor's manner--so full of tact."

Of Eugenie she wrote: "She is full of courage and spirit, and yet so
gentle, with such innocence; ... with all her great liveliness, she has
the prettiest and most modest manner." Later, Her Majesty, with a rare
generosity, showing that there was not room in her large heart even, for
any petty feeling, wrote in her private diary, of that beautiful and
brilliant woman: "I am delighted to see how much Albert likes and admires
her."

There was a State-ball at Windsor, at which Eugénie shone resplendent.
The Queen danced with the Emperor--and with her imaginative mind, found
cause for wondering reflection in the little circumstance, for she says:
"How strange to think that I, the granddaughter of George III., should
dance with the Emperor Napoleon III.--nephew of England's greatest enemy,
now my dearest and most intimate ally--in the Waterloo Room, and
this ally only six years ago, living in this country an exile, poor and
unthought of!"

The Queen, of course, invested the Emperor with the Order of the Garter.
It has been in its time bestowed on monarchs less worthy the honor. It is
true, he did not come very heroically by his imperial crown--but when
crowns are lying about loose, who can blame a man for helping himself?

The city gave the Emperor and Empress a great reception and banquet at
Guildhall, and in the evening there was a memorable visit to the opera.
The imperial and royal party drove from Buckingham Palace through a dense
crowd and illuminated streets. Arrived at the royal box, the Queen took
the Emperor by the hand, and smiling her sweetest--which is saying a good
deal--presented him to the audience. Immense enthusiasm! Then Prince
Albert led forward the lovely Empress, and the enthusiasm was unbounded.
It must be that this still beautiful, though sorrowful woman, on whose
head a fierce tempest of misfortune has beaten--the most piteous,
discrowned, blanched head since Marie Antoinette--sometimes remembers
those happy and glorious days, and that the two august widows talk over
them together.

At last came the hour of farewells, and the Emperor departed with his
pretty, tearful wife--the band playing his mother's air, Partant pour
la Syrie, and his heart full of pride and gratitude. In a letter
which he addressed to the Queen, soon after reaching home, is revealed
one cause of his gratitude. After saying many pleasant things about the
kind and gracious reception which had been accorded him, and the
impression which the sight of the happy home-life of Windsor had made
upon him, he says: "Your Majesty has also touched me to the heart by the
delicacy of the consideration shown to the Empress; for nothing pleases
more than to see the person one loves become the object of such
flattering attention."

That summer there appeared among the royal children at Osborne a sudden
illness, which soon put on royal livery, and was recognized as scarlet
fever. There was, of course, great alarm--but nothing very serious came
of it. The two elder children escaped the infection, and were allowed to
go to Paris with their parents, who in July returned the visit of the
Emperor and Empress. They went in their yacht to Boulogne, where the
Emperor met them and escorted them to the railway on horseback. He looked
best, almost handsome, on horseback. Arrived at Paris, they found the
whole city decorated, as only the French know how to decorate, and gay,
enthusiastic crowds cheering, as only the French know how to cheer. They
drove through splendid boulevards, through the Bois de Boulogne, over the
bridge, to the Palace of St. Cloud--and everywhere there were the
imperial troops, artillery, cavalry and zouaves, their bands playing "God
Save the Queen." Those only who knew Paris under the Empire, can realize
what that reception was, and how magnificent were the fêtes and how
grand the reviews of the next ten days. Of the arrival at St. Cloud
the Queen writes: "In all the blaze of light from lamps and torches,
amidst the roar of cannon and bands and drums and cheers, we reached the
palace. The Empress, with the Princess Mathilde and the ladies, received
us at the door, and took us up a beautiful staircase, lined with the
splendid Cent-Guardes, who are magnificent men, very like our Life
Guards... We went through the rooms at once to our own, which are
charming... I felt quite bewildered, but enchanted, everything is so
beautiful."

This palace we know was burned during the siege. The last time I visited
the ruins, I stood for some minutes gazing through a rusty grating into
the noble vestibule, through which so many royal visitors had passed. Its
blackened walls and broken and prostrate marbles are overspread by a wild
natural growth--a green shroud wrapping the ghastly ruin;--or rather, it
was like an incursion of a mob of rough vegetation, for there were
neither delicate ferns, nor poetic ivy, but democratic grass and
republican groundsel and communistic thistles and nettles. In place of
the splendid Cent-Guardes stood tall, impudent weeds; in place of
courtiers, the supple and bending briar; while up the steps, which the
Queen and Empress and their ladies ascended that night, pert little
grisettes of marguerites were climbing.

So perfect was the hospitality of the Emperor that they had things as
English as possible at the Palace-even providing an English chaplain for
Sunday morning. In the afternoon, however, he backslid into French
irreligion and natural depravity, and they all went to enjoy the fresh
air, the sight of the trees, the flowers and the children in the Bois de
Boulogne. The next day they went into the city to the Exposition des
Beaux Arts, and to the Elysée for lunch and a reception--then they all
drove to the lovely Sainte Chapelle and the Palais de Justice. There
the Emperor pointed out the old Conciergerie, and said--"There is where
I was imprisoned." Doubtless he thought that was a more interesting
historical fact than the imprisonment of poor Marie Antoinette, in the
same grim building. There was also a visit to the Italian opera, where a
very pretty surprise awaited the guests. At the close of the ballet, the
scene suddenly changed to a view of Windsor--including the arrival of the
Emperor and Empress. "God Save the Queen" was sung superbly, and
rapturously applauded. One day the Queen, Prince, and Princess Royal,
dressed very plainly, took a hired carriage and had a long incognito
drive through Paris. They enjoyed this "lark" immensely. Then there was a
grand ball at the Hotel de Ville, and a grand review on the Champ de
Mars, and a visit by torchlight to the tomb of the Napoleon, under the
dome of the Invalides, with the accompaniment of solemn organ-
playing within the church, and a grand midsummer storm outside, with
thunder and lightning. The French do so well understand how to manage
these things!

The grandest thing of all was a State ball in Versailles;--that
magnificent but mournful, almost monumental pile, being gaily decorated
and illuminated--almost transformed out of its tragic traditions. What a
charming picture of her hostess the Queen gives us:

"The Empress met us at the top of the staircase, looking like a fairy
queen, or nymph, in a white dress, trimmed with grass and diamonds,--a
beautiful tour de corsage of diamonds round the top of her dress;--the
same round her waist, and a corresponding coiffure, with her Spanish
and Portuguese orders."

She must have been a lovely vision. The Emperor thought so, for
(according to the Queen) forgetting that it is not "good form" for a man
to admire or compliment his own wife, he exclaimed, as she appeared:
"Comme tu es belle! " ("How beautiful you are!")

I am afraid he was not always so polite. During her first season at the
Tuileries, which she called "a beautiful prison," and which is now as
much a thing of the past as the Bastile, she often in her gay, impulsive
way offended against the stern laws of Court etiquette, and was reproved
for a lack of dignity. Once at a reception she suddenly perceived a
little way down the line an old school-friend, and, hurrying forward,
kissed her affectionately. It was nice for the young lady, but the
Emperor frowned and said, in that cold marital tone which cuts like an
east wind: "Madame, you forget that you are the Empress!"

In a letter from the Prince to his uncle Leopold I find this suggestive
sentence in reference to the ball at Versailles: "Victoria made her
toilette in Marie Antoinette's boudoir." It would almost seem the English
Queen might have feared to see in her dressing-glass a vision of the
French Queen's proud young head wearing a diadem as brilliant as her own,
or perhaps that cruel crown of silver--her terror-whitened hair.

The parting was sad. The Empress "could not bring herself to face it"; so
the Queen went to her room with the Emperor, who said: "Eugénie, here is
the Queen." "Then," adds Her Majesty, "she came and gave me a beautiful
fan and a rose and heliotrope from the garden, and Vicky a bracelet set
with rubies and diamonds containing her hair, with which Vicky was
delighted."

The Emperor went with them all the way to Boulogne and saw them on board
their yacht; then came embracings and adieux, and all was over.

The next morning early they reached Osborne and were received at the
beach by Prince Alfred and his little brothers, to whom Albert Edward,
big with the wonders of Paris, was like a hero out of a fairy book. Near
the house waited the sisters, Helena and Louise, and in the house the
invalid--"poor, dear Alice!"--for whom the joy of that return was almost
too much.





Next: Birth Of The Prince Imperial Of France

Previous: Birth Of The Duke Of Albany



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